Sympathy for the Priest
Not long ago, my wife and I were the objects of slander and harassment by someone we considered a close friend. It was quite the shock, and I consulted my spiritual director, a diocesan priest, for counsel on how to handle this broken relationship. I was — or, at least, professed I was — ready to forgive this person. But I was unsure how to maintain charity toward someone who had intentionally tried to hurt and humiliate us.
“How can I smile and be friendly toward someone I trusted after he betrayed me?” I asked the priest. In his reflective, avuncular demeanor, he let the question hang, perilously, in the air.
“Oh…,” I stuttered. “You probably have to deal with that all the time, don’t you?” He didn’t have to say a thing, and only smiled. That smile was enough to reveal years of putting up with parishioners who had, intentionally or not, injured him. It’s moments like this that renew my sympathy for the priesthood.
The acclaimed French author (and World War I veteran) Georges Bernanos shared that sympathy. In his celebrated novel Diary of a Country Priest (1936), Bernanos offers an intimate portrayal of a young, passionate cleric in northern France who daily suffers annoyances, indignities, and heartbreaks that stem from his calling. His grand plans for his parish — including visiting his parishioners every three months, founding a youth sports club, and teaching catechism to young children — are all, to varying degrees, frustrated. Through Bernanos’s portrayal of the affable clergyman, the attentive reader can gain renewed appreciation for this unparalleled vocation.
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