What Do You Look For In A Parish Priest?



20th Sunday Ordinary Time

Fr. Mark Gatto

Preached:  August 20, 2023

We have a seminarian in our parish for the summer. Deacon William who is entering his last year of formation before hopefully being ordained a priest to serve in our Diocese next year. Also, a seminarian friend of his from England is visiting us this week.

So, it made me think about what kind of parish priest does the church need? I wanted to share some of my thoughts on that this week, but first I want to hear from you parishioners. What are you looking for in your parish priest?

There is much I could say about being a parish priest, lots of good theology, teachings from the Fathers of the Church and official teachings of the church. But, today I want to share my personal perspectives.

As I thought about my own vision of the parish priest, I realized that the image for the priest must be rooted in Jesus. In our Gospel today, a Canaanite woman comes searching for Jesus, calling out, “Have mercy on me, Lord,…” and “Lord, help me.” For she had a daughter that she said, “was tormented by a demon.” She goes to Jesus, looks to him for help with this struggle in her life.

Certainly, a parish priest should serve in such a way that people will see in him someone that they can go to when in need. As seen here it is not just those who are supposedly “good” Catholics. Initially Jesus is reluctant to help the Canaanite woman for she is not part of the people of Israel. But, as she persists Jesus helps her.

A priest needs to be someone whom all can feel they can go to and be received with the mercy of God. A priest is to serve the people of God. To find Jesus in the people he serves. The sick in hospital, the elderly person shut in at home, Christmas and Easter Catholics, the indifferent, the marginalized, the rich and the poor, the old and the young. To see all the people he serves with the eyes of faith. A priest must find Jesus hidden in the midst of the people he serves.

One of the best definitions of a parish priest I heard is this: “A parish priest lives among the people so that he becomes one with them and the people become one with him.” A priest must go to all of them. Not asking if they deserve my service or if they have earned it. Not asking if they can give me back something in return.

One of the blessings of my priesthood is becoming one with the people of the parish I serve in. In my priesthood I have experienced Jesus walking with me in the Eucharist, in the Word of God, but perhaps most clearly in the people I have served.

One of the gifts and one of the important services of the priest is presiding at the Eucharist. The heart of the Eucharist for the priest is best found in those words of Consecration he says at each Mass. “This is my body given up for you.” The meaning of the priesthood is found in those words. Lay down your life for the people you serve.

I was thinking about one piece of advice I would give to any man beginning in the priesthood. I thought back over the advice I received in my life on the priesthood. The one advice that I came to mind, was the advice I received from my father when I was studying for the priesthood. The only advice he gave me. He said, Be Kind to the People. At the time it seemed like simplistic advice. I have come to see that it was perhaps the most important advice I could have received.

Over my 33 years as a priest, I have regretted at times not being kind enough to people, I have never regretted being too kind to people.

A parish priest must live and serve in such a way that people see someone they feel they can go to in need. Like the Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel going to Jesus, “Lord help me.” A parish priest is to become one with the people he serves and be ready to lay down his life in service of those people. Perhaps in a special way for those on the margins of the church, those who seem to be far from the church.

Pray for all of our seminarians that they will become the priests that the church needs today.

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