Encourage one another. Hebrew 3:13
It’s an old problem in the church — competition among the clergy. It’s a problem I see and hear about when I lead priest retreats and convocations in the United States, Canada, Europe or the Caribbean.
St. Cyprian put it this way in the third century. “Why should a priest not take pride in the praise given to a fellow priest as though it were given to him? What brotherhood fails to rejoice in the happenings of its brothers wherever they are?”
Father Andrew Greeley, sociologist, journalist and novelist, did a lot of work studying priests and clerical culture. He put it this way and I am sure he himself was the victim he was talking about.
“If a priest is successful beyond certain very narrow limits or seen as successful, then he is in real trouble. The format of praise mixed with a knife in the back is assumed to be effective and often it is.”
I am lucky that most of my brother priests appreciate this column and affirm my efforts, many don’t mention it, one or two have attacked it and a couple make sure I am checked, as in a recent comment. “I hear you write a column in The Record. Maybe I’ll get around to reading one of them someday.”
Such discounts used to sting, but today I just laugh because for every “put down” I get many, many more “lift ups.” Here are some cases in point.
Recently, I was standing in line at the White Castle down the street from where I live. A young man in front of me was counting out the change in his pockets. He was carrying some clothes in a plastic bag.
I heard him tell the woman in front of him that he was in the last graduating class at Our Mother of Sorrows School.
Having missed an opportunity to help in a similar situation, and hating myself for it, I stepped up and asked if he needed more change. When I told him who I was, he responded enthusiastically, “I know you! You write for that paper. You came to my eighth-grade class years ago to speak.”
A few years before, a bunch of young eighth-graders from the same school recognized me in the same White Castle as “that priest who writes for The Record,” saying, “We read your column all the time. My mom puts them on the refrigerator.”
In Kroger last August, I was stopped by a man who recognized me and told me that he had the first seven volumes of my “An Encouraging Word” columns and asked where he could buy the rest.
A friend, who lost her Protestant husband recently, told me that when they were going through his stuff they found a stack of my columns that he had clipped and saved.
Encouragement? Give it and you will receive it.
Father J. Ronald Knott
To read more from Father Knott, visit his blog: FatherKnott.com.