A Priest for All People
2/22/2006Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson
In his spiritual masterpiece, The Diary of a Country Priest, Georges Bernanos has the young country priest who is the central character of the novel write this about his new parish:
“My parish! The words can’t even be spoken without a kind of soaring love…. I know that my parish is a reality, that we belong to each other for all eternity; it is not a mere administrative fiction, but a living cell of the everlasting Church. But if only the good God would open my eyes and unseal my ears, so that I might behold the face of my parish and hear its voice.”
It is clear from Bernanos’ portrayal of the country priest that his devotion to his parish arises from the sacramental character of his priestly ministry to the French village. There is nothing distinctly different about this parish. In fact, he says, “Mine is a parish like all the rest.” Yet, his days are taken up with the daily drama of his ministry: preparing children for their first Communion, celebrating Mass and bringing reconciliation to families. This priest devotes himself entirely to his parish.
We might say that he ultimately comes to see the “face” of his parish through its sacramental life.
While reading Bernanos’ novel, I was reminded of the recent biography of Father Michael McGivney, Parish Priest. He too devoted himself steadfastly and completely to his parish and to its sacramental life. And like the French priest in Bernanos’ story, he too died of an incurable illness at an early age.
The French priest has a dream to reach out to the youth of his parish by beginning a new sports program. But to do so, he must ask for a donation from the large landowner who, in effect, controls the village. After reflecting for some time on the priest’s request, the landowner replies that although the proposal is a good one, it is too ambitious and should be postponed. The young priest dies before his dream can become a reality.
Again, I could not help but think of Father McGivney and his dedication to the youth of his parish. But unlike Bernanos’ country priest, who was bound by the social strictures and class privileges of the Old World, Father McGivney organized a new association to act in a New World. He knew that in the new society that was emerging, the Catholic Church could not survive on the generosity of social, economic or cultural elites.
Father McGivney gave the Church in the new democratic society that was emerging in North America a new leadership model for Catholic laymen — action that would benefit in numerous ways thousands of parish communities. He knew that in a democratic society men in every parish would have to stand up and stand with their priests if the “good news” of the Gospel was to reach into the lives of their families and neighborhoods.
Father McGivney’s vision is as relevant today as ever. And so are the men who share it.