A friend asked what to do about a priest she cannot stand.
In July, her bishop moved her parish priest that she liked and brought in a new guy she doesn’t like. The new priest hasn’t done anything wrong to my friend. It’s his mannerism that are preventing her from making a connection with him. When she finds out he has the Mass, she leaves. Consequently, she is intentionally missing Mass. She asked me what she should do.
Answering her question involves looking at some important Church teachings that all of us should review from time to time. We begin with why intentionally missing Mass is a serious error in judgment.
Following the first homily given by Saint Peter, the people asked, “What are we to do, my brothers?” 1 Peter answered with the first step in our Christian journey: baptism. But what comes next?
Over the generations, the Holy Spirit has revealed The Precepts of the Church. These six “commandments or directions given as a rule of action or conduct” guide our moral life.
The first of these is, “You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation, and rest from servile labor.” For our own sanctification and to honor God’s third commandment, all Christians are obligated to attend at least weekly Mass.
Missing Mass just because we don’t want to do is a mortal sin. I struggled with this early in my walk with Christ because I didn’t understand why I couldn’t stay home a just say a prayer. The Church makes Mass attendance mandatory because our experience as Church has taught us that we must worship as a community because that’s the how Christ taught us to honor Him.
When we don’t make time to worship Christ with our community, we dishonor Him by breaking one of the Ten Commandments; therefore, missing Mass when we can go is a grave error. What also makes the decision not to attend Mass a mortal sin is all Catholics are taught Mass attendance is mandatory when the opportunity and means are available.
Because this is mortal sin, you must reconcile intentionally missing Mass with God by going to Confession.
Why Are Priest Moved Every Few Years?
The Holy Spirit inspired the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) to appoint priests to a parish for six-year terms. The renewability of the appointments is at the discretion of the local bishop.
Some bishops do not enforce this rule, which is their prerogative.
Moving priests every 6 to 12 years has proven helpful in maintaining a healthy parish by keeping the focus on Jesus Christ rather than on a man who has been pastor for 20+ years.
Why Aren’t All Priest Good At What They Do?
We believe Jesus calls men to the priesthood and that a bishop has the gift to confirm his calling. Pope Francis recently spoke about ensuring that bishops put in the effort to discern the calling of men presenting themselves for the priesthood.
Even when a man’s discernment is found to be true and he is ordained, not all priest are good in all aspects of their duties.
- He may give bad homilies, but might be excellent running a school
- He might not connect well in the confessional but he is excellent is ministering to the sick
- He might have limited skills at running a parish but he is an excellent evangelist.
There was a reason this man has been called by Jesus to be a priest; therefore, we are obligated to respect the man because of his office. We are also obligated to look for the good in him.
What To Do When You Don’t Like Your Priest
With all that in mind, here is what I told my friend.
1) Bring a journal to bring to Mass. I have done this for years to help me stay focused and to capture inspirations from the Holy Spirit. I got this idea from business philosopher Jim Rohn. Catholic apologist Matthew Kelly also recommends having a journal at Mass. Yes, people are going to look at you while taking notes because they are thinking they should be doing the same. I know this because they have said that to me.
2) Prayerful read the readings before going to Mass. A great way to do this is with the ancient tool of Lectio Divina. There are at least three reasons to study the readings before hearing them at Mass.
- First, it is possible that God is going to say something to you during your study that you might not have heard in Mass.
- Second, God is also going to speak to you through your priest during the homily.
- Finally, time is never wasted studying Scripture.
3) Arrive before Mass and pray for the priest. He is about to do THE most important duty in the world, and he needs our prayers. Offering your priest up to Jesus at each Mass helps you develop a love for him.
The truth is, the problem is not with priest, it’s with you. To love as Jesus loves, you need to ask Him to help change your heart to love your priest with all of his failings.
4) IGNORE which priest is presiding at Mass and focus on meeting Jesus during the Mass. If you feel frustration when seeing the priest you don’t like, ask Jesus why you are reacting this way. Put the answer in your journal to help you learn from this. In reading about the early Church, you will see that not all the apostles liked each other but through the love they shared in Jesus, they changed the world.
5) During the Liturgy of the Word, journal thoughts that come to mind while the readings are being proclaimed (not always easy to do during the Gospel). I have found this is the Spirit pointing out something important. During the homily, do the same thing. Listen for something that you connect with. DO NOT focus on the quality of his delivery; listen for what is being said.
6) Make an effort to get to know the priest. This could be as simple as meeting for coffee during the day or having him to your house for dinner. He is still going to have his quirks that rub you the wrong way but at least you can get to know him better, which will help you pray better for him.
7) Get to confession. Of course, if you have missed Mass but also for some direction in overcoming your struggle with the priest. Obviously, it would be good to talk to a different priest about your struggles.
This might be a surprise to you but priest don’t always like each other, their bishop, or their parishioners. They have been given some skills — as well as some gifts from the Holy Spirit — to help them overcome their humanness. Your confessor will be glad to share these with you.
Focus on Jesus, Not the Priest
Brothers and sisters, not getting along with our priest is a work of our enemy. What better way to weaken the Church than causing a rift between the priest and the laity. In prayer and with the gifts of the Spirit, we can overcome this to strengthen the Church as we support those who have given their lives for us.
- Acts 2:37 ↩