Before arriving at FutureChurch, I served a parish as a pastoral associate and I’ll never forget the weekend that our pastor was in El Salvador when tragedy visited one of our young parish families. A husband and young father of three school-aged boys had died of a massive heart attack. All his widow wanted was her parish priest. She was grateful that I was there for her; to talk to her boys; to walk her through some of the funeral arrangements with her. Still, she wanted her parish priest.
This past week, I posted a survey on how the priest shortage is impacting you. As the responses rolled in, I was reminded of that young widow and mother and the pain it caused her that her priest couldn’t be there for her. First were the respondents who checked off “I am a Catholic who wasn’t able to receive a Sacrament when I needed it because there was no priest available.” Then came the personalized comments:
- We desperately need a new pastor, but there’s apparently no one to assign.
- Our one priest does not have the energy to say three masses on Sunday so we cannot have mass in Spanish
- church has become more impersonal; unable to get a priest to give last rites in ER or hospitals
In this week’s Gospel the Apostles return to Jesus after having been sent off by him, two by two, to minister to the people in his name. They return, anxious to tell him all of the good work they had done – early versions of what we now know as Sacraments, notably Anointing and Reconciliation (see Mark 6:7-13). Crowds hastened toward Jesus and the Twelve, obviously hoping for their own experiences of God’s grace. And moved with pity for them, Jesus stays with them and teaches them.
Today, the crowds continue to press in. The Catholic population in the United States is growing. Yet, there are fewer and fewer priests and parishes to respond to their pleas for help – their pleas for the Sacraments. Unfortunately, stories like the one of the young widow from my days in parish ministry and the ones you have shared are becoming more common.
I know that — as a Church — our collective heart is moved with pity for these people. But that isn’t enough. Like Jesus, we must take action. We must take the necessary steps to ensure that people’s pleas for the Sacraments can be heard and answered. We must open ordination.
By Russ Petrus