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Priestly Courage

The extreme heroism of a few priests is well known. You’ve heard stories of priests who were martyred, or sacrificed their own lives for others, or endured great hardships for the sake of the Gospel.

Imagine a man who comes home to see his house on fire, and risks his life to save his family from the flames. In this selfless act, he shows great courage. He may even make the nightly news for his bravery. But what about the everyday heroism of being a faithful husband, a good father, and a hard worker? While he probably won’t be recognized publicly, this man is an example of courage which is more profound than a one-time act of extreme bravery.

Priesthood is much the same. While some priests will be recognized as great theologians or martyrs, every faithful priest shows profound courage by carrying out his duties day after day, year after year.

Consider these challenges that parish priests encounter:

Always on call. A priest in a parish expects to be regularly awakened in the middle of the night for emergencies. Priests officially have one day off a week, but he may even find that difficult to take on occasion because of the needs of his parishioners.

No place to call home. A priest can expect to change assignments at least five times in the course of his life. He makes friends at his parish, gets comfortable in the rectory, might even feel like he’s settling in — until the bishop assigns him to a new city, and it starts all over again.

Not much money. Priests forgo lucrative careers to give themselves to God and his Church. In doing so, they rely on their parish for a modest salary, room and board. Even the priest’s black clerical clothing is an outward sign of his modest standard of living.

Thanklessness. Though they may be loved and appreciated by members of the Church, priests often face derision from non-believers who think priesthood is a wasted life.

No wife or kids. Priests sometimes joke about not having to deal with loud children at home, but the truth is that not having one’s own family can feel lonely at times. Let’s be real: celibacy is a true sacrifice. But priests count on the grace of Holy Orders and the blessings that come from a good prayer life to embrace the gift of celibacy and live it with great joy.

Yes, giving up family, stability, and wealth does take courage. Priests are called to stand in place of our Lord — including participation in the suffering of His Passion! But Jesus assures us these sacrifices also have their reward:

“Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.” (Mark 10:29-30)

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