By Theresa Rieve
I remember a story told by the parish priest in a small town in northern California. He apologized in advance if he seemed tired at the Sunday morning Mass. He was responsible for two churches and was also covering a third parish for the pastor who was in the hospital recovering from a health crisis. He had spent the prior day driving from parish to parish, saying Mass and handling business in each, returning to his home parish in time to fall into bed, exhausted – only to be awakened at 2 a.m. The hospital was calling – someone was asking for a priest. He jumped out of bed, threw some clothes on, collected the necessary items for the Anointing of the Sick, and rushed off. He arrived at the appropriate hospital room, only to find the patient sitting up in bed – certainly not what he had expected. He asked her if she was the one who was asking for a priest. She was. He then asked, “Do you want to receive Communion?” She said, “Oh, no Father, I’m a Lutheran.” He was puzzled, wondering why she had called. She said, “I just needed someone to talk to, and I knew that Catholic priests are the only people who will come out in the middle of the night when a call comes in that they are needed.”
Few, if any, Catholics would call a priest in the middle of the night “just to talk.” We realize that their ministry is to the entire community, and that they must go where they are most needed. (And that when we are the one in need, a priest will be there). We are always grateful for their ministry, but often forget to say so. That is why we have World Priest Day. World Priest Day (WPD) is a celebration and affirmation of the men who commit their lives to the Lord and the Church via the Sacrament of Holy Orders. We invite you to pray with us for our priests and the gift that they are to us – faithfully serving us by providing the Sacraments, spiritual guidance, education, and love as a daily gift. This can be as simple as sending a special card or making phone calls to express your appreciation. Take the time to reach out in a special and affirming way to acknowledge the priests who have been an important part of your life: your pastors and associate (past and present), the priest who witnessed your marriage, baptized your children, provided consolation during the loss of a loved one, to name a few.
One of the gifts of WWME has been the wonderful relationships that have grown between countless couples and priests. This idea for honoring all priests came from the love and respect that has grown from those relationships. World Priest Day grew from an idea in September 1998, when couples in the Worldwide Marriage Encounter (WWME) community in Tennessee had the idea to honor all of the priests of their diocese. It was such a great experience that the U.S. WWME Leadership Team decided to follow Tennessee’s lead and make this a national event. In 2003 WWME reached out to the full Church and invited other lay groups to join in the celebration of affirming the men who faithfully serve as our beloved priests. In 2007, WWME joined with the Serra Club to create one day to honor priests – the fourth Sunday of October.
For some, supporting and caring for priests has been an ongoing and continuing experience; for others, it may be a new chance to say “We love and value you,” to the priests they know. There are ideas for celebrating at our website, wpd.wwme.org, and you can visit the Serra Club’s website at www.priestsunday.org for ways to show priests how much they are admired and appreciated.
We also ask that you tell us of your ideas and celebrations, so we can share them with others on the WPD website.