“Ask a Priest: Shouldn’t We Love Priests and Bishops?”

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Q: I was talking with a few teens in catechesis class about a common problem in our parish. People who go for the sacrament of reconciliation, once they see Father X or Father Y isn’t there, prefer to go another time. Or they show disappointment when it turns out that Father A or Father B will celebrate Mass. Or there are people who offend their bishop and don’t love them. You don’t need to like everybody, even priests, but if we need to love one another, what can we say about the bishops? To paraphrase Ignatius of Antioch, Where the bishop is, there is the Church. I told the teens, “You may not like a bishop, but you do need to love him.” I may have been too strong. Here in my diocese in Brazil, we have a great bishop. I love him, but not everyone else does. I see bishops who make bad decisions, but the only option is to pray for their conversion — and ours, of course. Does that make sense? – Fernando

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It sounds as though you are doing a great job with the young people.

Respect for the clergy and for bishops is very important, even if they have their shortcomings (we all do).

This might be a good teaching moment for your students. You can remind them about the very nature of love. It’s an act of the will, not the feelings. Good feelings can help you love, and bad feelings can make love harder, but love is deeper than feelings.

You touch on this when you distinguish between their liking a bishop and loving a bishop.

It might be good to point out the example of a mom changing her sick baby’s diapers at 3 a.m. Though she might not “feel” like losing sleep, she tends to the infant out of a deep sense of love, happy or grouchy.

The love we show to clergy and bishops owes in part to their office. The mission of priests and bishops comes from Christ. They are God’s chosen instruments.

A telling example of the respect due to God’s chosen leaders is found in the Old Testament, when David refrains from attacking Saul. “The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed, to lay a hand on him, for he is the LORD’s anointed” (1 Samuel 24:7).

It would be good to encourage the young people to treat clergy the way that they would treat their parents. Even if their parents aren’t perfect, the young people still owe them respect. This is pleasing to God.

Jesus himself respected authority — even Pilate’s.

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  1. This question still puzzles me. I know ALL AUTHORITY is to be respected. But, maybe key to the understanding is RESPECT GO(O)D ACTIONS of authority. With regards to parents, a small child or a teenager can only judge a parent or aunt or uncle or grandparent by THE ACTIONS such authority shows to them FIRST or shows by example RESPECT FOR GO(O)D ways. Holding one’s temper to a rude store clerk, not patronizing certain movies rated R, going to a job every day for love of helping family to feed, clothe, and provide ‘extras’ to life (mom or dad) and still making time to cook, clean, and play with child(ten) on weekend, (child or adolescent)

    For children and teens they should be told to RESPECT OBJECTIVE GOOD ACTIONS but before judging the parent, aunt, uncle, older cousins, or brother or sister or teacher in classroom who ‘yells all the time’ . . . LOOK A BIT DEEPER (young children can’t be so introspective) Teens of 13 (by reason of the Confirmation gifts of God’s counsel, need to step back to pray WHY this person doesn’t appear to be doing ‘right thing.’ Have a conversation with God (privately) . . . The teacher was in a bad mood today, boy she or he is so mean. (STEP BACK from self, should go the teaching of respect, and quietly when no one is around. present communication (very brief) how you feel bad for his or her upsetment, the student should let it be known that he or she appreciates how (mention a time when teacher’s words really brought understanding)

    Children ought to be taught HOW TO BE RESPECTFUL and not LOOK FOR RESPECT specifically to them. That life can be difficult, and to live as a fruitful disciple of Christ, we are to be HELPFUL, ENCOURAGERS to all souls, Sincerely offer more praise than complaint. As to avoiding certain priests who are celebrating a Mass or in the confessional… EMPHASIZE that THE FLESHLY PERSON is not who we confess to but THE CHRIST represented by THE PRIEST. (this is why confessing behind a screen used to be GOOD, no faces to see) And attending Mass is FOR THE WORSHIP OF GOD . . . not for looking at the person two rows up,
    or behind or OOOOH how “I” dislike that pries” . . . If anger is present for anyone at MASS… OFFER IT
    UP and say a sincere Confiteor silently. Remember, those God puts before us, we will be seeing for eternity;
    because we pray for all… We are perfect by ‘our love and prayers IN CHRIST.’ Take nothing personally.

  2. Even as I re-read my comment on how to teach children (or any of immature spirit of Christ) to be of respect, I get confused. So, let me break down the above comment to simple one-line steps for showing respect to all souls. (note it the soul we are to see and not that imperfect fleshly human person)

    As Father Mcllmail wrote: Respect begins with love of God. (God respect, leading to self-respect, which lead naturally to ‘objective not subjective’ understanding of what respect is about.

    1. Mutual respect of two ‘imperfect persons’ begins with seeing GOOD actions. You as a catechism teacher of the Catholic Christian faith, are showing by concrete example your love of the gift of faith and the graces given to you by God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit)

    2. Point out to students all the ways parents show love of God (first) and then Love of they, their children, and love of neighbor (the store clerk, the employer, the elders in family (grandma and grandpa) Point out that the word respect is synonymous (same) with the word LOVE. When we use self-control with a rude store clerk, avoid temptation of reading or viewing material that ‘corrupts’ pure love (certain books or movies) when we value the ability to serve others via a job we show up ‘on time’ for that job, which shows respect for the employer who produces service or product that serves neighbor and assists the employer in providing for his or her family as well. When the parent, though tired after a hard week, finds time to keep home clean, and spend time together as family (SUNDAY is a good day for church and then a special ‘fun activity’ . . . picnic, amusement park, backyard barbecue with other family invited, or just a family dinner) The underlying truth in the natural sight is RESPECT for the blessing of family. Show the respect for clergy and ‘the church family’ by dressing well for Mass, teaching children to enter church quietly, to say a simple private prayer to God, before Mass begins, thanking Him for blessings (learning something new in school, health, health of mother and father and siblings, and TO SAY THANK YOU in prayer for the priest who ACTS in the person of Jesus to bring the blessed presence of Jesus to them by the the words of faith He speaks through his blessed vocational call by Christ to do such.

    3. Tell the catechism students what Father Mcllmail spoke, we respect people who are doing their best to serve God, DESPITE their own human weaknesses or imperfections. (which all have) The parent who gets
    angry, or the teacher, or the nun, or the priest . . . may be having a ‘bad week’ or ‘bad day’ or ‘be ill’ . . . (not feeling well) THEY ‘SHOW UP FOR THEIR WORK’ anyway… but to ‘hate’ or ‘dislike’ someone for the momentary slip of kindness and goodness . . . is a call to STEP BACK from our need to be respected (be loved) to see THE GRACE God is providing to SHOW RESPECT (love part of us) . . . maybe in loving, encouraging words TO the person directly, to give them encouragement of past GOOD WAYS, or to UNDERSTAND beyond the momentary slip and simply offer up a prayer for them. (not saying a word)
    or to respect them when they decline an invitation to visit, without asking why. STEPPING BACK FROM

    WE ‘LOVE’ AKA ‘RESPECT’ the STRIVING AND STRUGGLING souls on this earthly journey… not adding to burdens they carry. Such love aka respect for ‘the souls’ with crosses to carry, is mercy and when mercy is shown, mercy will be given back to us by God.

    ALL THIS IS NOT to confuse ‘CONDONING BAD ACTIONS’ of anyone. We NEVER respect BAD ACTIONS. Teach students what are BAD ACTIONS that offend GOD who loves them. Cursing in words in public, laziness that isn’t even trying to help themselves to a good (blessed life) listening to the ‘mere gossip’ of what someone is doing, without facts to back up the words and prayer for such person. (a parent who is mature understands the spirit of a person and when they say NO, you cannot go to a party, it is because of their overall good ways they show themselves that gives them right to speak of BAD ACTIONS of another, this is not judging the heart of why a person is as they are. GOSSIPERS speak of ‘knowing the heart’ of persons, those in the truth, will state BAD ACTIONS and keep distance.) Teach students that prayerful attendance at Mass and the Sacraments will grow this gift of discernment as well.

    We do not have to like all persons, as the initial question stated. WE HAVE TO LOVE ALL PERSONS by praying for them. (but we can keep a distance)

    RESPECT (LOVE) God first; and ‘shake the dust of the sandals’ aka don’t hang with any of bad character. BAD ACTIONS corrupt GO(O)D morals.

  3. When one respects the value of public education (paid by tax dollars by all) the student pays attention in class, asks questions if understanding is not there, does the homework and comes prepared for class with homework neatly done and with more questions (perhaps) Students dress respectfully in consideration of others (no distracting clothing) Students show up on time.

    ALL GOOD ACTIONS are the signs of being RESPECTFUL. When respect is shown, respect will be or should be reciprocated. (ONE NEVER DEMANDS RESPECT… but if it is not given, ‘SHAKE THE DUST FROM THE SANDALS and move . . . to a new neighborhood, or new town, or new job)

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