"Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them." St. John, 20:23.
One of the many heroes of WorId War Two was a Catholic navy chaplain, Father Aloysius Schmitt. He was on the battleship Oklahoma when she was hit. With about 150 men he hurried to his battle station. All the hatches and portholes were locked. The ship was listing, tipping badly.
The padre and men were squeezed like sardines in a corridor or hallway. With superhuman strength a sailor shouldered open a hatch far enough for someone to go through. He yelled: "Gangway for the padre! Let him out."
The sailors pushed and squeezed to make way for the priest to escape, but he called out: "Pull out the men nearest the hatch. I'll stay with the rest of the boys."
Six men escaped. The ship heeled over. Darkness again. The padre was with his boys.
In this stirring story I see one point that I would like to emphasize among others today, namely, the respect those sailors showed toward their padre, their priest. They were willing to give their lives for him, just as he was willing to give his life, and actually gave it, for them. Next Sunday I propose to speak of the priest's duties to his people. Today I would point out your duties to the priest.
The Fourth Commandment obliges us to honor and obey not only our parents, but also our spiritual parents and leaders, our Pope, bishops and priests. You have four big duties toward them: respect, obedience, support and prayer.
1. Faith and reason both demand that you respect those who have spiritual power. As St. Paul said: "Let a man so account us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God." (1 Cor 4:1). Look upon your priest as the representative of Christ on earth, as one who gives his life to the saving of souls.
Show your respect externally in word and action by avoiding unkind talk about them, by not interfering with the good they are trying to do, by helping them in every way you can.
Greeting the priest, tipping your hat, introducing him to others are signs of respect. Especially it is a mark of respect to use his proper title "father ."
In general I want to commend you good people of Sacred Heart parish for the respect you show your priests. Personally we would much prefer not to be shown so much deference. At the same time we do have some half-baked Catholics who are afraid to say "father" in the presence of others, especially when non-Catholics are around.
That irks me. Personally I don't care what you call me, but as a representative of the priesthood I prefer to be called "father." That is the priest's proper title, just as you call a physician "doctor," just as you call a Jewish pastor "rabbi."
2. Your second duty to your spiritual leaders is that of obedience. Not that you must show blind obedience to the priest in all things, like buying a car or a hat.
Your priest is trained and appointed to explain and enforce the laws of God and God's Church. When we "lay down the law," as the expression goes, we are not giving any rules that we made, but the rules of God's Church.
In matters which are not of conscience, like a parish program or plan, the pastor is responsible. With him rests the final decision. Ans with matters of the local Church, the bishop is responsible and with him rests the final decision.
3. Your third duty is to support your priests. Thank God, most of you fulfill that duty generously. Very rarely do we mention money from this altar. Nevertheless, in every parish, even the best, we find some who do not perform their duty in this regard, and we also find some who complain about giving to the Church.
Here I would like to state a fact which I have observed in giving missions in hundreds of parishes throughout the land. If you ever hear anybody complain about giving to the Church, you can always, without exception, be sure that person is not doing his duty to the Church with regard to money. That seems to be a broad statement, but I have never seen or heard a single exception.
When you give to your Church you are giving to God and God's work.
4. The last and most important duty you have is to pray for your spiritual leaders, the Pope, the bishops, and your priests. Next Sunday I intend to tell you how the priest prays for you. Every day in every Mass he remembers you, not only on Sunday. During the week, often while you are still in bed, your priest is offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, always with you in mind. In his daily prayers he makes remembrance of you to God. You can and should offer a little prayer for him occasionally. Do this particularly when you don't like the personality or program of your spiritual leader. It helps.
Yes, your priests are your spiritual shepherds. They are willing to give their time and energy for your spiritual welfare and health. You in turn should give your shepherds respect, obedience, support and prayer.
One of the main reasons for that respect and obedience we read in today's Gospel where we see and hear Jesus giving the Apostles and their successors, the bishops and priests of all time, the power, the godly power, of forgiving sins.
If those sailors in the face of death thought so much of their padre that they wanted him to have the first chance at being saved, how much more ought we to honor and reverence the men whom God has chosen to lead us on the way to heaven.
May I again thank all of you for your respect, your obedience, your support, your prayers. May God bless, as God always does, anything you do to and for His priests. Amen.
Adapted from Talks on the Commandments
by Fr. Arthur Tonne, OFM (© 1948)