The Inestimable Treasure That is a Priest

Mary Law

What is a priest? After much reading and deliberation, I have learned that the first priests were the Apostles – when Jesus Christ instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper.  That, to be a priest is more than presiding at the Eucharist, absolving sins, and telling people about God and His Word, or, in short, being caretakers of the mysteries of God.  It is “about knowing the central call of one’s life and giving one’s all for this call; about being forthright messengers of hope, of being strong community leaders and spiritual guides for both the lost and the faithful” (www.catholicpriesthood.com – Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane, Australia).

I also understand that our missionaries, through tireless and total dedication to their mission,  helped banish from remote and distant lands the darkness of paganism, and with the Gospel, they brought the blessings of Christian morality and education. This is not only historical – it is an ongoing fact.

Personally, my encounters with Catholic priests started in Trinidad where I was born. Two Benedictines:  Fr. Odillo, the priest who baptized me, and Fr. Maingot, who belonged to the parish where my school was located.  I cannot recall ever having much contact with either of them.  The closest, I would say, would be in the confessional, where we were herded toward from school, class by class, for regular confession.

To me, at that time, they were distant figures of authority to whom we showed great respect, much on the same level as our parents and teachers, perhaps even on a higher scale.  After all, they represented God, and as a young child, I stood in great fear and awe!    

Fast forward fifty-plus years, I am quite pleased to say that I know far more priests than I did in the past. My more personal encounters with priests happened here at Rosary Church when I started helping in some of the church’s regular activities.

There was Fr. John Casey, who became the regular spiritual leader on most of our pilgrimages and with whom I did some volunteer work at the Sunday Examiner when he was the editor. The enigmatic Jesuit Fr. Naylor, who has been with the Charismatic movement since it started here in Hong Kong, always attending the regular weekly prayer meeting at Rosary Church, and who also is a staunch supporter of ecumenism, also comes to mind.

I must make a mention of the PIMEs (Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions) – Fr. Raja and Fr. Morlacchi who both served us well at Rosary Church.  I especially remember Fr. Mok, who would be in the confessional, rain or shine, from dawn to dusk, for anyone who needed him.

And then came the Columban Missionaries. It was only recently that Fr. Eamon and Fr. Tommy very kindly offered us the use of the Columban House in Dublin, both Fathers very generously taking turns in showing us around their beautiful country when a few of us went for a short visit to Ireland. We were even treated to a guided tour of their impressive House in Dalgan Park.

We felt immensely privileged when they introduced us to their own families. It was only upon my return that I learned Fr. Trevor, another Columban, had kindly relayed the message of the passing of my brother to Fr. Eamon, who immediately upon our arrival in Dublin celebrated a Mass for my late brother Alfonso. This really touched me!

Having reached this stage of my spiritual journey, I have come to learn that priests are human beings just like us. They have families. They have emotional ups and downs and, yes, mood swings just like most of us. They get tired after a day’s work just like any one of us, and so from time to time they need a break just like we do. Oh, and they suffer the woes of old age just like you and me.

Yes, they are so much like us…and yet, there’s more to them. They are approachable and accommodating, but at the same time one feels they have that extra sense and a certain charisma to reach people. They are so full of wisdom and knowledge and very much grounded in their faith… completely “into and in Christ”.   And just as Christ did during His time on earth, they face challenges and obstacles, more so in these troubled times.

But apart from all of the above, what I really appreciate and admire about the priests I know is their humor and wit. They laugh readily at the same things we laugh at, and they seem to have a built-in well of funny stories and anecdotes to draw from.

It is said that there is no record of Jesus or of God smiling, but I believe in the sayings “Laughter is good for the soul” and “Joy is the echo of God’s life in us.” To me, God does indeed smile at and with us (perhaps with a twinkle in His eye) – through His priests here on earth.

I have come to realize that having more personal interactions with our priests has improved my understanding of my relationship with God. It has become a much closer one built solidly on love, without forgoing the respect and awe that must go with it.

Can anyone ever imagine a world or a church without priests? I cannot! Let us make it a part of our daily activities to always pray for each and every one of them – not out of a sense of duty, but out of love.

(Mary Law is the mother of Fr. Cyril Law, the Diocesan Chancellor of Macau. She resides in Hong Kong. This article was originally written as a speech she delivered for Rosary Church in Kowloon Hong Kong)