A priest is a father, martyr to persons of all ages

The view from the rectory window
Fr. Ken Van Haverbeke
From the rectory’s kitchen window I can see the playground. As I was washing my lunch dishes so I could put them into the dishwasher (am I the only one who uses the dishwasher as a purifier, not a washer?), I noticed a group of four middle school children playing on the playground.
Alone, well after school hours. Playing on the equipment, running around the sign that says, “Adult Supervision Required.” I know they are my students who must have waited patiently, slinking around in the outskirts of the parking lot as if waiting for a ride. A ride they knew wasn’t coming. They knew they were to go to “extended day program,” but that would mean homework and being with a bunch of little kids. Yuck!
“Oh well,” I decided. It’s a beautiful day, and they look like they are having fun. No harm, but – oops – on a second glance, perhaps they are having too much fun. As a priest for 18 years, you get an eye for such fun.
With a sigh, I now know what I am required to do as a pastor. If only I didn’t look out the window. (Make note: quit looking out the kitchen window.)
Walking over to the playground in a calculated, easy going manner, the children easily saw through my facade to my irritation and they scattered like cats. Tersely calling after them, they looked at me with Bambi eyes and replied “Huh?!? What!? We’re not doing nothing!” when I asked them why they weren’t in extended day.
As a young priest before I became pastor, I envisioned the persecution I might endure preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I prayed for the fortitude to do and say what was right and true. Reading and studying the lives of Saint Maximilian Kolbe or the North American martyrs who endured torture and death in bringing the Good News to others, I was spiritually prepared for such persecution.
I was not, however, prepared for the real world as I would experience it.
Never has there been a sleepless night after challenging couples, whether in their 20s or 70s (sin seems to have no age limit) not to commit a sin by living together before entering the sacrament of marriage. Nor do I miss a wink being confronted by a person cursing at me at the gas pump calling me names as a result of well-publicized sins of a few brother priests.
I have trouble getting to sleep after giving a homily about Natural Family Planning and having an entire family stand up and parade out in front of me later telling me I was teaching birth control.
Preaching the Gospel sometimes is challenging, but it has not been life threatening or a cause of insomnia, but when I feel “unliked,” I lie awake for hours!
As priests we are called “father.” As a father we must parent, and parenting is not a popularity contest. But as with everyone else, I want to be liked.
St. Francis de Sales wrote sugar will attract more than vinegar. If people don’t like me, how can I preach the gospel message? Won’t I do more damage to these children’s faith by requiring them to call their parents? Will they remember me as the priest who visited their classrooms, heard their confessions, and had them act out the Gospel during the homily?
No, more than likely, they will remember it as they see it: the priest who seemed more concerned about the school building than their souls.
Perhaps I was overreacting. They probably would have been safe. Perhaps I simply didn’t like their attitude. As I walked back to the rectory, I knew I could have handled it better. Could have, should have, and hoped I would next time. Then I realized, martyrdom was not just preaching the Gospel, but also caring for His children. All of His children: parent and child, even when you don’t do it so well or are misunderstood. Even if they don’t like it.
This is martyrdom, this is being a father, this is being a parish priest: putting the needs of others before your need to be liked.