Editor’s note: This essay was written by a diocesan seminarian. He and the subject remain anonymous so that the essay will praise all priests.
This summer I have been assigned to work with a truly unique man who is a wonderful priest and role model. I would like to describe him for you. I won’t name him because I expect that whatever town that you live in you will know a priest like him. The Diocese of Springfield has been blessed with a presbyterate made up of great men who, despite what the press may say, quietly toil in the “vineyard” and accomplish some amazing things every day! They have devoted their lives to bringing the love of Christ their parishes.
My supervisor this summer is a “street priest”. While I have always heard that expression I thought that it was an outdated term that referred to the ‘hippie” or “anti-war priests” of the sixties and seventies, the guys who lived on the Boston Common or in the homeless shelters. It was not always a compliment to be described as a “street priest”. Today the term is very complimentary. My boss, the street priest, is a living example of the words of St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel always, if you have to, use words.”
This guy lives the beatitudes. The expectations expressed by Jesus in Matthew’s gospel are not theoretical to him. Every day he is out “on the street” interacting with “God’s people”. He can often be found handing out bags of food to the hungry or cold drinks to the thirsty.
He dashes off to the hospitals to comfort the sick and relies on Google maps to guide him to the homebound. On a regular basis he visits area prisons to make sure “his boys don’t need anything.”
He gives voice to the marginalized and challenges the rest of us to move out of our comfort zones and live the gospel message. If you’re down on your luck; if you have made some poor choices in life; if you’re confused or desperate he is your man!
He’s not perfect. My seminary professors would not be impressed by his liturgical style and although his homilies are interesting and often passionate no one will ever describe him as a great preacher. His singing is downright awful. He has a quirky personality and an annoying amount of energy…But none of that matters because he has boundless love for his neighbor and his Church. He is a great evangelist, he just doesn’t use words. He offers an open mind and a warm heart to everyone that he meets. He doesn’t judge, he serves!
In return his parishioners love him. As part of my “internship” this summer he took me to visit his “old parish”, a parish he left almost ten years ago. You would never know that he had been away. As we walked down the local streets I was amazed by the number of “passersby” who beeped and stopped to say hello to “their priest”. The children of his old parish had grown up but still waved and laughed with him. Old youth group members were now pushing baby carriages down Main Street and were excited to have the opportunity to introduce their children to this great priest. Two people, who had been gang members and prisoners, stopped to tell us about what “the street priest” had done for them and how they were able to turn their lives around “because of him”. A five block walk took almost an hour because of this impromptu outpouring of love. “His people” stood on street corners and sat on stoops and in each place we were greeted with big smiles and incredible stories.
There have been many books written these days that focus on the problems of the Catholic Church and the future of the priesthood. Some of these tomes raise very good points and make valuable contributions but anyone who has serious doubts about the goodness of priests or the future of the Church should spend a few hours walking through the parish with their “street priest”. The future of this Diocese is very bright. The priests of this diocese are incredible. Please pray for them and maybe consider joining them in bringing the Love of Christ to the streets. Do you have what it takes to be a “street priest”?