There’s good news in a major new survey done with US Catholic priests: the majority of them are happy in their vocation. But the study, which surveyed 3,516 priests from 191 US Catholic dioceses, also showed that many priests display signs of burnout — especially younger priests. And diocesan priests fare worse than those who belong to religious orders.
Priests surveyed also said that they find significant support in their lay friends — so that should motivate us to think about how we can be better friends to the priests we know and love. We should never assume that they have the support they need, so here are a few ideas to consider.
Stop and chat with him after Mass
Instead of rushing out the door after Mass, stop and talk to your priest. Share something about yourself, ask him a question, comment positively on his homily, or share a good joke. Friendly and enjoyable social conversation is a nice way to start building rapport.
Ask him out for coffee or tea
It doesn’t take a great deal of time to grab a coffee and have a chat together. Ask him what days and times could work and put something on the calendar — or consider being spontaneous about it. Even if his schedule is too full, the gesture shows your interest in getting to know him as a person.
Invite him for a family dinner
It used to be commonplace to invite your parish priest over for dinner, but these days we often think we need to have a fancy meal or perfectly-behaved children to do it. Not at all. Priests enjoy seeing the real lives of the people they serve, and it allows them to get to know our families.
Include him in a party or event
The next time you’re having a party or gathering, whether it’s with relatives or friends, consider inviting your priest. He may enjoy an evening out, and your guests may enjoy getting to know him just as much as you do.
Invite him as a guest to a sports game, concert, play, etc.
Does a priest you know enjoy sports, music, or the theater? Consider getting an extra ticket and inviting your priest along for the evening.
Find out his important anniversaries (birthday, ordination day, baptismal day, etc.)
Make a point to acknowledge or honor the special days in a priest’s life. You might give him a gift or card, or just mention it when you see him. But it’s a wonderful thing to have others celebrate important days with you — and priests appreciate that as much as anyone else.
Ask him what he needs and how you can help
Sometimes what makes a person feel most supported is to be asked what they really need. Ask the priests you know what they need most, what would be most helpful to them in their work and life. It may not be something you can fulfill yourself, but you could help figure out how the need can be met.