Tuesday, August 23, 2011


One difference between me and Flannery O'Connor is that she was a genius. Another is this:  her observation that "No priest has ever said turkey dog to me to me about liking anything I wrote."

That many priests have liked what I wrote, or at least marginally liked me, is one of the treasures of my life. When Paraclete started asking me for blurbs for Shirt of Flame, I immediately thought: Oh God, I hate this part. I don't know any famous writers. I don't know anyone who's all that crazy about my work. And suddenly I realized: My priest friends. I'll ask the priests. 

So I asked Ron Rolheiser and Lorenzo Albacete and Peter Cameron and Vincent Nagle and Robert Barron and James Stephen Behrens and they all patiently read my book and gave me beautiful blurbs and afterward I realized that almost every one of these incredibly overworked men--and this is just from what very little I know of their personal lives--had  also been engaged in some dire physical, emotional, and/or spiritual struggle. These men who had absolutely nothing to gain from me had put aside their own suffering, denied themselves leisure, and read and endorsed my book. (As did fab writer, blogger, Zen student/teacher, mother Bethany Saltman who is a kind of priest in her own right and also came through like a complete champ and check her out).

Even if priests hadn't liked what I wrote, they would still be treasures. I can hardly think of a more thankless job, a lonelier job, a job with more meager results and built-in suffering. And I definitely can't think of a group of men--of people--who have been more courteous to me, more solicitous, more appropriate, more kind. Fr. Jarlath Cunnane, formerly of St. Thomas the Apostle in L.A. Father Michael Morris, who teaches at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers. Fr. Pat whose parish is in Monterey, California and who checks in every few months to say I'm telling people about your book or to recommend something he's just read himself. Fr. Joseph Adams, U.S. Army chaplain in Afghanistan. Many more who must forgive me for not having the space to mention them by name. Father (actually Monsignor) Terry Richey who has his own chapter in Redeemed and over a recent lunch mused, with a wicked twinkle in his eye, "If you're really lucky, you eventually give up all hope of being happy in any way you ever thought you were going to be happy"...

One big cross for priests has got to be putting up with love-lorn, middle-aged, over-emoting Mary Magdelenes such as myself. Last year I spent three months, which included all of Lent, in Taos, New Mexico. There was one Catholic church in town, Our Lady of Guadalupe (two if you count St. Jerome's, which is within the Taos Pueblo), and also one bilingual, hard-working priest, Fr. Larry Brito. Fr. Brito said three back-to-back Masses on Sundays--one at the Pueblo, one in Spanish, one in English--and two Masses a day at OLG: 6:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. He'd also helped spearhead a homeless shelter in town that an arsonist has destroyed the first time around and that was now poised to open. Almost every day I trudged through the snow--whether morning or evening, in starry darkness--to Mass. After morning Mass we prayed the Rosary and after evening Mass, we prayed the Stations of the Cross. I was saddened to hear, just as I was leaving, that Fr. Brito was being transferred to another parish, and it had been a very deep time for me, so before I did leave, I asked if I could speak to him.

First, however, I PRAYED not to burst into tears and impose myself and my weirdness on the poor, overburdened, in-transition man. So on the afternoon of our appointment I walked into his office and sat down and wrung my hands and choked out, "I just wanted to thank you! I just wanted to say I am so grateful and so full of wonder and joy at the Church! In spite of my terrible ongoing weaknesses...you know, you do your little Mass, and your prayer, and your Office, and nothing seems to be happening, and yet…they…they come to you, the Father and the Son, just as they said! They come! And they make their home in you! And"…waaaaaah

And the good Father just sat there and listened with a little smile of total, total compassion. Like Join the club. Like Oh yeah, it is lonely, and after we'd talked for a bit (this is very typical, btw, of my conversations with  priests and really people in general), I said “5:30 Mass, right?” and he said, “Yes, we have 5:30 Mass,” so I had a nice walk around the streets behind the church and came back for Mass, and I pray for him, and all the priests who have been kind to me, and all priests.

This is what priests show us: If you admire/respect/love them, go out and do like they do. Okay, your heart was moved by some wonderful priest: pray for him, and go out and do your own kind of good, whatever way is given to you. We will all meet in heaven.

As François Mauriac observed:

People say that there is a scarcity of priests. In truth, what an adorable mystery it is that there still are priests. They no longer have any human advantage. Celibacy, solitude, hatred very often, derision and, above all the indifference of a world in which there seems to be no longer room for them—such is the portion they have chosen. They have no apparent power; their task sometimes seems to be centered about material things, identifying them, in the eyes of the masses, with the staffs of town halls and of funeral parlors. A pagan atmosphere prevails all around them. The people would laugh at their virtue if they believed in it, but they do not. They are spied upon. A thousand voices accuse those who fall. As for the others, the great number, no one is surprised to see them toiling without any sort of recognition, without appreciable salary, bending over the bodies of the dying, or ambling about the parish…

Or as Flannery O'Connor noted in a letter dated December 9, 1958:

"It is easy for any child to pick out the faults of the sermon on his way home from Church every Sunday. It is impossible for him to find out the hidden love that makes a man, in spite of his intellectual limitations, his neuroticism, his own lack of strength, give up his life to the service of God's people, however bumblingly he may go about it."

Long may they live. Thank you, dear Fathers, from the bottom of my heart...Thanks, too, to Bob Edmonson, for his painstaking copy-editing and the lovely blurb he contributed as well.

And it must be said: Bethany Saltman rocks.



  1. God that's beautiful.

  2. Oh, Heather, the joy of this post and a half-pot of coffee at 4 something in the morning! And needless to say, I totally agree, and could compose my own litany of influential and beloved priests: starting with Fr Sid at the Salesian Boys Club in the early '80s; moving on to my CCD teacher in eighth grade as I prepared for Confirmation, the late Fr Wilson; to Msgr McFarland, the late director of Boston Catholic Television; to Fr W and Fr B at St Pat's in Roxbury; to my current pastor and parochial vicar; to the Franciscans of (say it with me!) Aahch Street; to the resplendently good Fr Tom C, formerly of the Prudential Center chapel, now in Denver. Occasionally one finds someone who doesn't seem to be all that, but I do love priests and the priesthood, and it pains me to no end to see priests maligned, you know how.

    And I'm loving the fact that you led your litany of good priests (pictorially) with an OCSO! Trappists rock!

  3. I have had the misfortune of knowing a few priests who have done much evil to me -- may God bless and heal them! -- but also the grace of many more priests who have been founts of grace in my life. Glory to God that you, too, have been blessed with priests like these, Heather. :)

    Our Lady, Queen of Heaven, pray for and defend these servants of your Son, that through them grace continue to pour out upon us.

  4. Amen, Jason, and thanks, Dylan and Robert...like all the sacraments, the Sacrament of Holy Orders is a mystery...

  5. Lovely Heather, What a joy it is to know wonderful priests! Thank you for sharing who your dear friends are. I shall pray for them, and you!

  6. Heather, I have requested your
    book from the library as soon as
    they receive it. Love to purchase
    it, but funds are very low. I apologize.

    At least from the priests, you will
    get honesty and real joy.
    Although, I have met more than a few Catholic priests, who were mean-spirted.

    But, they are human.

    Not to say from other writers you won't but it maybe more genuine.And we can all write GLOWING reviews on AMAZON for you.

    Just one question, I often ponder:
    God: why did you make so many Catholic priests so handsome?


  7. Speaking of your book, will Shirt of Flame have a Kindle version and if so when is it's pub date?

  8. Thanks, folks, the official pub date is September 1st but from what I can gather a week or two or three afterward is when the book will be in stores and--yes!-- available on kindle.

    I'll run a few excerpts and if you've been at all following along with my posts about St. Therese you already have a good bit of the flavor...

  9. I found your blog through another blogger. Can I say that are a writer with true and pure motives? I am a writer myself and looking to write a book in the near future. I may need a mentor so I love to talk to you about it. I pray for priests especially those who are OPs. May God bless you as you continue to write the truth.

  10. Thank you, Eileen! Yes, let's continue to pray for priests (this was a huge part of the vocation of St. Therese of Lisieux) and if you should need a writing mentor, I'd be happy to talk...


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