He was a couple of months into his tenure before I had the courage to do this. I'm not one of those people who can walk up after Mass and have an easy, off-the-cuff conversation with a person I don't know.
All during Mass I searched my brain for a topic to broach, having decided that today was the day I would finally say 'hello.'
I always enjoy Father's sermons, so I decided he would be pleased if I gave him this feedback. After Mass I dutifully stood in line behind other parishioners. He laughed and joked with the people in front of me, and then it was my turn.
Imagine my embarrassment when he shook my hand - as I gave my name and said that I enjoy his sermons - but stood open-mouthed and said nothing! His expression was hard to read, but he clearly didn't want to talk to me.
I felt crushed and walked back to my car wanting to cry like a little child. How could God reward my courage and attempt at saying something kind and encouraging with such apparent contempt?
To Be Upfront or Not to Be?
There were two possible ways for me to react, as I saw it.
Either I could feel resentment, tell all my friends what a terrible priest he is and attend a new church.
Or, instead of going behind his back, I could let him know how he had made me feel and thrash it out with him.
Clearly the better route was to be direct with Father instead of going behind his back.
So I emailed him on Monday (after a night spent stewing over things!) and tried to keep it short, factual and not resentful. I simply asked why I had received such a reception from him when I was trying to be welcoming and encouraging!
The Christian Response
Within the hour I received an apologetic reply. Father felt very bad about the whole episode, explaining that he'd had very little sleep over the last two days.
I was happy to hear from him, but didn't know how to respond. So that night I prayed for him instead.
The next morning I had another email from him. He was offering that morning's Mass up for me and my intentions. My altruism in praying for him had been answered by incredible kindness.
Now I had to respond!
Letting Someone Else Benefit
I thanked him very much, and asked him to pray for a friend of mine who lost most of her house in Hurricane Irene's flood. He responded immediately that he would.
Our parish priest is human, but he is also Christian. He was willing to be humble and charitable in the face of criticism. That is very difficult for all of us.
I'm more than happy to stay in his parish, and to keep learning from his example.
P.S. And I'm not kidding, his sermons are awesome!