Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

23 October 2013

Family Matters, But So Do I

Yesterday--or perhaps it was two years ago--a rather devout parishioner told me that she has a few people in her family who are priests. I know that several of her relatives, also registered parishioners, do not attend Mass regularly. I do not know for certain the effect of this woman's example on the other family members; that may be something to find out in the next life. On another occasion a woman (also of the Christmas/Easter/family event variety) mentioned by name the priest to whom she is related. I also know a fellow who has told me a relative of his "goes to church enough for all of  [her children]."

I don't know if other priests encounter this sort of situation. I suspect they do.

Unfortunately one person's Mass attendance, standing in the Church, relation to a priest or consecrated religious, or whatever, can't "count for" another person's expected fidelity.

The practice of a priest giving his Chrism-soaked manutergium to his mother, or the first-Confession stole to his father, is sweet and sentimental. As my class was approaching ordination, I knew of the former custom but not the latter. Now that my father is dead and buried, and I didn't happen to have a stole on me when my first penitent requested Confession (I wasn't in a confessional), that possibility is forever lost. But I did give Mom the manutergium (manus, hand + tergere, to wipe off). To be technical, my classmate and I used a purificatory (used to clean the chalice after reception of Holy Communion); an actual manutergium is long enough to bind the hands.

As the story goes, the mother of a priest is buried with the manutergium in her hands so that, when she meets her Maker, she can say to Him, "See, I have given You a priest." It's kinda like, "See, I have made [one] more!" (cf. Mt 25:20,22) She did have a lot to do with me--as a human being and as a priest.
The Proof is in the Putting
My mother worked for nearly 40 years as a Licensed Practical Nurse. Not long after my ordination she told me that some of her coworkers said that she should have no problem getting into heaven now that she has a son who is a priest. She quickly refuted that claim: "It doesn't work that way."

Didn't Jesus have something to say about this fantasy?

  • "While [Jesus] was speaking, a woman from the crowd called out and said to him, 'Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed.' 'Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.'" (Lk 11:27-28) (One of my favorite Gospels du jour, because of the punch it packs)
  • Oops--this was John the Baptist, but no matter: "And do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones." (Mt 3:9) (I admit that I have fantasized about using an extremely earthy variation of this line on those who would ride another's coattails to heaven--a line that I doubt nobody else would take credit for. If it ever seems! I still can't use it!)
My ordination to the priesthood is a boon to Christ our Savior and Holy Mother Church, whom I am honored to serve. In a way it is also an honor to my family. For this reason I have preferred people to address me as "Father Zelonis." I have oft said that most of my family are surprised enough that a Zelonis should have become a priest. To my knowledge, neither side is banking their salvation on the fact that I am a priest. I can't even do that! 

Likewise, no believer can continue to live freely and consciously as he or she pleases and figure that Nana's or Uncle Henry's faith will take care of them. Now it may, as in the case of Saint Monica, be the necessary intercession that could move a child, grandchild, parent, niece or nephew to repentance and conversion; it could be the good example that always comes back to haunt or intrigue, or perchance inspire.

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