Yesterday we had a phone call from some friends to join them for lunch at the Chinderah Tavern. Being school holidays meant that I had the freedom and could escape school for a couple of hours, so I went. My wife went from home and I joined them there.
I roared in on the Harley in my checked clergy shirt, red cross and red Squires boots. As I stepped onto the verandah my friend announced me with ‘Hello Father Glenn!” Everybody on the verandah turned to have a look. I smiled and ordered a beer and sat down to order lunch.
A little later I went to wash my hands and as I walked through the bar I heard one old barfly say to another, “That’s the bloke with red boots”, with a nod in my direction. His mate replied, “Yeh, read about him in the paper.”
While we were eating lunch, the lady at the next table came over and asked which church I belonged to. I said, “Anglican”. She said, “Catholic”, and went on to talk about how hard it is to be a Catholic in an area (she was a visitor) where just that day a long running child abuse case surfaced again. She wondered out loud how to handle the criticism. I made some suggestions which seemed to help her, she put her hand on my shoulder and thanked me.
Later my wife noted that during that conversation there was little or no sound on the verandah, everybody was watching and listening to our exchange. It was a ‘woman at the well’ experience and one that keeps occurring for me.
Being a priest in the model of Christ, our high priest, is to be available in the ordinary stuff of life to the ordinary stuff in others lives. It is putting flesh and breath in to the Sacraments and being open to the real presence of Christ in every aspect of being fully human, fully alive.
A priest is a symbol in a secular world. While people may no longer practice institutional religion as they once did, they are still looking for someone, something which allows them to encounter the spiritual in their everyday. A priest does that whether in church, with those of their flock or with those in the parish area to which they are appointed.
it is important to remember that a priest is not appointed to a church but to a parish area. And while parish areas may now be deemed to be arbitrary, it is the symbolism of that appointment that matters most. A priest is appointed to all people in a geographical area and his priestly role, bringing alive the love of God sacramentally is an all day, everyday encounter with people, wherever they are to be found.