Someone once compared parish priests to twentieth century housewives: you can’t explain completely to anyone what you do—only know that you’re busy from early morning to late night taking care of what needs to be taken care of.
In olden days, and in some places today, a parish priest was called a “curate.” A curate is one who is entrusted with care—in the case of the church, he is entrusted with the care of souls. Much as a curator is a guardian of records or treasures, a parish priest manages the sacramental records of his faith community and looks after treasures even more valuable than vessels and vestments, i.e., the treasure of human souls. Ecclesial curates are to care for people especially at times of transition: baptism and occasions of spiritual rebirth, marriage and sacraments of union with God and others, sickness and death and return to God’s eternal care.
One of our great saints, John Vianney, is better known as The Cure of Ars. By all appearances, he was wanting: not very intelligent or physically healthy. But his weaknesses got transformed into strengths as he looked after those entrusted to his care. He was one of the few parish priests ever canonized by the Catholic Church. Since there are tens of thousands of saints by some estimates, it doesn’t say much for the holiness of parish priests but it does emphasize Saint Paul’s proclamation that through human weakness we can recognize divine strength within us. Since God is the one who ultimately cares for His people, probably the best thing a parish priest can do is let God work through him, especially in those sacramental and pivotal moments of greatest care-taking.
After Vianney’s mother died, he said, “Next to God, I owe everything to my mother. She was so good. Virtue will pass readily from the heart of a mother into that of her children—and any child who has been blessed by the care of a good mother can honor her best by caring for others.” We learn about care for others at any early age. In that sense, we are all curates, bearers of faith and care-takers of souls. And much as a mother cares for her children’s welfare I pray that I, and other priests, will care for the children of God who have been entrusted to us.