When we settled in to our new parish in the ‘burbs a couple of years ago, the first task we set for ourselves was to get to know the pastor. Our second task was to get “involved,” which for us meant volunteering to teach Religious Ed, and scoping out the choir.
The problem with getting to know the pastor was that he didn’t seem to stick around long after Mass. He would shake a few hands and then quickly dart back to the sacristy long before the pews were empty, which is no easy feat when people are halfway out the door by the Sign of Peace. He wouldn’t even stick around after the weekday Masses, which were considerably smaller and populated by a very non-threatening set of parishioners. So one Sunday, when I saw a small opening to catch him before he left the church, I ran across a couple of aisles and I sort of… well, cornered him.
I introduced myself and pointed to my adorable family across the way. “We’re new,” I explained, and I puffed myself up with Midwestern Hospitality Pride as I said, “We’d love to invite you over for dinner some time. Would you like to visit our home?” The man immediately stiffened up, averted his glance a few times and said, “Well, it’s Lent. I’m busy.”
I was taken a little by surprise, but quickly followed up: “Oh, well, then maybe during Easter?”
“That’s very busy, too.”
My Pride Feathers were ruffled. “So you’re busy for all of Lent and all of Easter? All 90+ days?”
“The whole time?”
“Yes. I have to go now.” And he shuffled off.
I. was. miffed. I was full of outrage. How could he be so RUDE?! To not even consider our invitation? To just rush off like that with not even a ‘thank you’?
I took a job at another parish and that was that. I wrote him off. In my mind, he was simply a rude (or at least very tactless) priest that I didn’t have to worry about any more.
Until the other day when I was talking with my mom and she mentioned a pastor who had served at our parish in Indiana about ten years ago. “Did you know,” she asked me, “that he never had a cook because he didn’t eat? The ladies at the church said he would just have a small tin of anchovies every morning for breakfast and then he would fast for the whole rest of the day.”
I had never heard this before. “Every day, really?”
“Yes. Apparently he wouldn’t even accept invitations to go to parishioners’ houses or out to dinner because he was fasting. He never told anyone, but the old ladies who helped out with various things around the rectory said it was because he fasted all the time.”
Here was something I had never considered: that maybe a priest would decline a dinner invitation without giving a legitimate reason because he wanted to keep that reason private. Maybe that parish priest who shot me down was fasting, too. Maybe he has serious dietary restrictions or allergies and doesn’t want to explain or make requests. Maybe he has some form of social anxiety that I don’t need to know about. Or maybe he’s just rude.
But the point is: I don’t know. I don’t know if he’s rude or anxious or the holiest-fastingest-priest in the MetroWest. Whatever his reason for declining our invitation, it remains his reason and most likely had absolutely nothing to do with me. I know for a fact that people have thought I was a cold, rude person, but I willingly chose to let them think I was rude in that moment rather than opening myself up and being vulnerable. Perhaps that is not the best choice to make, but the takeaway is: sometimes my Midwestern Hospitality Pride needs to do a little self-check in the mirror. I’m very grateful that during this Lent, when I myself have been very busy and could hardly accept a dinner invitation if it were offered, was reminded of this priest and given the chance to see how I failed to be charitable in my assertive attempt to be “hospitable.”
Thanks, Lord, for that big slice of humble pie.