Forty years a priest, I do detect
That what my people most expect
Is that when crises come their way
I’ll have the wisest words to say.
Vocation is to penetrate
Their fiercest ills and then to state
Not solutions, but insight
To help provide some small respite.
No motive is entirely pure;
There is no full and holy cure –
Not on this side of the grave,
So I pretend that I am brave.
And if I am to be of use,
There’s nothing that I dare refuse;
No door through which I must not enter
If I am to be their mentor.
To infiltrate all suffering’s levels
I must do battle with the devils:
‘The wounded surgeon plies the steel’
But that’s not what my people feel.
They want their parish priest serene
And to remain perfectly clean;
Triumphant he must be and oughter,
Like Jesus walking on the water.
How to explain this cannot be?
Do not all sailors fear the sea?
The miner brings no ore of worth
Unless he burrows into earth.
Of this they have a fair conception:
The parish priest their one exception:
He must be wise and deep. Amen –
And yet as innocent as them.
True the priest should not excel
In trying to chart the coasts of hell;
Nor make a virtue of abuse,
Claiming vocation as excuse
(Like Coleridge taking to the booze,
Claimed it demanded by the muse)
But listen, this word must be spoken:
He cannot mend unless he’s broken.
If broken, then he needs repair;
His people do not help him there.
So I think Easter Eve
When Our Lord his Cross did leave
Implanted in the courts of hell:
I wish I could do half as well.
His Cross still planted there to tell
The devil must suffer merrie hell;
And so the priest must do as well
Until the resurrection bell.