Note to the reader: I am married to a Roman Catholic priest.
I understand the confusion. There are very few of us priest wives out there, and even fewer have small children. Most Catholics have no idea there are any married priests in the world at all. My husband and I have been married for 15 years. He was an ordained Episcopal priest for about 11 years before following a call to leave the Episcopal church and come home to the Catholic Church. We came into full communion with the Catholic Church last year through the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, in accordance with Pope Benedict XVI’s “Anglicanorum Coetibus”. Fr. Jonathan Erdman is a priest in charge of a community in formation, the Catholic Community of Our Lady and St. John in Louisville, Kentucky. Fr. Jonathan and I have four delightful children together, and one more on the way.
I can say wholeheartedly that few people are more difficult to shop for than the man who appears to have everything he needs and wants – your parish priest. The energetic priest is appears to be a bottomless well of living water, never drying up. The experienced priest may appear tired and run low on that energy. Yet, neither priest seems to need or want anything, though they give everything they have to the church and to God. For both types of priests, Christmas is an opportunity to build him up as he lays down the challenges of the past year at the foot of a manger, and to prepare for the challenges to come in the next.
Gratitude often comes in many forms at Christmas time, and gestures of love are the very best gifts of all. It’s true that any gift given with a heart of love will be received with sincere joy.
If you’re like me, you would like an insider’s point of view of the best and worst gifts to give a priest for Christmas. I can help with a few of my own observations.
My husband and I are both foodies. We love food, and put it to good use! We also have a lot of kids who gleefully consume baked treats of all kinds. Most priests are not married with large families, though, and the amount of treats they are given this time of year is staggering. They cannot possibly eat it all! Furthermore, I know many priests on strict diets due to medical reasons – heart conditions, diabetes, or allergies to nuts, dairy, or gluten. We love our priests, so please don’t kill them.
Maybe you are thinking turkey, ham, or a roast. That’s wonderful, if the priest knows what to do with one and can store it properly. I know one priest who was given four turkeys by four separate parishioners one year. He was in a real bind because his freezer was small, and with no roasting pan, no meat thermometer, and no idea how to cook a turkey. Many priests of today were once young men fresh out of high school when they attended seminary. They became priests knowing perhaps how to cook for themselves, but not necessarily a big group of people. A big roast is a very thoughtful gift, but can be a big problem for a single guy.
Religious objects and art
If your priest is a collector, a small religious statue, cross, rosary, or Bible will be treasured for a lifetime. Most priests I know have them in abundance. That being said, my husband and I love beautifully crafted religious art given from the heart.
Beware the mounted sequined cross one priest I know received for Christmas. He may be inspired to break into retro disco liturgical dance.
Most priests I know do not have extensive budgets. It’s true, piety is a gift that invites the soul to reach for God, our greatest spiritual treasure. This year, our family experienced the profound humility of not being able to afford to buy Christmas gifts for the first time. We were in the financial position that we had given everything we had to feed ourselves and follow Christ. It was the first time I truly had to pray and trust that God would provide. Through our prayers, God answered in abundance! Friends and church members took a collection that more than provided for our feast, our children’s wish lists, and share with people who had even less than we did.
If you are concerned that cash may be a bit impersonal, consider gift cards. We get pretty excited this time of year when we open Christmas greeting cards and find a Starbucks card, very good for the priest who spent Saturday night until the morning with a dying man and must preach at three services Sunday morning. Also, restaurant gift cards are great for dinner or lunch, a primary method to exercise pastoral care or evangelism. Bookstore gift cards are wonderful for the reading priest – most priests are extensive readers. Amazon gift cards are great for almost any need he may have.
Wine and whiskey
Several priests I know prefer a nice bottle of wine or bourbon. I know my husband and several priest friends love these gifts. We often keep these gifts to celebrate feasts, share with others for evangelism, or just to relax after a long day. Take care to know if your priest struggles with alcoholism, though, as the stress of ministry sometimes takes its toll on even the best priests.
What are favorite gifts?
The best gifts for a priest may surprise you. When I asked other priest wives, they most often said “a vacation”. Once in a while, a friend offers their home for a special time away for rest and prayer. What a gift! Other people offer their air miles as a gift so their priest can visit family far away. If you can find a way to give your priest a special getaway, do it!
When I ask priests themselves what gifts they love the most, I hear a different answer. Most often, they love to receive a letter of support or encouragement. Priests never really know if they’ve made a difference, and Christmas is a wonderful time to tell them how you feel. Your letter will be kept in a special place for years, read over and over in times of trial when they need support the most. They also need your prayers. Remember that prayer for your priest always the greatest gift you could give, and the most often overlooked. Make a regular time to offer specific prayer for your priest, and the blessings of his life in ministry will overflow.
The best gift for one priest may be the worst for another priest. My advice: do some investigative work. If you are stuck, ask the priest secretary, staff, or member of the parish council. These are people closest to your priest, and will know which gifts would be most appreciated. Or ask his wife if he has one. (Ha!)