It is something we do every day — consciously and unconsciously. It can happen multiple times in an hour. This something is a long, extended breath that releases some kind of an emotion. It is called a sigh.
The emotions that are expressed in a sigh range from sorrow to sadness and from weariness to relief, just to name a few. Sighs occur when we need to release pressure of some kind. Sighs also happen when there are no words. Sighs also can indicate a sense of futility and finality.
How much do you find yourself sighing in the course of a day? As priests we no doubt sigh much as we minister to others. If it is not our sighs, then it is the sighs of those to whom we minister.
What do you do with your sighs? How do you handle all the sighs of those whom you encounter in ministry? In this month of May, as we honor our Blessed Virgin Mary, we are invited to take our sighs to her. The Salve Regina, which we pray at night prayer or at the conclusion of the Rosary, acknowledges our sighs. We pray to our Mother of Mercy, who is “our life, our sweetness and our hope.” In this beautiful, prayerful hymn we say, “To thee we cry poor banished children of Eve, to thee do we send up our sighs mourning and weeping in the valley of tears.”
What sighs do you feel a need to bring to our Blessed Lady? Perhaps it is the sigh of exhaustion having ministered all day and even into the night without a break. Perhaps it is the sigh of grief from dealing with death. Perhaps it is the sigh of frustration from facing conflict and difficulty in the parish. Perhaps it is the sigh of anxiety, worrying about what else can go wrong. Perhaps it is the sigh of disillusionment coming from our expectations not being realized. Perhaps it is the sigh of disappointment knowing that even after all of our best efforts we have fallen short. Perhaps it is the sigh of powerlessness in which we know not what to do. Perhaps it is the sigh of anger. Or maybe it is a simple sigh of relief, trusting that the work is done and all is fine.
While the reasons for all sighs are different, nonetheless they all have a way of helping us to pause, express an emotion and then let go. Inside every sigh is the mark of our humanity. It is human to sigh. But these sighs can become prayers as we bring them to Mary. As a woman of sorrow and joy, Mary can identify with our sighs. What is more, Mary as the mother of priests empathizes with our sighs so well. Just as she kneels at the foot of Jesus’ cross, she is there at our own personal experiences of Calvary to support us and protect us. Above all, she takes these sighs to Jesus, who is always there to walk with us and even, if need be, carry us in our sighs.
In the diocese of which I am a priest, it is our custom at the conclusion of the funeral of a priest or their parents for all of the priests present to gather and sing the Salve Regina. The sound of priests singing together this traditional hymn is so moving. But the message behind the words is even more inspiring as we ask Mary, as our advocate, to “turn toward us” and to show us, after our earthly journey, the face of Christ.
Indeed, Mary is always there to “turn toward us.” We must never leave her behind, for as Pope Francis said at the 2017 Chrism Mass, “Without the Madonna, we can’t go forward in our priesthood!” May we never hesitate as God’s servant leaders to turn to Mary and give her our sighs so that we can continue to move forward in our priesthood.
FATHER DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is a pastor of 13 years in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where he has served in numerous roles. To share your thoughts on this column or any others, follow The Priest on Twitter @PriestMagazine and like us on Facebook.