I suspect with the priest shortage, that things have gotten extremely hectic. Priests aren’t allowed to have an “off-day” and often are called to deal with some family emergency of one sort or another. See some “typical" entries here and here. When the priest appears he is the representative of the Church and surely an Alter Christus when dealing with grief and tragedy.
I had intellectually processed this fact but not consciously thought about it until the evening on the day my wife died. Returning from the accident site, I made a few phone calls. One was to the rectory. “Father wasn’t available just then, could I leave a message?” the receptionist asked. I replied, “Yes, my wife died and I need immediate help for my sons and I need to arrange for a funeral.” She told me, she’d give that message to Father. Just like ordering pizza “with anchovies” was routine at Domino’s, I had made what was probably a routine call to the parish office, no reason to think I was unique.
I tuned off my cellphone to conserve battery life and because I didn’t want to talk to anybody just then. Two hours later, when I called the parish again, the scared receptionist immediately put me through to Father. He was furious that my call had been handled so casually and profusely apologized. I assured him no apologies needed and we arranged for him to meet me and my boys at our house that night, and for me to meet with him at the rectory the next day.
He met us at the house and “checked me out” making sure I was functioning rationally, and then met with the boys.
When he left he was still upset at the parish response. This time I did the math out loud. “Father,” I said, “This parish has 3200 families. Probably five people per family?” He agreed with my math. “Well, then if we assume that all those people live to be 100 years old, then the parish would average 160 death per year, or one very other day.” Why wouldn’t I think you might be busy when I called?” He shook his head and agreed with the math but said that few were sudden deaths of 30ish mothers of young children. Maybe so. But it is an unavoidable fact that priests must spend a lot of their time dealing with the life tragedies of their parishioners.
God bless them for doing this day in and day out. God give them the inner peace to bear up and the strength to provide the message of God’s love to all in crisis. God bless all of our priests and those aspiring to the priesthood. God grant us more vocations.