I hate to break to folks, but this question is usually a 'death knell' to a priest. In the last few days, I've had this question repeated to me frequently, as I hit a few places that I hadn't been in a while.
One particular conversation sticks out:
Me leaving the confessional, encountered by an older gentleman. He says: "Hey, do you remember me?"
Me: Blank Look "I'm sorry, but I'm drawing a blank, can you give me the context?" (I was trying to be nice.)
Him: "Oh, you heard my confession back a few months ago!"
Me: "Oh, great, well have a great day."
The truth was, I didn't have a clue. I tend to maybe recognize faces, but even that can sometimes get me in trouble as people have unknown identical twins out there. But for the most part, I don't remember.
It is a shame, really, and in a way an honor that you've been able to connect with someone by doing something that they remember, even several months (or years!) later.
The difficulty now, though, is that I see and talk to so many people in my position, I don't stand a chance of remembering everyone, so that person that walks up and says: "Hey, you remember me, you had Mass in my parish a few weeks ago!" ummmm... Can you be more specific on the time frame, there, I have Mass in so many different places, which one was it?
On a deeper level, though, it shows the respect that is still out there for priests. People tend to love their priests, and want to give him the benefit of the doubt; it is a reminder of the unique role that the priest plays. As the line from Fishers of Men states: "You walk in, semi-stranger; but because you are priest, you are a part of their family." Gets me every time.
So to all those who come up to that priest who was a seminarian in your parish, perhaps a long ago associate, or just a one week visitor, help him out and give him a clue. It is good to know the impact we have with one or two people, because it is also a reminder of the impact we have countless others through our ministry.
Have a great Holy Week!