Wednesday, October 19, 2011
I recently had the opportunity to hear a priest give a talk called "The Priest-Everything You Wanted to Know But Were Afraid to Ask." As one who loves priests you can imagine that I eagerly anticipated this talk. It was really more of a question and answer session than a talk, so his words were geared to the specific questions that were asked. While his talk gave me much to think about, I couldn't help but feel disappointed by what he said. What was I expecting, some great mysterious insight into the holiness of the priesthood, perhaps? What I found was some holiness, to be sure, but mostly I heard the words of a very ordinary man who loves his priesthood but also struggles with the stresses in life, both from the high expectations placed upon him by others as well as the high expectations that he places upon himself and his brother priests which seems to have ultimately resulted in his lowered expectations of everyone in the Church.
I asked him how the laity, the ordinary people in the pews, can help him and help all priests. I especially wanted to know what we can we do to help all men be successful in their priesthood and to remain faithful to their calling. He answered that there is nothing that we can do to prevent a man from leaving the priesthood if he is unhappy. He offered the usual things that strengthen a priest such as socialization and participation in church activities. He seemed to say that the largest burden on the happiness and success of the priesthood falls upon the places of formation, the seminaries, and I'm sad to say that his words about seminary life were not very pleasant. The negativity of his words weighed heavy on my heart and I realized that something important was missing in his response to my question. What was lacking in his answer was the one thing I feel most called to do and that is to pray, because although he was right in that there isn't anything that we can do, our God can do anything if only we would humbly ask Him in prayer. Not a moment of my day goes by without my whispering a prayer for one priest or another as well as for those discerning a call to the priesthood and for those studying in the seminaries.
I just finished reading a most fabulous book, Dear Father: A Message of Love to Priests, by Catherine de Hueck Doherty which I highly recommend. The book is fashioned in the style of personal letters and her beautiful words raised my spirits with hope and joy in a way that the talk I heard did not. Let me share some excerpts:
"We call you "Father" because you begot us in the mystery of a tremendous love affair between you and God. Because you participate in the one priesthood of Christ. You are wedded to the Church, his bride. Even should the law of celibacy be rescinded, you will still be wedded to the Church, and it still will have to take precedence over everything in your life.
We call you "Father" and we are your "family." We need you desperately. We need you where God has placed you, at the head of our family, just as he has placed human fathers in the midst of their families to nurture and love them."
"Christ loves his priests. It is incomprehensible to us how much he loves his priests. He loves them like brothers. But what is more, he loves them as himself. Because, you see, a priest is Christ, and the Father loves them because he loves the Son, and the Icon of the Son is in the heart of every priest. And so the Father bends over each heart with a love that surpasses all understanding, and the Holy Spirit sends his fire and flame constantly upon you. You have a Pentecost every day...
It's a stupendous thing, dear Father. I am just an ordinary lay person, but when you come into our house or I go into yours, I feel a sort of complete joy. It's as close as I come to the living Christ. You think I exaggerate? Oh no, not at all. You are the living Christ, in a manner of speaking. He ascended, but he loved us so much-us, his Mystical Body of which he is the head, us, his people of God-that he couldn't possibly leave us. So he left himself in you. Do you understand that, Father? Do you?
Yes, he left himself if you, in the Bread and Wine, in the Eucharist. He left himself in Icons and in the Saints and in a lot of ways, but above all, in the Eucharist and you."
And so for the priests who feel that there is nothing the laity can do for them, I ask you to please accept our prayers, for our words to God on your behalf are filled with our love, the love of your children. We need you to be successful and to be happy because we are a selfish lot and we know that our prayers for you will ultimately result in happiness and holiness for each one of us. Keep giving us God through your faithful and loving witness to his goodness and to his love. Keep pouring yourself out for our benefit. Keep being the living face of Christ.
I am now one week away from my enrollment ceremony after which I will begin my formation period as a candidate for the Oblates of the Precious Blood, and will commit my entire life to a deeper way of praying for priests in unity with the Handmaids of the Precious Blood. Please keep me in your prayers in this regard and consider joining me in praying for the sanctity of all priests everywhere. Our Fathers are depending upon us and upon our prayers!