On the Catholic Priesthood
The confessor is forbidden under grave penalties ever to betray by word, sign, or in any other way, what he has heard in Sacramental confession. The obligation of the seal of confession differs from all other secrets, in that it is never lawful under any circumstances to make known the least thing that has been manifested by a penitent in confession. If questioned about confessional matter, even in a court of justice, the priest must always answer that he knows nothing about it, as with perfect truth he may do, for what he knows as a confessor he knows as the Vicegerent of God, not as man.
Not only the priest, but all others, who mediately or immediately come to know anything confessed to a priest with a view to absolution, are bound by the obligation of the seal. The obligation of the seal is imposed in favor of the penitent; it is the penitent's secret, but he himself is not bound by it. It does not follow, however, that penitents may without let or hindrance talk to others about what the confessor has said to them in the confessional. They are at least bound by a natural obligation to reveal nothing which would tend in any way to injure or aggrieve the confessor. The religious obligation of keeping secret anything that is manifested in Sacramental confession is imposed by the natural, the divine, and by positive ecclesiastical law.
Force of Prayer
We do not deny the force of prayer. We feel it. We acknowledge it. We grant it in all its fullness. But we have no time.
What! Christian soul; you have no time to pray!
You are naked, and blind, and deaf and weak, and have no time to pray! Your soul is naked of God's grace;
it is blind to His light; it is deaf to His whispering; it is weak and faint, and yet you have no time to pray.
If your body were naked, would you have no time, think you, to seek wherewith to clothe it?
If your eyes were blind and could be restored to sight for the asking, would you have no time to ask?
If your ears were deaf and could receive their hearing by knocking, would you have no time to knock?
Take care soul, take care. Search your heart more searchingly, and you will find that it is not time that you have not;
it is the inclination, and you have not the inclination because you have not the faith. You have time for your friends,
but because God is not on your list of friends, you have no time for Him. You have had no introduction.
You have time for your farms, for your oxen, for your household, for your secular business, nay, even for every
frivolous amusement; but for God's farm you have "no time;" for God's household you have "no time;"
for the business of God's eternity you have "no time."
Where is your faith, O naked one! O blind one! 0 deaf one! O preoccupied one! This man has had time to make
himself a judge, a lawyer, a merchant, a millionaire, and has not had time to be a Christian. All have time to take
their meals. However busy, however pressed, they find time to get them at stated hours, or failing that, they find
some other time for them. Their meals never fail them. But for their spiritual meals, no time; for their soul's
nourishment, no time. One-third of life is spent in sleep, and yet we have no time for spiritual repose.
In a word, for temporal things we have time and to spare, for spiritual things no time.
Beware; this no time drags thousands down to a miserable eternity. Correct this irregularity; in God's August Name
correct it. If you have every day a certain time set apart for sleep, for meals, for business, for amusements,
have also some time at least for prayer. I am not now speaking of morning and evening prayer. A man need
only be half a Christian to say them. I speak of a time wherein to place yourself daily at God's feet, as did the
Magdalene, there to talk with Him, to open your hearts to Him; to tell Him your wants, your hopes, your aspirations
For some short time at least be Mary, if all the rest of the time you are obliged to be Martha. "I have lifted up
my eyes to the mountain whence help shall come. He will not sleep, nor does He sleep. Who keepeth Israel."
And I do not want you to speak in set phrase from a book. Speak from your heart as to a loving father.
He bids you call Him Father. Open everything, conceal nothing; He knows everything beforehand; He waits
only for the asking; and when you ask, ask in groans and sighs. Take a lesson from the worldling.
For what does the worldling groan? For that he is miserable after so many vain efforts to be happy.
Why does he sigh? Because the pleasures and riches and honors of this life fly before him like a butterfly,
no matter how fast he runs.
During your short time of prayer (the shorter the more fervid,) do you likewise sigh and mourn as the worlding
does, but let it be for spiritual things, not temporal ones. Groan for the miserable failure through human weakness
of your efforts for spiritual advancement. Sigh for the riches and honors of Heaven; groan and sigh thus, and He
Who has said, "Ask and you shall receive," will not desert you. It is want of faith that leaves prayer so distasteful
to us. If we could catch but one glimpse of Heaven—if we could hear but one phrase of Heaven's melody—
if we could feel but one thrill of Heaven's joys, we should need no urging; our prayer would be spontaneous, gushing,
overflowing. Gold represents everything which men call precious, i.e everything “buyable”, and what is there which
cannot be bought?
It is said that even the most high toned and honorable men have their price. It may indeed take more to buy men of
coarser mold, but still they are to be bought. Now if you had promised you a mountain of this gold, which buys
everything, even to high-toned and honorable men; if this mountain was promised for the asking—or even if it were
promised you for the fetching—or even if it might be yours by force of arms, would you have no time to ask? Would
you have no time to beat up recruits, to buy ammunition, and go to the fighting? And yet what comparison between
this mountain of gold and the Heaven of eternity? Your mountain of gold, however high, however wide, however deep,
with the heavens and the earth, will pass away; but the Heaven of eternity never. And yet you would prefer the gold,
O ye of little faith, and have no time to obtain Heaven by the asking. You have not the intelligence of the tramp,
low down in the social scale as he is. Give him three pence and he will be with you on the morrow, or if he be not,
his friend will for him; and when all his friends are exhausted he will have put up a mark on your gate posts to guide
others to your bounty. You have not the instinct of the robin. Give it a crumb or a small worm and it will be with you
on the morrow and on the morrow's morrow to the end of time. Your Heavenly Father offers you treasures untold
for the asking. He asks you to ask, and you have no time, O ye of little faith! The tramp will walk miles to gain
your three pence for the asking; the robin will wait at your window by the hour for your crumb; but you have no time.
You have not the intelligence of the tramp, Christian soul. You have not the instinct of the robin, O ye of little faith.
The wisdom of the nations is crystallized in the proverb, "Where there is the will there is the way." And there is
the will, Christian soul, where there is faith.
Source: Norbertine Fathers, 1896 (page 93, Annals of St. Joseph, Volumes 8-10)
Priest and People
When we behold some masterpiece of painting, like the "Transfiguration" of Raphael, the "Last Judgment" of Michael Angelo, or the "Immaculate Conception" of Murillo; when we behold some masterpiece of sculpture, like the "David," the "Moses," the "Apollo Belvidere," or the "Laocoon Group" in the Vatican; when we stand before some masterpiece of architecture, like the "Cologne Cathedral," or "St. Peter's" in Rome; when we read the literary masterpieces left us by Homer, Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare and Milton; or when we listen to the enrapturing music of Mozart, Beethoven or Gounod, we instinctively pay homage to the men whose genius conceived and executed them. We look upon those men as almost more than human. They seem to have shared in a marvelous degree the creative power of God. And so they did. And we do right to pay them honor.
And yet, my dear brethren, the work of the humblest priest is higher, and holier, far more God-like than those works of merely human genius which the world is so ready to applaud.
You call the priest your spiritual father. And such he is in tact. For under God he is the author of your spiritual life. Through his ministrations you receive grace, the principle of supernatural life; and through his ministrations that supernatural life is nourished and perfected. Through the sacraments and the sacrifice of the Mass he infuses grace into your souls. Now grace is the gift of God the Holy Ghost; and where the Holy Ghost acts, there he is present. He unites Himself to your souls in such a way that you become like unto God. The union between your souls and God the Holy Ghost is the closest possible short of personal, hypostatic. You do not cease to be creatures, distinct from God, but you become partakers in the very nature and life of God. You are as it were recreated, born again to a new and higher life. Your souls are beautiful with the beauty of God, knowing with His wisdom, strong with His strength.—Cardinal Manning, "Internal Mission of the Holy Ghost."
Humanly speaking, when the priest dies, his name dies with him. His image survives in no visible form. Yes! But if you could only look upon the souls of them to whom he has ministered you would there behold his image reproduced. In the kingdom of souls his name never dies, and his children are ten thousand. He works not on canvas, nor in marble, but on human souls. Having before his eyes Jesus Christ, the model of human perfection, he strives to form your character after that great original. Day by day, year after year, laboriously and patiently, tenderly and lovingly, sometimes in tears, he labors to form in you a copy of the God-man. And while he works, God works with him, inspiring his thoughts, inflaming his heart, guiding his hand.
And what a work he produces! Not a painting that must fade and molder; not a marble form or granite structure that must crumble into dust; but a living image of God, destined to live forever. As long as God lives, that work shall live—a monument to the faith and hope and love of the priest.
The priest is not content to make you worthy members of civil society. He does that. He inculcates the natural virtues of industry, honesty, sobriety, patience, love of country, reverence for infancy and old age, respect for and obedience to lawful authority. His special work, however, is to make you worthy citizens of heaven. He knows that you are children of God, brethren of Christ, and that you are destined to occupy thrones in heaven. And so he labors to prepare you for your glorious destiny.
What a noble work is this! And how insignificant and transitory appear all the works of merely human genius! The work of the priest, like the souls of men on which he works, is immortal—enduring for all time and eternity.
Such is the work accomplished by the humblest priest —work done by your priests, for you and for your children. The priest is indeed your spiritual father. Yes; and you are his spiritual children. His children? Then be his children! Cherish for him all those sentiments which good children cherish for their earthly father.
The priest is of necessity a public man. In every community he is a conspicuous character, whether he will or not. He stands always in the glare of the searchlight of public opinion. All eyes are directed upon him. And those eyes are not all charitable eyes.
The young, who have never yet attempted any difficult work; the negatively good, who have never tried and therefore never failed, may sometimes think him lacking in zeal because he does not accomplish impossible things. The old are not apt to judge a priest harshly. I do not recollect ever hearing an old person criticize a priest severely. The old know from experience the weakness of their own nature, and the weakness of human nature in general, too well, to be uncharitable in judging any priest. On the other hand they are liable to think him too ambitious, too zealous, and instead of encouraging him, they almost discourage him by counseling what they call prudence, but what in reality is only timidity.
The willfully wicked, they who do not even try to lead virtuous lives, watch him with the eyes of a serpent, color his every act and move with the malice of their own hearts, and take a fiendish delight in detecting the least sin or mistake. If his conduct is above reproach, they impugn his motives. He is vain, lacks character, or he is too positive and conceited. If perchance he really does fall into sin, they raise a hue and cry over him as vultures circle screeching over the hero who falls wounded on the battlefield. Let the priest fall once, his whole life they conclude has been a sham, and he only a hypocrite! One priest falls, then all priests are hypocrites, all religion a mockery!
They will not or cannot practice virtue themselves; hence they rejoice in the fall of the innocent. The occasional lapse of the virtuous is to them a justification of their own habitual and wilful wickedness.
My dear brethren, can you imagine an occasion of more rejoicing among the devils in hell than the fall of a priest? No! Then what should you do? What should you be in regard to your priests, your spiritual fathers? Support them, encourage them, sympathize with them, shield them.
Suppose they do err! Is that an excuse for deserting them, for betraying them? No! That is the plea of every traitor who ever betrayed his country or his fellow-man. Benedict Arnold tried to excuse his treason by alleging the faults and mistakes of his superiors, by saying that men of less deserts than he—which is true—had been promoted over his head. Has the world accepted his excuse? No! Neither will it accept yours for betraying your God given leaders, your spiritual fathers.
Suppose the priest does err! Is that an excuse for your publishing his sin? Do not imitate Cham, the wicked son of Noah, who, when he saw his father intoxicated and lying naked in his tent, laughed in derision and published his shame to his brethren. Beware of following his example, lest the curse that fell on him and his posterity may fall on you and yours. Rather imitate the example of Sem and Japhet. When they heard of their father's sin and shame, they took up a cloak, and, walking backwards lest they might see, covered him. Do you in like manner, and I am sure that God who rewarded them and theirs will bless you and yours. 'Gen. 9:21-27.)
What kind of a Catholic do you most admire? What kind of a Catholic do Protestants most admire? Is it the Catholic who is always criticizing church and sisters and priests? No! The Catholic whom you admire, the Catholic whom all men admire, is the man who, when he hears his church, the sisters or the priests reviled, throws off his coat and is ready to fight!
Pray for your priests, all of them. Do not be like the little academy girl I heard about the other day. She had finished her evening prayers and was about to climb into bed when her mother said:
"Mary you forgot to say a prayer for Father L ."
"Father L ?Why, he doesn't need my prayers."
"Why not?" asked the mother.
"Because he is so good."
"How about Father Mc?"
The little girl looked at
her mother with her innocent eyes and in all charity said: "I don't
know, mama. Maybe I'd better say a prayer for him." The mother suggested
that she had better pray for both. And so do I.
Father Mc. and Father L. both need your prayers. Father L has a long road to travel before he reaches the point where I now stand. He will doubtless find ahead of him many a piece of rough road, many a quagmire, many a steep hill. Many a time his feet will bleed as he bears his cross up his hill of Calvary. He will see the bloodstained print of the Savior's feet who walked that path before him. Still he needs our prayers.
In your charity you may sometimes fancy that the priest does not need your prayers. He does need them, and he counts on them. You cannot know how much he leans on you for support. In almost every man's life there come now and then periods of depression. Overwork and worry, especially if there be added some great misfortune or sorrow, drag his soul down to the verge of despair. Strange as it may seem, buoyant, happy, sanguine natures are most prone to these seasons of melancholy. And they are truly awful. The past seems an utter failure. The present is overcast with the blackest clouds of gloom. The future is terrifying in its forebodings of disaster. * If you saw your father walking on the edge of a precipice, where a single false step would hurl him to destruction, how you would tremble for his safety! How you would pray God to keep him from harm!
For aught you know, my dear children, your spiritual father may at times be, figuratively speaking, in just that position, where a sudden gust of temptation would cause him to fall. When a feeling of loneliness and discouragement makes him almost ready to hurl himself from the height.
And it may be, that at such a time, you think of him and without ever dreaming that he needs your prayers, you pray for him, and your prayer is his salvation.
Second the efforts of your pastor. He is working for you. Encourage him. Speak kindly of him. Do not keep all your eulogies for his funeral day. Do not be like the friends of a certain poet. During life he could hardly get enough to eat. When he died they erected a costly monument over his grave. Which caused some wit of the day to say of him:
"He asked for bread; they gave him a stone."
On a certain occasion when the Israelite were engaged in battle with their enemies, Moses knelt on the mountain top and prayed for them. As long as he kept his hands upraised the people were successful. When his hands fell from weariness, the people were pressed back in defeat. Then two of his attendants ran to his side and held up his hands. The people in the plain rallied again and swept the enemy from the field. (Gen. 17:9-13.
So will it be with you. When the hands of the priest at the altar fall from discouragement or lack of support you will be defeated by your spiritual enemies. If you hold up his hands by your sympathy, your encouragement, your co-operation, you will be victorious.
St. Joseph and the Priest
Priests are advised to recite, before the celebration of Mass, some certain prayers in honor of St. Joseph. Pope Pius IX., who declared St. Joseph the Patron of the universal Church, has indulgenced them. Who does not know those beautiful anthems: O felicem virum beatum Joseph and the Virginum custos et pater, Sancte Joseph?
It is prompted by these beautiful anthems that I propose a brief sketch of a fruitful meditation.
First. St. Joseph, by divine election became the foster-father of the Infant Jesus as he was also the spouse of the Blessed Mother of God. All honors due him on account of the exalted position thus held and the privileges he enjoyed, come vividly before our mind, when we kneel before the Blessed Sacrament. Pondering over them we feel inclined to asked our Lord in the Sacred Host to bless us for the sake of St. Joseph; and assurance comes to us that our humble petition will be listened to. Let us remind Jesus of what the loving foster father has done for Him in his mortal life, and feel assured that St. Joseph's advocacy will be most powerful.
Second. Who has such weighty reasons to put his trust in the prayers and intercession of St. Joseph as has the Catholic priest? What St. Joseph was to our Lord in the days of His infancy on earth, that the priest is to Jesus when ministering to Him at the altar. Helpless and in the state of utmost destitution, our Sacramental Lord craves for that kind care and solicitude which he once enjoyed at the hands of His beloved foster-father. Often the priest is in no better way of finding shelter for Jesus in the Holy Sacrament than St. Joseph was, when, after a vain search for a suitable dwelling, he, at last, betook himself to a lonely stable as a resting place for the Savior to be born. And is the priest not glad, when, to such a humble abode as he may have found, the faithful come, like the shepherds of Bethlehem and the three wise men, to adore the Lord of hosts seated on a throne void of all ornaments? St. Joseph's joy is his.
Did you ever witness the care and labor of the priest in his endeavors for the construction and embellishment of a church which was to serve as the abode of the Sacramental Lord, without being reminded of St. Joseph, who labored in the sweat of his brow for the beloved Infant? Deep is the grief and unspeakable the agony, which the faithful priest experiences, when profanation threatens the Sacred Host, or when the Holy Sacrament is snatched away by an unworthy communicant and forced into the dark dungeon of a sinner's heart, or even of a God-forsaken sacrilegious priest. Then it is, that you behold St. Joseph portrayed in his anguish of heart in his flight into Egypt, to save his beloved child from the ruthless hand of Herod and his cruel soldiers. St. Joseph was the first guardian of Jesus, but we priests have received from God the guardianship of Jesus living, but persecuted and treated contumeliously in the Blessed Sacrament.
Third. Compare, if you will, the privileges St. Joseph enjoyed, with those of the priest. Is it not as if you saw the Holy Patriarch appearing amongst us, his countenance beaming with delight as he embraced the Infant with tender affection, clasping Him to his bosom, carrying Him on his arms, leading Him by the hand, working ceaselessly for his honored charge, listening to His sweet voice? Is it not so to you, I say, when you behold the priest ministering to the King of hosts in the Holy Sacrament? O priest of God, do not envy St. Joseph, but rather congratulate yourself and break forth into transports of joy, recalling the words of the holy canticle: Quia fecit mihi magna qui potens est. For, you also touch the body of the Lord; you carry Him on your heart when on your way to the sick to administer to them Holy Communion and Viaticum; you more than press Him to your bosom at Holy Communion. He obeys you with the same willingness and promptness as He did His foster-father. And were you only to listen to his holy inspirations, when communing with Him, joy and consolation would be yours, as was the sweet portion of St. Joseph in his intercourse with the Divine Infant.
Fourth. Is the office of the priest in its holiest moments not similar to that of St. Joseph? and do not the highest privileges of both blend, indeed, in a most perfect manner? If so, what is the natural inference to be drawn from such a comparison? Oh! the minister of the sanctuary should strive to imitate the most conspicuous virtues of that exalted saint. By so doing, he would ennoble his life and draw from his holy functions perennial streams of genuine happiness, and blessings abundant for himself and for those confided to his care.
But what are the most conspicuous characteristics of St. Joseph, worthy to be acquired by every priest? None other than his astounding humility and his spotless virginity. Though of little account in the estimation of the world, they were the foundation of his exalted dignity. His royal crown could not have been devoid of these two ornaments. The humility of St. Joseph and his marvelous chastity were, so to speak, the frame-work on which was to rest his dignity as the father of Jesus and the spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. So with the priest. Humility and chastity are the jewels of the Catholic priesthood. No priest will be honored by God, nor will he have honor before men, if he doesn't appear wrapped in the royal mantle of humanity and chastity. O priest of God, take St. Joseph for your model and flee pride and sensuality; if you do not, the royal robe of your priesthood will fall into shreds, the crown of your dignity will lose its luster and the scepter of your authority will be broken in your hands. Contemplate, admirare, imitare, Quando litas precans ad altare, Fungens Sancti Joseph opere, et beare.
Source: Annals of St. Joseph, Norbertine Fathers, 1896 Vol. 8-10
"It is not necessary", said the Curé, "to talk so much in order to pray well. We know that our good God is there in the tabernacle; we open our heart to Him; we are happy at being in His presence: that is the best sort of Prayer."
Source: The Dublin Review: A Quarterly and Critical Journal. p354