On the Catholic Priesthood
Ember Days: Fall Wednesday Sept. 18
Let us, therefore, revive Embers days!
Let us again pray, fast, and abstain for more faithful priests!
"The Observance of ember-days is of great antiquity in the Church.
Their connection with the ordination of the ministers of religion
renders them particularly worthy the regard of the faithful. We cannot
be too deeply impressed with the blessing granted a people, whose
priests are according to Godʼs own heart. To obtain such, no humiliation
should be deemed too great; no supplication should be neglected. Whilst
therefore we thank God for
the fruits of the earth, and humble ourselves for the sins we have
committed, we should beg
God to supply his Church with worthy pastors."
St. Vincentʼs Manual, 1854
Ember days are:
Wednesday: the day Christ was betrayed (Fast and half-abstinence)
Friday: Christ was crucified (Fast and abstinence)
and Saturday: the day Christ was entombed. (Fast and half-abstinence)
These fasts were instituted to sanctify each season of the year, and
thus obtain the favors of God, especially His mercy. They were also
established to obtain the blessing of the Almighty on the fruits of the
land. In spring we pray for fertility; in summer, for preservation of
the crops; in autumn, for a good harvest; and in winter we offer up our
grateful thanksgiving for the blessings received.
The Church, too, wishes us to pray for those who are to be ordained priests on these days, that they may obtain the graces necessary to fulfill all their obligations, and the virtues that adorn their sacred calling. “And when they had ordained for them priests in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, in Whom they believed.” (Acts xiv.22.)
As alms generally accompany fasting and prayer, a donation toward the education of priests for the foreign mission would be in keeping with the spirit of the Church on these occasions. We ought also to pray for vocations, especially for the foreign missions. “The harvest is great, but the laborers few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He send laborers into the vineyard.” (Matt. ix. 37,38.).
These days should also remind us of asking ourselves how we stand with regard to God. If there be anything troubling our conscience, we ought to set it right, and then make good resolutions for the coming quarter. Thus, keeping ourselves always ready for the final summons, death will be disarmed of its terrors, and the close of life will be marked with a beautiful serenity.
“And grant us, while by fasts we strive
This mortal body to control,
To fast from all the food of ins,
And so to purify the soul.”
Source: Curé d'Ars Prayer Group
We admit without the slightest reservation that the celibacy of the clergy is of vital importance to the Catholic Church in the prosecution of its divine mission. None but an unmarried clergy could wield the influence or win the credit or authority needed for the successful guidance and government of the faithful of Christ. None but unmarried clergymen are fitted to go as missionaries to foreign lands and labor there for the conversion of souls. This statement is amply borne out by the history of non-Catholic missions. The missionaries of Canada, the Far West, and South America have a unique place in history owing to their self-sacrificing devotion. How changed their story would be if wives and offspring and domestic finances figured in its pages!
Nay, even in Christian countries none but unmarried priests could risk their comfort, to say nothing of their lives, as Catholic priests do today in their ministrations to souls. Without her unmarried clergy the Catholic Church could never have accomplished all that she has in the course of centuries. The salutary influence of clergy upon people which is one of the fruits of celibacy may be styled universal dominion if our critics are minded to call it such; we shall not make that a casus belli.
The objector seems to regard the compulsory element in celibacy as the secret of the Church's power; but in no absolute sense does the Church compel any of her children to be celibates. No one is under nay obligation to enter the priesthood. To force one into the priesthood is forbidden by the laws of the Church. It is only after a voluntary reception of the higher orders that one is obliged to remain unmarried; and the obligation then imposed upon her clerics by the Church is justified and to a great extent necessitated by the nature of their clerical functions.
Why should it be a reproach to the Church to require in candidates for the prieshood conditions that will make them more efficient priests! Add to this the fact that the young men who present themselves for orders not only voluntarily but cheerfully make this sacrifice of their liberty in order to devote themselves the more to God and the Church.
But we are told that celibacy is contrary to the teaching of the Bible. Strange that the statement should be made by only one who has read the Bible. Is it not well known that Christ have the highest praise to voluntary celibacy when it was chosen for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and that St. Paul places voluntary virginity far above the married state?
When Protestant readers of the New Testament come to the seventh chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians they would do well to pause awhile and ask themselves whether they have ever understood the plain meaning of that chapter, which really seems to be very Catholic and very un-Protestant. Let them read that chapter as well as the nineteenth of St. Matthew, referred to above, and if then they can regard the effect of celibacy on morality as dubious, their opinion is clearly at variance with the words of Christ and His Apostle.
Source: The Catholic's ready answer; a popular vindication of Christian beliefs and practices against the attacks of modern criticism. 1915
The Preacher who likes applause.
What is the end of a preacher? Is it to please? To gain applause? To obtain promotion? Or is it to give men life; to make them " Sorrowful unto penance"?
I am of opinion, writes St. Francis of Sales, that a preacher ought not to aim at the gratification of the ear, which is the result of artifice, of worldly elegance, of merely ornamental oratory. He who desires to please his audience says only "pleasant things". The craving for applause blinds him to the truth. He relies almost exclusively on the persuasive words of human wisdom, he makes little or no account of the Word of God, which ought to be the chief source of sacred eloquence, and he speaks in a style more suited to the platform than to the pulpit, more profane than sacred.
Hence there arises amongst the people and even amongst the clergy, a vitiated taste in respect to the Word of God, which gives scandal to the pious and no profit to the incredulous; for these latter, although they sometimes come to the church, especially if attracted by such high-sounding words as Progress, Fatherland, Modern Science, and loudly applaud the preacher, go forth from it no better than they entered.
Source: The Priest of Today, Rev. Thomas O'Donnell
Christ could not give his divine nature to his clergy, for that would make them sons of God by nature as so many Gods. But he gave them his supernatural power, that is his Priesthood, his complete power over his mystic body the church. But the powers or faculties and the acts of creatures are not the same, for they cannot be infinitely perfect like unto God, who is the infinite Act, because of his infinity simplicity God cannot be divided.
In the Priesthood given to men the power of holy orders is the substance while jurisdiction is the regulation of the acts, or the exercise of these holy orders. By ordination or by holy orders we come forth from Christ. Then we are born into his eternal Priesthood. As Adam is the father of the race according to the flesh, so Christ is the father of Christians according to the Spirit. By natural birth we come forth from Adam while by supernatural generation we come forth from Christ. Each person baptized is born again of "Water and of the Holy Ghost." By confirmation we are strengthened by his Holy Spirit. But by holy orders we receive in a higher way the Holy Ghost the Spirit of Christ, for by that we enter in to his eternal Priesthood.
The World Hates Truth
The world has decided accordingly that there is no certain truth. What must be its attitude then toward any institution which puts itself forward as the organ of THE TRUTH?
One of hostility necessarily. Is there such an institution?
There is: the Church.
The Church and (this) century therefore are enemies. The world of today does not admit any Truth; it does not want any exponent of the Truth. The world and all that are of the world agree to say there is no ONE truth, and that is the doctrine she, alone, imparts. Therefore the world must hate the Church. For let the world put on what garb of impartiality it will, it knows that is and the Church are foes; and he who is the Prince of this world, above all knows that she is his foes, and destined to crush his head.
Our Duty to non-Catholics
It may be readily assumed that every sincere Christian is zealous for the spread of the Gospel and desirous to communicate its light and peace to others. Christ sent His followers to announce the good news throughout the world and to bear testimony to the truth, as He did, by their words and their lives. He who is not with Him is against Him; and the individual or congregation that becomes self-centered, that does not earnestly wish "all men to come to the knowledge of the truth," that in no way strives to enlarge God's kingdom, such an individual or such a community is weak in faith, stagnant in charity, and already in the early stages of decay.
It is true that the Church is indefectible, that the terrific forces arrayed against her can never prevail. But the extent of her victory from year to year, the number of those who submit to her, will in the last resort depend upon the militant spirit of all her members, laity and clergy alike, upon their energy in making known the truth, upon their skill in combating error, and upon their zeal in kindling in men's hearts the fire the charity which Christ brought down from Heaven. The practical question, therefore, arises, What is our duty to our separated brethren and non Christians? How are we to remove their prejudices and convince them of the truth? Is it by sermons and instructions directed at them? By controversy? By satire? By ridicule? By a self-satisfied superior attitude of aloofness? No, not by these methods, but quietly and wisely, by prayer, by grace, by good example, and by the character of our own lives and the lives of our people. By our fruits shall we be known.
What benefits does Catholicity bring to to individual or to society? that is the test question of outsiders.
Are Catholics no better than others - perhaps not even as good? that is often their greatest difficulty.
If, on the contrary, Catholics are good citizens, upright and honorable, if their home-life is pure and peaceful, if they are reverent and rich in faith, then the Church will be respected, hungry and thirsty souls will be satisfied, and the true religion will need none of the "slings and arrows" of theological controversy.
The divine lineaments of Catholicity, if not lost or obscured in its local presence, are sufficient to convince any thoughtful enquirer. "The Church herself," says the Vatican Council "...is an enduring motive of credibility, an irrefragable proof of her own divine mission, like unto a standard unfurled to the nations, calling on those who have not yet believed, and giving certainty to those who have." Her marvelous unity and symmetry, her under caying vigor and buoyancy, her broad human sympathies, her manifold methods of satisfying the restless human heart; above all, the peace, the purity, the steadfast of her children - those are the features, the well marked outlines, that proclaim the divinity of our creed and its title to be not merely the truth but also "the way and the life." "If we do our duty," that is, if by our lives, by our sympathy, and by the intelligent exposition of our doctrine we keep alive the Christian ideal of manhood, "truth will make progress among our non-Catholic fellow-citizens, and once made Catholic, they will by their zeal and activity rank amongst the most loyal and most devoted of the children of the Church." " It is not controversy, above all not biting controversy, not even argumentative discussion, that will bring souls to the Church, but rather exposition touched with piety, explanation warmed with devotion; the presentation of faith, not a system to be accepted, but as the holding lovingly fast to what God has taught." It is not a syllogism that touches and converts men - it is virtue, it is God's grace. Augustine was captivated, not by the reasoning and learning of Ambrose, but by this kindness and courtesy.
"Faith of our Fathers, we will love
Both friend and foe in all our strife;
And preach thee, too, as love knows how,
By kindly words and virtuous life."
Faithful Dispensers of the Mysteries of God
How important it is that priests should be faithful dispensers of the Mysteries of God. With what interior and exterior reverence they should treat Sacraments and ceremonies. How pure ought be their hearts, how decorous their outward bearing, how free from levity their words and looks; in the house of God and in all the functions of the ministry how modest and reverent ought be their whole deportment.
Yet it sometimes happens that the influence of the liturgy and its sacred accessories is weakened, even spoiled, by the negligence if not irreverence of a priest. He loves not the beauty of God's house, he neglects the altar, he allows vestments and altar linen to be shabby and soiled, he talks unnecessarily in the Divine Presence, he genuflects in a slovenly way, he robs the sacred Mysteries of their native dignity, he hurries through the ceremonies of the Mass as if rushing for a train, he administers the Sacraments in a perfunctory fashion, he mumbles his sermons, he recites the Rosary and other prayers with a sort of mechanical routine, at offices for the Dead he betrays an utter lack of sympathy and reality.
What wonder if onlookers are disgusted rather than edified, if their confidence is shaken, if they come to the conclusion that such a priest hardly believes what he professes!
A priest is not one merely chosen to read public prayers, or preach, or take a leading part in local good works. No sacramental symbol is required to enable a man to discharge these offices. The main function of the priest is to sacrifice; and, in the new law, to absolve from sin. Divine service is not necessarily Divine sacrifice. The rite of sacrifice, as essential, indeed , the main central act of worship, can never perish from the earth, not a priesthood to offer it. Forms, rites and ceremonies may change - not the priestly offering.
The abrogation of the sacrifices of the old law was only the introduction of the one majestic sacrifice of the new, still carried on in the Mass, and offered daily by the new priesthood " from the rising to the setting sun."
There is, and was, only one sacrifice worthy of God, and adequate to atone for sin - that of Christ on Calvary. That one sacrifice is still offered in an un-bloody manner in the Mass by the visible priesthood, representing and sharing in the power of our one invisible High Priest, Christ. Mystic powers are conveyed in Holy Orders, the chief of which is the perpetuation of the sacrifice of the Cross, "Do this in commemoration of me." This command to sacrifice, i.e., offer Christ's precious Body and Blood, the Church faithfully carries out through her priests. The Victim is the same, the priest the same, Jesus Christ, speaking through His priest, the manner only differs.
The Mass is the Sun of Divine worship. It sums up in solemn splendor and spiritual beauty all other outward forms of sacrifice. We may say, in a reverent sense, that the old and new law survive in the Mass. Nature, in the form of grape and wheat, all that men can bring in the way of art, and wealth, and taste, flowers,a nd music, and, on occasions, majestic rites, are embodied in the great Eucharistic Sacrifice of the Mass. All men's gifts to God circle round the altar, or are collected in the church, where holy Mass is offered by the priest, "first for his own sins, then for the people's" (Heb. VII, 27). The Mass is the one changeless Sacrifice of the Cross, offered up all the world over, to the quick and the dead.
Source: Holy Orders, by the Rev. William Graham. A Pulpit Commentary on Catholic Teaching: The liturgy of the ecclesiastical year. 1910
The priesthood is a supernatural institution, charged, from the time He was promised to the world, with representing Christ: with figuring Him and prophesying Him before His coming, with continuing Him, serving as His instrument and organ since His advent; and as human paternity reminds us of the Divine paternity; as the regal office among men shadows forth the sovereignty of God; as the idea of sacrifice is explained by that of sin and expiation, so does the priesthood presuppose and show forth not Christ only, but the whole of Christianity which is summed up therein.
Source: Catholic Doctrine as defined by the Council of Trent by the Rev. A. Nampon, S.J.
Absence of Vocations to the Priesthood
To what shall we attribute the absence of vocations to the priesthood, of which we are compelled to make complaint?
It the cause in the absence of vigorous Catholic faith - a faith grasping in its narrow range of vision the fullness of the
responsibilities that a plenary loyalty to the Savior imposes upon His followers - a faith prompt to the call of those
responsibilities, ready in generosity of soul and willingness of sacrifice to obey their every behest?
At first sight, this, I confess, would seem to be the cause. Where Catholic faith reigns supreme, youths not the few
there should be to rise in aspiration and self-consecration to the mountain-tops where the rays of the supernatural
shine the brightest and unfold in clearest light the splendors of divine life. Youths not the few there should be to
instantly answer the call from on high: "Speak, O Lord, for Thy servant heareth Thee. " The call from on high is surely
spoken, since it is His will that the Church be supplied with priests, and His call it to the whole Church. To every land,
in every diocese, to every parish the word is said, once said to Simon and Andrew - "Come follow me." Now, where
this call is the voice crying in the wilderness, should we not be tempted to believe that there something is awry, that
their Catholic faith is somewhat weak and timid? In an army of soldiers the general level is low, where all clamor to
be led, where none are willing to lead, where none spring to battle, so soon as the commander speaks, and rush to
the heights of valor and sacrifice.
Given the community of Catholics, which seldom or never makes offering of a candidate to the priesthood - given the
diocese, unable to supply itself out of its own bosom with a full legion of priest - what the verdict it at once suggests!
Is it not this - that faith there is weak, unable to do more than hold its life, without ever bursting forth into luxuriant leaf
or blossom? Is it not this - that the soil, into which the divine word is cast, is wanting in native nutriment, or is without
that art of cultivation which not only begets the common crop of plant and shrub, but, now and then, here and there,
bids upward the tall tree, the fragrant rose-bush, where with to adorn the landscape and cause the passerby to pause
and be gladdened?
The cause is this - people and priests have not been asked to advert to the problem confronting us, have not been
made to understand its bearings and the obligations it imposes. A trumpet sound is in order to re-echo far and wide,
proclaiming needs and duties, summoning priests and people to the charge to the work, which once seen will surely be done.
Source: The Maine Catholic Historical Magazine
We become so accustomed to rejoicing in the many accessions daily coming into the Church from
among the well disposed who are ever seeking that peace and contentment, that tranquility of life
which the possession of the true faith alone can give, that we not un-frequently lose sight of the losses
incurred by the Church through the negligence of those who once claimed the honor of membership in
her fold. Nothing is perhaps sadder than to unravel the history of a Catholic who has been unfaithful to
his great trust, for it is then that the results which might have been, dawn on us, and we see how utterly
impossible it is to repair the loss.
Just to illustrate: A few years ago, a lady well along in years came to see a priest about being received
into the Catholic church which her mother had left on the occasion of her marriage. She told the priest
that she was one of seven children, four of whom had married and had become the parents of twenty-four children.
"Your mother, then," rejoined the priest, "was responsible for the loss of her own seven and in all probability
of her twenty-four grandchildren, making in all a known loss of 31 members suffered by the church, through
Like many another weak and careless mortal, she had gone on through life, unconscious of the havoc her
defection had wrought in the Lord's fold, or unmindful of the awful responsibility laid upon her, and the great,
untold, immeasurable damage for which she would one day have to answer. The fact is real: it is only one
of the many which almost constantly come to the experience of a priest on the missions: and while from his
heart he may deplore and pray for the wandering member of the House of Israel, he must leave to the
recording angel the sad task of summing up the souls thereby lost to God's eternal kingdom.
Source: Maine Catholic Historical Magazine, 1916
Wednesday March 13, Ember days
The observance of Ember days is a very old tradition, going back to
the Apostolic time and
taking after the Roman Pagan customs that held festivals on each seasons
of the year. In 494, Pope
Gelasius I used the Ember Saturdays to confer ordination to the
From their origins, Ember days had a two fold purpose: to pray for the laborers and for the fruits of the harvest. During these three days, Catholics were thanking Our Blessed Lord "for the gifts of nature" asking Him "to teach men to make use of them in moderation, assist the needy" but most of all to pray for more good priests.
Ember Days: Catholic Encyclopedia
In 1969, Pope Paul VI excluded the embers day from being mandatory days of fast and abstinence and left their celebrations to the discretion of the local bishops. Even though the US Bishopsʼ Conference has decided not to celebrate them, we may still choose to do so as a personal devotion since its observance at home or small communities is not discouraged:
"17. Vigils and Ember Days, as most now know, no longer oblige to fast and abstinence. However, the liturgical renewal and the deeper appreciation of the joy of the holy days of the Christian year will, we hope, result in a renewed appreciation as to why our forefathers spoke of "a fast before a feast." We impose no fast before any feast-day, but we suggest that the devout will find greater Christian joy in the feasts of the liturgical calendar if they freely bind themselves, for their own motives and in their own spirit of piety, to prepare for each Church festival by a day of particular self- denial, penitential prayer and fasting."
Vigils and Ember Days (USCCB) 1966
- Seven Penitential Psalms
- Litany of Saints
- Litany to Obtain Holy Priests
- Holy Hour of Adoration and Reparation for Priests
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.