The CAPG's Blog
Ideals, False and True
" Unless your justice abound more than that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" — Matt. v. 20.
At all times men have had ideals of goodness which they looked up to and admired, and which the best among them have had the ambition to imitate. The popular ideal of the Jews when Christ came, was represented by the Pharisees, — men orthodox in faith, correct in life, ardent in the love of country, strict in the observance of the Law. Such men could not fail to win influence and popularity; and they enjoyed both in a high degree. The people who gathered round Our Savior on the Mount did not conceive of any form of life higher or better than what they had hitherto looked up to in their accredited teachers; yet He tells them plainly that their qualities were entirely insufficient to secure admittance into His kingdom. What a shock it must have been to them to hear this for the first time! But if they will only wait, the divine Teacher will show them how incomplete, and in most cases how hollow, were the lives they so admired.
From the facts of the Gospel narrative, and still more from the unsparing denunciations of Our Lord himself (Matt, xxiii. 13, and foll., Luke xvi. 39, and foll.), we may easily gather what were the shortcomings and vices of the Pharisees. Their "formalism" first of all, their exaggerated concern for externals, for the minutiae of the law, united with a practical disregard for its fundamental principles. Next, "their pride" and self-importance, revealing itself at every step, and leading to hardness of heart, and contempt for others. Finally, " their ostentation " and constant display of whatever in their lives and actions could win them the admiration of the people.
The Gospel is the opposite of all this. It leads men back to fundamental things, to the indestructible principles of justice and of love. It teaches them to act righteously for righteousness' sake, to look to God for approval, not to man. It keeps their weaknesses before them, humbles them, and makes them think more of others than of themselves. In a word, the Christian type is the exact opposite of that of the Pharisee, and something incomparably nobler and higher, even in the most unpretending of those who follow it.
Indeed, the Pharisaic type, in its crude, unmitigated form, has become unbearable to the modern mind, fashioned by Christian traditions. But because it is, after all, true to man's natural instincts, it has not entirely disappeared from the world. Something of it may be found even in the life of a priest. He may be good, faithful, zealous ; yet, at the same time, self-important, exacting, sedulous in cultivating public opinion, eager for praise. His composed demeanor and his devotional practices may conceal even from himself much that is mean and selfish. In his concern for minor objects, he may "neglect the weightier things of the law : judgment, and mercy, and faith ; " and while " cleansing the outside of the dish" overlook the impurities it may contain.
A priest, too, may select and follow false ideals; nor is the thing at all uncommon Thus he may not fully believe in the purely Christian virtues, — such as humility, gentleness, self-denial — or in the special requirements of the priestly character. He may not even believe in the higher forms of natural virtue, all based on self-sacrifice. His ideal may be practically that of the popular priest, the successful priest ; that is, successful in doing external work, or in reaching positions of honor or emolument. His principal ambition may be to secure what will lighten, and lengthen, and sweeten existence — just like any man of the world. And yet, " unless his justice abound more than that " of those men to whom he looks up with envy, he is unfit for the work of the priesthood; and, if he has assumed its responsibilities and fails to bear them, he is unfit for the kingdom of heaven.
The truth is, the ideal of the priesthood is not an open question at all. What sort of man a priest ought to be, what is implied in his sacred character, what he is really pledged to by the reception of orders, is determined almost as precisely as the doctrines of faith, and has varied as little in the course of Christian ages. It can be gathered from the Gospel; it is found in St. Paul ; it is spread out in the pages of the Fathers, in the enactments of councils, in the teachings of the Saints ; and everywhere it is visibly and unmistakably the same.
Priests are drones in the Hive! of What use are they?
Answer: They are of use in saving souls! Certainly, here is an employment which is at least as good as many others.
The mechanic works upon matter; the priest works on the soul. As much as the soul is higher than matter, so much is the priest's work higher than all the labors of the earth.
The priest continues the great labor of the salvation of mankind. Jesus Christ, his God and his Model, began it; His priests continue through all ages.
After His example, the priest goes about doing good. He is a man who belongs to all; his heart, his time, his health, his diligence, his purse, his life, belong to all; above all, to the lowly ones of the earth, to children, to the poor, the neglected, those who weep, and who are friendless. He expects nothing in exchange for this devotedness; most frequently, indeed, he receives only insults, abominable calumnies and ill treatment. True disciple of his Divine Master, he replies only by continuing to do goo.
What a life! What superhuman abnegation!
In public calamities, civil wards, contagious diseases, in times of cholera, when the Protestants ministers and philanthropists think of personal preservation, the priest is to be seen exposing his life and health to relieve and save his brethren; such was Monseigneur Affre, Archbishop of Paris, on the barricades; such were Belzunce and St. Charles Borromeo, in the time of the plage at Marseilles and Milan; such, during the cholera in 1832 and 1849, all the clergy of Paris and so many other towns, who made themselves the public servants of the whole people.
This, then, is the use of priests! I should like to know if those who attack them are of more use.
The ungrateful wretches! They are never weary of loading with insults him whom they summon to their bedside in time of sorrow or privation, who has blessed them in their earlier years, and who never ceases to pray for them.
All the miseries of our country arise from our not practicing what the priests teach. And unfortunate France, torn with civil discords and political commotions, may apply to herself the language addressed to the chaplain of one of the Paris prisons by a poor convict, who had returned to God with all his heart. The priest had given him a little Christian's manual. "Ah Father!" he said one day, showing the little book, "If I had known the contents of this, and had practiced these maxims all my life, I should not have done what I have now done, nor should I have been where I now am!"
If France had always known, and if she now knew what priests really do teach, and if she had always practiced those doctrines, and continued doing so, she would not have been tossed about by three or four revolutions in the space of fifty years, and be reduced to ask herself in the present day, Am I about to perish entirely? Can I still hope to be saved from destruction?
She may hope to be saved, if she will again be truly Catholic! She may hope to be saved if she will but take heed to the ministers of Him who SAVES the world.
The priesthood is then the safety of France! For without religion society would be destroyed.
Her children, then, owe honor, veneration, gratitude, more than ever to the priestly character. Those who repulse the idea have not the intelligence of our age or country.
Away with these worn-out prejudices, then. Away with these coarse and injurious epithets, with which the blind impiety of Voltaire and his followers have so long assailed the Catholic Priesthood!
Let us respect our Priests. If we see imperfections, even vices occasionally, among them, let us remember that we must ascribe to the man all that belongs to frailty.
Let us endeavor, in those cases, not to look at the man, to see nothing but the priest; as a priest, he is always worthy of respect, and his ministry is always a holy one; for he is the perpetuator of the office of Jesus Christ, the great High Priest, through successive ages, and it is of him that the Savior has said, " He that heareth you, heareth Me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth Him that sent you."
Source: Short Answer to Common Objections Against Religion, by Louis Gaston Adrien de Segur
Priests make a trade of religion, they do not believe what they preach.
Answer: What do you venture to assert? The priests of Jesus Christ are impostors! Pray, how do you know that? How can you read their hearts, and pronounce whether they believe or do not believe in the sacred origin of their priesthood? It is the accuser's business to prove what he advances. I defy you to prove this accusation.
You will, perhaps, cite, by way of proof, the name of some bad priest.
I must then remind you that the exception proves the rule. A wicked, unbelieving priest would not be so much the subject of comment if the great majority were not so holy, pure and venerable.
A spot of ink is seen with extraordinary distinctness on a pure white robe; it would be hardly perceptible if the robe were black or soiled.
So it is with the Catholic priesthood, to whom impiety thus pays an involuntary homage.
That there are bad priests is not a strange thing. Remember there was a Judas among the twelve Apostle! Just as the Apostles, the first priests, the first Bishops of the Church, thrust out the traitor from among them, and were not responsible for his crime, so the Church condemns, with even more energy and horror than you yourselves express, those traitorous priests who desert their sublime duties! She first endeavors to bring them back into the right way by gentleness and pardon; priests, as well as other men, have aright to mercy; but the irreclaimable, those who persevere in the bad road, she cuts off from her communion, and strikes them with her anathemas.
Priests are impostors! And what interest have they then in hearing your confessions, reproving you for your vices, preaching to you, catechizing your children, feeding the poor, giving to this one good advice; to that one, consolation; to another, bread?
Would it be possible to curtail by a farthing their slender revenues, and the still more slender nature of their occasional fees, if they kept silence about the irregularities and excess of their parishioners, if they admitted any or every person to the sacraments, without giving themselves the trouble of examining the state of their conscience, or if they were to abridge their catechizing, etc.? What worldly interest have they then in fulfilling well their ministry?
No, no; the priest is not what the impious proclaim him to be, and it is because they are aware of this that these people detest the priest so cordially. They see in him the representative of the God Who condemns their vices, the envoy of Jesus Christ, whom they blaspheme, and Who will judge them. They see in him the personification of that law of God which they unceasingly violate; and it is because they do not wish to acknowledge the Master that they do not wish to recognize His minister.
Source: Short Answer to Common Objections Against Religion, Fr. Louis Gaston Adrien de Segur
One ought not to be a bigot.
Answer: Certainly one ought not to be a bigot! Who says you should? Do those who rant most about bigotry really know what bigotry is? If so, it would be well to use the knowledge for their own improvement: for generally they are the most intensely bigoted bigots. They are so deeply immersed in their own little puddle of bigotry that they cannot see a whole ocean of fairness beyond them.
Bigotry is not religion, it is the abuse of it.
The defects of persons who are guilty of that abuse, generally from ignorance, ought not to be imputed to Religion.
Religion is abused, like every good thing in the world. We must reject the abuse, and retain the use. We must be pious, but we must not be bigots. God loves one, but He does not love the other. The desires to behold in our hearts devotion, that is, devotedness to His service, devotedness to the duties which He imposes, and love of His commandments; but He does not desire to see bigotry reigning in them, that is to say, those enthusiastic, those narrow-minded or superstitiously religious practices, which often replace the chief object by the accessories, and substitute the means for the end.
Nevertheless, these abuses of religion are not so universal and so heinous as they are generally said to be.
Generally speaking, they do not injure any one, and are only hurtful to those who commit them. Those who fall into these pitiable mistakes are unenlightened persons, who surround and fatigue themselves with numerous external forms and practices of devotion, food in themselves, but carried to too great a length; who assume a certain strangeness of manner; who torment their consciences in the fear of doing wrong; and who become excited and angry, through misguided zeal, when it would be more prudent and wise to remain silent, etc.
This is bigotry. It is a great defect, but I should be glad to think there were no worse ones here on earth! Those who inveigh so loudly against bigotry, and are indignant at the absurdities it gives rise to, are too often persons who remind one of the criminal, who, sentenced to perpetual labor for a frightful murder he had committed, was indignant at having given him for his prison companion a thief!
They are often more worthy of censure than those whom they attack.
Their profligacy, bad conduct, neglect of the most sacred duties, religious ignorance, licentious conversation, evil example, etc, etc, are not these abuses? Are they not crimes?
Their whole life is an abuse; and the abuse of devotion is, I venture to say, the only one they never commit. Would it not be as well to exchange this one for the others, I ask?
Do not, then, be a bigot, but a Christian, and a good Christian. Love God, serve Him faithfully, observe all His commandments; fulfill all your duties, so as to be pleasing in the eyes of God, and listen with docility to the teaching of the ministers of Jesus Christ.
Source: Short answers to common objections against religion By Louis Segur
The Faith of the Cure of Ars
The faith of the Curé of Ars was his whole science; his book was our Lord Jesus Christ. He sought for wisdom nowhere but in Jesus Christ, in His death and in His cross. To him no other wisdom was true, no other wisdom useful. He sought it not amid the dust of libraries, not in the schools of the learned, but in prayer, on his knees, at his Master's Feet, covering His Divine Feet with tears and kisses; in the presence of the holy tabernacles, where he passed his days and nights before the crowd of pilgrims had yet deprived him of liberty day and night, he had learnt it all.
Source: The Spirit of the Cure of Ars by John E. Bowden 1865
"Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice's sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Matt. V.10
There is nothing for which Christ seems more concerned to prepare His Apostles than the active, violent opposition of the world. He warns them repeatedly that they must not expect to fare better than Himself; that they will have to suffer all manner of ill treatment on His account; that they will be taken up and dragged before unscrupulous judges, cast into prison and tortured; that their very friends and relatives will turn against them and betray them; finally that they will be an object of universal distrust and hatred among their fellow-men.
Subsequent events abundantly verified the Savior's prediction. The lives of the apostles, so far as we are acquainted with them, seem to have been full of suffering and trials, and all ultimately crowned by martyrdom. St. Paul, the apostle whom we know best, tells the Corinthians what he had to endure. "Of the Jews five times did I receive forty stripes, save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned; thrice I suffered shipwreck; a night and day I was in the depths of the sea. In journeying often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils from my own nation, in perils from the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils from false brethren. In labor and painfulness, in much watching, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. " 2 Cor. ii. 25....
For three hundred years the history of the Church is a history of persecutions; nor did they cease with the conversion of Constantine. Under many of his successors, confiscation, exile, prison, and death were the lot of Christians true to their faith. In deed it may be said that at all times the good have had to suffer, and to suffer "for justice's sake;" that is, because of their very goodness. The dishonest, the corrupt dislike them, as interfering with their pursuits and their pleasures, and because the very life of the just man is a protest against their methods. It is thus that they are described in the book of Wisdom: (ii.12), "Let us therefore lie in wait for the just because he is not for our turn (he is of no use to us), and he is contrary to our doings, and upbraideth us with transgressions of the law, and divulgeth against us the sins of our way of life. He is become a censurer of our thoughts. He is grievous to us, even to behold, for his life is not like other men's and his ways are very different."
And so will it be, St. Paul tells us, to the end of the world. "All that will live godly shall suffer persecution." At the hands of the evil-minded, the good will be made to pay the penalty of their goodness; the faithful and fervent will have to bear the criticism of those who choose not to follow in their footsteps; converts to the true faith will forfeit position or fail to reach it because they have not closed their eyes to the light; born Catholics will seek in vain for what they might easily reach if they were known to be indifferent to religious truth, or to have eschewed all belief; men of integrity who hold office or fill positions of trust will be driven from them because they refuse to share in the dishonesty of others or interfere with their crooked ways; at every turn of life the conscientious will have to suffer for conscience's sake.
The priest does not escape the common law. He too has occasionally to suffer for justice's sake. He may be led by a simple sense of duty or by the impulse of zeal to a manner of action which is not approved of by all. He is often found fault with, criticized, not only by the ignorant, the thoughtless, and the wicked, but sometimes by good people, and even by his fellow-priests. But he finds an encouragement that never fails in the voice of his conscience and in the promise of his Divine Master: "Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven." Yet, he must be sure that what he has to endure is not of his own making. With the best intentions a man may be injudicious in his action, indiscreet in his methods. His firmness may degenerate into obstinacy, his zeal into intolerance. He may, under the name and cover of duty, become self-righteous, narrow-minded, impatient of contradiction, thus awakening opposition and leading to trials hard to bear, but for which there is no reward.
"It is good for us sometimes to suffer contradictions, and to allow people to think ill and slightingly of us, even when we do and mean well.
"These are often helps to humility, and rid us of vain glory. For then we more earnestly seek God to be witness of what passes within us, when outwardly we are despised by men and little credit is given to us. " Imitation i, 12.
Source: Daily Thoughts for Priests, Very Rev. J. B. Hogan S.S., DI president of St. John's Seminary Brighton, Mass 1899
The Priest is the Church's guardian
The Church is the spouse of Christ, but the priest is her guardian. The Church is an army in battle array, but the priest is her general. The Church is a vessel sailing through the storms of persecution, but the priest is her pilot. The Church is the mystic body of Christ and the faithful are its members, but the priest is the principal member of this mystic body. By the eyes of the priest Jesus Christ watches over His flock; by the feet of the priest Jesus carries to every nation the gospel of peace; by the heart of the priest our Lord diffuses everywhere that divine charity without which all is dead. The Church is the people of acquisition, bought at a great price; but the priest is the leader, the teacher, the prince of this chosen generation. The Church is the sacred edifice, built by divine Wisdom itself; but the priest is the administrator of this palace; he is the pillar of the Church upon which rests the whole world. God the Father created the world without the priest, but it is only through him that he saves it. God the Son has redeemed the world without the priest, but is is only by him that he applies His blood to the souls of men, and secures the fruits of His copious redemption. You can hardly name a single blessing of the Holy Ghost of which the priest is not the chosen instrument. Indeed, as St. Bernard declares that all graces come to us through Mary, so we can say in truth that all happiness, all graces, all heavenly gifts come to us through the priest.
Source: The Catholic Priesthood, by Fr. Michael Muller, 1885
It is the priest who preserved society from corruption and utter destruction. Far better a few good priests filled with zeal and self- denial than a crowd of worldly-minded priests who seek only themselves. Where the priests are few and virtuous, the priesthood is respected and the people are well-disposed. Where, on the contrary, the priests are numerous and worldly-minded the priesthood is but little esteemed, grace is abused, and the people become indifferent, and hardened. and easily take scandal.
Source: The Catholic Priesthood, Rev. Fr. Michael Muller 1885
Many priests offer to God their prayers, alms, fasts, and mortifications; but few offer themselves, and make an oblation of their hearts. They always secretly reserve to themselves the disposal of their own will. This division if displeasing to God; it is not the sacrifice of Abel, but of Cain, who offered to God the fruits of the earth, but reserved to himself his heart and will, as St. Augustine says.
Source: The Catholic Priesthood, by Rev. Fr. Michael Muller 1885
Like the earth around its axis
Around the Catholic priesthood human society moves, like the earth around its axis, upon it society depends for its support, its life, its energy, as the planetary system depends on the sun.
No one understands this truth better than the devil and his associates in this world. When they wish to destroy religion they begin by attacking the priests: for, where there is no priest, there is no sacrifice; and where there is no sacrifice, there is no religion, no absolution from sin, no preaching of the word of God. What should we do in the Church: the people would say; there is no Mass, our Lord is no longer there; there is no one there with power to forgive sins; there is no one there to preach the word of God; we may as well stay at home.
Oh, how sad would be the state of society were the priest to be banished from the earth! The bonds that unite the husband and wife, the child and the parent, the friend and the friend, would be broken. Peace and justice would flee from the earth. Robbery, murder, hatred, lust, and all the other crimes condemned by the Gospel, would prevail. Hope, the sweet consoler of the afflicted, of the widow and of the orphan, would flee, and in her stead would reign black despair, terror, and suicide. Where would we find the sweet virtue of charity, if the priest were to disappear forever?
Source: The Catholic Priesthood, by Fr. Michael Muller 1885
Greater than the prophets
The priest of the Catholic Church is greater than the prophets. The prophets beheld the Redeemer only from afar, in the dim future. The Catholic priest beholds him present before his eyes; he touches the long-wished-for Redeemer with his hands; he offers him up to his heavenly Father;he carries him through the streets; he even feeds on the sacred flesh and blood of the Holy one; he receives Him into his heart, and unites himself most intimately to Him in Holy Communion.
The prophets foretold that, when the fullness of times should come, God would write His laws, not on stone, but on men's hears; he would govern men, not by the law of servile fear, but by the sweet bonds of holy love; that God Himself would dwell in them, and direct them by His grace. Now, this fullness of time for which the prophets sighed, came with Jesus Christ. He gave His grace, His own divine life, to man, and He gave it super-abundantly; and as the ministers of that grace, He chose, not the prophets, not his angels, but the priests of the Catholic Church. O Ineffable dignity!
The Catholic priest has the Patriarchal dignity of Abraham. Abraham is called the Father of the Faithful. The priest is, in reality, the father of the faithful; he makes them the children of God, by preaching the Gospel, and especially by the holy sacrament of baptism. The priest stands at the helm of the Church - the ark of salvation like Noah. He is consecrated forever, according to the order of Melchizedek, he is invested with a dignity far higher that that of Aaron. Aaron offered up only the blood of sheep and oxen, while the priest offers up the Blood of the Lamb of God, our Lord Jesus Christ. The priest has the authority of Moses. Moses led the people of God through the desert, to the promised land; the priest leads the children of God through the desert of this life, to the true land of promise - their home in heaven.
Source: The Catholic Priest by Fr. Michael Muller, 1885
The Devil knows....
The devil knows that he would meet with a poor reception were he to attack a priest openly; he, therefore, uses every artifice to ensnare him.
Some times he tries to make vice appear less deformed and less shameful than it really is. At other time he points out to the priest the great number of clergy whose lives are no better than his own.
At one time he tempts the priest to presumption, and at another time to despair. Some he emboldens and lulls to sleep by the secret suggestion that they have great virtues which hide their little weaknesses, and that, moreover, they are resolved not to go too far.
There are some who even make virtues of their very vices, who call their sinful attachments by the sacred name of charity. We imagine, says St. Augustine, that whatever we love is good, and that whatever is pleasing is holy.
Again, how many priests have been ensnared by inordinate curiosity! Under the pretext of gaining information, they have been anxious to see everything, to hear everything, to read everything, to know everything, and soon they came to do everything also!
There are certain ties which a wise man does not simply untie or unknit; no, he breaks them off at once. There are moments in our life when we must be able to say with calm, unflinching determination: "Non possumus."
There are victories which can be gained only by flight (St. Aug. Serm 250. De temp.) In order to preserve their chastity unsullied the saints suffered and sacrificed everything. Why did St. Augustine shed so many tears? Why did St. Jerome go through so many night-watches? Why did St. Hilarion keep so many severe fasts? Why did all the saints undergo so many maceration and mortifications? It was that they might preserve unstained the holy virtue of chastity. How many of them have even sacrificed their lives, in order to preserve this virtue, thus uniting the palm of martyrdom with the crown of virginity? The virtue of holy chastity is in itself a miracle of fortitude - a strength which seems to surpass even the fortitude of martyrs. The combat of the martyrs is fierce indeed, but it is not lasting; but the combat of the virgins ends only with their last breath.
Let us glorify and bear God in our body. Let us offer this body to God as a living, holy and pleasing victim. Let us unite the sacrifice of our body with that of the adorable victim which we daily offer on the altar. Where shall we find this mortification of Christ, if not in those who nourish themselves daily with the flesh of Christ? Let us pray that God may forever preserve and increase in us this angelic virtue. Let us pray especially to the Virgin of virgins, that she may obtain for us that glorious crown which is reserved for the virgins in heaven.
A servant of God once saw in purgatory many who were suffering for having committed sins against the virtue of holy purity; but she did not find one priest among them. On asking the reason of this, the angel told her that scarcely one impure priest ever does sincere penance for his sins, and that consequently such unworthy priests are lost.
Source: The Catholic Priesthood by Rev. Fr. Michael Muller, 1885
By the brushwood we understand short excerpts from the Scriptures, which wicked men violently tear out of context to support their contentions, and with smoke and fire kill great numbers of people, that is, the smoke of error and the fire of passion, so that the flames of lust might consume the mind of those who are deceived by their evil teachings and so that the darkness of their vicious doctrine might confound them.
These indeed, are the remains that were seen in the ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah after these cities had bee destroyed: "Next morning," Scripture says, "Abraham rose early and went to the place where he had stood in the presence of the Lord. He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and all the wide extent of the plain, and there he saw thick smoke rising high from the earth like the smoke of a limekiln." Again when he besieged the town of Thebez with his forces, Abimelech seemed to prefigure the attack on chastity. "There was a tall castle in the middle of the city," as Scripture affirms, "and all the citizens, men, and women, and the princes of the city took refuge there. They shut themselves in and went on to the roof, standing upon the battlements of the castle. The city is the universal Church, the castle of chastity is its high point, in which both men and women, the strong and the weak, take refuge, and also the princes of the city, namely, the order of clerics who wield authority in the Church. And when Abimelech came up to the castle, the battle became more fierce, and, approaching the gate, he tried to destroy it by fire.
In the same way senseless and wanton clerics attempt to set fire to the castle of chastity as they exhort many to follow the example of their voluptuousness and burning madness. Firebrands in hand, they attack the castle of chastity as the impure enkindle the chaste with the flames of their pernicious arguments.
But who will end this battle? On whom does this struggle bestow the trophies of victory?
Scripture says: "And then a woman threw a piece of millstone down on Abimelech and fracture his skull. He called hurriedly to his armor bearer and said: "Draw your sword and dispatch me, or men will say of me: A woman killed him." So the young man carried out the order and killed him.
The Priest has the key to the treasures of Heaven!
All the other gifts of God would avail us nothing without the priest. What would be the use of a house full of gold, if there were no one to open the door for you?
Now, the priest has the key of all the treasures of heaven; it is he who opens the door. He is the steward of the Lord's household, the administrator of his goods. Without the priest the passion of our Lord would profit us nothing. Look at the poor heathens. Of what benefit is our Lord's death to them? Alas! They can have no share in the Redemption, so long as they have no priest to apply Christ's blood to their souls.
Ah! To whom shall I compare the priest? There is no created being like him, even in heaven or on earth. In establishing the priesthood God seems to have exhausted all the treasures of His power and mercy. Indeed, in the light of faith, the man disappears altogether in the priest. Faith beholds in him nothing but Jesus Christ, continuing, in him and through him, the work of redemption for the honor of His Father and the salvation of mankind.
Truly, when we see the priest of the Catholic Church, weak and sinful as he is, gifted with powers which angels dare not claim; power to forgive sins, power to announce his word, power to which Satan submits, when we see the priest possessing power over God Himself, possessing power to bear Him, to place Him, to give Him to whom He wills - we cannot help exclaiming in amazement: " O wondrous miracle! O unheard-of power!" A greater power than this God could not give: it is His own almighty power! A greater dignity that this God could not bestow upon a mortal being!
Since God, then, has placed the priests of the Catholic Church upon the thrones of His own power and sanctity, since He has given them the titles of "saviors of the world," since He call them His cooperators in the divine work of redemption, what wonder if He commands all men to hear, to obey, and to honor them, as they are bound to hear, to obey, and to honor God Himself! "He that heareth you," says He, "Heareth me; He that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of mine eye."
Source: The Catholic Priesthood, Fr. Michael Muller 1885
Our Parish Clergy
You are My witnesses, saith the Lord, and My servant whom I have chosen: that you may know and believe Me, and understand that I My self am. Isaias XLIII, 10.
The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips: he walked with Me in peace and in equity, and turned many away from iniquity. Malch. n, 6.
When the faithful throughout the world gather round their altars to hear the Gospel preached to them, or to partake of the Bread of Life, those words of the Savior come home to them, "Where there are two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them." (1 St. Matt, xviii, 20) words which assure them that His sacred Presence is with them and will continue with them until the end of time. The kind and loving Lord is with us not merely in the words that teach us how to live but rather in the spiritual Food that makes us live.
It is at the Eucharistic Banquet especially, during which we incessantly nourish our souls and gather in spiritual strength, that He truly lives with us. And yet His adorable Presence is not visible to us, but hidden under an impenetrable sacramental veil. This alone is a marvelous condescension on the part of our loving Master. The fact that He is living with us, that He is watching over us, that He is perpetually interceding for us, that His Holy Spirit is influencing our thoughts, words and actions all this is more than poor sinful men could hope for.
But the kind Master was not satisfied with this. He knew that if we had to look ever and only with the eyes of faith, a feeling of longing and incompleteness would soon take possession of our souls, just as the Jews after a time began to loathe the heavenly manna and longed for other food, and He has given us further evidence of His presence and protection. For this purpose He has made us members of a visible society, His Church here on earth, and appoints visible representatives to take His place and look after our interests. These representatives are His pontiffs, His bishops and His priests, with whom He shares His power, and through whose visible agency He continues the ministry of souls, a work which He Himself discontinued as a visible task when He ascended into Heaven. It was preferably to these representatives that His first Pontiff, St. Peter, addressed the words: "Be you also as living stones built up, a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God and Jesus Christ."
In the design of our Great Shepherd, who likened His Church to a sheepfold, and for its more effective government, this visible Church is divided into minor folds, called dioceses. These again are divided into many subordinate ones, called parishes, every one having at its head its own visible shepherd, the parish priest.
It is easy to gauge the dignity of the man who is placed over one of these subordinate folds, not simply because he works directly for souls, nor because his hands are consecrated to the service of the altar thousands of others share these privileges with him but because he is officially delegated to watch over a certain portion of the great flock, and shares his pastorship with him who was named by Christ Himself to feed the lambs and the sheep. His right to govern is ratified by the Church; she reserves to the parish priest certain jurisdiction over souls which she does not permit others to exercise unbidden; that is to say, even though others have the spiritual power to help souls by conferring the Sacraments, they have not the authority to use it.
Seeing that the Church singles out and confers special privileges on these delegated shepherds, it follows that she desires the faithful to respect not merely the privileges themselves but also the persons who possess them. Our Church teaches us that our parish priest is an ambassador of God, that he is among us as His visible representative. And since we respect God we should respect His ambassador; since we love God with a grateful and tender love, we should show a similar love for the ambassador who represents Him. We listen to God and obey Him when He manifests His will; should we not also submit our judgment and will to him who shares God s authority and who commands in His name? Three duties, therefore, are imperative on us all in our relations with our parish priest, namely, respect, love, obedience.
It is necessary in the present age to insist on the first of these duties, because sectarian hatred of the priestly character tends to show itself, preferably against those who are pastors of souls. If it can succeed in casting contumely on the shepherds, the faith of the flocks is soon weakened, for even Catholics are influenced by evil reports. And this is precisely the end the enemy aims at. Happily in our days the priestly dignity is worthily borne by those who are invested with it; our pastors and leaders of parishes are men who are admirable in their zeal and abnegation. We see among them young men with a long life of service still before them, who fully realize their position and the obligations attached to it, and who are consequently working with a will for God and souls. We see among them other men whose years of strenuous watchfulness have stretched into decades, venerable priests with hair whitened with age, who stand with their hands raised like those of Moses, mediating with God for the flocks entrusted to their care. This is no fanciful picture; every diocese in our country possesses such men; and to show them respect is paying a tribute to their personal virtue as well as to their sublime office. It is not merely their priestly character, which entitles them to our veneration, but their upright lives; and their many acts nobly done call for the respect of all noble minds.
Respect alone, while praiseworthy, is not all that is due to those who, in the mind of the Church, are the fathers of our souls. It is to the parish priest as to a spiritual father that our love should go out. A dutiful child loves him to whom he owes the preservation of his physical being, and he is looked on as an ingrate among men who would withhold his love from the one who provides him with the temporal necessities of life. The parish priest fills a similar role in the spiritual world, and he should have a share in our love. The word "gratitude" is expressive of the just appreciation of a gift. And yet do we always appreciate at their just value the spiritual gifts that come to us through the shepherds of our souls? Baptism, whereby we are made true children of God; absolution, whereby our sins are wiped out; direction, whereby our foot-steps in the rough road of the spiritual life are smoothed down; Holy Communion, whereby our souls are fed and strengthened are all gifts that come to us through the ministrations of our spiritual guide; they surely entitle him to our gratitude and love. We can never hope to give adequate return for favors such as these the things of heaven are not purchasable with gold or silver but we should try to repay, in our own human way, by a grateful thoughtfulness, that is, by the tribute of our prayers and by a genuine affection, the long hours of fatigue in the sick room and in the tribunal of penance, and the other works of the sacred ministry. In return for his labors in our behalf, gratitude for our parish priest should urge us to contribute joyfully to his support, and to soften the roughness of his life by adding to his frugal comforts. The true shepherd of souls looks for very little in this world; one of his chief rewards here below is the affection of his people.
Obedience is the natural outcome of respect and love. We are ready to obey him whom we respect and love, and this is the best way of showing our third and last duty. Our parish priest has been lawfully named a shepherd over a portion of the flock of Christ. He commands with an authority which comes down to him in an unbroken line, through pontiffs and bishops, from the Saviour Himself, who said, "Go teach all nations. . . He who hears you hears Me." When our parish priest, therefore, counsels, urges, commands, he does so with the sanction of the Universal Church and of its Founder whose ambassador he is.
Nor should we be chary in rendering homage to his authority or obedience to his wishes. The privileges of the pastor of souls is to teach by word and example. When he teaches he presupposes a spirit of submission to his voice not only in things that are obligatory, or otherwise commanded, but even very often in things that may be left to our own initiative. Naturally, the advice of one who is teacher and father at the same time, and whose vast experience gives his words a special cogency, should be listened to with becoming respect and submission. This is the dictate of sound common sense. It does not take a philosopher long to decide whether it is more reasonable that the head should obey the other members
of the body or that the body should follow the direction of the head. In all organized communities there must be a chief who rules and directs. When subordination to leadership is lacking the logical result is anarchy of thought and action. Insubordination and opposition, even in minor matters, are always the sources of great evils; in a parish they only too often lead souls to disaster.
It is also our duty as Catholics and as members of Christ's flock, to cooperate with those who are placed in spiritual authority over us. The interests of the Church necessarily demand a certain amount of lay action from her members; to labor for the salvation of souls should surely not be the exclusive privilege of the clergy. Happily, there are many who fully appreciate this truth; there are, in every parish, laymen who are willing to work with their pastor in things affecting the glory of God, and who thereby give both God and His ambassador ineffable consolations. Those laymen have not the sacerdotal halo on their brow, nor have they ever tasted the austere joys of the sacred ministry; but they are the unselfish helpers of God s priests, all the same, and they may look for their share in the reward reserved for those who have been formally chosen for the work of the sanctuary.
If it should happen, that the obligations of family, or state, or age, or health, prevent our lay-folk from cooperating actively in parish work, their zeal should not for that reason be rendered inactive. In prayer they have a powerful lever which they may use whenever they wish. Let parishioners, therefore, pray for their shepherds, that God may preserve them in health and actuate the zeal which their ministry calls for. Let parishioners pray for the works of their pastors, that these works may be meritorious in the sight of the Most High. Sad, indeed, should be the plight of a shepherd of souls who on the Day of Judgment would be forced to say: "Unhappy man that I am! I too have worked among the flocks; yet I am a castaway." If we respect, love and obey our pastors, we shall have done at least our share to prevent such a catastrophe.