On the Catholic Priesthood
The Religious State
He who finds himself bound by a habit of any vice cannot take any holy Order without incurring the guilt of mortal sin.
“I am horrified,” says St. Bernard (Epist. 8), “when I think whence thou comes, wither thou goest, and what a short penance thou hast put between thy sins and thy ordination. However, it is indispensable that thou do not undertake to purify the conscience of others before thou purifiest thy own.
"Of those daring sinners who, though full of bad habits, take priesthood, an ancient author, Gildas say, “It is not to the priesthood that they should be admitted, but they should be dragged to the pillory” (Cast. In eccl. Ord.).
They, then, says Saint Isidore, who are still subject to the habit of any sin should not be promoted to holy orders (Sent. 1. 3, C. 34).
(…) According to St. Gregory, it is particularly necessary with regard to the virtue of chastity that “No one should be admitted to the ministry of the altar unless an assurance has been given of his perfect chastity".
(...) And as a bishop cannot ordain any person unless he be a man of approved chastity, so a confessor cannot permit an incontinent penitent to receive ordination without having a moral certainty that he is free from the bad habit which he had contracted, and that he had acquired a habit of the virtue of chastity.
By St. Alphonsus de Liguori
Source:The Religious State: Together with a Short Treatise on the Vocation to the Priesthood 1889
The Priest Under False Accusations
God might have redeemed the world by a manifestation of His glory; but He chose to do it by shame. Jesus was rejected of men, and they hid their faces from Him as if ashamed to own Him. This lot He has bequeathed to us. Jesus was falsely accused. No man ever more so. He was called a Samaritan, and told that He had a devil. He was “a gluttonous man and a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners.” He was a deceived, and a seducer, and seditious; stirring up the people, feigning to be a king and a prophet, being a pretender and a blasphemer. He suffered all the penalties of sin, its guilt only excepted.
False accusations was hateful to Him, because of His perfect holiness. To be baptized as if He were a sinner was an act of divine humility. The eyes of all were fixed upon Him. He was counted as one of the sinners of Jerusalem. It was bitter to be even suspected. But to be accused as a sinner was an infinite humiliation. The bitterness of sin entered into His sinless soul. He tasted the horror and the shame even of those who are justly accused. Innocent men arraigned at the bar, and though falsely yet skillfully accused of atrocious crimes, have afterwards told us that, for a time, they had the horrible sense of guilt upon them. And, in the measure of their innocence, their hatred of the evil laid to their charge will be more acute. To the sinful it brings little pain; for sin deadens the perception of the baseness, the grossness, the deadline of sin. The agony of our Divine Lord in the Garden came from the vision and the contact of the sin of the world. The sins of mankind before the Flood, the sins of the tribes of Israel, the sins of the Christian world, and, above all, the sins of His own priests, these wrung from Him a sweat of blood. The sanctity of God in contact with the sin of the world cause a sorrow “unto death”. For though God cannot sorrow as God, God Incarnate sorrowed by the suffering of His sinless humanity in this world of sin.
In the measure, then, of the innocence and purity of a priest’s life and heart will be his suffering when falsely accused. They who accuse him little know the pain they inflict. They have not his delicacy of conscience, or the purity of his heart, or his jealousy for the priesthood and for the Name of our Divine Master. So far “they know not what they do.” The coarse, and the rude, and the vindictive, and the malevolent, and even the foolish and the reckless in speech, with no ill-will, perhaps, but with great want of caution, often inflict woulds upon a good priest which are never healed. They would care little if it were said of themselves; and that is, perhaps, their only excuse, and a very mean one.
By Cardinal Henry Edward Manning (1808-1892)
Source:The Eternal Priesthood 1884
Everywhere, says Cardinal Manning, we meet with whisperers, murmurers, critics, censors, and carpers who spare nobody, and least of all those whom they should most respect, if not for what they are, at least for the office they bear. Such minds invoke their own Nemesis. No priests are so carped at as they who carp at their brethren. No priests are so turned into ridicule as those who ridicule Superiors. Carping in a priest betrays the absence of the gift of piety. (The Eternal Priesthood, Chapt. XVI.)
Source:The Catholic Priesthood,The Public Life of The Priest by Michael Muller
There is in the midst of us a man little appreciated, too often little loved, and sometimes frightfully calumniated, and yet who is, nevertheless, just the one man who is most worthy of the reverence and confidence of all. This man is the Christian priest – the consoler of all who suffer, and the friend of all the friendless; and it is against him that the scoffing and the irreligious, enemies of God and of society, constantly endeavor to prejudice the minds of men.
The priest is attacked in this manner only because he is the minister of God. The man who would have no God, would also have no priest; and, knowing that he is powerless to impose silence upon this inconvenient preacher of the divine law, he seeks to expel him, or at least to rob him of the confidence of men in order to paralyze his ministry.
The priest has been sent to his brethren by Jesus Christ, even as He Himself was sent. “Even as My Father hath sent Me,” said Jesus to the Apostles, His first priests, “I also send you!” Jesus was sent to save the world by the sacrifice of Himself, to enlighten it by His teaching, and to console it by His mercy. And thus He send His priests to save, instruct, console, and sanctify their brethren; or rather, He Himself fulfills, by means of His priests, the little elect. Let him choose without fear the better part. It is the most sublime, and the sweetest; it is the most Divine, and the simplest; thus, where responsibilities abound, graces also abound, and this vocation to a more perfect life is, essentially, only a vocation to a nobler, truer, purer happiness; it is the mark of a more tender love.
Source: Monseigneur de Ségur, The faith that never dies, or, The Priest of God in the Catholic Home: How to live an ideal Christian Life as a true follower of Christ, 1900.
The Priest a Soldier
“Labora sicut bonus miles Christi Jesu.”
“Labour as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” 2. Tim ii.3.
The priest is more than once compared by St. Paul to a soldier; and rightly, for the more of the soldier there is in him, the better priest he is.
At first sight, nothing seems more opposed than the two callings, but a closer examination reveals the fact that several of their leading features are the same. The same general conditions of life are found in both, and the same qualities are required.
1. The priest, like the soldier, once engaged is no longer free; he is no longer at liberty to forsake his profession, and to turn to any of the pursuits of life which were previously open to him. He cannot even combine them, to any extent, with the duties he has assumed. “No man,” says St. Paul (ibid), being a soldier to God, entangleth himself with secular business.” That is, he has no right to do so. The soldier has ceased to belong to himself. His very life is not his own. The Roman soldier that St. Paul had in mind was separated from family, kindred, home, country; indeed, everywhere the soldier’s life is a life of detachment. In active warfare he has to hold himself always in readiness; at any time he may be called upon to face certain death. And therefore he is best without a family. If he has left behind him persons tenderly loved, it is not good that he should give them much thought; such memories would unman him. In a word, the life of a soldier in active service is a life of detachment, of self-devotion; a ready gift of his energies, and, if need be, of his life, to the service of his country.
What else is the life of a priest, if he be true to his calling? His time, his energies, his influence, all his gifts, belong to the great purpose for which he became a priest. Like St. Paul, he is ready to give his very life for it: “I most gladly will spend, and be spent myself, for your souls.” 2 Cor. Xii. 15.
2. The qualities of the soldier are no less necessary in the priest, courage, endurance, discipline. The true soldier is the type of courage. He is fearless in presence of danger, or, if fear is awakened in him, he does not yield to it, else he would be branded as a coward. But his courage is only occasionally appealed to, whereas his power of endurance is taxed at every hour. Long marches, scanty provisions, excessive heat or cold, lack of shelter, sickness, these are what try the soldier much more than facing the enemy. This is why St. Paul does not say: “Have courage; be brave;” but “suffer hardship,” for such is the meaning of the Greek term rendered in the Vulgate by the word labora. Last of all, but not least, discipline. In the Roman army discipline was of the strictest kind, and the oath of obedience (sacramentum) was looked upon as the most sacred of all. In man, as in nature, only disciplined power is useful. Uncontrolled, it wastes itself, and often proves destructive.
Courage, too, is a requirement of the priesthood; physical courage sometimes, moral courage always. To be faithful to duty, at nay cost; to live up to his convictions whatever others may say; to speak out for the right, to censure and to oppose what is wrong; to carry our necessary but unpopular measures; to face the risk of being misunderstood or blamed; of to forfeit certain advantages sooner than relinquish a useful purpose, all this is necessary in the priest, and it means in all cases true moral courage.
The power of endurance is not less necessary. The life of a priest, if he strives to meet all the requirements of his position, is generally a trying one. His mission may be what is called a hard one. The demands upon his physical strength may be as much as he can bear. His patience is tried in numberless ways. Among those with whom he is placed in contact, there are the thoughtless, the unreasonable, the obstinate, the deceitful, the selfish, the ungrateful; he has to bear with all, and strive by dint of gentleness and forbearance to win them to Christ.
Finally, his life has to be one of order, of rule, of discipline. In many things he is left to his own initiative; but in a still larger number he is under rule, the rule of the Gospel and the rules of the Church. His action as a priest is individual in one sense, in another it is collective, that is, associated with the action of the Church herself and of her representatives. In both it is equally withdrawn from caprice and subject to law.
“It is the soldier’s pride to fight for his king; what an honor to be the soldier of Christ!
But if campaigning means endurance, he who endureth not is no soldier.” Chrys. In 2 Tim.
Source: Rev. John Baptist Hogan (Daily Thoughts for
To pray often to God that He will give good priests to His Church, and to Prevent, as Far as lies in our power, those who have no vocation for that divine office from being brought into it.
The practice of which we speak is of so much the greater importance, as it has been inspired by Jesus Himself. “Pray,” said the Good Shepherd, “pray the Lord that He send laborers into His vineyard;” as though He would say, “This is of more consequence than you think, and requires much intercession with Heaven in order to obtain the graces necessary for so great an object.” But the soul that has any devotion to the Most Holy Sacrament ought more particularly to pray for this end as it entirely concerns the honor and glory of this Adorable Mystery.
Take note that our Master commands prayers to be offered for good laborers, good Priests, whose office it is to work in His vineyard: first, because it is He only Who is to send them; secondly, because it is He only Who can give them the necessary dispositions for it. It belongs only to God to call men to the divine office of the priesthood. This is a truth strongly established in the Epistle to the Hebrews, where the great Apostle speaking by the Spirit of God, clearly shows the necessity of vocation in these words: “Neither doth any man take the honor (of the priesthood) to himself.” Heb. V.4
But not content with laying down these truths on this own Apostolic authority, he brings together the Old and New Testaments to render this truth more convincing, and so to leave in men’s minds no doubt on the subject. He points out the example of the High Priest of the Jewish Church, and then that of our Lord Himself: “So Christ also did not glorify Himself that He might be made a High Priest." Heb. V5
After this, I know not what those persons can reply, who have taken the tonsure so hastily, without considering what God requires of them, without deeply considering their vocation, and without obtaining the advice of pious, enlightened persons, who are filled with the Holy Spirit. In like manner some have taken, without consideration, both Minor and Sacred Orders, and at last, the Priesthood itself. If they say, they knew not the importance of it, I answer that this is their greatest condemnation, seeing they OUGHT to have known. For even Jesus did not appoint Himself to this divine office, but waited till His Father called Him, and yet men have the boldness to do otherwise! Is it not carrying presumption to the extreme? Truly such rashness and temerity deserve severe punishment.
You who are priest, examine yourselves here, as to whether you have waited for a call from God, before taking Holy Orders; if you have not done so, tremble, weep, and do penance; seek out holy men of God, to know what you ought to do in a path so slippery, for you are running a very evident risk of falling into the precipice of eternal damnation. If you have not already been admitted into Holy Orders, wait patiently and consider well what you are going to do; for on it depends either your eternal happiness or misery. Do not listen to your relations, not to your worldly friends; do not listen to nature, think not of your ease or advantage, think only of God and His glory.
Is the reader of these words of the number of those who advise haste in entering the ecclesiastical state? If so, reflect whether you have been the mean of introducing some one into Holy Orders. Have you cooperated in such a thing by your counsel? Have you used your authority, or that of your friends, to get others received into the sublime office, without considering whether God has called them or not? You who advise, who recommend and make your children aspire with such levity to the priesthood, are you wiser than Jesus Christ? For though the person you recommend may have led a good life, be very talented, very pure; do you think that suffices? Are you holier, or more enlightened, more zealous for His Father’s glory? O terrible truth, and which ought to be understood by every man! He calls not Himself, but waits till His Father calls Him.
No, unless the Lord build the house, their labor is in vain who build it. It belongs only to the Lord, says the Holy Spirit, to fix the destiny of man. It is for God to appoint the state that he pleases: it is not for us to choose. It is not for father, nor mother, nor relatives, nor for our masters, nor even for ourselves to make the choice; it is God only Who can and does.
If I am told that unless a certain young man aspires to the ecclesiastical state, he cannot live according to his position, well, let him be poor; I repeat it, let him be poor; and if people answer that it is very easy to say so, but very difficult to put it in practice, I reply, that is is more dreadful to be eternally ruined. I hear people in the world say, that men can be saved, whatever their position may be, and consequently in the ecclesiastical state, and it is true; but God must call them to it. Will God give His grace to men to enable them to do their duty in a state to which they have not been called by Him, or into which they enter against their will? Tell me, you who say such things, would you give wages to people, who, in spite of your wishes, thrust themselves into your houses, to be your servants?
There must, therefore, be a real vocation, a call from God. Secondly, there must be seen in the person called a faithful correspondence, in his habits and manners, to the holy state in which God wishes to place him.
For he who aspires to the priesthood must be conformed to Jesus Christ, not only in his vocation, but also in his disposition; he must lead a pure and innocent life, like unto that of the Son of God. This makes the great Apostle say, when speaking of the qualities necessary to the priesthood, that they ought to be without sin, irreproachable. This is what made the holy Fathers say, that is necessary to have led a life free of mortal sin, to be promoted to Holy Orders. But now that the Church is not so rigorous, it is a at least necessary that a man should have true contrition.
Then again, men must be learned. Do what you will, says St. Jerome, innocence without doctrine is not sufficient for a priest. Where these three things are wanting, vocation, purity of life, and knowledge, disorder and scandal of all sorts are produced in the Church. Ask then of our Lord, O souls who have devotion to the Most Holy Sacrament, that He will not permit any to take upon themselves the sacred and august office, but men chosen by Himself, such as have sufficient knowledge, and whose saintly and exemplary lives fit them for it, so that by the Holy Sacrifice and daily Communion, they may worthily glorify His Sovereign Majesty.
A layman who is leading a bad life would not ordinarily approach the Holy Communion: if he should do so at Easter, to avoid the blame of men, it would be only once a year, so that in fifty years, he would only communicate fifty times. But a Priest, if he be in sin, would make as many bad Communions as there are days in the year: he would profane the Holy Sacrament oftener in two months than a layman would during his life.
Judge then, how many sacrilegious Communions would be made during ten, twenty, or thirty years. Think also of a wicked priest celebrating the Divine Mysteries, and then reflect on the profanation of which you have been the cause, without naming scandals and other evils, if such priest have been induced by your advice, and perhaps by your importunity, to enter on the holy ministry. Whoever you are, think of the account you will have to give to God, for having assisted towards this guilt, in case you had reason to expect such deplorable results.
The celebrated and apostolical preacher, John d’Avila, remarks in an epistle to a young man, in which he dissuades him from his intention of becoming a priest, that the devil gives great inclination to many towards the priesthood. It is the evil spirit, who, owning to his rage against the Most Holy Sacrament, when he sees a young man whom God does not call to the ecclesiastical state, tries to persuade him to choose that sacred office, and even instills into him an affection for it, so that having entered it only through the promptings of nature, he is guilty of the sins of which we have spoken.
I heartily beseech all charitable persons to reflect well on these sentiments of that great servant of God, John d’Avila, and to remember, that if they have the intention of helping, by their means or in any other way, those who wish to enter on the sacred functions of the Priesthood, they ought to have them examined beforehand by men who have the science of the Saints; for it would be much better to have them taught some trade,than make them risk their salvation and expose the Sacred Body of the Son of God to the profanation which is likely to happen to It. In fact, my flesh and blood is pierced with the fear of the Lord when I reflect that I, who write these words, am a Priest.
O greatness of God! What a dignity, what an office! If we are not on our guard, what misery is there not prepared for us!
By Abbé Henry-Marie Boudon, (1624-1702) doctor in Theology and Archdeacon of Evreux, France translated from the French edited by the Rev. J. Redman DD.
Source:The Book of Perpetual Adoration or The Love of Jesus in the Most Holy Sacraments. 1873
The Unworthy Priest
You will find indeed many an unworthy priest who will assure you that he gives no scandal; but he is greatly mistaken. “Murder will out,” and the sins of the priest cannot long remain hidden.
Does the unworthy priest love solitude? Does he love study? Do you find him often in church praying before the Blessed Sacrament? Do you find him often in the confessional? Why is he so often absent when the messenger comes for a sick call? Why does he come home so late at night? Why does he visit that house so often? Why does that light burn so late in his room? Is he praying, or perhaps card-playing? Why does he sleep so long in the morning instead of being in the confessional? Why does he omit Mass so often on week days? Why is he so often nervous and ill humored? Is he not a little too free and confidential towards certain persons?
Look at the church, look at the altar, look at the vestments, look at the sacred vessels – the chalice and ciborium – is everything clean, decent and orderly? Why does he not begin Mass punctually on Sundays and holy days of obligation? Why does he so often fail to keep his promises and thereby disappoint the people? See how he hurries through Mass.
How does he observe
the rubrics? Is he attentive and devout? Why is he so eager for
money, and so indifferent when there is question of saving a soul? (...)
Why does he speak against the Pope, the bishop, and religious? Why does he jest about holy things? Why does he not show more reverence in church, and when he carries the Blessed Sacrament to the sick?
Why does he not show more self respect, more priestly dignity and decorum in society, at fairs, excursions, picnics, and so on? Why does he make use of words of double meaning, unbecoming hints and jests? Why does he allow young persons to read dangerous story papers, magazines, and novels? (…)
These are some of the questions that the people ask; these are some of the thoughts that flit through their minds. The unworthy priest may try his best to hid his crimes; but the cloak of hypocrisy cannot hide them forever. The inner corruption of his heart betrays itself at least at times. But how terrible is the scandal when the sins of the priest are no longer a matter of doubt or uncertainty, but a sad and shameful reality. Who can sum up all the harm that is done by even one bad priest? (…)
How often must a good priest suffer for the misdeeds of his predecessors! He may be as generous and disinterested as St. Paul; still some will accuse him of avarice, of doing everything for money. (…) He may be reserved and dignified and pure as an angel, yet wicked tongues will not be wanting to whisper unjust suspicions. (…)
The higher the source of the torrent is, the more rapidly does it rush into the valley, and the more wide spread is the destruction which it causes. O God! Who can calculate all the harm that is done, all the sins that are committed, all the souls that are ruined on account of the scandalous life of one unworthy priest! Like a mountain torrent, the scandal rushes on, spreading death and desolation on every side. It rushes on like a poison flood, bearing death to generations yet unborn; aye, it goes on in its work of destruction even till the day of doom; its evil consequences go even beyond the tomb; they live on forever in hell.
O God! How many yet unborn will rise up on the judgment day against the bad priest and curse him! If a petty shrub is uprooted and falls, it harms only itself; but if a might cedar falls, it drags down in its deadly embrace whatever stands within its reach!
Woe to the world, when the “Salt of the earth” becomes the corrupter of innocence.
Woe to the world when the “Light of the world” becomes an "ignis fatuus",
a wandering light that leads unwary souls into the foul, noisome marsh of sin.
Woe to the world when the shepherd of the flock has become a ravenous wolf!
The unworthy priest loses the friendship of God; he loses the beauty of his soul; he loses the merit of all his good works. As long as he remains in sin, his arm is withered; he can merit nothing for heaven. The unworthy priest is the slave of sin, the slave of the devil; he heaps sin upon sin, sacrilege upon sacrilege. By his wicked life he gives scandal and ruins innocent souls.
All this is sad and terrible enough; but the most terrible of all the consequences of sin is that the unworthy priest becomes hardened; he is at last struck with spiritual blindness; his conversion becomes almost an impossibility; and finally he gives way to despair, like another Judas.
Source: Rev. Fr. Michael Muller, C.SS.R. The Catholic Priesthood, 1885.
“Woe to the world because of scandals...Woe to that man by whom scandal cometh” Matt XVIII 7
No man can live in society without influencing those among whom he lives. What he says and what he does is telling, all day long, in a variety of ways known and unknown, for good or for evil, upon those who bear his words and witness his actions.
This is especially true of the priest. He is set up on high, and lives in sight of the people. He is an object of curious interest for them in all the particulars of his daily life. He is observed; he is listened to; much more of him is known than he imagines, more of his utterances, of his habits, of the character of his thoughts and aspirations; so that, without being distinctly conscious of it, he may be very helpful or very harmful to those around him.
In the latter case the solemn warning of Our Lord applies to him with special emphasis: “ Woe to that man by whom scandal cometh.” It may come in many ways and in various degrees. It may, like the sin of the sons of Heli, be such as to keep the faithful from the house of God, or from the practices of Christian piety: “Erat peccatum filiorum Heli grande nimis coram Domino qui retrahebant homines a sacrificio Domini: I Reg. Ii, 17; or it may shock and surprise them as something out of keeping with sacerdotal character, and thereby diminish their trust in the Church and their respect for the priesthood; or again, it may be such as to disappoint them, and destroy their higher Christian ideals, as frequently happens when they find a priest very much like themselves, in some things, perhaps, not so good. For if a priest differs from the layman only by this sacred character and his official duties; if, in the ordinary course of life, he is just as eager as other men in the pursuit of place or emolument, or as hard and grasping, or as sensitive in his pride, as resentful and unforgiving, or as particular about his ease and comfort, how can the Christian conception of life keep its hold on those who naturally look to him for a practical illustration of it?
Still more is his influence harmful to those who live in closer contact with him, and in whose presence he throws off all artificial restraint, personal friends, relatives, domestic servants, fellow priests.
What an amount of real harm may be done to all these by the easy-going, tepid, worldly priest! What a powerful though silent and insensible encouragement to them to settle down on a low, comfortable level, amid the tangible realities of the present! How many young priests, alas! Have thus learned to discard salutary restraints, to neglect the blessed devotions of earlier years to waste their time on useless objects, to pamper the flesh, in a word, to despoil their lives of all supernatural beauty!
Source: Very Rev. John Baptist Hogan (1829-1901) Daily Thoughts for Priests (1899)