“Who’s going to save our Church? It’s not our bishops, it’s not our priests and it is not the religious. It is up to you, the people. You have the minds, the eyes and the ears to save the Church. Your mission is to see that the priests act like priests, your bishops act like bishops, and the religious act like religious.”
-Ven. Fulton Sheen
In regards to the condition the Church is in today, it would be burying one’s head in the sand to ignore the fact that a lack of orthodox leadership has contributed to many of the problems we are now facing. Our shepherds seem, at times, to be openly compromising with Modernism. The apparent dereliction of duty by our bishops has led many a frustrated Catholic to criticize these clerics, and often with good reason. The urge to call such prelates hirelings as opposed to shepherds is understandable. However, in all things we must be charitable. This is something many traditional Catholic media outlets seem to have forgotten. These men, regardless of their doctrinal standpoint, are still clerics, and they deserve respect as successors of the Apostles.
“He who honors a priest honors Christ, and he who insults a priest insults Christ.”
-St. John Chrysostom
This is not to say that we cannot hold these men accountable for their actions. However, we must remember that before we criticize any prelate or priest in the Church that we don’t truly know their heart. We aren’t the judges of their souls, and by the nature of their office, their souls bear an indelible mark, which we are bound to respect. But what is it about priests that gives them such dignity? What is it about them that deserves such respect? Such questions can be answered only by an examination of the nature of the priesthood.
The Priest As Our Spiritual Father
Just as married men are called to be fathers, our priests are as well. As a man and woman cooperate in God’s grace to bring new life to the world, so does the priest, by the sacrament of baptism, bring more souls into the Church. The same presence in the lives of youth that fathers play in guiding, teaching, and disciplining them is like that of a priest, forming his spiritual offspring by way of the sacraments. This is the reason we call these men “Father.” Think of how much we all owe our parish priests for their spiritual paternity! How does their sacrifice not warrant the upmost gratitude and respect? When was the last time we actually thanked our pastors? Do we pray daily for them? I feel we as laity are altogether too ready to judge our men wearing collars. Think of the challenges that fathers must go through for their children. How much greater must those challenges be if your children number in the hundreds, rather than a handful. Well, this is the cross that our priests bear! Consider also, the huge influence a priest has in his flock’s spiritual life. As St. John Vianney said “A priest may go to heaven, or a priest goes to hell with a thousand people behind.” Should this not inspire us to pray for our fathers always? Imagine the burden they bear for us, day in and day out. Are we truly as grateful for their sacrifice as we should be?
The Priest As A Victim
The priest is meant to be another Christ, or an Alter Christus. Their lives should mirror the life of Christ. Just as Our Lord led a humble existence, full of suffering, so too should His priest. Just as Christ’s time here on earth was a mission of redemption, so too is the priests. These men are called to be “sin-bearers”, just as Christ was. Yet their Calvary will last the entirety of their lives. Every day the priest renews his sacrifice for his flock. Every day he wearily picks up his heavy cross once again. Every day he offers his own flesh and blood to God upon the gibbet of his own cross. Their life is cruciform, modeled after Our Lord’s. Priests, when they are judged, will be seen through a different lens then the layman. As the priest is called to be Christ-like, Our Lord will look at him and say, “Here are My scars, where are yours? I’ve laid down My life for My sheep, have you done the same?”
Priests, due to their office, bear an unequaled dignity, matched by no other. To them, and only them, does Holy Mother Church give the power to consecrate the Holy Eucharist. Only they have the power to forgive sins. Christ has consecrated these holy men to guide, protect and sustain us through this pilgrimage of life, and yet, seemingly devoid of any amount of charity, we are altogether too ready to condemn them. I think this shows, primarily, a lack of piety. There are some bad apples in the clergy, absolutely. But we must respect the office that Our Lord established, if not the man who bears it. They are still Christ’s priests; nothing will change this fact. Remember that while there are some churchmen who seem to erroneously embrace the world, there are still many zealous priests hard at work every day, rising early to celebrate Mass, making themselves available for confessions, and so on. Don’t let the actions of some dissident clerics distract you from the daily heroism of our true shepherds!
A Prayer For Priests
“O Jesus, Eternal Priest, look down with love upon Thy priests. Fill them with burning zeal for the conversion of sinners. Keep them within the shelter of Thy Sacred Heart. Keep unstained their anointed hands. which daily touch Thy Sacred Body. Keep unsullied their lips purpled with Thy precious Blood. Keep pure and unearthly their hearts sealed with the sublime marks of Thy glorious Priesthood. Let Thy holy love protect them from the world’s contagion. Bless their labors with abundant fruit, and may the souls to whom they minister on earth be one day their joy and consolation in heaven. Amen.”
May God love you all.
This article was re-published by Oremus Press (September 2020) with the permission of the author.