A few years ago one morning I had an experience which penetrated deep into my heart. It was one of those particular moments of grace we all experience.

A sort of gentle nudge from the Holy Spirit to notice the implications of a particular routine we have fallen into without much reflection. But a routine which overtime has come to have an effect upon us which has, little by little, altered the depth of our intimacy with the Holy Trinity.

That morning, as usual, upon rising I had prayed briefly and then, like a reflex action, turned on the tv for the morning news.

Once I’d caught the main items I proceeded down to the rectory kitchen to make some coffee.

In that particular rectory this meant passing by the suites of the other priests assigned to this large and busy parish.

Once I’d caught the main items I proceeded down to the rectory kitchen to make some coffee.

In that particular rectory this meant passing by the suites of the other priests assigned to this large and busy parish.

I noticed, clearly this particular morning rather than that usual ‘notice’ of familiar sounds where we don’t actually ‘take note’, each of the other priests had their tv on.

What came into my heart was this sudden question from the Lord: “Why do you linger before the tv at the dawn of each day, yet are so briefly with Me?”

I protested of course, in my heart, that I was before Him, first thing each morning!

“True you utter prayer to Me, but almost in passing, on your way to hear what the world has to say.”

It was true.

I did pray first thing each morning. But not with real attentiveness, passion, thought, wonderment, desire, or intimacy.

What a shock when I began to figure out the hours spent in front of the television compared to the actual amount of time spent in His Eucharistic Presence in quiet intimacy, or ardent petition on behalf of souls.

One of the teachings often repeated by Archbishop Joseph Raya in his homilies and writings is: WE BECOME WHAT WE CONTEMPLATE.

If I am contemplating for longer periods, in front of the television for example, the images and ideas of the world, this will necessarily have a profound effect upon my entire being.

It certainly will affect my prayer life, which is my relationship with the Holy Trinity.

Obviously it will also impact my relationship with self and others, including the way I view the Church and Her teachings.

Indeed how often do we hear ourselves or others expressing attitudes towards the Holy Father, for example, clearly formed by the influence of the media, rather than by actually having read the official text of some papal teaching.

Perhaps we need to take a close look at which magazines, types of music, web-sites predominate in our lives.

What are we contemplating? [Rm.8:5-9]

Television news reports and programs present to us specific points of view, ways of living, attitudes towards Jesus and the things of Jesus: God, the human person, morality, Church, Pope, ourselves.

Almost exclusively the ideas and attitudes presented are only those concerns of the flesh that are, indeed, ‘hostility toward God.’

If I spend more time each day contemplating what appears on television then I am spending much more time in communion with the ‘concerns of the flesh’, than I am in communion of love with the Blessed Trinity.

If I spend more time each day contemplating before the television screen, or listening to particular kinds of music, visiting particular sites on the web, reading books and magazines of similar ilk, all of this predominating in my life rather than contemplation of, in communion with, Christ and the things of Christ, then I will find my entire prayer life is profoundly wounded, my relationship with Holy Mother the Church, my dwelling within the depths of the very Gospel I am ordained to proclaim, all weakened, perhaps bleeding away until within I am as dry as dust.

The world did not consecrate us, give us life, and configure us to Christ.

Why then do we surrender so much of ourselves to the multi-channel, internet, universe of flesh and concerns of the flesh? [Rm.12: 1, 2]

Sometimes we can stand before such words and find ourselves exhausted, perhaps even a little angry.

It can seem in our priestly lives that there is a type of no escape, no rest from ‘spiritual’ things.

Nor from the constant ‘goad’ of the Holy Spirit.

At such moments, difficult as it may seem, maybe even weighing upon us like the proverbial straw on the back of the camel, truly our hearts should choose to rejoice: what a Divine Lover we have who pursues us so! [1Cor.2:10ff.]

One of the striking things about the letters of St. Paul, rarely focused upon by commentaries, is the depth and passion of his intimate relationship with Christ, and through Him with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

More than the theological, moral and even liturgical teachings in the letters of St. Paul, this passion, this intimacy, this communion of love between him and the Holy Trinity, is striking, and should encourage us all to likewise allow ourselves to be pursued!

The person, or thing, which has the greatest influence on us is the one with whom we spent the greatest amount of our time. Spending it actually with them, or preoccupied with the idea of them.

Again, as Archbishop Raya teaches: WE BECOME WHAT WE CONTEMPLATE.

Contemplation of Christ and the things of Christ should then be more necessary to us than food and water. In reality contemplation of Christ and the things of Christ is just that necessary, and more.

Indeed, if we are not nourished by the Trinity through prayer we shall starve, or seek different nourishment, and, become what we eat. [Mic.6:14; Lk. 12:34]

When a brother priest comes to me expressing difficulty accepting anything about Christ and the things of Christ, and truly everything about who we are and what we do is encompassed in ‘Christ and the things of Christ’, I always ask about his prayer life.

We know a marriage cannot last if it is devoid of intimacy, if any other person or thing preoccupies either of the spouses more than their beloved.

So it is with us and Jesus.

So it is with us and the Father.

So it is with us and the Holy Spirit.

So it us with us, for everything should flow from our communion of love with the Most Holy Trinity. [Ep.4:17-24]

Without a deep, constant, consistent, prayer life we will falter.

We will become disenchanted, discouraged, seek in an unholy manner, in unholy pursuits, unholy places, consolation and affirmation in persons and things other than Christ and the things of Christ.

We will lose child-likeness, purity of heart and hope.

The dialogue of prayer is not only the intimate dialogue of communion of love but it is also the daily means of purification from the dust and dirt, confused thinking, of that ‘hostility towards God’ which is the hallmark of the world. It is inevitable, even though we are not ‘of the world’ that since we proclaim the Gospel in the world, we have a constant need to be purified again and again and again. [1Pt.1:13-16]

We must trust, and constantly beg the help of, the Holy Spirit who comes. [Rm.8:26, 27]

As priests we are asked to trust that one way the Holy Spirit fulfills this interior groaning within us is through our praying as Holy Mother the Church mandates us to. First and foremost this entails the prayerful, faith-filled daily celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Secondly, as of great importance for our own and the salvation of all souls, the needs of the Church and in particular of the souls we are responsible for, is the daily faith-filled celebration of the universal prayer of consecrated souls in the Church, the Divine Office, commonly called the Liturgy of the Hours.

What a wonderful phrase that is, the Liturgy of the Hours! It reminds us that at every hour, in every time zone and country on the face of the earth, the Church is at prayer.

Ours is a vital voice co-mingled with the entire choir of the Church at prayer.

Never to be diminished either in their importance as a means of our becoming authentically what we contemplate, those forms of prayer and meditation commonly referred to as ‘pious/popular devotions’.

Pope Pius VI connects learning and holiness as two aspects of our divine election we should strive to excel at:

A man who is going to be a priest should excel in holiness and learning. For God rejects as priests those who have rejected knowledge and only the man who unites moral piety with the pursuit of knowledge can be a suitable worker in the Lord’s harvest. [10]

Fidelity to popular devotions such as the Stations of the Cross, the Holy Rosary, the Litanies, all of which can both be prayed alone but even more profitably be celebrated with our people, opens the door of our being to incredible teachings, the gifts of wisdom and knowledge, from the Holy Spirit.

At the same time such a contemplative approach quiets the mind and enhances our ability to transfer from our intellects to our hearts what we study through meditative reading of Sacred Scripture, the classic works of the Fathers of the Church, Fathers of the Desert, Catechism of the Catholic Church, Documents of Vatican II and the other Councils, Papal teachings, the writings from across the millennia of those orthodox holy men and women, priests, religious, laity, who have poured their holiness and wisdom through writings into the vast treasury of the Church for our use as means of becoming more and more who we truly are.

Wisdom and knowledge themselves become ever more profoundly within our beings aspects of the joy of our vocation!

Wisdom and knowledge, as we know, are gifts of the Holy Spirit. Through our prayer life, our sacramental life, contemplation of Christ and the things of Christ, the Holy Spirit constantly imparts to us more and more, and forms us more fully according to these same gifts of wisdom and knowledge. [Sir.24:1-3; 18-21]

When we pray with faith, and faithfully pray, the Liturgy of the Hours, each day at the appropriate hour, we find Holy Mother the Church has placed before us this encounter with Wisdom. While this is reality in each of the Hours it is perhaps most striking within the Office of Readings.

Pope Pius IX reminds us that:

….priests are the best examples of piety and God’s worship, and people tend generally to be of the same quality as their priests. [11]

Therefore for we priests a true life of prayer is not an option, and certainly never to be considered as a mere duty, but is in fact an essential instrument of proclaiming the Gospel with our lives, being that necessary and salutary example of piety to our people. We are called to lives that are not only prayer filled in private but to lives which are visibly prayer filled before the eyes of our people, and within praying with our people. Thus as true as it is that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is our central communal act of worship and prayer we do a great disservice to the virtue of piety and to the piety of our people if we fail to pray with them through popular devotions, such as Benediction, Litanies, the Stations, the Holy Rosary, as well as urging them to participate communally in the Liturgy of the Hours.

…..nothing instructs others more in piety and the service of God than the lives and example of those who have dedicated themselves to the divine ministry. [12]

Given our propensity in this generation to exaggerate individuality and a curious approach to ‘my’ rights, it is not surprising that we often have a type of knee jerk reaction to anything that appears to us as an imposition. Hence it is quite possible: expect perhaps for those covering marriage law, most priests would not turn to the Code of Canon Law as a source of inspiration, comfort, or spiritual sustenance. Yet there are within those paragraphs delineating the laws of the Church some quite exquisite treasures which bear serious meditation.

Thus, for example, the following is truly a beautiful invitation to frequent concelebrating not only of Holy Mass but of the Liturgy of the Hours, and even of ‘pious’ devotions with our brother priests:

Since they all work toward one end, the building up of the Body of Christ, clerics are to be united among themselves by the bond of brotherhood and of prayer….[Canon 275:1]

In leading their lives clerics are especially bound to pursue holiness because they are consecrated to God….they are to nourish their spiritual life from the two-fold table of Sacred Scripture and the Eucharist….to fulfill the liturgy of the hours daily….conscientious in devoting time regularly to mental prayer, in approaching the sacrament of penance frequently, in cultivating special devotion to the Virgin Mother of God, and in using other common and particular means for their sanctification. [Canon 276:1; 2.2; 2.3; 2.5]

Within the same section of the Code referring to our splendid divine election we are likewise encouraged to grow in wisdom and knowledge, to:

….continue to pursue sacred studies…to strive after solid doctrine which is based upon Sacred Scripture, handed down by their predecessors and commonly accepted by the Church and which is contained especially in the documents of the councils and of the Roman Pontiffs; they are to avoid profane novelties and pseudo-science……to attend pastoral lectures…opportunities to acquire a fuller knowledge of the sacred sciences and pastoral methods…..to pursue a knowledge of the other sciences…as such knowledge contributes to the exercise of their pastoral ministry. [Canon 279]

There is no doubt, with what can be experienced at times as virtually relentless demands upon us, that the Liturgy of the Hours can be experienced as a burden. No doubt we all know priests, perhaps even such thoughts have wandered across our own minds, who consider the Liturgy of the Hours, and pious devotions, as anachronisms from before Vatican II best left within monastery walls or the lives of simple lay folk.

If we give into such a lies of the evil one we will experience profound interior dryness of soul, loneliness of heart, and a mind closed to the gifts of wisdom and knowledge.

Here, as in so many aspects of our vocation, we need to be very meek and humble of heart, in imitation of Christ who submitted Himself to the will of the Father in all things. We need through such humility of heart to willingly trust the wisdom of Holy Mother the Church, articulated for us most clearly in our day in the documents of the Second Vatican Council, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Code of Canon Law and most tenderly in the annual Holy Thursday Letters to his brother priests from Pope John Paul II wherein he always called us to a deeper life of prayer, closer union with Our Blessed Mother Mary.

Approached and fulfilled with an open heart the Liturgy of the Hours, as well as pious devotions, become a critical experience of our daily lives of prayer and fidelity to our vocation of joy. Indeed the Liturgy of the Hours in particular becomes like a sweet oasis in the desert, cool shade in the depths of the Lord’s vineyard where we labour devotedly in the heat of the day, a wellspring of cool water to slake the thirst of our hearts for communion of love!

The document of the Second Vatican Council on the Sacred Liturgy has an entire chapter, chapter IV, dedicated to teaching upon this treasure of the Liturgy of the Hours. It invites a careful The divine office, in keeping with ancient Christian tradition, is so devised that the whole course of the day and night is made holy by the praise of God….it is the public prayer of the Church…a source of piety and nourishment for personal prayer….[13]

The Council’s document on the Life of Priests also notes:

By their fulfillment of the Divine Office priests themselves should extend to the different hours of the day the praise and thanksgiving they offer in the celebration of the Eucharist. By the Office they pray to God in the name of the Church for the whole people entrusted to them and in fact for the whole world. [14]

In our culture, which is so prone to emphasize doing over being, we priests can fall into that very mind-set which so hobbles the world. It is when we have become so hobbled ourselves that our attitude towards daily celebration of Holy Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, time spent in adoration and pious devotions, closeness to Our Blessed Mother, all falter and we begin to spend more and more time in front of the television or surfing the net rather than contemplating Sacred Scripture, engaged in mental prayer, reading and studying books which enhance the interior life and our pastoral ministry.

Soon there is such an ache in our hearts, such a hunger in our minds and imaginations for communion of love, affirmation of being, for hope, that we find ourselves looking everywhere rather than to Christ and the things of Christ.

We become what we contemplate, and if we contemplate that which no-thing, emptiness, is, ultimately, ever more acute emptiness, becomes our lot.

Indeed, if we be honest, once such a source of comfort, and inspiration, as the Liturgy of the Hours goes, the rest of our life of prayer and sacred study quickly follows. For the dam has been breached, the deep pool of faith and joy, that reservoir containing the true treasure of our hearts, begins to empty out and our whole attitude towards God, Church, orthodoxy, vocation, others, self, quickly sours.

It is a simple undeniable reality, the less we pray the less time we find we actually have to DO all the stuff we believe we need to do, are supposed to do, even if we remain rather sincerely devoted to all that our divine election implies and demands of us.

Even more wonderfully is the far greater reality that the more we pray the greater the expanse of time to BE who we are, priest!

Within that grace of expanded time there is then all the time we could ever need through being priest to ‘do’ the work assigned to us in the vineyard of the Lord.

Our pastoral activity demands that we should be close to people and all their problems…it also demands that we be close to all these problems ‘in a priestly way’. Only then, in the sphere of all those problems, do we remain ourselves. Therefore if we are really of assistance in those human problems…we keep our identity and are really faithful to our vocation….Our brethren in the faith, and unbelievers too, expect us always to be able to show them this perspective, to become real witnesses to it, to be dispensers of grace, to be servants of the word of God. THEY EXPECT US TO BE MEN OF PRAYER. [15]

Several years ago I was made aware of the situation of a young priest who served in a remote area.

He was greatly discouraged, filled with frustration, felt his vocation slipping away.

His being hungered to participate in unity of prayer with all his brothers, for the whole Church and the whole world, for his own spiritual sustenance, but he could not.

He was, truly, interiorly starving to death.

The problem was very basic, and tragically in our day not that uncommon.

There was so little respect for the wisdom of the Church when it comes in particular to the priest’s life of prayer, in the seminary that he had attended, none of the students were taught how to prayer the Liturgy of the Hours, in a word no one had shown him the basic process of knowing what ‘day’ in the liturgical year and how to find the right place in the breviary.

The priest who brought this story to my attention described how, once he took the time to show the younger priest the basic ‘mechanics’ of the breviary the young priest embraced the Divine Office with all the energy of a starving man offered food!

Within a short time the discouragement had left him, the joy of his vocation, our common divine election, had returned.

Our struggles, as men and as priests, in this 21st century are fundamentally no different than they were for the Apostles or any of our brothers who have preceded us in this splendid vocation across the millennia.

Fundamentally all struggles, all temptations, all sins, are rooted in idolatry, that is in a crisis of true faith, true trust.

Much of our restlessness, a significant amount of the exhaustion we experience, certainly a high degree of the struggle, definitely our propensity to sin, venially to be sure, mortally, as horrific as that is having the same root cause, comes back to the raw result experienced by that young priest.

Though in his case not because he was refusing to pray.

What excuse have we easily accepted in our own hearts to manufacture as an attempt to stifle the goading of the Holy Spirit?

Long before the Second Vatican Council, long before the very public angst in the lives of so many priests today, another priest wrote on the truths of our divine election.

His clear and tender words aren’t as well read in seminaries or rectories in our day, perhaps because of this tendency of moderns to disparage anything deemed out of date.

Nonetheless his words return their tender wisdom, encouragement, truth about the treasury of grace which is the Liturgy of the Hours:

…this prayer can only rise to heaven if it passes through our lips and through our heart……..you know the words of Christ, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart…..and with thy whole mind’ (Matt.xxii.37). He did not say ‘with thy heart, with thy mind, but with thy whole heart’: ex tota corde. This word totus, repeated like this, is a true expression of devotion; devotion is love carried to its highest point…..

…We have the charge of souls. The priest who recites his breviary with fidelity and devotion will often find that he is helped in a surprising way by the Lord in the works which he undertakes for His glory…..if you recite the breviary without rushing it, the phrases of Holy Scripture which you pronounce will finally become, as it were, part of yourself. You will find the ensemble of the texts of the Old and New Testaments…a treasure-chamber filled with graces and light. These illuminations will enlighten your faith in the mysteries of Christ, of the Church, and even in the mystery of the Holy Trinity.

Finally, the Office, well-recited, is a source of great joy for the priest. Why? Because the breviary makes him live every day in the hope and in the possession of the supernatural goods which God has given to His Church. The liturgy is filled with that fathomless joy conferred on the Spouse of Christ by the divine benefits which have been

showered on her. The priest who recites this prayer in a worthy fashion shares in the current of joy which vivifies the holy city….[16]

Among the ‘supernatural goods’ which God has given to His Church to dispense, taking from Her storehouse goods which are ‘ever old and ever new’ are the sacramentals: everything from particular blessings to Holy Water, from scapulars and medals to holy foods such as the Eastern tradition of Prosphora, to rosaries and chatkies and other types of Christian prayer ropes and chaplets, blessed candles, icons, statutes, and as well all those blessings, all the grace which comes to souls through prayerful celebration of popular devotions, Benediction, recitation of Litanies, the Stations of the Cross, use of blessed candles, events like the crowning of statutes of Mary in schools and homes and an appreciation and proper use of those prayers which are indulged as well as that most ancient and important devotion, the pilgrimage.

I do believe in my heart there is a direct connection between emphasis on doing over being, crisis of faith, neglect of the Liturgy of the Hours, and related weakness in the spiritual life of a priest, and the continuous despoiling of our church interiors, paucity of celebrating Benediction and other popular devotions, decreased quality of preaching, neglect in our own lives of our availability for the sacrament of penance, dissent towards Church teaching, poverty of homilies, shortage of men saying yes to the call of divine election and the empty pews which surely haunt us every time we approach the altar to celebrate Holy Mass.

Personally I have never encountered a lay person who has asked for the despoiling of a parish church through the cessation of popular devotions and the removal of sacred images, hiding of the tabernacle, virtual shutting down of the confessionals.

We priests have no right, before God, Holy Mother the Church and her children, to destroy either the external patrimony nor deny access to any of the sacraments, sacramentals, or popular devotions approved by the Church for the sanctification of the children of our Father.

We must honour, and be faithful to, with meek, humble, and, when needed, contrite hearts what Holy Mother the Church deems necessary and appropriate for the people, and do so with a witness of trust and piety, trust in the efficacy of each sacrament, the sacramentals and devotions, and a pious heart obvious to all.

When it comes to the external patrimony of the Church, as well as to the treasure of millennia of prayer and sacramental life, we need to have a clear understanding when we are about to stripe anything away of just what it is we are touching, why we are about to destroy, remove, tamper with or cease it, to whom we shall be held, open-hearted, meditative reading.

accountable, and do we really have any business doing this at all, and just which ‘spirit’ is urging us on.

Margaret Visser in her book THE GEOMETRY OF LOVE, illustrates eloquently what the subtitle describes as ‘space, time, mystery and meaning in an ordinary church.’

One of a church’s main purposes is to call to mind, to make people remember. To begin with, a church sets out to cause self-recollection. Every church does its best ….to help each person recall the mystical experience that he or she has known. Everyone has had some such experience. There are moments in life when – to use the language of a building – the door swings open. The door shuts again, sooner rather than later. But we have seen, even if only through a crack, the light behind it….

Now a church…knows perfectly well that it cannot induce in anyone a mystical experience. What it does is acknowledge such experience as any of its visitors has had, as explicitly as it can. A church is a recognition, in stone and wood and brick, of spiritual awakenings. It nods, to each individual person. If the building has been created within a particular cultural and religious tradition, it constitutes a collective memory of spiritual insights, of thousands of mystical moments. A church reminds us of what we have known. And it tells us that the possibility of the door swinging open again remains. [17]

The reality is before we tamper with such holy memory, such space of sacred recall, such time and means of renewed encounter with the Holy Trinity, we must remember it has been our ancestors in the faith, by the work of their hands, the sweat of their brow, the spilling of their blood, all turned into participation in the sacramental and Gospel life, as well as turned into ‘bricks and mortar’ that has paid for the patrimony of the Church, and passed on the life of faith, and the devotional life, from one generation to the next across the millennia.

Perhaps not all of the images, statues, stained glass, furnishings, etc., have been, or even are, all that ascetically precise as seems to be the preferred minimalist approach to sacred space today.

One wonders though, given our heavenly Father’s obvious prolific approach in filling the world with colour, flowers, snowflakes and people if perhaps He truly wants His house to be sparse, even stingy, of beauty, devotion, and people.

Is it not so in far too many of our parish churches today, in the life of our parishes, that the structures are increasingly empty, cold, devoid of classic Catholic devotions, sacred symbols, sounds and, yes, smells; places where the Blessed Sacrament is shoved off into some corner as if It were an awkward embarrassment?

Yet for all the noise that has been made, and keeps being made, that this is what ‘the church’ wants and what is ‘best’ for the people as a means of ‘returning the focus’ on Christ…where are the people?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches on the power of sacred images:

Christian iconography expresses in images the same Gospel message that the Scriptures communicate by words. Image and word illuminate each other. [para.1160]

In this ‘house of God’ the truth and harmony of the signs that make it up should show Christ to be present and active in this place. [para.1181]

When we tamper with the things under consideration here we interfere with that mutual illumination of ‘image and word’ and disrupt the ‘truth and harmony of the signs’. [Mt.6:23]

Pope John Paul II, the great teacher of the realities of the dignity of the human person, the need for God, the truth about our divine election and evangelization, taught:

…..the utilization in catechetical instruction of valid elements in popular piety. I have in mind devotions practiced by the faithful in certain regions with moving fervour and purity of intention, even if the faith underlying them needs to be purified or rectified in many aspects. I have in mind certain easily understood prayers that many simple people are fond of repeating. I have in mind certain acts of piety practiced with a sincere desire to do penance or to please the Lord. Underlying most of these prayers and practices, besides the elements that should be discarded, there are other elements which, if they were properly used, could serve very well to help people advance towards knowledge of the mystery of Christ, His redeeming Cross and Resurrection, the activity of the Spirit in each Christian and in the Church, the mystery of the hereafter, the evangelical virtues to be practiced, the presence of the Christian in the world, etc. [18]

We need to look deep into our hearts at our own attitude towards sacred images, popular devotions, sacramentals, sacred space, etc. We need to examine closely the connection between deep personal faith, or lack thereof, and the way we approach the patrimony, both exterior as regards sacred space and that interior sacred space, the hearts of our people, and be truthful about how we are enhancing or diminishing the beauty, the sacred beauty, of both.

Are we illuminators or extinguishers of the light?

Certainly gutting church interiors and ceasing popular devotions, another form of interior gutting, is perhaps less demanding than a careful catechesis.

However the basic human need for sacred space, symbols and popular devotions, i.e., communal prayer, will not go unsatisfied. If it is not being met where it should be for our Catholic people, hunger will force them to go elsewhere.

A man whose vocation is to Holy Marriage, thus to being both husband and father, understands, as does his spouse, the woman who, joined to him in sacramental mutual self-gifting enters into fullness of being woman, knows along with him they cannot be fully present to each other, nor to their children, if they are hobbled by a 9 to 5 mentality or a compulsion to refurnish the house and change the parameters of family communication every time the whim strikes them!

Parents, obviously, are called by their vocation, as they are in the first instance as spouses, to be so twenty-four-seven, as contemporary lingo expresses it.

Indeed they are called to be both spouses and parents so long as they live, not just in the formative years of their children.

In point of fact, their vocation is not to raise children, per se, but rather to enable their children to become, wholly, holy, adults.

Love does such things.

Parents are intended to raise their children in the fullness of baptismal life, passing onto them the Tradition and traditions of our faith, thus becoming the living domestic church.

Love does such things.

Ours too is a complete vocation.

We too must do what love does.

When we refuse to be designated as Father, or to wear proper clerical dress, and not some tiny cross on the collar of some a la mode shirt or jacket, we are refusing the complete gift of self to other which every love relationship that is authentic and holy necessarily requires. Further we are negating our divine election as shepherd, teacher and father of the People of God.

It is a refusal to serve.

Love never refuses.

Love does not refuse to do little things well, such as humbling ourselves by wearing the black suit and roman collar so we are always a visible witness to the Gospel, equally important so we can always be found and sought out by any of our brothers and sisters.

Love does not refuse to be called Father since reality is we are in persona Christi capitis, the living icon of The Father.

Nor does love refuse to be immersed, both personally and communally with the people, in a life of constant prayer, adoration and popular piety.

Love does not tamper either with Tradition nor those traditional images, furnishings, spaces, songs, etc., which enable people to draw ever closer to Christ, and through Him to the Father, led by the Spirit throughout their lives to ever greater heights of charity.

Certainly if as priests we have difficulty, if not an outright reluctance, perhaps even a type of anxiety, about giving our people orthodox Gospel and Church teaching, drawn from Tradition, the Fathers, the Councils, in particular Vatican II, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the papal teachings, we may well need to examine objectively the depth of our life of prayer, devotions, lectio divina and spiritual reading.

It is a matter of the depth, or shallowness, of our communion of love with each Person of the Blessed Trinity. [Ep.1:3-14]

Part of the sheer joy of lectio divina, and of all authentic spiritual reading, is that we can never plumb the absolute depths to the last precious drop of grace to be found therein.

The Holy Spirit Himself, when we open wide the doors of our being to His guidance, brings forth from the treasury of Sacred Scripture especially, and of orthodox spiritual reading, ever new illumination of truth.

The Holy Spirit always does this in accord with what He Himself gifts to Holy Mother the Church, to us, the assurance of the reliability and charism of the Magisterium.

The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures as she venerated the Body of the Lord, in so far as she never ceases, particularly in the sacred liturgy, to partake of the bread of life and to offer it to the faithful from the one table of the Word of God and the Body of Christ. [19a]

In the sacred books the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet His children, and talks with them. [19b]

This is such a key and tender truth about what actually happens when we are immersed in the ocean of truth in Sacred Scripture, in the meditative act of lectio divina.

It IS THE FATHER who comes to us in those moments more than it is we ‘doing’ the reading.

Such reading is thus primarily a time of receptivity.

It is time for LISTENING!

…such is the force and power of the Word of God that it can serve the Church as her support and vigour, and the children of the Church as strength for their faith, food for the soul, and a pure and lasting fount of spiritual life. [19c]

Scripture verifies in the most perfect way the words: ‘The Word of God is living and active’ {Heb.4:12}’, and ‘is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified’ {Acts 20:32; cf. 1Th.2:13}. [19d]

When I was a boy growing up at ocean’s edge, we’d often go at low tide and meander through caves which became exposed at low water.

These caves seemed endless to us.

In our boyish minds there were always further adventures awaiting us the deeper we would go into those caves.

True, the incoming tide would determine how far we went on a given day.

But even as we left, we knew we could return.

The older and more experts we grew, the further, the deeper we were able to explore.

And enjoy!

In our day, many, and not always for their sanctification, explore the endless expanse of the internet.

When we are children it is appropriate, even a necessary part of growth towards adult self-discipline and confidence, to explore both actual spaces and the space of our imaginations. Because of our youth and inexperience, wandering into places of peril is not unexpected, and, provided there is no serious harm done, should be easily forgiven by our parents.

But we, as priests, are no longer mere children and must draw upon and exercise the Spirit’s gift of prudence. [1Cor.13:11]

We have access to the fullness of sacramental grace, to the fullness of His Word. [Ep.4:14-16]

All that is said about lectio divina can be applied, to the extent of its use by the Holy Spirit as an instrument of grace, to authentic spiritual reading.

The spouse of the Incarnate Word, which is the Church, is taught by the Holy Spirit. She strives to reach day by day a more profound understanding of the sacred Scriptures, in order to provide her children with food from the divine word…..This nourishment enlightens the mind, strengthens the will and fires the hearts of men with love of God. [19e]

One of the very ancient sacred images for the Self-gifting of Christ, as classic example of image illuminating truth, is that of the pelican immolating herself that she might feed her starving brood.

While this image was common in both stained glass and mosaic when I was a boy it is not one I find easily in churches today.

Always shown as a symbol of Christ’s Eucharistic Self-sacrifice, the pelican, as in the ancient legend pre-dating the Christian era yet adopted as a Christian image, is shown tearing her breast open that her starving children might feed and live.

We can apply this image also to Holy Mother the Church.

We can apply it to ourselves as well.

As priests this self-immolation, this self-gift, in imitation of and precisely because we are configured to Christ, are in persona Christi, is our life, our being, our joy!

But if our hearts are empty, when we rip them open, or rather allow the Holy Spirit to break them open, what will there be to flow forth to nourish the people, our true children?

Or if our hearts are filled with anything other than the pure blood of a deep spiritual life, what kind of food will flow forth?

Therefore…particularly priests of Christ…should immerse themselves in the Scriptures by constant sacred reading and diligent study. For it must not happen that anyone becomes ‘ an empty preacher of the Word of God to others, not being a hearer of the Word in his own heart,’ when he ought to be sharing the boundless riches of the divine Word with the faithful committed to his care, especially in the sacred liturgy. [19f]

Here, as in all aspects of our lives as priests, we should have recourse to our Blessed Mother, she who is the Seat of Wisdom:

Christian prayer tries above all to meditate on the mysteries of Christ, as in lectio divina or the rosary. [20]

A contemporary term used to denote the experience of many Christians who hear one thing on Sunday yet live something else the rest of the time is the term: cognitive dissonance.

That is the living and shuttling, as it were, back and forth between two stances, two views of life, an attempt to have two mutually opposed ‘truths’ co-exist.

We priests can find ourselves in bondage to cognitive dissonance when we attempt to live a basic secular life while attempting to ‘do’, rather than ‘be’ that which we are by divine election.

Spiritual understanding centers on the acceptance of a divine truth, which gradually reveals itself, rising on the horizon of the mind till it pervades all. If the mind and its reactions are brought into willing obedience to that truth the divine truth continues to permeate the mind even more and the mind develops with it endlessly. “To know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph.3:19). It is clear from this verse that the knowledge and love of God and divine things in general are immeasurably above the level of knowledge that is human knowledge. It is therefore futile and foolish for us to try to ‘investigate’ the things of God in an attempt to grasp them and make them yield to our intellectual powers.

On the contrary, it is we who must yield to the love of God so that our minds may be open to the divine truth. It is then that we will be prepared to receive surpassing knowledge. That “being rooted and grounded in love [you], may have the power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breath and length and height and depth.”(Eph.3:17, 18). [21]

Reading to fill up our hearts then with food which sustains us and can be poured forth is a matter of humility. A crying out from the core of our being, constantly, to the Holy Spirit that He would ‘help my unbelief’.

It is also a humble willingness to heed the cry addressed to us by all the children of the Father, those who believe, yearning in their hunger to be strengthened in the faith; by those who do not believe, because no one has yet spoken to them of Christ.

As the Foundress of the Madonna House Lay Apostolate pleads on their behalf:

Teach us God because you have met Him in prayer and in the study of the Word. The Word is like a tremendous mysterious teacher. You might be a Scripture Scholar, familiar with every passage, but if you read it on your knees the light of the Holy Spirit will fall on a Word and it will open itself before you like a flower or a nut cracked by an immense nutcracker.

Teach us to know God, because you know Him. Teach us to pray because you are men of prayer. [22]

Here the connection is made for us by the Servant of God, Catherine Doherty, between our being nourished and our ability to feed the flock confided to our care. To teach truth with love, love with truth, to all our brothers and sisters.

The connection is that of our being truly men of the Word to bring the word, with and through all our words, to His children.

Being men of prayer: so that our words are His, His alone.

The words He has for all the children of the Father.

Among the spiritual reading done for this chapter one which truly rejoiced my heart was the book of Pope John Paul II, another of his many gifts to us his brother priests: GIFT AND MYSTERY.

In this work, written to celebrate his 50th anniversary of priesthood, he stresses the importance of study in general for priests and connects everything we do with our role as servants. Thus, this statement from the Holy Father, struck my heart as applicable to lectio divina, and indeed to all our spiritual reading as a means by which the Holy Spirit guides us to, forms within us:

…a deeper awareness of how each individual is a unique person. [23]

And the Holy Father adds, simply yet to the point:

I think that this awareness is very important for every priest. [ op. cit.]

Meditation upon the persons who emerge across the pages, through the unfolding of salvation history, of Sacred Scripture – from those who are direct proto-types of Christ such as Moses, the Suffering Servant in Isaiah to those representative of each individual soul such as Job, the bride in the Song of Songs, from the New Testament, the woman at the well, each person needing healing and deliverance, etc., – these are all used by the Holy Spirit to open ever wider the doors of our being to Christ and to open ever wider the doors of our hearts as portals of compassion for all our brothers and sisters.

Indeed such meditation should enable us also to become ever more compassionate towards our own selves in the depths of our poverty and need for Divine Mercy. [Rev.3:20; Lk.24:32]

When we open our hearts to any moment of intimate encounter with the Father, of Christ coming ever more fully into the depths of our being through the Sacred Text, in that moment we also will hear the teaching voice, the configuring voice, of the Holy Spirit seeking to set our hearts aflame within the communion of love between the Holy Trinity and us!

Holy Scripture, carefully read, and even learned by heart, will always be like a living fountain in the heart of the priest. In the Eucharist the Divine Word hides Himself under the sacred species, clothed in majestic silence; in the Scriptures He communicates Himself to us under the form of human speech, which expresses itself according to the manner of our expression.

The Word of God in Himself is incomprehensible. Is He not infinite? In His Son the Father gives expression to all that He is and all that He knows. In the Scriptures we read only one small syllable of the incommunicable Word pronounced by the immensity of the Father. In heaven we shall contemplate this living Word, we shall be introduced into its secret, but even here on earth we must keep our intellect in a state of respectful attention to what has been revealed and to that portion of divine wisdom which has been made known by the holy Writings. [24]

Through Sacred Scripture, and indeed through all our spiritual reading and study of the sacred sciences, we are truly being invited into an ever deeper intimacy of communion of love with the Blessed Trinity. This grace leads to an ever deeper passion for the Gospel lived in humble service of all our brothers and sisters, in particular of the poorest among them, most especially of our enemies.

This grace leads us to be priests of the ‘truth-speaking’ hearts and mouths, feeding our people with absolute orthodox Catholic teaching.

Because we love them, and, desire the salvation of souls.

Our lives then become lives only of and for Christ and the things of Christ.

Once again here, as in everything in the lives of all Disciples of Christ, we turn to our Blessed Mother, the first disciple and the Mother of we her priest sons.

Mary is our example of Sacred Scripture internalized and lived as moment by moment blessing of life.

When our Blessed Mother approached her cousin Elizabeth, as we know, Mary already contained within her the living and true God, the Incarnate One, Jesus.

In that immediate moment, as Scripture tells us Elizabeth cries out in full experience. [Lk.1:44]

Our hearts too will leap for joy as the ‘sound of greeting’ of Scripture itself permeates our being when we contemplate the sacred text.

Approached on our knees, in the same spirit of expectancy and stillness of the whole of creation on the night of His birth, and through the reality of opening wide the doors of our being through the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we shall no longer feel like observers of the history of salvation, of the mysteries of our redemption, but true participants!

Thus, for example, when the eyes of our body, of our hearts, fall upon the words of the text, in the depths of our souls we shall hear and respond to what we see and hear.

Thus, not only to the shepherds, but to each one of us the Angels announce the Good News. [Lk.2:10]

Filled with the fire of the moment, in the fulfillment of our divine election, when we come to preach upon the reality of Christ and of our salvation we shall indeed discover we bring great joy to all the people!

Spiritual reading, meditation, mental prayer, divine office, lectio divina, and contemplation, study of the sacred sciences and related authentic reading and study: these are all ways of cooperating with the Holy Spirit at prayer within us as He teaches us all we need to know to be true servants of the Gospel.

It is a struggle to be faithful each day: likewise is it a struggle to be faithful each day to the life of continuous formation, growth in prayer, wisdom, knowledge, love.

Pope John Paul II speaks to us of the daily struggle in these words:

…..we must all be converted anew every day. We know that this is a fundamental exigency of the Gospel, addressed to everyone, and all the more do we have to consider it addressed to us. If we have the duty of helping others to be converted we have to do the same continuously in our own lives. BEING CONVERTED MEANS returning to the very grace of our vocation; it means meditating upon the infinite goodness and love of Christ, who has addressed each of us and, calling us by name, has said: “Follow Me.” BEING CONVERTED MEANS continually “giving an account” before the Lord of our hearts about our service, our zeal and our fidelity, for we are “Christ’s servants, stewards entrusted with the mysteries of God.” BEING CONVERTED ALSO MEANS “giving an account” of our negligences and sins, of our timidity, of our lack of faith and hope, of our thinking only “in a human way” and not “in a divine way.” Let us recall in this regard the warning Christ gave Peter himself. BEING CONVERTED MEANS, for us, seeking again the pardon and strength of God in the sacrament of Reconciliation, and thus always beginning anew, and every day progressing, overcoming ourselves, making spiritual conquests, giving cheerfully, for “God loves a cheerful giver.”

BEING CONVERTED MEANS “to pray continually and never lose heart.” In a certain way prayer is the first and the last condition for conversion, spiritual progress and holiness. PERHAPS IN THESE RECENT YEARS…there has been too much discussion about the priesthood, the priest’s ‘identity’, the value of his presence in the modern world, etc., and on the other hand THERE HAS BEEN TOO LITTLE PRAYING. [25]

Perhaps in the lives of we priests there is ‘too little praying’ because we are more deeply infected by the ‘world’ than we care to admit. Or perhaps because we find it difficult to rejoice in the power and beauty of the Liturgy of the Hours, maybe even of the Divine Liturgy itself there is within us a type of resistance that needs that ‘being converted anew each day’ of which the Holy Father speaks.

A friend told me recently of how a friend of his family’s became converted to our Catholic faith.

The man was a serious Protestant Fundamentalist, so filled with anger and hatred of the Catholic Church he decided he would begin to confront the local priest about the errors of the Church. To do so this fundamentalist Christian, armed with the Bible, opened to the Book of Revelations, sat at the back of the church during Holy Mass. While Holy Mass unfolded this good man became aware that what was transpiring before him was the heavenly liturgy as described in the very sacred text he held open before him. Once Mass was over he did indeed approach the priest.

For instruction!

When I think of prayer, the sentence that comes to me is this: Hold the hand of the Lord, and talk to Him any time you wish. There is not a time to pray and a time not to pray. To pray is to pray always. You hold the hand of God. Sometimes you talk to Him and sometimes you don’t, but you are there with Him all the time.

That is what our basic approach to prayer must be.

…..You give your time to everyone and to everything, but in your heart, you pray continuously. You know that the Lord is very near, and that He holds your hand, as it were, while you go about your business. That’s the way you should pray.

…..The Mass is the outstanding prayer for all Catholics. In the Mass, you find the Lord. He comes to you joyfully and gladly. Can you feel how glad He is to come to you? He is happy to have you there. It is very important that you be there, for the Mass is your rendezvous with God.

…..The Mass encompasses you totally and absolutely. It is such a beautiful time. In some profound sense, you become the Mass. Do you ever think about it that way?

Between two Masses – the Mass of today and the Mass of tomorrow – you spend your time talking lovingly to God. There is the prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours ….One can always ‘take time’ to pray before the Blessed Sacrament….real prayer is simply the communication that constantly passes between you and the Lord. Prayer is conversation with Him. You don’t need to understand how to talk to God. You just do it. He loves to listen to you and He especially delights in your silence when you listen to Him. [26]

We certainly have a lot to DO every day in our lives as priests.

But when we allow those duties which do NOT require sacramental ordination to overwhelm us, rather than trust the charism of the laity to handle those things which do not require sacramental ordination, we will easily find therein the rationale for excusing ourselves from daily celebration of Holy Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, lectio divina, prayer, etc.

Saint Pius X, throughout his pontificate wherein he sought to engage everyone in restoring all things to Christ, speaks to us when he wrote:

….all who bear the seal of priesthood must know they have the same mission to the people in the midst of whom they live as that which Paul proclaimed that he received in these tender words: My little children, of whom I am in labour again until Christ be formed in you.(Gal.iv,19) But how will they be able to perform their duty if they be not first clothed with Christ themselves? and so clothed with Christ be able to say with the Apostle: I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me.(Gal.11,20) For me to live is Christ.(Phil1,21) Hence although all are included in the exhortation – to advance towards the perfect man, in the measure of the age of fullness of Christ(Ep.iv,3), it is addressed before all to those who exercise the sacerdotal ministry; thus these are called another Christ, not merely by the communication of power but by reason of the imitation of His works, and they should therefore bear stamped upon themselves the image of Christ. [27]

The more we plunge ourselves into prayer, spiritual reading, and meditation, contemplation { in particular of His Passion, Death and Resurrection }, the more we shall become intimate with Him, clothed with Him, enabled by the Holy Spirit to imitate only Christ, to desire, to seek only the things of Christ.

Devotion, true faith, is not therefore per se things I believe in, adhering to, much less why I do anything; rather it is who I am: a true believer!

This is my state of being because I am beloved of Him and in this communion of love I have been ordained in His person.

This, Fathers, IS the joy of our being, our vocation of joy!

Among priests of another generation I have often heard the bravado statement of having ‘never opened a book of theology since I left the seminary’; sadly I have also heard from priests of this generation that they can find more ‘truth’ in novels and on the internet than in books of theology.

Lastly there is the mindset that will only study the latest notion in the field of sacred science, or other fields, hot off the press, without necessarily exercising due discernment about the orthodoxy, or lack thereof, to be found in a given work.

Once again the heart and desire of Holy Mother the Church, therefore the will of the Holy Trinity for us, as regards ongoing study, itself a means of a more affective understanding of the needs of people and how to serve them with love in truth, has been articulated clearly from the very first days of the development of theology:

The fathers see in the pursuit of sacred learning the priest’s most powerful natural contribution to preparing the way for divine grace in his own life and the life of others. Besides they find in devotion to the sacred sciences his surest safeguard against worldly influences. Hence it is, as St. Gregory observes, that sustained attention to the study of the sacred sciences assures the priest of faithful devotion to his sacred duties:

“The priest lives up to all these sacred responsibilities if he is filled with the spirit of heavenly fear and love, and daily meditates on the commands of Holy Writ. This he does in order that the words of divine warning may re-enkindle the fervour of his watchfulness over his people and of his farsighted attention to the life of heaven within him. In all this he is motivated by the realization that whereas his contacts with the world are continually leading him away from his first fervour, he may by the spirit of compunction acquire a new love for his spiritual home in heaven.”

…the office of priest is to find answers to the questions of human life in the language of God. His next step is to express the language of God in terms that will be grasped by the people. In a word, he is an interpreter between God and man. Consequently, to be well-versed in the language of God he must be deeply devoted to the study of sacred science. Only in this study can he familiarize himself with the ideas and terms which will translate for the people God’s answers to the questions of life. [28]

This means, as we become ‘well-versed’ in the language of God we will inevitably find ourselves more courageously speaking the true, proclaiming the Gospel of Life in the midst of a culture of death.

We know that every Christian through Baptism is called to be, in imitation of and with Christ, a sign of contradiction at the very core of this culture of death.

How much more are we priests, by divine election called and by ordination created in persona Christi, to be the surest and clearest voice, the most visible sign of contradiction?

The sign of life!

When as priests we seek by any means to live other than in the reality of being such a sign, to hide behind secular clothing or the parsing of our words so as not to offend ‘the world’ we become at war with our very own being.

True, the more we strive to live fully our vocation, to live in reality, we will suffer.

Perhaps even at the hands of confreres, or of our people.

Certainly the culture of death, satan and his minions, will attack us.

Here too we simply are becoming more fully Disciples of Christ, are following Him more closely, being drawn more intimately into union with Him.

We are thus blessed! [Lk.6:22]

It is natural as human beings that we should seek the immediate gratification of acceptance by our confreres, our people, by the world around us. No one wants to be hated, excluded, insulted, and denounced.

No one naturally wants to be crucified.

In truth, the Cross is our joy!

The struggle to be faithful is the only lasting gratification.

Christ is our comfort, our love, and acceptance.

He includes us in the communion of love of Himself, the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Finally much of our struggle is very simply because we feel pressing against our hearts the weight of the sin and sadness of the world which lives in a vast darkness. The darkness of sin and death, the darkness of billions of human hearts having forgotten who they are, why they exist, because they are forgetful of the very Father in heaven who loves them so much He sent to us His only begotten Son.

While it is true, as the Holy Gospel teaches, Jesus is the One who pours His Light within us; it is also terribly true not all embrace Him, His Light! [Jn.1:9; 10, 11]

In humility we need to accept where within us there is darkness still, where we still refuse within our beings to accept Him and allow Him to shine within us, to heal and restore us.

In union with Our Blessed Mother this shall come to pass through the deep interior life of prayer, lectio divina, etc., as discussed in this chapter.

If we struggle each day to be faithful and are ever more willing to both offer and be offered, then we shall come not only to understand but to experience continually that communion of love from the Risen Christ which is communion of illumination love of the Holy Trinity:

Our world lives in a darkness so vast, a forgetfulness so dreadful, that only a kind of global healing of memories can enlighten it. The healing of memories is in fact a healing of forgetfulness and the resurrection of memory. When the glory shining on the face of the risen Christ shines in our hearts, we are set free from the terrors that roam in the darkness, and the darkness itself flees away. Each moment of our lives is touched by the healing light of the Lord, and each becomes a moment in the history of salvation. The moment of rejection shines now with reconciliation; the moment of anger becomes bright with forgiveness; the moment of lust is filled with the radiance of love; and the countless moments of loneliness are radiant with the presence of Him who will never leave us. Bitterness vanishes when we see the wounds others have inflicted upon us begin to gleam, like those of Christ, with the pure light of compassion. As He gazes upon all that we have tried to keep in darkness, His brightness touches too the wounds we have given others, not only the pain we have consciously caused, but the numberless hurts caused by our indifference, our coldness, our fear, our seemingly unbreakable absorption in our own poor selves. The human eyes of the Invisible Light fall on all of this, and we see the broken ones restored and raised up, and our shame itself is broken up, carried away into the darkness that lies behind the back of God. [29]