Most likely every human being at some point in life, perhaps even frequently for long periods of time, feels deep within that God has forgotten us.
Our cry is never unheeded and always there will be those moments of sweetness when God who is Love speaks tenderly to the depths of our being, assuring us He is so close, keeps us so close, our very name is written upon the palm of His hand. [Is.49:14-16]
The name which He has written upon the palm of His hand is our real name. [Rv.2:17]
It is easy for our hearts to see Jesus in the Garden, in the intimate prayer for every soul offered by Him to the Father, raising His hands in the gesture of orans, and seeing on the palms of those Sacred Hands our true name.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches the truth about our real name, ‘the name one receives for eternity’, in paragraphs 2156 to 2159.
They are a beautiful source of meditation.
We, in the mystery of our divine election to this vocation of joy which is ours, receive not strictly speaking a new name but a defining indicator of our sacramental identity as shepherd and servant: Father!
We become priest and henceforth from the day of our ordination, thanks in large measure to the tender prayers of our people, with the intercessory help of Our Blessed Mother, and the lavishness of grace, struggle each day to truly become what we are.
A young priest came to speak with me the other day.
To use his own words he was ‘totally fragmented’.
He felt like bits and pieces of his self were scattered everywhere. The comfortable, secure, sense of wholeness, and budding holiness, of ‘completeness’, as he described it, had left him.
There were those days, weeks perhaps, immediately following his ordination when, as he said, ‘it seemed all was right with the world.’
Now all he seemed to experience each day was a relentless barrage of demands, criticisms from the laity, bad temper from the pastor, distractions in prayer, itself experienced as a burden, doubts about his vocation, and much, much more.
He ended with those words which most priests at some early juncture of our lives have been heard to utter: “Who knew being a priest contained so much suffering!”
Perhaps all of us are initially surprised to discover ordination is not some magic potion which removes the clay from our feet, the passions from our flesh, the distractions from our imaginations, and the need for approval from our emotional life.
Yet if we kneel beside and with Christ in the Garden, putting our face to the ground beside and with Him in offering to the Father, we would not be so surprised.
Jesus Christ, High Priest, is the One who offers.
Jesus Christ, High Priest, is the One who is offered.
So it is for we who are sacramentally in persona Christi.
The canticle from tonight’s Evening Prayer still sings in my heart as I compose these pages.
It is a canticle which consoles the heart of every priest if we would but take it to heart, for truly Jesus suffered not only for the collective ‘you’ St. Peter speaks of, but for the personal ‘you’, the ‘I’ and so ‘I’ am the one healed by His wounds. [1 Pt. 2:21-24]
This too is an example of divine intimacy with the entire human family, in particular for the baptized, even more deeply for priests.
We will frequently have great difficulty understanding and embracing the sacramental reality of being in persona Christi, as the one offering and being offered, if we are seduced by the modern relativism which leads to gross errors regarding the essential truth about the necessity of the sacramental priesthood for the entire human family: for the salvation of souls.
Christ’s priesthood flowed from the paschal mystery. Our priesthood is not ours but His. We must therefore draw the most profound truth about life from Christ’s death and resurrection. “May He make us an everlasting gift pleasing to You.” (3rd Eucharistic Prayer): that is how we speak to the Creator, our Father, in the name of Christ and “in persona Christi”, and at the same time in the name of every creature. Because of its own meaning the priesthood will always contain within itself a profound “hermeneutics” of the mystery of the world and above all the “mystery of man”. Any world which sought to delete the priesthood from its structures would deny its own self, and above all would destroy human nature in its most essential aspect. 
We well know it is not only the secular world, the culture of darkness which seeks ‘to delete the priesthood from its structures’. There are those dioceses, parishes, religious communities which, sometimes openly, often under the guise of enhancing the role of the laity, are essentially deleting the sacramental priesthood from their structures.
Even many priests are caught up in this progressive deletion of their very own divine election.
This progressive deletion of the sacramental priesthood from life accounts in no small measure for the paradox of those who claim to be catholic while advocating the so-called ‘right to choose’ abortion, acceptance of homosexual practice, inter-communion without the prior true union of faith, etc.
It is even in seemingly small things, such as the refusal to wear proper clerical dress, or be called by our proper title of Father, that we become complicit in the process of deleting the sacramental priesthood from human life and become participants in the destruction of ‘human nature in its most essential aspect’. [Mk. 6:34]
The Good Shepherd, in whose person we are by ordination, instructs us to enter into intimacy with, Himself: ultimate experience of learning the depths of priesthood. [Mt.11:29]
We need to beg for the grace to be purified of the modernist notion of priesthood, which has prevailed since the late 1960’s.
It is a notion which claims adherence to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, though in reality betrays a total ignorance of the Council’s document on the priesthood and the subsequent teachings of Pope Paul VI, and most particularly, Pope John Paul II.
Indeed it denies over two millennia of orthodox teaching and tradition.
This modernist notion of the priesthood is based on a minimalist, and very limited, functionality and decries any attempts to adhere to a specific priestly spirituality.
It is a reductionist notion bandied about under the guise of enhancing the role of the laity in the life of the Church, but actually detracts from the laity’s vocation by a type of co-option into that which is reserved for the ordained priest alone.
The result is a progressive diminishment of both the lay and priestly vocations.
Returning to the story of that young priest who came to speak with me, what became clear was he was in a particular diocese where the bishop and majority of the priests were completely in bondage to the modernist, minimalist ideas of priesthood.
The Holy Spirit calls us to surrender to the yoke, meekness and humility of the Sacred Heart, the Priestly Heart.
A brother priest likes to repeat: “We must serve the Church as the Church wishes to be served.”
This is more than a deep spirit of obedience. It is a true spirit of humility.
Holy Mother the Church wishes first and foremost for we priests to serve her as true priests, true shepherds of the flock, in the full reality of our being in persona Christi.
In that, we shall, no matter the depths of our suffering or the intensity of the struggle to be faithful, experience the true joy of our vocation, a joy which will come to completeness within the core of our very being, a real participation in the joy of the Baptist. [Jn.3:29, 30]
The simplest way for us to decrease, so Christ increases in every human heart we serve, is for us to set aside personal notions of what priesthood ought to be and surrender, joyfully, to being hidden in the reality of what priesthood is, set forth by Holy Mother the Church as was given to Her by Christ Priest Himself.
What can it be that lurks behind these modernist notions about sacramental priesthood which defy the teaching of the Church and the absolute reality of the sacrament itself?
Sin expressed in our hearts as lack of faith, pride, and refusal to trust in the communion of love offered us by the Holy Trinity.
Sin, expressed as arrogance, anger, greed, and lust, and if not through sexual sin, certainly through other means of gratification.
In my interviews with laity, young, old, professional, working in factories, offices, on farms, believers and non-believers alike, I was struck by the common answer to my question: what most disturbed them about priests today?
I had expected they would address the issue of sexual scandal, extremes of so-called liberal or con Instead the most common issues which disturbed them were: priestly arrogance, refusal to be seen in clerical clothing, to be addressed as Father and a lifestyle deemed to be ‘high on the hog’?
Each priest has to look into his own heart to see clearly the root causes of his own sin, and confess the sins he commits.
Each priest has to embrace the reality that we are ‘vessels of clay’, and cry out constantly: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
Sin creates a proclivity to sin; it engenders vice by the repetition of the same acts. This results in perverse inclinations which cloud conscience and corrupt the concrete judgement of good and evil. Thus sin tends to reproduce itself and reinforce itself, but it cannot destroy the moral sense at its root. Vices can be classified according to the virtues they oppose, or also be linked to the capital sins which Christian experience has distinguished, following St. John Cassian and St. Gregory the Great. They are called ‘capital’ because they engender other sins, other vices. They are pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth or acedia. 
The final stress in his suffering the young priest referred to spoke about was the pain caused him by the mouths of his brother priests. They had labeled him as rigid, conservative, ‘clerical’ in the most demeaning sense.
What struck my heart was that this young priest was orthodox in his faith, dressed in clerics, insisted he be called Father, was devoted to Our Blessed Mother, believed the truth about and was devoted to Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, was loyal to the Holy Father, etc.
All those things deemed to be too ‘clerical’ by the modernists and minimalists.
That there was some rigidity about him was also true. Yet the rigidity was as much a defense against the disdain of his brother priests as it was to any degree a wound in his personality.
In my experience the fodder for clerical gossip, that most pernicious and destructive of priestly sins, is the individual priest’s bondage to one or more of the capital sins.
True, as vessels of clay, we will be constantly in the battle between sin and virtue, between truth-teaching and the struggle to live what we teach.
This is the reality of spiritual warfare within which each priest SHOULD be a good fighter.
It is when we, not just our people, have a cognitive disconnect which we fail to struggle to overcome that we become those who seek to delete the priesthood from humanity.
Disunity among the shepherds leaves the flock vulnerable to the wolves, for, obviously, if the shepherds are at war among themselves, who is there to guard the flock?
Satan is not only a liar and the father of lies; he is also the great distractor.
Perhaps he cannot distract us from Christ through our committing mortal sin. He certainly will attempt to distract us from Christ by enticing us into committing venial sins until our will is so weakened we do indeed turn completely away from Christ through mortal sin.
Anything: to disrupt the unity among us, which should be the hallmark of our love for one another.
Anything: to keep us from decreasing so Christ may increase.
There is a beautiful passage from St. Paul which is a template for daily meditation, an encouragement for us to struggle to become what we are, and to love our brothers in the priesthood: Col.3:1-11.
Christ IS everything!
When that young priest had finished speaking what came to my heart was pretty clear: he had if not forgotten, because of the stress and suffering he was enduring, at least was having difficulty trusting who he truly was in persona Christi.
The modernists attempt to delete the priesthood from humanity most ardently does so by a denial of the vital importance of our sacramental priesthood as a real presence in the lives of all our brothers and sisters.
The Servant of God, Catherine Doherty, in her book DEAR FATHER, pours forth from her own heart, on behalf of the laity, her passionate love for priests, her faith in the reality of sacramental priesthood.
Catherine speaks to the reality of joy in an entire chapter, posing a basic question to our hearts:
Do you realize that you are a joy to the world? 
To which I would add this question: Do I strive to be a joy to my brother priests?
Catherine connects our capacity to trust the joy we are to others with our willingness to be and move rooted in the virtue of faith. Thus, towards the end of the chapter where she teaches on joy, Catherine recounts the healing of a sick child, whose mother accredited his healing to the prayers of a priest.
Catherine then concludes with words which have seared my heart when I would hear her speak, such words sear my heart still whenever I read them:
I am almost afraid to say the next sentence, but I have to say it because it’s the truth: Do you have that kind of faith? Have you really looked at yourself and understood who you are? Oh, you might be Tom, Dick or Harry. You might be fat, thin, old or young. You can look in a mirror until the mirror falls down, but you will not see in a mirror who you really are. It’s when your eyes are turned to the heart of Christ, which is your real mirror, that you will see that you are another Christ, with all His powers, amongst them the power of giving hope, joy, faith and love. 
It is our sacramental duty to exercise lavishly ‘the power of giving hope, joy, faith and love’ to all our people.
However if we are to avoid in anyway deleting the priesthood from humanity we must also exercise lavishly our power to love one another as brothers in the priesthood. We too need hope, joy, faith and love in our lives. Who better to be vessels of such grace to a priest than a brother priest?
Again and again we cry out all day long, in the reality of ‘praying always’: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner.
Thus we beg the Holy Spirit to purify us of any and all things, choices, attitudes, sins which cause us to seek anywhere other than Christ the ‘everything’ our hearts have been created for.
It is a matter of embracing the cross, a willingness to be an offering, a victim, in imitation of Christ.
The priest is alter Christus and, like his divine Master, he must be a victim immolated to the glory of God, and delivered up for the salvation of souls…This is our program of sanctity…If we share in His priestly dignity, is it not right that we should take part in His oblation?….These, then, are our orders of the day: to follow Jesus in the absolute consecration of His life to the glory of the Father and to the salvation of the world…We also at the altar present to God the whole course of our life, accepting it, loving it, dedicating it in the spirit of love to the cause of God and to the salvation of souls. Thus, by daily imitation of the offering of Jesus, it will be granted to us to enter, little by little, into the mysterious intimacy of the soul of the divine Master. 
Many, many years ago, when in fact I was a non-believer, I happened to be visiting a friend who worked in a charity hospital. One day my friend asked if I would go with them while they dropped off a message to their former pastor.
The pastor was a middle-aged priest who lived in the hospital.
I assumed he was living there as the chaplain.
In fact, and this really took me aback, he was living there permanently as a patient. He has been permanently disabled, in the physical sense, as a result of a car accident. The accident had occurred some ten years before the day I met him.
I understand now that this priest sensed immediately when I entered his hospital room, which was actually a ward and not a private room, that I was both uncomfortable in the presence of a priest and in the presence of a disabled person.
However he did not say anything directly to me until my friend and I were leaving.
At that point he said, with as I recall a true tenderness in his voice:
“A priest is not per se what a man does. Priest is who I am. I am a priest forever. Every priest is both the one who offers and the offering. It has pleased God to allow me truly to be a victim-priest. Life truly is beautiful and my life, well, it’s a real joy.”
Few of us are asked to embrace the mystery of being ‘ a victim immolated to the glory of God and delivered up for the salvation of souls’ to the extent of that particular brother of ours.
But the truth remains each of us is asked by the Holy Trinity, through the nitty-gritty reality of the duty of the moment of being priest, to embrace with joy being victim, oblation.
Mainly we are asked to be so in a manner which appears externally to be very ordinary, as the life of a priest goes, indeed. It is a blessed hiddenness which is a divine protection. In that ordinariness however we must strive for the ‘I’ to decrease so Christ increases.
Suffering then in all its dimensions should be a cherished companion of every priest.
For the young priest who came to speak with me that was my one word for him: become what you are.
Some of us will be asked to embrace even outrageously seeming, at least to the eyes of the world, perhaps even to our own emotions, immense depths of suffering. We may be invited to embrace immolation for the ‘glory of God and the salvation of souls’ a union with Christ in the mystery, for example, of the Tenth Station or the Eighth Beatitude.
We should not be afraid.
Christ is everything.
He is with us.
Any suffering we are invited to embrace is suffering for the salvation of souls, including our own.
It is part of the joy of our divine election to be one with Him in the vineyard during the heat of the day, in the Garden, on the Cross, even in the Tomb.
Christ’s love towards men was so great that not only was he willing to endure the most cruel sufferings for our salvation and an atrocious death on the Cross, but also He wished to nourish us eternally in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood…having loved His own beloved He loved them to the end…He instituted permanently His priesthood in the Catholic Church. He decreed that the same sacrifice He performed is…to remain until the consummation of the world. He decreed that it be renewed and take place daily by the ministry of the priesthood……
In the unbloody sacrifice of the Mass, celebrated by priests, the same life-giving Victim is offered up……No unworthiness or wickedness on the part of those offering it can ever defile this oblation. 
While we can be consoled by the truth that the effectiveness of what we celebrate does not depend on our state of holiness, or generosity, even our willingness, or lack thereof, to be a true victim, nonetheless how much more wonderful is it IF we strive, truly, to be full, complete, holy, willing oblation when we offer Holy Mass.
It is a matter of participating in the communion of love.
It is Christ’s love of the Father, and for us and for our salvation, which drives Him towards His Passion and Death.
The same love should drive us to ever more become what we are, in persona Christi, filled with the same passion for the Father and for the salvation of souls.
Such a passion fuels the fire of joy which burns within us as we love the Blessed Trinity, one another, and all our brothers and sisters, friends and enemies.
….the Gospel insists especially on renouncing self, on accepting the Cross. Many were the crosses which presented themselves to the Cure of Ars in the course of his ministry: calumny on the part of the people, being misunderstood by an assistant priest or other confreres, contradictions, and also a mysterious struggle against the powers of hell, and sometimes even the temptation to despair in the midst of spiritual darkness. Nonetheless he did not content himself with just accepting these trials without complaining: he went beyond them by mortification, imposing on himself continual fasts and many other rugged practices in order ‘to reduce his body to servitude’, as Saint Paul says. But what we must see clearly in this penance, which our age unhappily has little taste for, are his motives: love of God and the conversion of sinners. Thus he asks a discouraged fellow priest: ‘You have prayed…, you have wept…, but have you fasted, have you kept vigil…?’ Here we are close to the warning of Jesus to the Apostles: ‘But this kind is cast out only by prayer and fasting. In a word, John Mary Vianney sanctified himself so as to be more able to sanctify others…..
Dear brother priests, let us not be afraid of this very personal commitment – marked by asceticism and inspired by love – which God asks of us for the proper exercise of our Priesthood…. ‘It seems…that in the difficulties of today God wishes to teach us more deeply the value, the importance and the central place of the Cross of Jesus Christ.’ In the priest, Christ relives His Passion, for the sake of souls. Let us give thanks to God who thus permits us to share in the Redemption, in our hearts and in our flesh!