Category Archives: Priesthood Today

Priesthood today




When I began this work the first quote used was from the Servant of God Catherine Doherty and I believe there is no better way to conclude these reflections on our vocation of joy, to be bringers of joy in persona Christi, than to give her the last word:

                                                                          You are a bringer of joy……You are the candle of atonement. You are the fire Christ uses to light in a….soul the heroism which cries, “Lord, I throw my life at your feet and sing and sing that I bring you such a small thing!”….

                                                                       So remember: you are a sign of hope. You are a sign of joy. You live on the street of broken dreams but you lead people to God who alone can repair them.  With his power you can, too. God and you are good repairmen. [141]


Finally Catherine’s answer when asked, as perhaps sometimes we ask ourselves, what is a priest? :

                                                             A priest is a lover of God, a priest is a lover of men, a priest is a holy man because he walks before the face of the All-Holy.

                                                             A priest understands all things, a priest forgives all things, a priest encompasses all things.

                                                            The heart of a priest is pierced, like Christ’s, with the lance of love.

                                                            The heart of a priest is open, like Christ’s, for the whole world to walk through.

                                                            The heart of a priest is a vessel of compassion, the heart of a priest is a chalice of love, the heart of a priest is a trysting place of human and divine love.

                                                             A priest is a man whose goal is to be another Christ; a priest is a man who lives to serve.

                                                            A priest is a man who has crucified himself so that he too may be lifted up and draw all things to Christ.

                                                          A priest is a man in love with God.

                                                          A priest is a gift of God to man and of man to God.

                                                          A priest is a symbol of the Word made flesh, a priest is the naked sword of God’s justice, a priest is the hand of God’s mercy, a priest is the reflection of God’s love.

                                                           Nothing can be greater in this world than a priest, nothing but God Himself.





Granted while I have no precise record of how long the research, mediation, prayer takes for each chapter, I can assure you when it comes to this topic, this reality and grace of our joyous vocation, it has taken a rather long time to be ready to put these reflections on paper.
Two things have dogged me for weeks.
One: a memory, which, until celebrating Holy Mass in the hermitage this morning, seemed unconnected to our vow of obedience.
The other: three gardens, while clearly connected, began through meditation, day in and day out, to make more and more sense.
The memory is almost thirty years old now and is offered here NOT to draw attention to myself, but rather to highlight the lavishness of, as St. John reminds us [Jn. 1: 16], God’s love ever animating, ever sustaining, ever affirming us.
I had been assigned as pastor to a remote rural parish, so run down both in terms of the faith praxis of the deeply divided membership and the physical state of rectory, church, vestments, etc., that a series of priests had gone down in flames before me: one had a massive coronary and died, another had a complete mental breakdown, another fled, my immediate predecessor was so burned out my first assignment was to remove him, which only led to more division.
After six months I was so disheartened I not only had decided to walk away from the parish but from priesthood as well.
The joy which had burned in me for almost two years since the moment of ordination in persona Christi, had soured.
                                                                    A thing is wisest when it is most fully itself, when it tastes most like itself, in keeping with its nature. It is “foolish” when it forgets to be what it is, when it no longer has its proper flavour, as when salt loses its strength, or when oil becomes rancid, or when wine turns to vinegar. [123]
Not as excuse but simple statement of fact: I was in such emotional, spiritual turmoil, so exhausted by the stress of discouragement, I had completely forgotten who I was, had lost my ‘proper flavour’, in a sense had allowed the chrism to become rancid, the joyous wine of priesthood had become vinegar of bitterness.
I was just about done packing a few things, having decided to abandon most of my possessions, such was the urgency to flee.
A slight spring morning breeze was coming through the open window of my study, but even its freshness was stale to me – however the open window also allowed the sound of a pickup truck, speeding across the gravel parking lot towards the rectory, to enter and irritate me.
The sound of booted feet rushing up the steps and along the wooden veranda, sound of fist pounding on the wooden door with the simultaneous ringing of the doorbell – inside my entire being screamed: “GO AWAY!” – well, to be honest, the words were more raw.
There was no stopping the pounding, the bell ringing, the now accompanying shout of one word, over and over: “FATHER! FATHER! FATHER!”
My being shuddered for, mixed in with the seething and contradictory emotions within me, a visual image from some long ago seen documentary –or perhaps of some movie: the scene is of the rail cars favoured by the Nazis, of shabbily dressed, thin, terrified adults pressed against the bars, knowing they are trapped yet peering out as if straining to see or imagine or conjure up a real human face, a saviour.
A small boy, perhaps five or so years old, running along the platform after the departing train, yelling over and over, with the pathos of the entire human family ever since the gates of the original garden slammed shut, the waters of the flood began to rise, each one’s inheritance wasted, and hunger gnaws: ‘ABBA! ABBA! ABBA!’– the most powerful of names Jesus gives to us and which we, in our fear, slavishly translate with the distant word ‘father’, but which in truth is: DADDY!
No ‘father’, no one with power in the sense of control over others, in the sense of ability to withdraw what is most hungered for by a son, a daughter – love, no, no, no – such a creature was not called for – but ‘daddy’ was: the compassionate embrace hungered for by the prodigal child was being begged for.
From whence came the grace to move, frankly to love enough and forget myself enough to answer the door?
                                                                    Only in heaven is it known how some are called to lay down their lives for others in a special way. In silence and hiddenness, many have consecrated their entire lives as a sacrifice for priests. [124]
When I opened the door immediately the elderly farmer, who had arrived with such urgency, quickly told me his father-in-law was dying, a man away from the sacraments for his entire adult life.
Would I come? Would I try and get the dying man to accept Christ before death?
Still in turmoil, still determined to leave, nonetheless I did as I was asked and, after getting the Blessed Sacrament and the ritual, got into my car and followed the old farmer, down one country road after another, into regions of the parish unknown to me, finally stopping behind his truck and following on foot along a path in the woods, an even less obvious one through a swamp.
We emerged from the swamp.
 Amazingly when I looked down my shoes, which should have been mud caked, my pants, which should have been wet, were neither, but such was my de-salted state I missed what was obvious.
The house was ramshackle. A hovel, really.
As I stepped across the threshold, into what seemed thick darkness after the brilliant sunlight reflecting from the dried grass of the field we had just crossed, I remember for the first time in my life, admittedly sotto voce, saying: “Peace to this house.”
Suddenly a silhouette began rising, shakily, from a chair, and a cracking voice began uttering halting words as the silhouette, edging forward into the small frame of sunlight from the still open door, formed the appearance of the dying man and my heart was sliced open by words as sharp as a scalpel incising deep into putrid flesh that poison might drain away – yet the words were uttered with the same childlike sound of the boy running after the escaping train: “I am not worthy that the priest of the Lord should enter my house.”
The old man simultaneously bowed as he spoke, took my hands, and kissed them.
                                                                          If a man has a great love within him, it’s as if this love gives him wings, and he endures life’s problems more easily, because he himself is in that light, which is faith: to be loved by God and to let oneself be loved by God in Christ Jesus. This act of allowing ourselves to be loved is the light that helps us to carry our daily burden. And holiness is not our work, our difficult work, but rather it is precisely this “openness”: Open the windows of the soul so that the light of God can enter, do not forget God because it is precisely in opening oneself to His light that strength is found, as well as the joy of the redeemed. 125]
Thus: the memory.
Now: the three gardens.
At the outset: because we are in the first instance endowed, at the moment God breathes breath of life within us, with an immortal soul, we have within us an enclosed garden, that intimate place within the depths of our being where, if we willingly, attentively listen – and respond – unfolds constant dialogue, communion of love, with the Most Holy Trinity for, in the second instance, we are baptized, are members of Christ’s own body, children of the Father, temples of the Holy Spirit, and thirdly, for we priests in persona Christi, intimacy with Abba is profound!
Therefore whatever I say about the three gardens is not said as if looking back to some historical event, or even forward to some anticipated after death fulfillment, but is a journey inward, a realization that, not just in a sense, but in reality, the fundamentals, in the deepest sense of constitutive aspects of lived experience, in Him, with Him, through Him, for Him, form the reality of pilgrimage from the moment of our being created to the moment of having crossed the threshold of death where we enter the true life for which we have been created: eternity of communion of love.
Within the first two chapters of Genesis there unfolds, as we know, one beautiful movement, action, gift of tangible love flowing, one after the other, like a rivulet of sparkling water begun high in the mountains, as the spring sun caresses ice and snow into light catching droplets, which gather and race together towards the valley below, along the way becoming a mighty river – only this dance culminates in the ultimate act of Divine-creative love: the human person, male and female, in the very image of God, who is Love!
The human person, the man and the woman, placed with such tenderness in the Garden, gifted with abilities we mostly take for granted: sight, touch, hearing, mobility, creativity, imagination, memory, will – to name a few obvious ones – also have, as we do, two extraordinarily generous gifts at the very core of our beings: free will and the capacity for self-gift as communion of love with other.
God, if I might use the expression, leaves nothing to chance. The man and the woman are so tenderly placed in the Garden upon their creation that neither experiences any want or lack of anything, nor because of Divine tenderness, loneliness, that is the absence of proximity and relationship with one like myself.
Granted I am stating here what we all know, but in the context of our vow of obedience, of the foundational importance of joyful, constant, living of the freely embraced gift of the virtue of an obedient heart and will, it does seem we need to meditate upon and seek to enter ever more fully, the depths of the critical – and by Adam and Eve initially, and still in the lives of virtually every human being, save in the life of the singular non-Incarnate person: Our Blessed Mother – reality of the antithesis of yes, of fiat: freely chosen, willed, acted disobedience.
Love Himself makes only one request, which contains within it, millennia before the Incarnate One, the Risen One, Himself asks it thrice [cf. Jn. 21:15-17] the one thing every father, every mother, every husband, every wife, every child, every friend, needs to know, uttered in word, yes, articulated in action: “Do you love me?”
The question is presented as acceptance of obedience, one which, if not embraced as act of love in return for love, will have dire and irrevocable, until Jesus, consequences [cf. Gen. 2: 16, 17].
Given the immensity of gifts from which to choose, the, for us in our day perhaps virtually incomprehensible lack of need, pain, disorder, etc., the stark reality is that being asked to forgo, in the midst of such plenitude, peace, security, love, joy, intimacy with other and with the Divine, one little thing – but such is the power of temptation, such is the impact of doubt………..
So comes along the primary disobedient one, the disrupter and liar, the tempter and the first sin, the first act of disobedience takes root and by the time we come to the second garden, the cumulative weight of every single act of disobedience – of sin – from this original one [cf. Gn. 3: 1-7] to the last one that shall every be willed, chosen, enacted until the end of time, will be taken on by one person, by the Second Adam, as St. Paul names Him.
There is a direct connection between what happens in the first garden and what Jesus endures in the desert, to be sure, however there is also a telling of Jesus in one of His Parables, of what really has happened in the first garden.
I refer to the parable of the Prodigal Son [Lk. 15:11-32].
In one act of disobedience all of humanity is present, distancing itself from the love given by Love Himself, by Abba, wandering off to places and people unknown, who devour, destroy, abandon, reject, humiliate.
Ultimately every sin is primarily a selfish act of disobedience, a refusal to love in return for love, a resounding NO: to the simple ask: “Do you love me?”
Today, as I continue to write these reflections, I point out that being now retired from parish responsibilities and living the hermitical life, leaving the hermitage a couple of days each week to serve the poor in a soup kitchen, I treasure the time to put down on paper what has flowed from the decades of parochial service.
That said, today in the Byzantine Liturgy is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son!
Having read and reflected upon the classic writings on obedience, from the Fathers of the Church, Latin and Greek, the teachings of the Desert Fathers, the men and women saints who reflected upon abandonment to Divine Providence, trust, fidelity, the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, Catechism of the Catholic Church –  listed not to brag about reading but simply to make the point of having gone to the classic treasury of insights into the vow and virtue of obedience – because, as mentioned when it came to write this memory, the gardens kept coming to my heart.
 In the end I have drawn directly from only two works: THE RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL SON, by Henri Nouwen, and , THE MYSTERY OF EASTER by Raniero Cantalamessa.
At the outset of this work I inserted two quotations: 
                                                             Dear Fathers, do you realize that you are a joy to the world? [From the Servant of God Catherine Doherty]
                                                     The priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus. [From the Cure d’Ars, St. Jean-Marie Vianney.]
Our being a joy to the world is not automatic, that is, simply because we are priests – it does mean our countenance, the way we move, especially when celebrating Holy Mass for example, the tone of our voice, these must radiate joy, and if we are truly living the depths of holy obedience, joy will radiate from us.
Likewise it is to the degree our own intimacy of communion of love with Jesus in the depths of Holy Obedience, in Him, with Him, through Him, to the Holy Will of the Father by the guidance of the Holy Spirit and His sustaining us, that the fire of our love, the love of His Heart, will gush forth from us upon everyone we meet.
At its simplest, yet not without sincere effort, indeed at times great struggle, external obedience for we priests is a simple as “praying the black, doing the red” – in other words assenting to, proclaiming, all the Church believes and teaches, thus having interior obedience as well.
What I am reflecting upon here is much deeper than mere external and interior adherence to, fidelity within our vow of obedience, and yes in a sense even deeper than the depths of the virtue itself.
Here: obedience as absolute oneness with the obedience of Jesus, thus ever more full intimacy with the Father through total cooperation with the Holy Spirit as Jesus Himself cooperates with Him.
Thus the gardens of obedience: the Garden of Gethsemane, the Garden of the Resurrection, which by the action of the Holy Spirit forms the enclosed garden within us. 
We turn once more then to the antitheses of Jesus’ obedience, surrender to, cooperation with the Holy Will of the Father, namely the prodigal disobedience of the collective human family, from Adam to the last person who shall live on earth, and the particular prodigal stance of each one of us.
The two are inseparable.
The first definitive sign of hope, of the possibility of a return to the Father, the first historical act, history here being primarily what we understand as salvation history, which indeed all human history is weaved within, is itself accepted gift, affirmed response to the Divine query about love, given as both free will choice in the affirmative and becomes at the same time the first of innumerable acts of love – I speak here of Our Blessed Mother and her FIAT!
We look to Mary and imitate Mary as we journey into the depths of the gardens of obedience – Mary who points to Jesus, urging us to follow His lead, His word to us – Mary who becomes our Mother at the foot of the Cross, in particular becoming Mother of Her Priest Sons – Mary who is constantly with us, teaching, guiding, protecting, and above all, loving.
In the same instant, historically speaking since obviously the obedience within the Godhead existed already, the moment of His Holy Incarnation, He Himself then, becomes not the second but rather the definitive, not sign but actuation of hope, first step of the journey of return.
It is essential then if we are to truly understand the implications of our vow of obedience, the virtue of obedience in its fullness, we come to understand, by embracing all its elements, the reality of the Prodigal Son as Adam and every human being, as ourselves to be sure, as embraced and taken on by Jesus.
Only then will we be able, holding the hand of Our Blessed Mother and guided by the Holy Spirit, to enter the Gardens of Obedience, which are gardens of joy, the immense, sweet, perfumed suffering, the fire-joy of being on the Cross with Him, taking up our cross, His Cross, each day and being one with Him in the fullness of our election, our unquenchable joy in persona Christi!
While here I will draw on the insights of Fr. Nouwen I do not intend to do a commentary on the entire book, best read and meditated upon individually.
Throughout the Holy Gospel Jesus is constantly calling to us, inviting us to follow Him, trust Him, be His disciples, forget self, take up our cross, to love everyone, including our enemies, to pray, to enter the secrecy of our room, itself symbolic of the garden enclosed and therein commune with the Father.
Nouwen early on zeros in on the abiding invitation:
                                                                         Yes, God dwells in my innermost being, but how could I accept Jesus’ call: “Make your home in Me as I make mine in you”? The invitation is clear and unambiguous. To make my home where God made His, this is the great spiritual challenge. [126]
Original disobedience results in being cast out of the original dwelling place with God on earth and we have been, the human family and each person, across the wide expanse of the earth, of millennia of history, the even greater expanse of our inner beings, wandering, fleeing actually.
                                                                   With my thoughts, feelings, emotions, and passions, I was constantly away from the place where God had chosen to make home. Coming home and staying there where God dwells, listening to the voice of truth and love, that was, indeed, the journey I most feared because I knew that God was a jealous lover who wanted every part of me all the time. When would I be ready to accept that kind of love? [127]
We know from Genesis that the first impact of the original disobedience was fear and the attempt by the human person to hide from God.
Absolute obedience is the foundation of that true love which casts out all fear.
Hence, once more, into our room, door closed, into the secrecy of the garden enclosed and:
                                                                    I have to kneel before the Father, and put my ear against His chest and listen, without interruption, to the heartbeat of God. Then, and only then, can I say carefully and very gently what I hear. [128]
This is key! 
What Nouwen is pointing to here is the essence of the proclaiming dimension of our priestly vocation – we must give the people God, that is speak only what we hear the Father say to us – obedience is this intimacy of listening and heeding, this joy of being through obedience freed from the dangerous temptation to preach self, or some agenda or anything that is not of God!
                                                                       I know now that I have to speak from eternity into time, from the lasting joy into the passing realities of our short existence in this world, from the house of love into the houses of fear, from God’s abode into the dwellings of human beings. [129]
In a very real sense all that I have written so far on these pages, from the first chapter until now, all other aspects of our priestly commitment, all liturgies, prayer, lectio divina, study, struggle, everything is preparatory prelude for enabling us to enter the joyous gardens of obedience, from whence we go forth to proclaim Him and to bring to every human being all that they long for.
As Jesus before us again and again and again withdrawing to lonely places to commune with the Father where we….
                                                             ………..are called to enter the inner sanctuary of [our] own being where God has chosen to dwell. The only way to that place is prayer, unceasing prayer. Many struggle and much pain can clear the way, but I am certain that only unceasing prayer can let me enter it. [130]
Since every sin, from the original to the last, my own sins, unfolds as a process of considering, then choosing, then willing, then acting ultimately disobedience, that is a refusal to love in return for Love Himself, for the Holy Trinity does not ‘give love’ as in offering a quantitative something, rather His love is the giving of His very self and so my refusal by word/act of disobedience is a refusal both to accept Him and to love Him.
Therefore, the entire human race, every individual and…
                                                                             I am the prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found……………It’s almost as if I want to prove to myself and to my world that I do not need God’s love, that I can make a life on my own, that I want to be fully independent. [131]
If we priests are in such a flight mode, preoccupied with such a search for love where it cannot be found, we shall be joyless.
Indeed we shall become lost, virtually invisible within the mass of wandering, lost humanity, no longer a living flame beacon light, no longer giving off the sweet perfume of Jesus but adding the stench of our own confusion to the fog of daily life.
                                                                             The farther I run away from the place where God dwells, the less I am able to hear the voice that calls me Beloved, and the less I hear that voice, the more entangled I become in the manipulations and power games of the world. [132]
Yes and the more entangled we become in the manipulations and power games of the institutional church, local chancery politics, parish divisions.
Likewise the reality of every human-prodigal-being, that is of everyone, their flight, their fears, their disobedience, their sin, their struggle, their hunger to be beloved – all this is ours, for we are His and in His persona, thus the only place for us to dwell where God dwells is within Jesus, within the gardens of obedience.
I must stop running away.
We priests must stop running away.
Our footsteps must be in the via dolorosa footsteps of Jesus for the only way of return, for us, for every prodigal, is to follow Jesus to the Cross, through the tomb – but we as priests MUST be the visible, obedient followers, and people will pick up the scent of the sweet perfume of Christ and come looking for Him and will notice the luminous joy of we priest- cross-carrying followers of Jesus and they will follow too – in our footsteps, yes through our very hearts and lived example, directly to Jesus!
We know that our culture is obsessed with notoriety/celebrity, neither of which should be confused with honour. 
Likewise our culture is obsessed with scandal and tears down the fame bestowed faster even than it bestows celebrity.
Any objective look at media reports on, for example, Pope John Paul II over the years of his pontificate will see this process of elevation and disdain repeat itself time and again.
How then are we to measure ourselves in humility and truth? 
Most of us, of course, will not have our self-image directly determined by media, but more directly our self-image will be impacted by parishioners, brother priests – though in a more general sense, of course, we are naturally impacted by the persistent assault against the priesthood in the media.
So how then are we to have a humble and balanced self-image?
We should take our measure in the light of Christ, which is standing before Him in the beauty of His Holy Incarnation, following the example of His life, loving and serving in imitation of Him and His humble, meek, courageous, generous Heart.
Most especially we take out measure in light of our willingness to embrace in our own lives oneness with Him in His passion, remembering through holy baptism we are also united with Him in His Holy Resurrection.
Thus before drawing from Fr. Cantalamessa’s words it is important to be clear: is my understanding of Jesus’ redemptive death and resurrection primarily that He did all for ‘everybody’ – or do I truly appreciate the personal, intimate aspect of His sacrifice and self-gift.
In other words: Jesus was born, lived, suffered, died, rose from the dead, for ME!
This intimate reality, if embraced, specifically if Jesus is embraced, my entire being opened to Him, life then becomes joy: joy in suffering, joy in every aspect of life.
As I continue this writing we have crossed the threshold into Holy Lent, beautifully referenced by Fr. Thomas Hopko as “the Lenten Spring,” the title of his book on this particular season.
Some of his words are a prelude to the reflections, to follow, from Fr. Cantalamessa.
                                                                     Joy is at the heart of everything in the Christian life, and Great Lent is no exception…..
                                                                      Life is a clash of loves. A person either loves God, and so, with God, everyone and everything – for it is impossible to love God and not to love all that God has created – or a person loves himself….sinfully…to live exclusively for oneself….
                                                                   ….repentance means change. It means a turning of one’s mind and heart to God. ….It means violent action in the deepest and most hidden parts of the human spirit. [133]
We shall see in His obedience in the Garden of Agony, Jesus embraced the fullness of the ‘violent action in the deepest and most hidden’ reality in every human soul, in all of creation.
Indeed, the more I struggle in my almost seventy years of life as a human being, a man, a priest, to truly follow Jesus, to truly live in imitating His own humble, meek, obedient Heart, His very self, the more I am convinced the fundamental reality of obedience is oneness with Jesus in the Garden of His Agony, the Garden of Obedience, hence:
                                                              The Gethsemane experience reaches its climax and resolution in those words of Jesus: “But not what I will but what You will” (Mark 14:36). [134]
When Jesus speaks the “I” here we should all rejoice for while, clearly, each human being must exercise our own freedom, declare and strive to live out ‘fiat’, obviously we cannot do so on our own and so, each time we pray the “Thy will be done” in the Our Father, each time we strive to be obedient, in little and great things, it is within this and every ascent to the will of the Father in Jesus’ life.
When we are faithful to all the Church believes and teaches, for example, we are truly in imitation of Jesus, to be sure.
However this fiat of Jesus in the Garden, this consent of His will to what is unfolding in the Garden, will unfold in cascade to the last drop in the remainder of His Passion and ultimately in His surrender to the Father through surrender to death
FIAT is His willingly embracing the weight and price of every human sin, and consequence thereof, from the previous millennia of human history, that of the immediate moment in history and all of history until the end of chronological time.
We are here also in a Trinitarian moment:
                                                                            The “I” is the Word, speaking…on behalf of the free human will which he assumed; the “you”, on the other hand, is the Trinitarian will which the Word has in common with the Father. In Jesus, the Word (God) humanly obeys the Father! [135]
Each time we embrace obedience, each time we are with Jesus in the Garden of Obedience, we too are in a Trinitarian communion of love moment, for it is our willingness to be one with Jesus the Obedient that opens the door of our being to the action and grace of the Holy Spirit who enables our word of yes and our action, our living out of yes to the Father.
Here, in particular as we are in persona Christi, we participate in the great work of the salvation of souls.
Yes one alone is Redeemer, but it pleases Him that we should participate with Him, most especially through the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, therefore light is shone on the critical act of obedience to the rubrics for if, even in a minor way, we allow disobedience to enter we contradict the very sacrifice we are celebrating.
                                                                          …in Gethsemane, when Jesus says, ‘Father….your will be done’ (Matt 26:42), he utters the fiat of the redemption…..It was here precisely….that grace and freedom kissed and the human and divine Passovers coincided. He who had to fight, that is, human nature, encountered Him who could overcome, that is, God, and victory was the result. [136]
Yes obedience can be experienced as an immense weight, a huge struggle, which if we resist the weight and the struggle can become a serious disorder and a haemorrhaging of joy from our lives: however if embraced then little by little the Holy Spirit will fill us with the very grace of holy freedom and joy!
Indeed we will become filled with that particular joy which comes from being other centered, from laying down our lives, with love, for other – first and foremost for the Father, Son, Holy Spirit and because of the love of the Trinity for us our love from them, our return of love, becomes love of other.
                                                                        …In the mysterious passing-over from that “I” to that “you” is contained the true, definitive, and universal paschal exodus of the human race. This is the crossing of the true Red Sea; a crossing between two shores which are very close together but between which runs an abyss; for we are speaking here about passing from the human will to the divine will, from rebellion to obedience. Following Jesus in this exodus means passing from the old “I” to the new “I”, from “me” to other people; from this world to the Father. [137]
Emotionally, yes even in the depths of our souls, we may well be fearful of allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us into the depths of the Garden of Obedience, for we well know it is to consent to being lead into the depths of Jesus’ agony.
It is way too easy to reduce obedience, or even to see obedience as primarily, follow rules, rubrics, orders from the Pope or the Bishop.
In a sense that is kindergarten obedience!
True, we cannot claim to be obedient, to be living out “Your will, not mine”, if we are slack in being obedient on that level, indeed the struggle to be externally obedient is constitutive of our openness to being led into the depths of Jesus’ obedience in the Garden, on the Cross, yes in the Tomb.
Certainly we can maintain certain functionality as priests if we are obedient in the above sense and it is virtuous.
Will we find true joy in that?
I recall during World Youth Day 2002 it seemed very popular for the youth to wear a wrist band with: WWJD. 
Indeed what would Jesus do?
There were pundits in the media, sadly some of them priests and religious sisters, who mocked this as being simplistic, or worse ‘conservative’!
However it seems to me WWJD should be engraved, especially, on every priestly heart and be constantly in our awareness:
                                                                                    There is no moment, no action, in a believer’s life that cannot be transformed into an act of loving obedience to the Father…..ask ourselves: What does the Lord want me to do in this moment, in these circumstances? We know this was what Jesus himself did, so that he could say: “I always do what is pleasing to him”(John 8:29); “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me”(John 4:34)
                                                                   The great joy we human creatures can give God is to share the destiny of Jesus, “Servant of God,” by pushing our own will-to-obey to the very limits, even obeying in the most utter darkness as Jesus did in Gethsemane. Servants of Jesus Christ – those who put their lives totally at God’s disposal in Jesus – by virtue of doing so become, like Jesus, the object of the Father’s satisfaction. The words once uttered by the Father about Jesus become words uttered for them, above all, those words said to Jesus at his baptism: “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased”(Mark 1:11). [138]
What greater joy can there be than to know we are beloved of the Father, of Abba/Daddy who is joyfully pleased with us!
The Garden of Obedience is the threshold we must ‘pass-over’ with Jesus to oneness with Him throughout every aspect of His Passion, every step of His Via Dolorosa, every moment on His being placed on the paten of the Cross, into the fullness of His handing Himself over to the Father, into the deep silence, the awaiting in the tomb.
The cross is both place of ultimate priestly union with Jesus and doorway to the mysteries of our faith.
It is not a door which can be pushed against, rather it is a door which opens the more we remain still on the cross with Jesus.
No easy task and one beyond our own ability – hence prayer, prayer, prayer, the constant begging of the Holy Spirit for ‘grace in return for grace’!
In a sense the Cross is also the door, the threshold into the mystery of the tomb, the mystery of the obedience of Jesus even in death, the mystery of awaiting on the ‘time’ of the Father.
This is the third garden of obedience and the garden which, if you will, makes sense of the other two for without the Garden of the Resurrection [cf. Jn. 19:41] the Garden of Paradise would forever remain closed, i.e., the gates of the heavenly paradise would be forever shut; without the Garden of the Resurrection in a sense the Garden of His Agony- Obedience would simply remain an historical account of one man’s pre-arrest, torture, trail, execution.
To paraphrase St. Paul, if Jesus is NOT risen, then everything I have written here, indeed everything we priests have preached across the millennia, is bogus!
Perhaps we do not meditate enough, do not proclaim solemnly enough the great cry at the core of every Holy Mass when we declare, and call forth the proclamation of faith: 
We proclaim Your death, O Lord and profess Your Resurrection until You come again.
We live in the ‘is-ness’ of His Holy Resurrection, a truth however we cannot proclaim unless it is a reality we live, a reality for which:
                                                                  …we need a special grace to talk about Christ’s resurrection…….[139]
This is a grace we should beg for daily for this proclamation is foundational to the purpose of our priestly lives.
Everything flows from and towards proclaiming CHRIST IS RISEN!
We love one another, we love our enemies, we pray for our persecutors, we live the missio ad gentes, we go in search of the lost sheep, we build hospitals, schools, nursing homes, care for the poor, the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, imprisoned, indeed we get up in the morning, pray, struggle, celebrate sacraments, especially Holy Mass, celebrate popular pious devotions, – in a word all we are and all we do is, must be, proclamation of, witness to, celebration of His Holy Resurrection.
The very existence of all creation, its purpose and destiny, all human history, and most particular the very existence of human beings, of you and I, all flows, unfolds because He is risen.
When St. John tells us [cf. Jn. 1:1ff.]He was in the beginning, that He dwelt among us –  He still dwells among us until the end of time precisely because He is risen and therefore is really present with us in the Holy Eucharist, in Church, Priesthood and in the mystery of whatever we do for one another, to one another is rooted in the “I was…” teaching [cf. Mt. 25:31-46] – St. John also testifies to seeing His glory [v.14] and so we find ourselves once more in the Garden of the Resurrection for in truth the womb of Our Blessed Mother, the Manger, the Tomb, and yes each Tabernacle in which He dwells, each priest in persona Christi, each baptized man, woman, child – thus all creation, all history is inseparable from Him [cf. Col. 3:11].
                                                                All the “astounding things” that God has done find their fulfillment and more than fulfillment in this astounding thing: the resurrection of Christ. The Risen One entered the upper room “when the doors were locked”; today too he passes through locked doors………….
                                                             Nothing could have stopped its being Easter again this year; nothing will stop its being Easter a year from now, and so on until he returns. [140]



                                                                     I give you joy – the immense joy that He alone can give, and that I hope will fill your hearts from now until you meet Him! I give you a lance, gold tipped like the crown that the magi offered Him, to open your heart to Him in everyone whom you meet. I give you myrrh, the symbol of a soul in love with God, who wants to share His whole life of joy, of peace, of suffering. [114]

Certainly the culture of death, and even some presumably well-meaning Catholics, obviously those with a particular agenda, including some priests and bishops, do not see our priestly promise of a chaste life, a celibate life, as reception of a gift of joy, albeit a joy which includes, dare I say should impel us, to grab the lance and plunge it into our hearts so that, like His, our hearts are broken open to all in need of Him, that they may enter.

Yet, in truth, this IS the gift for us ordained in persona Christi, offered to us.

While the state of our hearts, in union with Jesus, should be one of ubiety, often we may find ourselves in a state of ubiquity, particularly if our approach to our celibate commitment focuses on what we have promised to forgo, the unitive and fecund sacredness of sacramental marriage.

                                                                                    …Today, chastity is often mistakenly associated with being old fashioned… reality it is much more than simply the absence of sexual relations. Chastity calls for purity of mind as well as body.

                                                                               …..When we became Christians at the moment of Baptism, the Holy Spirit came to live in our bodies………….[115]

Already living temples of the Holy Spirit by Baptism [cf. 1 Cor. 6:19, 20] there is a deepening of our very physical sacredness with Sacramental Ordination, in persona Christi.

Truly chastity, our commitment to the celibate life, is intrinsically about what is given to us.

In that light, what we are asked to give in return is a little thing, but it means the gift of our whole selves.

When we truly give our whole selves, then our lives are joy-filled.

When we, intellectually or in any other fashion, withhold a single iota of our self-gift to Him, in return for the lavishness of His Self-Gift to us, then increasingly a sourness and hardening of heart takes hold.

                                                                           Abba Gerontius of Petra said that many, tempted by the pleasures of the body, commit fornication, not in their body but in their spirit, and while preserving their bodily virginity, commit prostitution in their soul. ‘Thus it is good, my well-beloved, to do that which is written, and for each one to guard his own heart with all possible care.’ (Prov. 4:23) [116]

We live in an era where our culture has such a materialist notion of the human person, the body of the human person is presented as a utility object, not unlike our cell phones or computers or any other ‘thing’ we make use of in daily life.

There is, I believe, an interesting parallel between the minimalist approach to sacred space, that is the reduction of most churches to sparse space devoid of statues, votive candles, the tendency of choosing vestments of either gaudy colours or so plain they dishearten, and the increase of immodesty in dress, the disfiguring of the body with piercings, tattoos, among our contemporaries.

The so-called sexual revolution of the sixties, the dismissal by so many priests and bishops of the prophetic teaching of Pope Paul VI in Humane Vitae, has given us a dark culture of death wherein we are drowning in the blood of aborted children in their millions, the devaluation of the sacredness of the human person, disruption of the holiness of marriage and family life by extreme nihilism.

The entire human family cries out, urgently, for the luminosity of chastity, a shimmering light of the sacredness of the human person in the darkness of our despairing culture.

In stark contrast to the luminosity of chastity is the dark disorder of a culture, of individuals, so disconnected from reality the very people who, in the media, society in general, scream about the abuse of children, by priests or anyone, deny that the most pervasive abuse of children occurs within the womb when they are torturously murdered by abortion.

Without minimizing by a single iota the horrific crime and sin of abuse, those who howl it is because of chastity, howl from the bowels of the very darkness of our culture of death, for they are less concerned about protecting the innocent than forcing upon the priesthood an agenda which is fundamentally anti-Gospel, anti-life, anti-the sacredness of the human person.

Reality is that any man incapable of authentic husband-hood, fatherhood, of mature, non-sexual relations with women, and indeed with men and children, not only is incapable of authentic chastity but would also fail in sacred marriage and parenthood.

Where the institutional governance of the Church has failed at the hands of those with authority is not simply in the past seeking to hide or deny the problem, rather that failure continues today with an obsessively punitive and defensive attitude which enables countless false accusations, seeks to so completely weed out potentially defective candidates for the priesthood, that the reality of conversion from a disordered life of sin to sanctity, so celebrated by holding Magdalene, Augustine, Dorothy Day, de Foucauld,  Catherine Doherty, as models to be followed, is deemed by recent edicts as impossible – take for example the edicts about homosexuality and priesthood.

The institution simply cannot have it both ways, that is stating a particular form of sexual expression demands such men and women lead chaste lives and at the same time stating in effect the Church does not believe such a state is possible therefore…..

Confusion reigns everywhere it seems.

Here is not the place to argue out all these issues, simply to indicate a few points, including since every man entering seminary in the ‘Latin’ rite knows chastity is constitutive of priestly life, for any seminarian or ordained man to latterly argue somehow it came as a surprise, and so now they should be able to get married is, frankly, nuts!

Finally, unless seminaries, and those therein responsible for the formation of future priests, change the current atmosphere of fear into one of affirmation and real common sense, those who struggle, in the old confessional phrasing: ‘alone or with others’, will be less than honest with themselves, their confessors, and others responsible for their formation, and thus, either through sexual activity, alone or with others, or some other compensating activity, will lead a life which eventually will cause them to crash and burn, no doubt seriously injuring others in the process.

So without belabouring the point luminous chastity, joyful chastity, like everything which flows in the Christian life of discipleship, for all the baptized, not just priests, means a simple willingness to accept the poverty of the human condition, with intimate confidence in Jesus, in imitation of Jesus:

                                                                            ….the temptation story summarizes the entire struggle of Jesus: it is about the nature of His mission, but at the same time it is also, in general, about the right ordering of human life, about the way to be human, about the way of history. Finally, it is about what is really important in the life of man. This ultimate thing, this decisive thing, is the primacy of God. The germ of all temptation is setting God aside, so that He seems to be a secondary concern when compared with all the urgent priorities of our lives. To consider ourselves, the needs and desires of the moment to be more important than He is – that is the temptation that always besets us. For in doing so we deny God His divinity and we make ourselves, or rather, the powers that threaten us, into our god. [117]

In other words the key to luminous chastity, the root of its joy, is priority to intimacy with the Most Holy Trinity.

In reality we are talking about a passionate love affair, indeed a type of marriage uniting us and the Divine Bridegroom.

It is a choice between the centrality of the one true God in our hearts, or the bondage- worship of a false god.

We must daily choose: intimate relationship with the God who gives Himself to us as food of life, or handing ourselves over to be devoured by the evil one, for all false gods ultimately are guises of satan. [cf. 1 Pt. 5:8]

                                                                       We are those disciples sent throughout the world to spread the “sweet smell” of Christ! To succeed, we too must “shatter” the alabaster vessel of our human nature: we must mortify the works of the flesh, the old Adam which acts as an inner barrier to the rays of the Spirit. The perfume of Christ is given off by “the fruits of the Spirit” (according to St. Paul, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” [Gal.5:22]; if these are in us, then, without our realizing (and of course while we by contrast only smell ourselves giving off the stink of our sins), someone around us may get a whiff of the fragrance of the Spirit of Christ. The world has a great need to smell the perfume of Christ! [118]

The Sacred Chrism, with which we are anointed in Baptism, Confirmation and Ordination, is sweet-smelling oil, balsam being mixed with the olive oil as we know.

 So we are in truth ‘perfumed’, as priests, three times in our lives and thus anointed have a critical obligation to struggle mightily, cooperating with grace, that in our lived chastity our purity is not only a luminous witness to Christ – and in baptism we have already become light in the darkness for we are bathed in Christ’s own light poured into us – but also a sweet-smelling testimony.

In a word we struggle to be akin to a living thurible.

Another parallel which comes to mind is that between the almost complete absence in contemporary liturgy of the use of incense and our modern culture awash in the sulphuric stench of impurity and dehumanization.

Jesus cries out in the Sixth Beatitude that truly blessed are the pure, the clean of heart [Mt.5:8] for they shall indeed see God.

This is not simply a declaration of post death reality for the blessed in heaven, but is a promise of the reality we will experience in this life on earth IF we strive, truly to be pure.

                                                       The organ for seeing here is the heart rather than the eyes, or at least the eyes themselves see through the heart……….The heart the Lord speaks of has been purified from an attachment to the profane by being washed in the blood of Christ, the Lamb of God. [119]

Again and again the fullness of chaste-joy, the joy which is the essence of our vocation in persona Christi, is participation in His own joy poured into us [cf. Jn.15:11] and is rooted in our intimacy with Christ our Beloved.

                                                                     If we had a deeper understanding of things, we would be able to comprehend the intimate relation that exists between purity and light, and perhaps we would comprehend with some astonishment that light and purity are two aspects of one same divine reality. The Greeks produced an admirable word to express graphically the idea of holiness: ‘hagios,” meaning without earth. To be pure is to be without earth; that is, to be free of all that is not God……….

                                                                         For souls to be bathed in light, to become light, they need to be purified……For souls to be transformed into the image of God, passing from glory to glory, they must ascend from purity to purity in the continuing effort to become, more and more, glowing crucibles. [120]

One of the statements on the whole reality of our joyful call and commitment to chastity, within which is truly the sweetness of the Cross, the joy of being intimately one with the Divine Bridegroom and thus in Him and with Him husband-fathers of and with the Church, I often recall, is from Cardinal Danneels:

                                                                       No rational arguments can fully explain celibacy ‘for the sake of the Kingdom’. [121]

We live in a time, an era of the culture of darkness and death which seems in the main not so much opposed to the simple joyous freedom of faith, faith which is maturely childlike, but rather terrified of faith, perhaps because there is a profound fear not so much of God in His immensity and power, but of God as vulnerable child in a manger.

Our obsession with science and so-called scientific proof, of ‘my’ rights over communal responsibility, which in its purest form is my being responsible, that is truly loving my neighbour, loving other as Jesus loves me, creates the illusion that we are mature adults, when in the main we act like immature juveniles.

No wonder the sweet luminosity of chastity triggers what it does against Church, priests, those men and women who take the sacred commitment of Holy Marriage between one man and one woman, open to the gift of children seriously!

In simplicity then, knowing fidelity means the moment by moment humble willingness to struggle, trusting He loves us so that all needed grace to be faithful is lavished upon us, is truly an inexhaustible living spring of holy life within us, in our joy can we not cry out with St. Tikhon of Zadonsk:

                                                                             Glory to God, for He has created me in His image and likeness! Glory to God, who redeemed me, the fallen one; Glory to God for He was the providence of my unworthy self. Glory, for He called me, a sinner, to repentance! Glory, for He has handed to me His holy Word as a lamp shining in a dark place, and by it He taught me the true way. Glory to God, for He has illumined the eyes of my heart! He has granted me to know His Holy Name! Glory to God, for He has washed away my sins in the waters of baptism! Glory, for He has shown me the way to eternal bliss. And this way is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who says of Himself: I am the way, the truth and the life.” Glory to Him, for He did not ruin me in my sin but in His mercy was patient to my transgressions! Glory to God, for He has shown to me the vain enticements and vanity of this world. Glory to God, for He has helped me in the multitude of temptations, griefs and tribulations! Glory, for He has preserved me in accidents and mortal dangers. Glory to God, for He has defended me from the enemy satan. Glory, for He raised me when I fell. Glory to God, for He has comforted me in my affliction. Glory to God, for when I erred He converted me: Glory to God, for like a father, He punished me. Glory to God, for He showed me His dreadful judgement that I might be afraid and repent of my sins! Glory to God, for He revealed to me eternal pain and eternal bliss that I might flee the one and seek the other! Glory to Him, for to me, the unworthy, He gave food to strengthen the weakness of the body; gave me a house in which to rest! Glory to God, for all the other benefits which He gave to me for my sustenance and comforts. As many breaths as I have taken, so many graces have I received of Him. Glory to God for everything. [122]   



Poverty is a topic which is mostly discussed among priests as a social justice issue and  most priests do have a genuine love, awareness of and care for the poor.
Certainly in my work in a soup kitchen I see the generosity of parishes, led by their pastors, in donating food and clothing, and as well volunteering time, day in and day out, to serve the poor.
Granted priests come less often than their parishioners, given the daily duties of parish priests, but often enough to show true service of the poor.
I once served with a pastor who every Christmas eve in the years I was with him, before the Midnight Mass, would invite me to join him as we went first to a supermarket to buy everything for a family to have a great Christmas meal.
We would then drive to the home of a poor family, quietly leave the boxes of food and toys for the children by the door and then slip away unnoticed.
I am confident in saying that many priests are very skilled at being generous without being noticed.
However when it comes to personally being poor, this is perhaps the greater challenge as evangelical poverty, particularly vowed poverty, is, even in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, often presented as primarily part of the commitment of those in religious orders.
Un-chosen poverty, the poverty which inflicts real hardship and suffering on millions of human beings through hunger, disease, thirst, homelessness, the grinding poverty of drug addicts, the mentally ill who have no support system and end up living on the streets, often means a life of squalor, anger, violence, despair.
No wonder Christendom, from the Pope to the un-poor people of his day, was shaken to the core by the radial poverty of St. Francis, the Poverello.
In our day Mother Teresa in her own life lived a similar poverty, and the Sisters, Priests and Brothers, the Volunteers who continue her work, live likewise.
Jean Vanier and those who live in the various l’Arche homes around the world likewise have chosen a life of service and within it a real poverty as well.
While the very reality of our prime duties in our vocation of joy as priests necessitates proper food, clothing, housing and certain material things to enable us to be servants of the poor, servants of everyone, I believe we can as priests live more simply, yes even a real poverty.
This means, of course, a radical examination of conscious, a brutally honest look at how we live, what we possess, seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit to truly discern is this or that a real need, or a whimsical want.
                                                                           He who loves God consciously in his heart is known by God (cf. 1 Cor. 8:3), for to the degree that he receives the love of God consciously in his soul, he truly enters into God’s love. From that time on such a man never loses an intense longing for the illumination of spiritual knowledge, until he senses its strength in his bones and no longer knows himself, but is completely transformed by the love of God. He is both present in this life and not present in it; still dwelling in the body, he yet departs from it, as through love he ceaselessly journeys towards God in his soul. His heart now burns constantly with the fire of love and clings to God with an irresistible longing, since he has once and for all transcended self-love in his love for God. As St. Paul writes: ‘If we go out of ourselves, it is because of God; if we are restrained, it is for your sake’ 9 2 Cor. 5: 130. ~St. Diadochos of Photiki [108] 
We are all familiar with the cautionary words of St. Peter, prayed in the Divine Office of Night Prayer, wherein he warns us about the devouring evil one.
We live in a culture, a time in history, where the primary economic engine is no longer a response to basic human needs of food, shelter, clothing, but unbridled consumption.
It is not when ordinary people reduce their spending on necessities that there ensues a slowdown in the economy, rather it occurs when people, the ubiquitous ‘consumer’, reduce what is with no little irony referred to as ‘discretionary spending’ – in other words spending large on things which are not needed but wanted!
St. Paul reminds us of the immense love of Jesus who gave up all for our sake [2 Cor.8:9] to enrich us through His own poverty.
By divine election we are ordained in persona Christi – the Poor Man.
While it is an obvious statement to note that as parish priests we are not vowed to poverty, are not called to the same ascetical life, or rather the same degree, as monastics, for example, nonetheless if we truly long for spiritual illumination, for communion and union of love with the Holy Trinity, then we need to examine the extent or paucity of asceticism in our daily lives.
Every human being, most especially the baptized who follow Christ, is targeted by the devil and his minions, not because they care a whit about us, but because they hate Christ. [cf. Rev.12]
We know painfully the universal public damage done by media reports of the crimes and sins of some priests and the personal harm done to the victims of such sin.
All the more urgent then, I believe, for all priests to take more seriously the ascetical aspects of the call to holiness and to become real fighters in spiritual warfare.
I also know the greater the ascetical aspect of our lives, the greater freedom of the lived Beatitude of the poor in spirit, the greater the joy!
                                                                                  Of the demons opposing us in the practice of the ascetic life, there are three groups who fight on the front line: those entrusted with the appetites of gluttony, those who suggest avaricious thoughts, and those who incite us to seek the esteem of men.  All the other demons follow behind and in their turn attack those already wounded by the first three groups. For one does not fall into the power of the demon of unchastity, unless one has first fallen because of gluttony; nor is one’s anger aroused unless one is fighting for food or material possessions or the esteem of men.  And one does not escape the demon of dejection, unless one no longer experiences suffering when deprived of these things. Nor will one escape pride, the first offspring of the devil, unless one has banished avarice, the root of all evil, since poverty makes a man humble, according to Solomon ( cf. Prov. 10:4. LXX). In short, no one can fall into the power of any demon, unless he had been wounded by those of the front line. That is why the devil suggested these three thoughts to the Saviour: first he exhorted Him to turn stones into bread; then he promised Him the whole world, if Christ would fall down and worship him; and thirdly he said that, if our Lord would listen to him, He would be glorified and suffer nothing in falling from the pinnacle of the temple. But our Lord, having shown Himself superior to these temptations, commanded the devil to ‘get behind Him’. In this way He teaches us that it is not possible to drive away the devil, unless we scornfully reject these three thoughts (cf. Matt. 4: 1-10). ~Evagrios The Solitary [109]
Once more in our vocation of joy in persona Christi we are also in the person of Christ the One who is the prime target of diabolical assault and we cannot afford to let our guard down even for a nano-second!
While not mandating vowed poverty for parish priests the Second Vatican Council is very clear when urging priests to embrace voluntary poverty, noting in part that: 
                                                                  …Let priests be thankful for everything that the Heavenly Father has given them towards a proper standard of living. However they ought to judge everything they meet in the light of faith, so that they will be guided towards the right use of things in accordance with God’s will and will reject anything that is prejudicial to their mission.
                                                                ….priests are invited to embrace voluntary poverty. By it they become more clearly conformed to Christ………….[110]
The essence, as we know, of true poverty in imitation of Christ is a state of heart, a matter of trust, absolute confidence in Divine Providence [cf. Lk.11 & 12:13-34]
Certainly as Scripture makes clear in passages we all are familiar with, the worker is worthy of a just wage, and if we wish to eat, we should work – so material poverty is a relatively simple, dare I say easy, poverty – especially since, normally, the diocese, the parish, sees to our remuneration, housing, food, medical care and provision for our shelter and care in old age.
However these days for many priests none of that is a sure thing, given the litigious culture in which we live. 
Without objecting for one second to legitimate claims and just settlements, several dioceses as a result have been forced into bankruptcy, in many parts of the world dioceses and parishes simply do not have the financial resources to adequately care for their priests and depend upon the generosity of wealthier parts of the Church throughout the world – so perhaps if we each were willing to live more simply we would have more to share with our brothers who have even less.
Before leaving the matter of material poverty there is in our day a new and growing group of brother priests for whom material poverty is thrust upon them suddenly, devastatingly, and, frankly, we and our bishops should be ashamed of our responsibility for such outrageous injustice – I speak of priests rightly or falsely accused of abuse who find themselves suddenly removed from public ministry, from their homes, from real financial support.
In my work and correspondence with priests caught up in the current, let us be honest about ALL its components, crisis and scandal, there is a definite pattern of both local bishops and the Vatican moving very quickly to dismiss, to punish, without due process and without any spirit of reconciliation and charity.
No argument here that justice demands those who commit crime and sin be held accountable and that their victims be granted true justice, therefore all the various forms of material, emotional, spiritual support needed, for as long as it is needed.
However it does seem as Church, or rather those with ‘power’ in the Church, we have become increasingly harsh, unjust, and uncharitable towards priest-sinners and that an attitude which is punitive and dismissive is spreading, with dire consequences for ordained human beings.
 The continued increase of suicide among  the ranks of accused and dismissed priests, priests reduced to abject poverty should give us all pause and by the grace of God move us towards a re-think, seriously, of how we are treating such men, our brothers, and what message this sends to the whole world about how seriously we take our being in persona Christi, the One who welcomed sinners, sat with sinners, ate with sinners, visited them, yes while granting forgiveness calling to conversion, to be sure, and much conversion is needed within our ranks, but so is compassion.
Bluntly it seems to me here, as sadly frequently happens in our personal lives but sometimes also within the corporate reality of parish, diocese, wider church, when we take our gaze off of Jesus we begin to sink into turbulent waters.
Yet if our gaze remains on Jesus then:
                                                                                   This focus on Jesus is a renunciation of self. His gaze purifies our heart; the light of the countenance of Jesus illumines the eyes of our heart and teaches us to see everything in the light of His truth and His compassion for all men. [111]
There is the deeper reality of poverty to which we are all called, all the baptized and we priests in particular: true poverty of the poor in spirit, the limitless depths of the first Beatitude.
The challenge here is to embrace a type of real fear of vulnerability, exemplified in the reaction and response of the Rich Young Man of the Gospel [cf. Mk. 10:17-31].
We tend, I suspect, to be more aware of the reaction – the man’s sense of being imprisoned by his possessions and terrified to be dispossessed and vulnerable, poor – than of the response of Jesus who gazes upon the man and love’s him.
Jesus is always gazing upon and loving us. His love is dynamic, providential, and unconditional.
Christ gazes not merely upon us.
The eyes of the Poor Christ pierce with the fire of His compassionate love into the depths of our being in every moment, a gaze which invites to communion of love, inviting us to be poor like Him, to trust the Father as He does, to empty and pour ourselves out as He does.
Jesus invites us to embrace as He did the ultimate poverty of complete vulnerability: powerlessness – as He embraced it in the Garden, before Pilate, in His Passion, on the Cross unto death.
There are many ways we can voluntarily enter into the absolute poverty and powerlessness of Christ if we are willing, like Jesus, to ourselves be humble and meek of heart [cf. Mt. 11: 28-30].
                                                                         Poverty’s middle name is “surrender”, total surrender to God. When we surrender we have nothing left, and when we have nothing we are poor. [112]
It is when we forget, or flee from, or are ashamed of, discouraged by, our utter poverty that we begin to seek comfort and affirmation in the ‘riches’ of the world, material things, persons, in a word become vulnerable to the lies and enticements of satan.
Humility is the key.
Total kenosis, total surrender, and total oneness with Christ the Poor One.
                                                              …………..we must accept, joyfully and serenely, the knowledge that, as a Church, we are becoming increasingly poor. This is true in financial terms, in terms of staffing, in terms of our impact on public life and the media…..
                                                                       But here is our hope: a poorer Church is not necessarily impoverished in the quality of its love and devotion to God and to humanity……Perhaps this poverty will make priests more aware of the essential values of our priesthood: the mystery of our vocation; the power of our ordination and of our mission; faith in the irresistible power of the gospel proclaimed in all its purity, without rhetorical and artificial embellishments; faith in the quiet power of the sacraments; the prestige of a more spiritual authority.
                                                                    …………Poverty is as old as the Church herself. It is congenital. The story of Jesus in Bethlehem, after all, and led to Calvary. The manger and the cross have remained at the heart of the Church to this day. Poverty did not prevent the shepherds and the magi from coming to see Christ. And no sooner did Jesus die on the Cross than ‘He gathered all things to Himself’: the centurion, the fearful notables Nicodemus and Joseph. If a grain of wheat dies, ‘it produces many grains’ (Jn.12:24).
                                                         ………..This is the naked truth of the gospels: only a faith that is poor can be solid ground on which to stand. No other supports will sustain us through the cold winters of this world. There is no alternative. Poverty will not take our joy from us; it will increase it. We priests are ready to contribute to this joy (see 2 Co.1:20). We want to be messengers of joy! [113]


I once served in a parish where the pastor, before most celebrations of the Sacrament of Marriage, would stand before the crucifix in the sacristy and mutter under his breath: “O Most Holy Trinity forgive me for what I am about to do!”
Now admittedly in those days we had begun to experience that most couples who came for Marriage Preparation courses were already living together, rarely, if ever, participated in Sunday Mass, had rather vague responses about openness to children and resisted most urgings to get their lives in right order with grace.
Of all the sacraments we celebrate, though strictly speaking primarily with this sacrament we are witnesses, the Sacrament of Marriage can be more often occasion of priestly distress of heart rather than experience of shared holy joy with the new spouses.
Here, truly, we need a simple act of faith and trust in the power of the sacrament, praying that eventually the new spouses will cooperate fully with grace.
Here too we need to be extremely compassionate and avoid a too narrow interpretation of things lest we break the bruised reeds and the future spouses leave with anger and bitterness in their hearts.
To trust the power of sacrament, not merely in the immediate of celebration, but in the ongoing sanctifying activity of the Holy Spirit will bring us peace and joy of heart.
To the extent we strive in our own lives to be faithful spouses of the Divine Bridegroom in the first instance, and of the Church in the second, within the reality of such deep fidelity to chastity we radiate spousal and parental, disciple and friend, love and joy in and with Christ for God’s People, to that extent our faith praxis will reach out, like the Good Shepherd and while not all couples will necessarily put things in right order before the wedding, many will strive to do so as they grow in marriage and parenthood.
The challenge is to remain present to them as much after their wedding as during the preparation time leading up to it.
                                                                        The picture of the true priest, as Gregory understands and describes him, is the man ‘who, dying to all passions of the flesh, already lives spiritually; who has no thought for the propriety of the world; who has no fear of adversity; who desires only internal things; who does not permit himself to desire what belongs to others but is liberal of his own; who is all bowels of compassion and inclines to forgiveness, but in forgiveness never swerves unduly from the perfection of righteousness; who never commits unlawful actions, but deplores as though they were his own the unlawful actions of others; who with all affection of heart compassionates the weakness of others, and rejoices in the prosperity of his neighbour as his own profit; who in all his doings so renders himself as a model for others as to have nothing whereof to be ashamed, at least, as regards his external actions; who studies so to live that he may be able to water the parched hearts of his neighbours with the waters of doctrine; who knows through the use of prayer and through his own experience that he can obtain from the Lord what he asks’. [Reg.Past.1, 10]  [99]
Such is the dynamic of communion of love with Jesus we are called to radiate upon those who come for sacramental marriage and those already married who strive to live it out and come seeking our wisdom and support.
When husbands, wives, fathers, mothers come to us they should find that we are, in imitation of and oneness with Jesus, ourselves truly models of holy spousehood and parenthood, while at the same time having our own hearts open to learn from and be encouraged in our own vocation by the witness of Christ’s Faithful Lay People.
In the above, as in all things, especially in our own day when not only Holy Marriage and Family Life is under such attack but also the God created reality of our being authentically and distinctly male and female in His image, our witness as priests MUST BE as real men.
Any diminishment of manhood in our person, speech, actions, attitude is both a betrayal of authentic priesthood, of our own personhood and of the people, especially married people and families, we are ordained to serve.
We have come, by God’s grace, in our era through the gift of the Second Vatican Council, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, such staunch and unwavering defenders of life and family as Pope’s Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, to recognize, and thus are called ourselves to serve, strengthen, defend, marriage and family as the reality of the “domestic church.’
True the “domestic church”, like ourselves, lives within a cultural environment which because of the sheer scope and weight of the culture of death and its darkness surrounding us, we may at times feel a type of imprisonment, a sort of gulag without razor wire,  hemming us in with relentless media and other anti-Christian, anti-Catholic, anti-Life hatred, thus perhaps we need reflect upon and draw wisdom, hope, strength, consolation from, and assure God’s People it is our prayer too for them, St. Paul’s powerful cry to the Philippians uniting imprisonment with fidelity until the day of Christ. [cf. Phil. 1: 3-11]
As priests our love for the Bride of Christ, the Church, is rooted both in Her being our Mother the Church through baptism and in a sense our bride too as we are ordained in persona Christi.
If our fidelity to Her is authentic and visible in praxis then we shall be icons of fidelity to all those united in Holy Marriage and if we are seen as pouring ourselves out, like Jesus, in self-gift to others then spouses shall do the same for each other, for their children, for their neighbour.
Thus we should ask for the grace, no matter what temptations, doubts, struggles, battles afflict us in our struggle to be faithful, to always remember our love for Christ, for the Church, for the domestic church, continuing to make ours St. Paul’s prayerful plea and commitment as servant [cf. Phil. 1:25-30].
Perhaps we do not have the precise oratorical skills of St. Paul but if we speak with love, serve with love, preach and teach with love then our people will see within us the very same love and zeal which animated the Apostle as we too encourage fidelity to Christ [cf. Phil. 2].
While we are servants, consolers, called also to strengthen the domestic church, we can also look to the domestic church as a model and source of inspiration to enhance our own dedication to the gift and mystery of priesthood.
Both the vocation to Holy Marriage, building up the civilization of love through family life, and priesthood, are fundamentally vocations of the complete gift of self to other[s], containing within them the constant sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.
Sadly it is also true that spouses/parents who refuse or are stingy with self-gift to other[s], like priests who refuse complete self-gift, will little by little become dis-enamoured: to the point of divorce and in our case abandonment of priesthood.
Thus, for we priests, it is critical that frequently during the examination of conscience in Night Prayer we look at our devotion to Church, Mother and Bride, and to the Domestic Church.
                                                                        ………..Jesus Himself, the Good Shepherd, calls ‘His sheep one by one’ with a voice well known to them [Jn. 10: 3-4]. By His example He has set the first canon of pastoral care: knowledge of the people and friendly relations with them. In the Church, a community vision of pastoral ministry must be in harmony with this personal pastoral care. Indeed, in building up the Church the pastor always moves from a personal to a community dimension. In relating to individuals and communities, the priest cares for all ‘eximia humanitate.’ He can never be the servant of an ideology or of a faction. He is obliged to treat men ‘not according to what may please me, but according to the demands of Christian doctrine and life.’
                                                               ………………New evangelization requires that the priest make his authentic presence evident in the community. They should realize that the ministers of Jesus Christ are present and available to all. Thus their amicable insertion into the community is always important. In this context it is easy to see the significance and pastoral role of the discipline concerning clerical garb, to which the priest should always conform, since it is a public proclamation of his limitless dedication to the brethren and to the faithful in his service to Jesus Christ. THE MORE SOCIETY IS MARKED BY SECULARIZATION, THE GREATER THE NEED FOR SIGNS. [100]
When we are living out the above, we shall note something wonderful happening in the lives of our brothers and sisters who are called to live the splendid vocation of Holy Marriage.
More and more we shall see them forming their families into the authentic fullness of the domestic church and thereby enhancing not only the splendour of the Universal Church with increased holiness but also bringing about the true civilization of love, the greater proclamation and expanse of the Gospel of Life, which in turn will little by little transform the culture of death into a communion of charity, all this because our people will become what they are, salt and light!
Also the richer the soil of the domestic church, of family life, the greater the seeds shall sprout in the hearts of the young who, becoming mature men, will say YES in their turn to divine election, to the vocation of joy:
                                                                       Vocations are usually born in families where love and self-denial are the fabric of daily life. They are the fruit of the kind of overabundant justice which goes beyond the bare minimum demanded by the Commandments, producing a family life which is in accordance with the new law, the law of the Beatitudes and of the Sermon on the Mount.
                                                                    …………..Above all in these homes there is prayer, sharing and giving, and hospitality is practiced without undue concern for the future, in a spirit of trust that ‘our Father in heaven knows what we need.’
                                                             In these homes the parents – in the secret of their hearts, sometimes unbeknownst to each other – pray and keep their hearts open to the call that God may address to their children. [101]
Wherever I have been a pastor I have made sure that I do my best, and if I have assistants that they likewise make every effort, to visit at least three families a week, with particular attention to the poorest and least popular families.
At the same time, given my trust in the power of both the intercessory prayer, and the example of the lived fidelity of the domestic church, I encouraged families to adopt priests, that is to make a specific effort to take not just the priests in the parish, but priests far and wide, all priests within the Church, in person or in their hearts and prayer, into the deep, splendid example of their own vocation as spouses and parents, as elders and children, thus encouraging priests, through prayer, to be faithful to our own vocation.
Through a regular presence to the spouses-parents, in particular, we shall find ample occasion to exercise our priestly, fatherly, shepherd’s munus regendi in a manner that is courageous, truth-speaking, loving service.
To the degree that family life is healed, that married life is re-evangelized to be what it truly is, a splendid witness vocation of self-gift in imitation of Christ the Bridegroom in His loving care of His Bride the Church and Her children, to that degree the parish community, itself a family, and the very society and culture in which the family and parish live, will also increasingly be healed and restored to Christ.
Certainly on those family visits sooner or later the whole gambit of moral and other faith and societal issues will be brought forward for discussion and here, perhaps even more intensely than experienced in the pulpit, we may well find ourselves fearful of being disliked or of becoming unpopular because of the forthrightness of our shepherd’s and fatherly truth-speaking.
However this should be seen by us as yet another graced moment for re-evangelization, for ‘strengthening the brethren’ and such moments should be approached with generous charity, compassion, patience towards the family and also within ourselves a profound confidence that here we are truly being given moments to act in persona Christi exactly as Jesus did when He visited families while revealing the love of the Father here on earth, giving hope, bringing truth and healing, forgiveness and always, love.
                                                                      Beloved priest sons, by vocation you are the counsellors and spiritual guides of individual persons and families. We now turn to you with confidence. Your first task…is to expound the Church’s teaching on marriage without ambiguity. Be the first to give, in the exercise of your ministry, the example of a loyal internal and external obedience to the teaching authority of the Church. That obedience, as you know well, obliges not only because of the reasons adduced, but rather because of the light of the Holy Spirit, which is given in a particular way to the pastors of the Church in order that they may illustrate the truth.
                                                             ……………..In their difficulties, may married couples always find in the words and in the heart of a priest, the echo of the voice and the love of the Redeemer.
                                                            Speak with confidence, beloved Sons, secure with the conviction that the Holy Spirit of God, while assisting the Magisterium in proposing true doctrine, enlightens internally the hearts of the faithful and invites them to give their assent. Instruct married couples to have frequent recourse in a spirit of great faith to the sacraments of the Eucharist and Penance, and never let them be discouraged by their weakness. [102]
Love and truth are inseparable.
In our authentic love for married couples, for families, indeed for everyone, while it is appropriate to develop holy friendships this must always be within the context of, and tempered by our being in persona Christi, that is their fathers, shepherds, servants and so we must avoid seeking from them that type of mere human affirmation and comfort which would distort the necessary boundaries of such friendships.
Our goal should be to, with them, enter more deeply into the joy which flows from friendships rooted in Christ.
As Fathers and Shepherds we are especially, in union with the domestic church, to be the prime defenders of human life, of the human person from conception to ‘natural’ death.
                                                                       The mystery of the Resurrection and of Pentecost is proclaimed and lived by the Church, which has inherited and which carries on the witness of the Apostles about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ….In the name of the Resurrection of Christ the Church proclaims life, which manifested itself beyond the limits of death, the life which is stronger than death. At the same time, she proclaims Him who gives this life: the Spirit, the Giver of life; she proclaims Him and cooperates with Him in giving life. For ‘although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness,’ the righteousness accomplished by the crucified and rise Christ. And in the name of Christ’s Resurrection the Church serves the life that comes from God Himself, in close union with and humble service to the Spirit. [103]
We priests MUST be visible in the struggle to defend human life, the human person, from the womb to the tomb, and be willingly present – even at the cost of our own lives should that be necessary like our brother priest St. Maxmillian Kolbe – to protect the family, indeed any human being, in union with Christ laying down our lives for our friends.
Yes even enemies, in this sense, are friends.
It also is the urgency of charity we be in solidarity with those whose earthly pilgrimage is nearing completion through the reality of old age and thus all the elderly, particularly the abandoned and our elderly brother priests, who in particular deserve the comfort of our presence.
Thus they should from us, but also at our urging from their own families and the parish family in general, should experience an affection and presence which gives true dignity to their old age, showing them and all the elderly, true reverence, respect, genuine love.
                                                            One of the ways we can do this is to courageously proclaim the truth that euthanasia is a grave violation of the law of God, since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person….[104]
We should likewise be vigilant about the care and dignity of family members of any age who are physically or mentally handicapped – in a word defending life and family means always being solicitous of the wellbeing of all the vulnerable.
Among unmarried women, but also not infrequently among women who are both married and already have children, the murder of pre-born children is a harsh reality.
However as authentic fathers and shepherds, when women who have chosen to abort a child[ren], touched by grace directly, approach us to unburden their aching hearts and souls, these words of Pope John Paul II should animate our compassionate, truth-speaking, hope-giving, response and way of being their servants:
                                                                 I would now like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion. The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give into discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you His forgiveness and His peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To the same Father and to His mercy you can with sure hope entrust your child. With the friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone’s right to life. Through your commitment to life, whether by accepting the birth of other children or by welcoming and caring for those most in need of someone close to them, you will become promoters of a new way of looking at human life. [105]
Perhaps occasionally as priests we find ourselves experiencing a real difficulty in sustaining a true appreciation of, and perspective upon, this splendid vocation of Holy Marriage and the reality of the Domestic-church.
This may come about when a sudden fear of rejection takes hold if we actually proclaim, in season and out, the truth about the sacredness of human life, openness to the gift of new life, the sanctity and earthly permanence of the sacramental marriage union between the spouses with each other and between the spouses in their oneness with Christ.
Of course if our own oneness with Christ, our own ascent to truth are weak then we shall most likely be hesitant in boldly, yet always with real charity and compassion, proclaiming truth.
Finally it may be that neither of the above applies so much as hesitancy, because we erroneously see ourselves as ‘single, unmarried men’, rather than who we really are in persona Christi and the reality as such of our own spousal relationship with the Church.
Part of our regular prayer life then should be persistent, albeit humble and trusting, begging of the Holy Spirit, and asking the intercessory companionship of all the great female and male mystics of the ages, to teach us and form deep within us the reality of communion of love with Christ to the ultimate fulfillment of complete union, referred more frequently in the past than today, as: Mystical Marriage.
In Chapter 14 of the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke, the Evangelist presents to us two aspects of the wedding banquet: in verses 7-14 is the self-gift teaching about true humble loving service, about humility itself; in verses 15-24 while we may tend to focus more on those who refused the call, the actual import is of the call of the Divine Bridegroom to come to the wedding feast, our wedding feast!
It is here too we find an even deeper invitation from Christ beyond attendance/participation when in verse 10, using the term which He will later solemnize the night of the Holy Eucharist when He calls us “Friend!”, bids us to come higher.
 In opening wide the doors of our being to Him [Rv.3:20], we embark ever more profoundly on the journey inward to the deepest regions of the Garden Enclosed for fullness of communion of love dialogue, while going ever higher to the height of the mystical marriage bed, His Cross.
It is also an invitation to come higher, to Tabor and Transfiguration, that is entering fully into cooperation with the Holy Spirit who ever more sanctifies us and unites us to Jesus until, like the Apostle, we too will know we no longer live but Christ lives in us!
                                                              …..When souls become filled with God in ineffable plenitude, the life of Jesus fills souls with His treasures and increases in them through a wonderful fecundity.
                                                            To become a saint is to become Jesus; it is to conceive Jesus in our soul and to cause Him to grow therein. But Jesus cannot be enclosed in the narrow confines of a human heart. When He dwells there, He diffuses Himself, like a resplendent light, a delicate perfume, a penetrating sound, thus reaching even the limits of the world.
                                                            When a soul becomes Jesus, she in her turn conceives Him in other souls, and infuses Him into other hearts. Her glory is to disseminate the light of heaven, the glory of the Father, as the sun in the midst of the firmament sheds the glory of its light in all directions. [106]
We enter willingly, with immense yearning, fidelity, humility, mystical marriage, fullness of communion of love with Jesus, never for our own glory or comfort.
 We enter so as to more and more fulfill the priestly, prophetic, missionary dimensions of both our baptismal and priestly consecration.
We are one with Jesus for the salvation of souls and specifically in defense and support of the entire deposit of wisdom and truth rooted in Sacramental Marriage, of the Gospel of Life, of the Family, of the Domestic-Church, thus, like Jesus, we too are here NOT to be served but to serve, not primarily to receive but to make self-gift to other, that is to Jesus, Jesus as He presents Himself to us in the person of husbands, wives, children, widowed persons, the elderly, the sick, the unmarried, the lonely, the poor – in a word as He presents Himself to us in every human being, friend and enemy.
The quintessential Old Testament text referenced by the mystics, and meditated upon as template for communion of love, mystical marriage with Jesus, is the Song of Songs, a treasure trove for among others St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and the original Scripture and their commentaries remain part of the Church’s treasury always at our disposal:
                                                                             The power and tenacity of love is great, for love captures and binds God Himself. Happy is the loving soul, since she possesses God for her prisoner, and He is surrendered to all her desires. God is such that those who act with love and friendship toward Him will make Him do all they desire, but if they act otherwise there is no speaking to Him nor power with Him, even if they go to extremes. Yet by love they bind Him with one hair.
                                                                        Knowing this, and knowing how far beyond her merits it was that He should have favoured her with such sublime love and the rich tokens of virtues and gifts, she attributes all to Him in the following stanza:
                                                            When You looked at me
                                                            Your eyes imprinted Your grace upon me;
                                                            For this You loved me ardently;
                                                            And thus my eyes deserved
                                                            To adore what they beheld in You.  [107]
The more profound and complete our union in communion of love with Jesus, the more we will restore all things to Christ, the more souls we will re-evangelize, the more we shall accomplish the missio ad gentes.
The more intense will be joy rising up within us!



                                                                       The complete Christ is the Christ united to the concourse of the faithful who will live for ever; the complete love of Christ is the love of the Heart of Jesus, united to the love of millions of Christians who will love with Him and in Him to the end of time. This is the great masterpiece Divine Love has accomplished. This alone has succeeded in quenching the infinite love-thirst which Christ had for His Father.

                                                                       Of me then, Jesus asks alike my body and heart, my mind and my will. He asks everything of me. Himself He has given wholly to me. He has given me His flesh, His blood, His life. Now in return He asks mine of me. “Allow Me to live in the place of the self in you; allow Me to substitute Myself for you,” He says to me; “For through you and in you I would yet love the Father to the limit of love.” [87]

A few years ago, in the middle of the night, a call came into the rectory where I was living.

The call was from a Catholic ER nurse in the city hospital.

She was desperately trying to find a priest who would come and anoint a young husband and father, seriously injured in a car crash.

I went immediately to the hospital, anointed the young man, comforted his wife, was present when he died and prayed both the prayers for the dying and then for the deceased.

Afterwards the nurse took me aside and confided she had called the nearest parish first but the priest who answered the phone had said: “We don’t respond outside of office hours.”

Some months later I was asked to help hear confessions in another parish where they were having a “healing” mission.

What happened there I found deeply troubling – lay people where mimicking the actions of priests when we celebrate the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, using oil and making the Sign of the Cross on the people who came to them, on hands and forehead.

This after the very clear instruction from the Vatican:

                                                                    In using sacramentals, the non-ordained faithful should ensure that they are in no way regarded as sacraments whose administration is proper and exclusive to the bishop and to the priest. Since they are not priests, in no instance may the non-ordained perform anointings either with the oil of the sick or any other oil. [88]

As with all sacraments there is a direct connection between our faith in the sacraments as encounters with our loving Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, in which we participate as recipients and also as celebrants, and the care with which we protect the integrity of the sacred – or not.

We need also to be careful of the way we use language, for words are powerful.

Hence to speak of a ‘healing’ Mass as some extra particular celebration of Holy Mass is erroneous, for every Holy Mass heals.

It is understandable the hunger of people for physical, psychological, spiritual healing – but to confuse the power of the specific Sacrament as being somehow of lessor important than certain para-liturgies such as mentioned above speaks of a lack of faith and trust both in the Sacrament of Anointing and in the very sacred power which is ours in persona Christi.

We need to rediscover, heed and be generous with the Church’s own appreciation of the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, as articulated, for example, by the Second Vatican Council:

                                                                         “Anointing of the Sick,” is not a sacrament for those only who are at the point of death. Hence, as soon as anyone of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age, the fitting time for him to receive this sacrament has certainly arrived. [89]

The Catechism extends this to include: “….just prior to a serious operation….” [90]

I may be too generous here but having worked with people suffering eating disorders and other serious mental health issues, addicts, people suffering with HIV, etc., etc., I prefer a charitable lavishness with the sacrament, trusting that whoever asks be anointed.

I apply the same when it comes to the matter of time of death.

This I learned from my own bishop who ordained me, now long gone to his eternal reward.

He was truly pastoral and once asked me to attend a rooming house where the police were waiting.

A man had died a few days before and the elderly couple who owned the home did not want the body moved until the man had received ‘the last rites.’

The Bishop said: “Go and under your breath say softly first: ‘If there is life within you then I….’, and the old couple will be at peace.”

Sometimes the needs of the living ask of us what God in His love fully understands and undoubtedly appreciates! [cf. Canon 1005]

Not only when I am travelling on the busy highways where, as we all know serious crashes are unfortunately all too common, but also when just walking around the city, I keep the Holy Oil with me, for at any time we may come upon someone, for example, collapsed on the sidewalk who may be in need of the sacrament.

Simply put as priests we should always be ready to respond to all souls at all times whatever their need.

I believe we priests should accept and understand we are serving Jesus, the Church, the human family, in a time of war, the war which has raged across all of human history, but is perhaps more intense in our own day: spiritual warfare.

Sometimes the casualties in this war are because of actions of we human beings who often act recklessly, sometimes because of the direct, albeit limited as we know from the Book of Job, actions of the devil and his minions – always we priests must be ready!

One winter’s night I was traveling along a narrow highway in a severe snowstorm.

Usually I would not drive under such conditions but it was critical to get a lay missionary to the airport some hundred miles to the south as she was going to a country where the window of opportunity to enter was limited.

Missing the flight meant it would be months, perhaps years, before the proper visa would be granted again.

So there I was cautiously driving through the storm when coming around a tight bend in the road numerous lights were flashing.

We had come upon a terrible crash involving so many vehicles and deceased and seriously injured people, as the first officer who approached the car asking for help told me, all available ambulances, from the nearest city itself an hour away, had been called to the scene.

I got a small stole kept for such emergencies out of the glove box, and as I stepped out of the car, telling my passenger who had already gone pale never having witnessed such a scene to stay put as there was nothing she could do, got the oil from my pocket.

Bodies were strewn about, some dismembered, all deceased, so I simply anointed and absolved with the ‘if there is life within you’ formula.

So many crashed vehicles, so many dead, near a dozen already rushed to hospital among the living, of which only two were uninjured, a man and his little girl, the wife and mother having perished.

The police already knew the lead car had been speeding and crashed into a van from the opposite direction triggering the pile up.

The father and child were in the back of a cruiser and I spent some time comforting them, then turned my attention to the officers and once that was done, my feet soaked as much with blood as wet snow, returned to my car where my passenger was in tears and we spent the rest of the trip praying for the dead and injured. [Mk.6:6-13]

I tell the above simply to underline part of our call must be our readiness at any moment to be present to, with our people whatever their need is.

If we have fallen into some type of 9-5 functional mentality, see priesthood as some sort of job, well then we won’t keep, for example, the Oil on our person.

Who among us priests would ever want to be the one who ‘passed by’?  [Lk. 10:29-27]

His people, our people, are mainly good, sincere people doing their best to love one another, care for their families, be good citizens yet at the same time, as Jesus Himself points out [Mk.6:30-34; Mt.9:35-37] they often act as if sheep without a shepherd, experiencing confusion and fear, especially in these days of such extensive global anxiety fed by a media which reports more on the state of terrorism, economy, climate, disaster, than on giving priority to stories about human kindness, goodness, efforts for peacemaking.

I see a direct connection between the anxieties of the human family and an attitude among priests which fails to see our vocation in persona Christi as one of total availability and as true shepherd, guarding by effective use of all the Sacraments and our priestly intercessory power of prayer and fasting to confront evil, that is to be good fighters in spiritual warfare.

St. Jude speaks directly to this responsibility of ours to be engaged in the struggle for the salvation of souls in union with Jesus, powerfully, among other things, urging us to save our brothers and sisters by ‘snatching them out of the fire.’ [Jude 17-25]

Nothing that concerns the salvation of souls should be outside of our willingness to serve.

                                                                          Precisely because it is a humble reflection on the zeal of Christ Himself, the devotedness of the priest for others can know no limits; its field lies wherever men are to be saved. Like God Himself, the priest wishes all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For this reason the office of priest was summed up by St. Ambrose when he wrote that “it belongs to the priestly office to do harm to no one and to be desirous of helping everyone; to accomplish this can only come from God.”

                                                                      The apostolate of the priest is to the great and the lowly, to the powerful and the weak. It is his duty to adapt himself to the particular needs of each soul. “Let them mount the heights,” wrote St. Augustine, addressing himself to priests, “that they may lift up the great; let them come down into the depths in order to feed the little ones.”

                                                                      St. John Chrysostom declares: “No matter how insignificant or lowly may be the one who appeals to us, no matter how hard and painful may be what he asks, still if he needs our help, then all the difficulties should seem light and easy to bear. God showed us that the soul is worthy of every care and attention when He did not even spare His own Son. [91]

I am well aware of the attitude many priests have, indeed I admit sometimes I reacted the same way, towards those who seem always to be demanding ‘healing Masses’ or to be prayed over, delivered, anointed, have ever new devotions to Mary or some Saint, who even if given all that are never ‘healed/delivered/satisfied’, yet these are the very anawim who flocked to Jesus.

Sure in the vast crowds clamouring for more bread or a new king or more miracles, there were also those who quietly – not necessarily because they had greater faith, trust, maturity or were less wounded, sinful – followed Jesus, accepting whatever He offered without ‘needing’ more.

We, for we priests too are of the sheepfold, we His flock come in all shapes, sizes, colour, maturity, and lack thereof, simplicity and complexity, sinfulness and holiness.

Why do we expect the composition of our parishes, of the human race today, indeed of the priesthood itself, to be any different?

I believe we priests need to spend less time concerned about the composition of our parishes, the make-up of the population of the Church and the world, even of our own ranks, and leaving all that in Our Lady’s hands to sort out, become more adept at combatting real evil, the evil one and his destructive hordes, in a word being true priest-fighters and true vessels of compassion.

We suffer, our people suffer, all people suffer and within the expansive variety of suffering we must never forget, nor deny, evil is afoot for the diabolical hyena preys on those weakened by physical and emotional suffering.

                                                                         It can be said that man suffers whenever he experiences any kind of evil.

                                                                           In the midst of what constitutes the psychological form of suffering there is always an experience of evil, which causes the individual to suffer.

                                                                          While it is true that suffering has a meaning as punishment when it is connected with a fault, it is not true that all suffering is a consequence of a fault and has the nature of a punishment.

                                                                       Suffering must serve for conversion, that is, for the rebuilding of goodness in the subject, who can recognize the divine mercy in this call to repentance. The purpose of penance is to overcome evil. [92]

I remember when this powerful teaching from Pope John Paul came out and the resistance, some of it rather harsh, to any suggestions of the connection between sin, suffering, punishment, repentance, conversion, intercession as being a rather pre-Vatican II, outmoded, almost medieval approach, understandable if regrettable because of the Holy Father’s Polish background!

O Lord sometimes we priests can be rather arrogant, Lord have mercy!

Granted no human being wants to suffer and it can be difficult at times to dispassionately look at the cause, trigger of the why of some suffering we endure.

However what the Holy Father is challenging us to do is not to spend time trying to figure out how we came to be suffering, but rather what will we do with our suffering?

This applies to those who suffer who come to us for healing, for hope.

If, except when absolutely necessary in order to serve them all the more, when we are approached by so and so, yet again, and their hypochondria or other emotional wounds are self-evident, it is wrong for us to dismiss them out of hand, or deny their request for anointing or to be prayed over.

 It is a golden opportunity to engage them in conversation, urge them to embrace their suffering in union with Jesus for the salvation of souls, an end to abortion, for peace – the needs of the human family are vast!

Our vocation of joy is to serve and our joy will be the greater the less we judge and simply wash feet!

Our hearts then should be filled with the same generosity of heart as St. Paul who constantly prayed for those he served, always eager for their growth in holiness. [1Thess.3:9-13]

The entire baptized community in particular, but truly every human being, dwells in the reality of spiritual warfare.

As priests we should, we must, be in the forefront of the battle.

We live in extremely dangerous and often confusing times.

To be blasé about, ignore or worse deny the reality of satan, evil, sin and the devastating consequences for souls, while perhaps understandable among those of no or weak faith, should cause immense concern when priests have such an attitude.

Perhaps it is not comfortable to ask, but we need to ask ourselves: do I take seriously the threat satan poses to the souls of every human being? To my own?

Satan, as we know, does not only entice to sin individuals and entire peoples, but also, when he fails to seduce with evil will seek to entrap by some other means, such as discouragement, those who struggle to be faithful and virtuous.

                                                                 The devil hates God, but as he cannot reach Him in Himself, he turns against His creatures, and especially against His privileged creature, the priest, the living image of Christ.

                                                                    By our vocation, by the mission and duties which it prescribes for us, we, priests, are especially exposed to the attacks and the cunning of these enemies. [93]

When we cut back on accessibility to confession, anointing, daily Mass, fail to arrange easy access to the Blessed Sacrament for adoration, cut back on home, school, hospital visits, prefer tv or internet to contemplation and lectio divina, when we allow the media and other enemies of Jesus and His Church to form our attitudes then we are clearly being wounded in the war.

In the ‘outer’ world we know how terrorism works with its sneak attacks, i.e.ds., disinformation and other ruses all designed to dispirit whole populations, to create a climate of constant fear.

We know too that in that world governments and their security forces can only protect the population through constant vigilance.

Much like the Cure d’Ars, a good priest, a real fighter in this warfare, worn out and discouraged, came one day, in Russia, to a holy Abbot seeking help:

                                                                         “My parish, Father Abbot, is large,” the Pastor said, “and we have no sects here, but people are indifferent. They rarely come to church. I do not see any reason to celebrate frequently in an empty church.” “Father,” the distressed Abbot answered, “if your parishioners neglect their important duties, you, their pastor, must never neglect yours. The temple of God is never empty. Since it was consecrated it has its own guardian angel. If your people neglect their duties, their guardian angels do not. They fill the temple. When you celebrate, the angels concelebrate with you. You must celebrate regularly, and pray God to convert your people to prayer and penance. The Lord will order their guardian angels to persuade them to come. You are responsible for your own soul and those of your flock. You must realize that.” [94]

Discouragement and anxiety are among satan’s most powerful weapons because they wear us down by degrees.

We rarely wake up one morning suddenly discouraged, rather progressively over time, especially if we have been feeding on negative thoughts, neglect of interior silence, contemplation, fidelity to the Divine Office, daily Mass, etc., interior grumbling becomes anger becomes discouragement and the spiral can continue into deep inner darkness.

We then are vulnerable to not simply neglect of the good but to choose sin.

We have been wounded, perhaps not mortally, wounded nonetheless.

                                                                      Those who are trying to lead a spiritual life have to carry on a most skilful and difficult mental warfare, a spiritual warfare, every moment throughout life; it is necessary that the soul should have every moment a clear eye, able to watch and notice the entrance into the heart of thoughts sent by the evil one, and to repel them. The hearts of such men must always burn with faith, humility and love; for otherwise the subtlety of the devil finds an easy access to them, which is followed by a decline, or even by an entire loss, of belief, and afterwards by every possible evil, difficult to wash away, even by tears. [95]

Among the texts in the New Testament which place before us this reality of spiritual warfare and of demonic activity in the lives of all human beings, particularly the baptized and priests are: Jesus in the desert, in the garden, the cautionary words found in the teachings of St. Peter and Revelations: Mt.4: 1ff; Mk. 1:12ff; Lk.4:1ff; 22:39ff; 1Pt.5:6-11; Rev.12].

Both in the desert and in the garden in particular, Jesus is engaged in the most intense aspects of spiritual warfare.

 The Gospels are replete with encounters between Jesus and evil spirits, for St. Luke points out in his conclusion to the battle in the desert that satan only left Jesus alone for ‘a time’, Lk.4:13.

It can happen that at times we feel as broadsided by the evil one as any soldier stepping on a landmine, sometimes with spiritual consequences akin to those inflicted upon the hapless soldier – or innocent villagers simply on their way to work the fields or go to market – for we must never forget our willingness to be engaged in struggles against the evil one is for all souls and their protection and salvation.

What Jesus took upon Himself and experienced in the Garden, and His prayer, should be ours, and if we can we should willingly spend entire nights in such vigil and intercessory prayer. [Lk.22:39-46]

Our call is to be one with Jesus in all aspects of His life and ministry, which means also in the desert, in the garden, engaged in the battle with satan – without fear: Christ Himself is the Victor and He is with us in the struggle and He engages the enemy in front of us, for us.

Christ was alone in the desert, His disciples failed to keep vigil and fell asleep in the garden.

We are never alone in the desert; let us beg the grace to be vigilant, side by side with Jesus in the garden.

The more we strive to be faithful as priests in persona Christi, the more the evil one will hound us [Rev.12.] but it has always been thus [1Pt. 5:1-] so we should call upon the assistance and protection of all our brother priests in heaven and then continue the struggle with deep peace and intimate confidence in Jesus.

In these days of scepticism, relativism, scientism and the myriad of other isms, when it comes to the reality of spiritual warfare and the activities of the evil one, we can do well to heed this wisdom from a brother priest:

                                                                                    Science insists that the New Testament’s “possessed” were simply insane; the age did not recognize their symptoms and therefore held demons responsible for them. In this respect it concludes, Jesus was a man of His time. True, the external manifestations then were probably similar to the symptoms recorded by specialists in our clinics today; but what is behind those symptoms no psychiatrist can tell. When the Lord commanded an evil spirit in one who is mentally ill, He worked from an approach that no modern doctor can share. Evil does not function so that one can say this or that is unnatural, therefore demonic. Neither the supernatural nor the unnatural in Christian life makes its appearance by stepping into some gap in the natural order. Everything is also ‘natural’; the chain of nature events never breaks. Everything is the result of something else – but it is precisely here, in natural cause and effect that satan works as well as God. Therefore, when Jesus addressed the demon in a sick man, He did so because He knew that ‘something else’ lay at the bottom of the psychosis. [96]

Nowadays every variation of human physical, psychological, spiritual life is simultaneously justified, explained, excused as one having been ‘born that way; my choice; its genetic; I’m addicted; I have…..[name the flavour of the month]’: in other words we increasingly eliminate any responsibility for the ‘something else’ and therefore enable the evil one, more and more, to, in a sense supply, or at least motivate, the ‘something else’.

The culture of darkness and death, of relativism and of ‘my rights’ trumping responsibility is part of the ‘something else’ which animates the horrific crimes and sins which cast their poisonous fog into the depths of countless lives, countless souls, from abortion to euthanasia, from child abuse to violence against women, into the dank places where terrorism is planned, where human trafficking unfolds.

Wherever evil lurks, there is the battlefield.

In a sense the evil one ‘hides’ in plain sight in the culture of death.

                                                                             Because of this hidden deceit and the fraudulent methods the devil uses, all who do not cleave to the name of Christ and the Holy Spirit – that is the Spirit of truth, knowledge, understanding, and divine guidance – easily fall prey to the devil’s wiles and do his work quite unawares. Instead of rightly perceiving the works of the evil one, they see them simply as the way of the world or the prevailing customs or the natural product of human nature or perhaps the result of sickness, chance, unintentional errors, or rash speech or action. These are the threads the devil cleverly weaves together till they invisibly encircle the mind, gradually and fiendishly shutting out the lights that bring discernment between truth and falsehood. They close in upon the conscience, stifling it till it slowly and almost imperceptibly loses its sensitivity to truth. Finally these perceptions penetrate so deeply that they enslave not only the mind, but even the body itself, and in the end the law of sin occupies a person’s very being and controls the mind, tongue, conscience, body and behaviour. [97]

Yesterday I was visiting a dear brother priest and as is our custom, from time to time, we prayed over each other, absolved each other and anointed each other.

He has a serious and chronic lung condition which at times brings him to the brink of death.

I too have a chronic, but much less serious, medical condition and we both are wearied by the warfare, so the reality of shared sacramental and priestly blessing is essential.

Since we began doing this for each other we have both noticed a reduction in stress, improvement in physical, emotional, spiritual health, renewed commitment and joy.

Sometimes it does please Jesus to heal, to deliver, instantly [Mt.8:1-4]; sometimes to do so, as it were, progressively [Mk.8:22-26]; to grant forgiveness of sin and then to heal [Mt.9:1-8]; always there is communion of love: by glance, by word [Jn.4:4-42; Lk.9:37-43] but always all ultimately is to reveal the glory of the Father, which is His love for us [Jn.9], and to do as Jesus did/does is not only to be fully engaged in spiritual warfare, it is to love, it is to spread the fire of hope and compassion [Lk.10:25-37].

Here, the final word to a great priest of compassion, a true fighter:

                                                                         In the Book of Revelation, the ‘great portent’ of the ‘woman’ [12:1] is accompanied by ‘another portent which appeared in heaven’: ‘a great red dragon’ [Rv.12:3], which represents satan, the personal power of evil, as well as all the powers of evil at work in history and opposing the Church’s mission.

                                                                 Here too Mary sheds light on the community of believers. The hostility of the powers of evil is, in fact, an insidious opposition which, before affecting the disciples of Jesus, is directed against His Mother. To save the life of her Son from those who fear Him as a dangerous threat, Mary has to flee with Joseph and the Child into Egypt [cf. Mt.2:13-15].

                                                                   Mary thus helps the Church to realize that life is always at the center of a great struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness. The dragon wishes to devour ‘the child brought forth’ [cf. Rv.12:4], a figure of Christ, whom Mary brought forth ‘in the fullness of time’ [Gal.4:4] and whom the Church must unceasingly offer to people in every age. But in a way that child is also a figure of every person, every child, especially every helpless baby whose life is threatened, because – as the Council reminds us – ‘by His Incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every person.’ It is precisely ‘in the flesh’ of every person that Christ continues to reveal Himself and to enter into fellowship with us, so that rejection of human life, in whatever form that rejection takes, is really a rejection of Christ. This is the fascinating but revealing truth which Christ reveals to us and which His Church continues to untiringly proclaim: ‘Whoever receives one such child in My Name receives Me.’ [Mt.18:5]; “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of My brethren, you did it to Me’[Mt.25:40]. [98]



When, the night before He died, Christ instituted the sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and the Holy Priesthood, in both instances He took ordinary matter to be transubstantiated in the reality of the former, and in a somewhat similar manner also changed into a new reality as regards the latter.

Let us, my brothers, stand in awe before this ineffable yet real dual fulfillment of His Divine Promise. [Jn.14:18; Mt.28:20]

Let us stand in awe before the mystery of wheat ground to flour, fired in the oven, placed upon the altar, with the mystery of grape crushed and bled that it too might be placed upon the altar, and of a man, purified by the fire of the Holy Spirit to be poured out as a libation for the Lord’s work in the heat of the day, in the depths of the vineyard.

What earth has given, human hands have made, becomes the bread and drink of eternal life by the power of the Holy Spirit at the command of a man of the earth, himself transformed by the same Spirit!

Indeed through ordination in persona Christi we men become priests are the living icon of His promise not to leave us orphans, and, through our sacramental celebrations, bring about the fulfillment of His promise to be with us until the end of the age.

We are living icons of His promise.

Dwelling in the reality of such superabundance of mercy the most natural place for we priests to be is with our face to the ground in constant adoration and supplication for mercy.

It is also a reality that it often is our experience satan has a particular hatred for us and appears to be permitted to beat upon us constantly. This can be especially our experience when we truly struggle to be among those who, though warred against remain faithful. [Rv.12:17]

Certainly when satan is making a frontal assault on the Church and the priesthood he will attack the truth about the Virginity of Mary, the Incarnation, Resurrection and Real Presence.

When we priests waffle on any of those truths we become participants in the attack on the Church and upon our own divine election.

It is a type of Judas work we become engaged in.

Then, of course, even if we are not experiencing suffering because of assaults directly on the Church, priesthood or the content of faith, we have our own sins and wounds to contend with and satan uses these as a means of discouragement and lassitude so that in the end either we quit the priesthood altogether or at the very least our people do not receive the dedicated service they need and deserve.

Conscious of all the mundane and sacred, all of the mercy and struggle, the nitty-gritty reality and even more real abundance of grace, which our vocation of joy in persona Christi contains, one of our own brother priests, the Apostle Paul, stresses the mystery it is within we, the clay vessels, the great treasure of His Priesthood is poured, lavished, so that, like Jesus, we in our turn are willingly poured out for others. [ 2Cor.4]

 This is the reality of what has been poured into us as superabundance of mercy in the sacrament of Holy Orders and becomes the reality of our lives in Christ and for the salvation of souls.                                                               The only question that should concern us, therefore, is that of fidelity to our identity, a fidelity which should be renewed each day, because identity is truth: truth of being from which derives the truth of action, the truth of our pastoral ministry. [79]

Who among us, with the passage of time from that original fire of the early period immediately following our ordination, has not had to confront the re-appearance in our being of the earthiness of our humanity, the fact we do indeed carry this inestimable treasure of mercy in the earthen vessel we are?

Yet even when that reality of our frailness as human beings is most pressing against us we do well to recall that when we struggle to be what we are, in persona Christi, the People of God will, most of them at any rate, trust the reality of priesthood:

                                                                             They should glow in the gravity of their character, the sanctity of their life, and the praise of their wholesome doctrine. [80]

We ARE in persona Christi.

This IS our joy – and our cross.

These two realities are far from being mutually exclusive.

They ARE stupendous realities of sanctifying and actual grace in the reality of our daily life! [1Pt.1:3-9; 13-16]

The day of our ordination, prostrated cruciform, surrendered by grace, we in fact were accenting to being nailed to the Cross, with and for Jesus, for the salvation of souls.

With the passage of time it may be that we are less and less inclined, for a variety of reasons/struggle, to wear proper clerical clothing, to be called Father, or perhaps we are simply so worn out by our labours, spiritual warfare we seek at the end of the ‘working’ day – though we are always priest so we are never NOT priest – tempted to revert to an attitude of ‘me, myself and I’.

This is why, when we begin to pray Night Prayer, and the daily examination of conscience, indeed of our consciousness of being always in persona Christi, it is essential we pose to our hearts the question: why would I ever for a single moment NOT want to be priest?

                                                               From our birth to our death, we walk on the journey toward Jerusalem. Season to season we advance, often in conformity and comfort, often in turmoil and pain. Along the way no one is blind to the labour….We tend to create habits of living that provide us with what we need to survive. But we are also searching……searching for peace. It is a journey toward Jerusalem.

                                                             …………..In our journey, we often forget God and are distracted. Or, if we seek beyond God, we find ourselves in the midst of loss. [81]

Rather than look exclusively outside of the reality of sacramental priesthood for the source of assaults on our own person and the priesthood in general, we need to consider first our own state of faith, or lack thereof, and if we have, or not, true fraternal love for our brother priests.

What St. Paul exalted about the people he served we should not only do likewise but do so in particular about each other as priests, encouraging and affirming one another, rather than indulging in hyper criticism and gossip; indeed tirelessly encouraging one another to endure courageously and generously the heat of the day, because we are impassioned with love of Jesus and His own love for our people, our brothers, for every human being. [1 Thess. 2: 19, 20]

If men, young and old, are finding it difficult, if not impossible, to embrace with a generous self-gift yes their own call to divine election as priests, perhaps one reason may be that they do not see us radiating a genuine love for one another and a true passion for each other’s joy in priesthood and for each other’s eternal salvation.

If there is uncertainty about faith praxis among our people, hesitancy to say yes to the call to priestly vocation, we need to examine our conscience and see if we radiate joy, fraternal affection, mutual support, or not.

Every crisis of faith is also essentially a crisis of trust.

Do we truly trust all Christ has revealed about Himself as Priest is real, true?

Do we allow this reality and truth to permeate our entire being, will, mind, imagination, heart, soul?

If we do, certainly always asking that in our deep faith Jesus help our unbelief, then flowing from such faith truth will permeate our being, our lives, and in truth the true acceptance, reverence, trust in, and love for, the reality of our brothers being in persona Christi, just as we are.

                                                               Jesus stands before us and asks, as He once did the Apostles: “Who do you say that I am?” Today much confusion surrounds this question……

                                                             …..for ourselves, whether everything stands firm or falls is related to our faith in Jesus of Nazareth. “But you,” and Jesus is now questioning us, “who do you say that I am?” We know how Simon Peter answered Him…..”You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!”….This is Christ’s identity, and this identity is behind your own….Christ ardently longed to share His one priesthood with men.

                                 …..thanks to you priests, Christ is always sacramentally present in His Church….You act “in the Name and Person of Christ”….It is you who authoritatively proclaim the Gospel. Christ speaks through you: as a result “Christ proclaims Christ.” Who offers the Eucharist? You, but not alone: through you it is Christ who acts: “He is the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered Himself on the Cross”….Who imparts sacramentally absolution for sins committed? You priests, but not alone: it is Christ who forgives them through you. You are the “stewards of the mysteries of God” [1Cor.4:1]! [82]

Beloved brothers, let us stand in contemplation, awe, joy before the mysterious reality into which we are ordained!

                                                          Dear friends, in fulfillment of the Petrine ‘munus’, I intend to strengthen your faith in the identity of Christ and in your own identity as ‘other Christ’s’. Take a holy pride in being ‘called’, and be especially humble before so great a dignity, in the awareness of your human weakness.

                                                          Thanks be to you priests, who like a lantern illumine those who come to you, and for whom, like salt, you give life its savour. Thank you for what you do and above all for what you are. With deep feeling, I would like to thank all those priests who, in fidelity to their own identity and mission, continue to suffer in most varied situations. Thank you for your toil, thank you for your efforts, thank you for your strength, thank you for your tears, thank you for your smile. Thank God for your being there.

                                                          …………However, my thanks above all becomes a “Te Deum” for the gift of the priesthood and an exhortation to you to become more and more in the world but less and less of the world, so that you can always show yourselves for what you are to everyone, with humble pride and the proper external sign: it is the sign of unceasing, ageless service, because it is inscribed in your ‘being’.

                                                            With tender affection I entrust each of you to the Virgin, given to us in an extraordinary way as Mother of the Eternal Priest. For each of you I place in her clasped hands a humble request for perseverance and for the commitment to leave as a legacy to your brethren at least one who will continue that unique priesthood that lives and springs form love within us. [83]

My prayer, beloved brothers, is that we will allow this tender word from Pope John Paul II, a word from the Holy Spirit, to burn within us as a fire purifying our hearts, minds, intellects, imaginations, emotions, body, souls, of all the dross which challenges our true identity that we might participate with renewed commitment and joy, generosity and joy, selflessness and joy in the personal and missionary reality of being in persona Christi.

Some twenty years before, in his first Letter to Priests, Pope John Paul II showed us the deep connection between the reality of being in persona Christi, and in relationship with the Most Holy Theotokos, urging us to truly place ourselves in her care:

                                                                   Dear brothers, at the beginning of my ministry I entrust all of you to the Mother of Christ, who in a special way is our Mother: Mother of priests……………..All of us………through priestly ordination have in a certain sense a prior right to see her as our Mother. And so I desire that all of you, together with me, should find in Mary the Mother of the priesthood which we have received from Christ. I also desire that you should entrust your priesthood to her in a special way. Allow me to do it myself, entrusting to the Mother of Christ each one of you – without any exception – in a solemn, and at the same time simple and humble way. And I ask each of you, dear brothers, to do it yourselves, in the way dictated to you by your own heart, especially by your love for Christ the priest, and also by your own weakness, which goes hand in hand with your desire for service and holiness. I ask you to do this. [84]

Central as well to this sacred ‘gift and mystery’ of sacramental ordination is our participation, and desire for ever deeper union, with Jesus in His own intimate, filial, loving relationship with the Father. [Mt.11: 25-27; Jn. 17:20-23]

We are meant to be in union with, communion with, in filial love of, and yes to rest in and be obedient, all as Jesus was/ is, with the Father, opening wide the doors of our being so that His Incarnate Word permeates our being: through baptism and ordination, to be sure; in praxis through fidelity in being and becoming more and more who we are; through fidelity in all our contemplation and action, which are inseparable; fidelity of ‘ora et labora’.

This continuous communion of love, of restful, attentive, childlike trusting, obedient intimate confidence – our filial relationship with the Father as created, baptized beings, as redeemed souls, in persona Christi, is activated by, motivated by, enflamed by, if we cooperate with Him, the Most Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier and Divine Guest of our being.

All so that, ultimately, generously, we lavish this love of the Father Himself, of Jesus, of the Holy Spirit, upon every man, woman, child on the face of the earth, directly to those we know, encounter, directly to those who live upon earth in this moment, and upon all the Holy Souls in our prayer for them.

This means too we embrace the continuing, purifying, vivifying, sanctifying action of the Holy Spirit. [Hb. 4:10-16]

This action of continuous formation by the Holy Spirit within us of ever deeper communion with the Father, in, through Jesus, underscores the fact we must have no other love greater in our hearts, occupying our minds, imaginations, longing, energy, than the love of the Father within us and our love of Him. [1Jn.2:15-17]

The Holy Gospel is replete with specific moments of intimate encounter and communion of love between Jesus and the Father, of dialogue and prayer, of listening and acting according to the Holy Will of the Father – in particular we find this in the great Priestly Prayer of Jesus in the Holy Gospel according to St. John.

The foundational aspect of this loving relationship between Jesus and the Father is witnessed by Jesus’ filial obedience to the Father, the articulation in His active life of the depths of the communion of love expressed in Jesus’ self-gift to the Father and self-gift to us from all eternity and visible from the moment of His Holy Incarnation through His public life, passion, death, resurrection, ascension and all accessible to us through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The more we open the doors of our being and willingly participate in our own self-gift to the Father, to others, in imitation of and union with Jesus Christ Priest, the greater our joy will be.

This is childlike trust!

To attempt, as priests, any other way of being and living means being engulfed in an aloneness and loneliness that will destroy our vocation.

As it was for Jesus on earth, absolutely now that He is seated at the right hand of the Father, so it will be for us if we abandon ourselves to the Father with absolute love and trust. [Jn.16:33]

When Christ Priest proclaims the ultimate prayer of trust in the love of the Father, that is in the Father Himself, we have the template of our own relationship with and prayer to the Father, the template of priestly openness to the Father’s love and in this oneness with Jesus Himself, by the power of the Holy Spirit, is found ultimate communion of love with the Holy Trinity.

Here too is the template of our consecration in truth and the grace of priestly fraternity.

Given that in God there are only graced moments of encounter with Him, and in Him every one of those moments is, if we open wide the doors of our being to Him, to communion of love, then each moment is also a moment of beginning again.

Thus as I compose these lines I do so after First Vespers of Passion/Palm Sunday – this IS the moment-week of our redemption, our encounter in intimate confidence with the Priest who redeems us, the week of the institution of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, the Sacrament of the Priesthood, of priestly filial and fraternal love, with our Bishop and each other, solemnly renewed in our recommitment to the gift and mystery, the sacredness and fidelity of ordination in the Mass of Sacred Chrism.

With Christ Priest we place ourselves in each holy moment of Holy Week, template of every moment of every week, face to the ground with and in Jesus, in the Garden with a share in His passionate anticipation of the mission of redemption being accomplished on the altar of the Cross, where we are with Him, for the salvation of souls, every human being.

This IS our passion, our joy, our life, our gift, our mystery!

As we know, once Jesus had instituted the Most Holy Eucharist and the Sacramental Priesthood, according to St. John at the same time pouring out His love in His extraordinary words after washing our feet, pouring this Love-truth into our beings, He then spoke once more, communed once more, with the Father, pray-pleading for everyone, for we priests in particular, in words which should set us afire anew, words which should form a critical aspect of our meditative life, inflaming too our hearts with love for one another, for all our brothers and sisters, friends and yes for our enemies.  [Jn.17:11-26]

This great and urgent cry of Christ, His Priestly prayer to the Father immediately before He begins His ascent to the altar of the Cross through His agony in the Garden, finds an eloquent echo in words of the Second Vatican Council:

                                                                    The fact of the matter is that Christ, in order ceaselessly to do the same will of His Father in the world through the Church, is working through His ministers and therefore remains always the principle and source of the unity of their life. Therefore priests will achieve the unity of their life by joining themselves with Christ in the recognition of the Father’s will and in the gift of themselves to the flock entrusted to them. In this way, by adopting the role of the good shepherd they will find in the practice of pastoral charity itself the bond of priestly perfection will reduce to unity their life and activity. Now this pastoral charity flows especially from the Eucharistic sacrifice. This sacrifice is therefore the center and root of the whole life of the priest, so that the priestly soul strives to make its own what is enacted on the altar of sacrifice. But this cannot be achieved except through priests themselves penetrating ever more intimately through prayer into the mystery of Christ.

                                                              ……………Faithfulness to Christ cannot be separated from faithfulness to His Church. Hence pastoral charity demands that priests, if they are not to run in vain, should always work within the bond of union with the bishops and their fellow priests. If they act in this manner, priests will find unity of life in the unity of the Church’s own mission. In this way they will be united with their Lord and through Him with the Father in the Holy Spirit, and can be filled with consolation and exceedingly abound with joy. [85]

There it is once more, beloved brothers!

This time from the mouth of the Holy Spirit through the Fathers of the Council!

Thus, if we seek to be ‘brothers dwelling in unity’, with the Holy Trinity, yes and with each other, then we shall “…exceedingly abound with JOY!”

Joy IS our vocation and, as proclaimed during Benediction, the source of our joy is Jesus in the Holy Eucharist which ‘contains within itself all delight’!

                                                             There is something very special between us and Christ. He looked at us, and we followed Him: He wounded us in the innermost depths of our souls, and we have never healed from this wound. We live in constant yearning for Him. His words and His actions, His death and His resurrection are constantly before our eyes. The scriptures, the events of our daily lives – everything speaks to us of Him.

                                                            This is why we are particularly drawn to the poor and the helpless, to the sick and the very young. In their cry, so often stifled, we hear the hidden voice of the poor Christ, who lives in them. There are times when we resist, and our hearts grow hard: but we can find no rest until we have responded to this cry. [86]                                         



 One of the passages in the Holy Gospel which, in a certain sense, has always intrigued my heart, and been an occasion of constant meditation is where Jesus is asked about the location of where He ‘stays’. [Jn.1:39]

 “Where do you live?”, is a question we quickly become used to asking and being asked from the time we are little children.

The answer, in a real manner, defines much about the person who answers and gives us clues to where they and we stand in relation to each other.

The question posed to Jesus is pretty ordinary.

Since His Holy Resurrection and Ascension to the right hand of the Father and through the marvel of the Blessed Sacrament we know where Jesus is staying: with us!

The tragedy is when we forget He also ‘stays’ in every sacrament and within our own being through sacramental grace.

Jesus’ response is, of course, more than allowing a certain transfer of information to reassure His future apostles of certain trustworthiness.

It is an invitation to intimacy.

The sacrament of Reconciliation is also a place where Jesus stays, to which He constantly invites us, for it is the place of encounter at the well, on the road of return.

Our people dwell in the midst of the culture of death with its attendant loss of a sense of sin and personal responsibility for their free will choices. They often are either fearful of, confused about, or simply have no experience of confession as necessary grace.

This lack of the experience of Divine Mercy in the sacrament of penance is frequently because we priests rarely make the sacrament available at times, a length of time, best suited to our people.

Once again we are face to face with the ravages of a crisis of faith.

However we need to be humble and admit the truth which is that the real crisis of faith is not that of our people but is our own.

When Jesus, from the heart of the confessional, is calling out to us, inviting us to come and see where He is staying, do we accept?

There is an ancient Orthodox prayer which is upon my heart as I write.

It is a prayer which serves as a starting point to stirring ourselves awake that we might accept His invitation to repent of our sins in the place where Divine Mercy dwells.

                                                                   O Master Christ God, who has healed my passions through Your Passion, and has cured my wounds through Your wounds, grant me, who has sinned greatly against You, tears of compunction.

                                                                 Transform my body with the fragrance of Your life-giving Body, and sweeten my soul with Your Precious Blood from the bitterness with which the evil one has fed me.

                                                                 Lift up my downcast mind to You, and take it out of the abyss of perdition, for of my own I have no repentance, no compunction, and none of the consoling tears which uplift Your children to their inheritance.

                                                                 My mind has been darkened through earthly passions, I cannot lift my eyes and look up to You in pain.

                                                                I cannot even warm myself with tears of love for You.

                                                                But, O Sovereign Lord Jesus Christ, Treasury of good things, give to me true and complete repentance and a faithful heart with which to seek You alone; grant Your grace to me, and renew within me Your Holy likeness and image.

                                                                 I have fled from and forsaken You – I beg You not to abandon me.  Come out and look for me; lead me to Your pasture and count me among the sheep of Your flock whom You have chosen. Nourish me with them on the grass of Your Holy Mysteries, through the intercessions of Your most pure and holy Mother Mary, my Mother, and all Your saints. Amen.

It is of the essence of our being in persona Christi that we be living icons and dispensers of His mercy. Indeed being so, nothing should be more important. [Acts 20:24]

After the faithful and pious celebration of the source and summit of our faith at the altar of Divine Love, where else can we more truly bear witness ‘to the gospel of God’s grace’, than in the confessional?

Fidelity to being present in the confessional, when often times no one comes to avail themselves of Divine Mercy, is itself a laying down of our life for our friends.

It is also a joy.

                                                           There is nothing which belongs more to Church and there is nothing Jesus Christ wanted more closely reserved for its shepherds than the dispensation of the sacraments He instituted. [67]

Implicit in this is our willingness to be, since He already is, lavish in our dispensation of the sacraments.

This means a willingness on our part to be, frankly, tireless and available.

Recently a priest told me that, over and above various other reasons for preferring to use the Third Rite (and it should be noted here he has no posted times in the bulletin for individual confessions, ever) he does so because “It’s more realistic than the one on one stuff.”

However after some further discussion he told me the real reason: he simply can’t bear the weight of people’s sins.

Well who can!

Is it not true we can barely survive the weight of our own?

When we forget who we really are in persona Christi is when we fall into the disorder of functionality and a prideful, erroneous, assumption that we ‘do’ what we do.

It is the Holy Spirit who ‘does’ what we ‘do’.

It is a mystery that it pleases the Holy Trinity to place the immense treasure of sacramental priesthood with all the power and authority of the sacrament into our hands and hearts of clay and stone. But that is what it pleases the Trinity to do, confiding to us the full power to celebrate each sacrament in conjunction with the Holy Spirit, in persona Christi, for the glory of the Father and the salvation of souls.

When we stay with Jesus in the sacred place of the confessional of course we are simultaneously staying with Him in the sacred place of the Garden.

We will experience with Him the weight of sin, human misery, people’s self-deception.

For priests part of our divine election, a precious aspect of our vocation of joy, is accepting from the hands of Christ the Cross of the burden borne by our brothers and sisters. [Gal.6: 1, 2]

In the celebration of the holy sacrament of Reconciliation we do take the burden of our brothers and sisters. Precisely as we do that, with ‘a gentle spirit’ Christ is with us. Indeed the moment we take up our Cross each day, which is also the cross borne by our brothers and sisters; Jesus comes along, like the Cyrene, though in our case Jesus bears the greater weight.

                                                                  Through ordination, in an ontological sense, you are Christ’s witnesses in the service of the Word and the sacraments; you are likewise the real testimony of Christ the one Priest. At the moment of your ordination you received a new mode of being. You are marked by the priestly character, which is a real, indelible, spiritual sign. This character does not separate you from humanity; on the contrary, it places you in the midst, so that you can devote yourselves to its service. Indeed, the priestly character inserts you into the priesthood of Christ, who is ‘the key, the center and the goal of all human history’ (Guadium et spes, n.10), ‘the alpha and the omega’ (ibid.,n.45) of visible and invisible realities.

                                                                 Dear friends, how could the saving waters of Redemption flow to all generations if it were not for you? The clarity and certainty of your identity give rise to an awareness of your absolute indispensability in the Church and in the world.

                                                                Through you the Good Shepherd continues to teach, to sanctify, to guide and to love all the peoples of every culture, every continent and every age. For this reason you alone enjoy the title of pastor and, since there is no salvation except in Christ and since He must be proclaimed to the ends of the earth, it is impossible to cross the threshold of the third millennium without making the pastoral care of vocations a priority. If the world cannot do without Christ, it also cannot do without His priests. [68]

Thus, beloved brothers, it is a truth that when we stay with Christ in the confessional we will encounter those souls, some of tender years, others already in the full enthusiastic energy of youth, and some of mature life experience, who sense within themselves the call of divine election.

Moved by the Holy Spirit our Christ-like priestly hearts will see beyond the blackness of a soul burdened with sin to the generous heart seeking to follow Christ in the sacramental priesthood.

Likewise, whatever the vocation in life already being lived, or being discerned, even refused, we will always dispense love and its inseparable companion, truth, conscious that we ourselves are but poor and weak sinners always in need of His mercy.

Sacramental confession is, of course, more than just the sacred event of absolution from sin.

It is a willing response to sanctifying grace, the call of the Holy Spirit to follow Christ into the desert, there to be alone with Him in the vast expanses of the garden enclosed of our soul where we will surrender to an ever more complete metanoia and absolute kenosis.

Today mostly because of the immense evil of abortion, all forms of violence and hatred, expressed horrifically in terrorism, we are waist deep in the blood of our brothers and sisters.

How is it possible that we priests in the face of such deliberate evil, the attendant confusion about the sacred dignity of the human person, the ravages of loneliness, the demeaning slow death of homelessness, the excruciatingly slow death by starvation, the thousands of men, women and children who must till the soil in fields strewn with landmines, which tear their limbs and steal their beauty, how, given the other innumerable sins committed by brother against brother, sister against sister, how, given the constant blasphemy in countless films and tv shows of His Holy Name, how, before families ripped asunder by divorce, adultery, domestic violence, abuse, how, when the tears of our people cascade like rivers in flood, how, when we look in the mirror and see the face of a sinner staring back at us, how, my beloved brothers, can we doubt the absolute necessity of sacramental confession and the utter urgency that we willingly pour out our lives celebrating this treasure of Divine Mercy?

That is why we must enter emptiness, kenosis.

Christ emptied Himself for our salvation.

We must follow Him into this mystery that we might become what we are.

It is the process of being alone with Jesus in the desert – the place of solitude, aloneness with Him.

The deeper we enter this inner desert the more urgently will our conscience motivate our hearts to enter the desert of the confessional, first as contrite penitents, then as merciful confessors.

After the Holy Eucharist, no other sacrament is more powerful a means of configuring us with that depth of holiness which will fulfill within us our baptismal vocation to be saints.

                                                            Repentance is but a second victory of faith and is itself a new testimony…..

                                                            The Lord teaches that the return of a penitent to the bosom of Christ is equal in its power and honour and pleasure of having a whole sheepfold (a whole Church). [69a]

Our hearts should eagerly desire that every one of our people might be that returning penitent.

In fact, the more we ourselves experience the joy of entering the bosom of Christ through our own sincere sacramental repentance, the more eagerly indeed shall we seek out the lost sheep through being constantly available to them in the confessional, the celebration of the sacrament of Divine Mercy.

                                                           It is the richness of heaven that has been poured out with the Blood of Christ into our hearts. [69b]

Sin reduces us, as we well know, emotionally, sometimes physically, always spiritually, to the level of poverty, heartache, lonely isolation from the community, from communion of love with the Holy Trinity, as experienced by the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, the ten lepers, the paralytic lowered through the roof, the man by the pool, the publican at the rear of the temple, the woman washing His feet, the traveler beaten and tossed in the ditch and the prodigal son.

It is into all of our sins and the consequences of all our sinning, into the depths of all that sickness, loneliness, darkness and fear, that broken poverty, those gaping wounds, that He seeks, through the sacrament of confession, to pour the ‘richness of heaven’, the healing wine and oil of His Blood.

                                                             The wonderful power of Christ as God who redeems and loves even to death can by no means be conceived or experienced except in the person of a sinner who is cast on the ground and repudiated by all people!

                                                           Without the sinner we are able neither to comprehend the love of Christ, nor to measure its depth, nor can it show itself in an action which reveals the superlative quality of the divine love. Divine love appears at its most dignified in our sight when we come to know it in its condescension to us while we are fallen into a state of misery. [69c]

Thus we must truthfully as priests ask of our hearts: Do I love sinners with Christ’s own passionate love? When they come to the fountain of mercy in holy confession, do I give them His compassionate, truthful, tender understanding and wisdom? More, am I aware in the core of my being that while, in confession, I may hear accounts of many sins and much evil, I am the sinner?

In his Holy Rule St. Benedict urges all his monks to receive every guest as Christ.

Our hearts must never forget that Christ comes as a guest, in the holy place of the confessional, in the guise of a penitent.

Indeed remembering His invitation to His beloved flock to come to Him with all that wearies and burdens them, finding within Him the true rest they yearn for; do we make of the confessional a sacramental place of rest, comfort, that secure inn where their wounds are bathed with the oil of kindness, the wine of absolution?

Every penitent is poor, hungry for mercy, and all of us sinners are truly ignorant of the actual reality of sin. If we were not even a single venial sin would be such a burden on our souls so crushing we might fall into despair.

Thus it is mercifully true that:

                                                                  Whosoever is poor, hungry, sinful, fallen or ignorant is the guest of Christ. [69d]

If we have any difficulty, or hesitancy, to appreciate that truth it may well be because we fail to recognize the description of our true selves in those words. This failure undoubtedly is rooted in the irregularity of being ourselves penitents who trustingly enter the inn of the confessional, the refuge of sinners, the hospice of the beaten up and wounded pilgrim.

                                                              It is to offer freedom to captives that Christ came, pursuing them to the hidden places of darkness, but if you have not yet felt the captivity of sin or if you are not aware of its darkness or have not been awakened by its smothering horror, how then can you cry out from the depths? If you do not cry in alarm, how then is the Saviour to hear your voice and how is He to know your place?

                                                               Christ came to give sight to the blind. If you have not discovered the blindness of your heart and have not felt deprived of the divine light, but have tried to open the eyes of others while you yourself were blind, how is He to endow you with sight and where is He to give you the light?

                                                              The essence of repentance is an awareness of sin, a cry of the pain of crime, certitude of the absence of light. [69e]

Traveling some years ago in a remote region of the country I visited a friend of a friend at the latter’s request. My own friend was greatly concerned about the way his friend was living, the consequence for their immortal soul.

The person I visited appreciated his friend’s concern and was forthright in conversation about the way they were living.

While showing me around their city they mentioned how the previous Easter, around the time when the Vigil would have been over, the local Bishop came into the bar where this man with many other people was drinking.

This Bishop simply went around and gently reminded those members of his flock that Christ is Risen!

The man telling me the story was still visibly moved by that event and said he knew that someday, but not yet, he would return to the sacraments for the memory of the Bishop being so gentle and inviting remained strong.

Our words and actions of truth-speaking love will obviously not always result in immediate conversions. But seed well sown will eventually, because of the tender care of the Divine Gardener, bear fruit.

                                                                          Conversion by its very nature is the condition for that union with God which reaches its greatest expression in the Eucharist. Our union with Christ in the Eucharist presupposes, in turn, that our hearts are set on conversion, that they are pure. This is indeed an important part of our preaching to the people. In my encyclical I endeavoured to express it in these words:

                                                                      “The Christ who calls to the Eucharistic banquet is always the same Christ who exhorts us to penance and repeats His ‘repent’. Without this constant and ever-renewed endeavour for conversion, partaking of the Eucharist would lack its full redeeming effectiveness…”(RH20).

                                                                     In the face of a widespread phenomenon of our time, namely, that many of our people who are among the great numbers who receive Communion make little use of confession, we must emphasize Christ’s basic call to conversion. We must also stress that the personal encounter with the forgiving Jesus in the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a divine means which keeps alive, in our hearts and in our communities, a consciousness of sin in its perennial and tragic reality, and which actually brings forth, by the action of Jesus and the power of His Spirit, fruits of conversion in justice and holiness of life. By this sacrament we are renewed in fervour, strengthened in our resolves and buoyed up by divine encouragement. [70]

If, however, we are, as we should be, concerned about the disparity between frequent Communion and infrequent confession by our people, we need to look into our own hearts and see if we witness to the necessity of true repentance by the example of our own contrite hearts.

As mentioned in the very title of this chapter, metanoia and kenosis are aspects of the ‘grace in return for grace’ of this great sacrament of Divine Mercy.

                                                                     The first care of the Cure of Ars was to teach the faithful to desire repentance. He stressed the beauty of God’s forgiveness. Was not all his priestly life and all his strength dedicated to the conversion of sinners? And it was above all in the confessional that God’s mercy manifested itself. So he did not wish to get rid of the penitents who came…For him this was undoubtedly the greatest of his mortifications, a form of martyrdom…he himself suffered from  the sins confessed and even more from the lack of repentance: “I weep because you do not weep.” [71]

Tears: the ancient holy ones in the early centuries of the life of the Church considered tears to be a type of second baptism and the most precious gift of the Holy Spirit.

Tears: the gift of weeping copiously with the zeal of penthos over our own sins, crying from the core of our being over the sins of the world, sobbing in unity with the Weeping One Himself.

                                                          This is the moment in our lives, in our Christian lives, in which we must arise and be inflamed with ‘the zeal for our Father’s house.’ We have the Advocate in us, the Wind that fans this flame that the Scriptures talk about.

                                                          It is time, yes, it is indeed time. I feel like imploring, like weeping, like crying out, like doing a thousand things that men do when they feel close to despair, except that I can’t come close to despair because I live in  hope.

                                                                 But I am human, and so I cry out, and I think that lay people cry out with me. Do you hear us? It’s not enough to speak softly anymore. We have to cry. So, filled with hope, yet not far away from despair, I howl. [72]

So writes the Servant of God Catherine Doherty of her great passionate love for the Church, for priests, and of her willingness in the depths of her own being and prayer to weep, cry, howl for the conversion and protection of the Church, as repentance for herself and all sinners, in particular for priests.

All this cleaved to the heart of the weeping Christ.

If the laity howls in agony over the re-crucifixion of Christ, especially in the Church, can we priests weep less? [Jb.16:20;  Ps.6:7; 39:13; 42:3,4;  Is.16:9; 25:8; 38:5;  Mal.2:13; Mk.14:34; Lk.6:21;7:38;19:41;22:61,62; Jn.11:33; 11:35; 20:11; 20:13; Acts 20:19; 20:31; Rm.12:15; 2Cor.2:4; 2Tim.1:3-5; Jas.4:9; Hb.5:7; 12:17; Rv. 21:4; 22.20]

As priests we in particular, in Christ, through Christ, by the action and teaching of the Holy Spirit, keep watch with, weep with, Christ for the Church, each other, our own particular flock, and for the entire world.

Our tears must be co-mingled with His tears as we have our face on the ground beside and with Him in the Garden, on the Cross.

While normally not, though frankly at the same time in may be a salutary example if come upon inadvertently by the laity, when there is Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, nonetheless frequently in church before the Tabernacle, we should be prostrate, face to the ground in adoration and tears.

In particular, in our own room before a crucifix or icon, we should be face to the ground in vigil during the night when satan is on the prowl, when the violent, the thieving, the desperate, the lonely, the distraught, the homeless, the hungry are most in chaos, turmoil, danger and grief.

The confessional, which can be a place of solitude where it often seems we wait in vain for penitents to arrive, is also a good place to shed copious tears in prayer and from such intercession we will build the place to which they will come: a priestly heart which is a wellspring of compassion.

                                                                  The solicitude of every good shepherd is that all people “may have life and have it to the full”, so that none of them may be lost, but should have eternal life. Let us endeavour to make this solicitude penetrate deeply into our souls; let us strive to live it. May it characterize our personality, and be at the foundation of our priestly identity. [73]

This solicitude for all people, burning in our hearts, must be Christ’s own solicitude.

Likewise is should be akin to that of our father in faith Abraham. In our intercessory prayer we too should argue with God, pleading that He spare the city of this world, or at least reduce His anger. [cf.Gn.18:22-32]

To be sure this passionate desire that all might be saved finds its most eloquent and efficacious articulation in the celebration of the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the primary cry for forgiveness and restoration in Christ.

The sacrament of Reconciliation is also a prayer of intercession: particularly when we truly pray for those confessing their sins and take upon ourselves the greater portion of their penance, as Christ Himself has done for every human being in His Passion.

The passion of our solicitude is also expressed through fasting, vigils and tears.

                                                                  The soul is dead through sin. It requires sadness, weeping, tears, mourning and bitter moaning over the iniquity which has cast it down to perdition. Howl, weep and moan and bring it back to God. [74a]

Jesus assures us in the Beatitudes that all this weeping and moaning is blessed and promises that the fruit of true contrition and compunction is joy!

Weeping through the gift of tears from the Holy Spirit is not an emotional sadness of unavailed grief. Rather tears are gifts of hope, trust and gratitude as much as a gift of true repentance. Indeed weeping over our own sins and those of the world is an act of sublime faith and true trust in Divine Mercy.

Tears shed on behalf of our brothers and sisters become a selfless act of pure charity.

                                                                     To advance in virtues, as well as to escape sin, compunction is still needed. A brother asked Saint Anthony, ‘What should I do about my sins?’ The saint replied, ‘Whoever seeks deliverance from sins will find it in tears and weeping, and whoever wishes to advance in building up virtue will do so through weeping and tears.’ As examples he went on to cite King Hezekiah, Saint Peter and Mary Magdalen who, ‘after washing the Saviour’s feet with her tears, deserved to hear that she had chosen the better part.’ In the sayings of the Fathers, it is to Abba Poemen that the same brother addresses his question, and the reply is the same, except that the scriptural quotations are summed up in a short sentence: ‘Weeping is the way the Scriptures and our Fathers give us, when they say, “Weep!” Truly, there is no other way than this.’ Abba Moses proposes the same formula: ‘Through tears we acquire virtues, just as through tears we obtain pardon for sins. [74b]

It may perhaps strike you my brothers as a bit odd that I should be extolling the gift of tears as an important and necessary grace for true repentance, and for powerful effective intercessory prayer, yet I do so with a great sense of urgency given the unrelenting holocaust of abortion, the pervasive hatred which feeds terrorism, the deep anxiety, loneliness, confusion which wounds the hearts of so many of our brothers and sisters.

In a word the urgency to be constantly, we priests especially, crying out for Divine Mercy and the grace of repentance, metanoia, kenosis, for the entire priesthood, for the whole human family.

It is a matter of urgent yearning for the salvation of souls.

                                                                  Those who go to God have a great struggle, first exhaustion and then ineffable joy. Those who wish to light a fire get smoke in their eyes and shed tears; then they obtain the desired result. We too must light the divine fire with tears and hardship. The more one aspires to the love of God, the more one will value this ‘work’. [74c]

Perhaps it is not, really, that we fear tears, or have not pleaded with the Holy Spirit to grant us this vital gift.

Perhaps it is simply we do not know how to weep.

                                                                            You have no tears? Buy tears from the poor. You have no sadness? Call the poor to moan with you. If your heart is hard and has neither sadness nor tears, with alms invite the needy to weep with you. The exercise of pity is a great thing; it procures tears for approaching God. [74d]

My heart is convinced, beloved brothers, if we spent less time re-telling tales of clerical scandals, gossiped less about our brothers, were less critical of our bishops, less negative about the laity and instead wept more, the re-crucifixion of Christ in the Church, in the world, would cease; there would be less priest-scandals, fewer of our brothers would abandon their divine election, we’d be blessed with truly holy and orthodox shepherds and our people would return, in droves, to the sacraments. [Ja.1:21, 26; 2:12, 13; 3:1, 2, 5]

We know very well the power of words.

Indeed our vocation of joy being in persona Christi capitis means we constantly are using ultimate sacred words in the celebration of sacrament.

How powerful the words: I absolve you!

Yes, we can utter words of mercy, of consecration, blessing.

Words: to give comfort, hope, love, truth.

We even have the power to use words of deliverance, exorcism.

How then is it that would ever casually utter unholy words?

Commenting on the reality of “sobornost”, a Russian word which means unity – unity on the most profound level of oneness of mind and heart – the Servant of God, Catherine Doherty, teaches:

….the only time we can really have sobornost is when we are in communion with one another. But a human being has great difficulty in establishing communion, first, within himself, and secondly, with others.

                                                        This being so, whence comes that ‘key’ which will open our hearts to the other…the answer is quite evident…The roots of that word communicate lie in our communion with God. Do we realize what takes place within the depths of our souls when we receive the Body and Blood of Christ? He told us that, unless we partake of this communion, we would have no place in the Kingdom of God.

                                                      …..when the Kingdom of God comes to us in its fullness, the first thing that will happen…is that every word that we have thought, spoken, or whispered in the night, or in the most secret chambers of our hearts, will be revealed to everyone else. Why will it be revealed at that time? Why should it be revealed at all? Because the Kingdom of God cannot exist without this deep sharing between one another.

                                                      When we approach the table of the Lord and receive from Our Lord’s own hands (for the hands of the priest are, at that moment, His hands) His Body and Blood, His Soul and Divinity, we have truly communicated with Him; we have been absorbed in Him; we have become one with Him. Then, when we move away from that table and return to our place in the congregation, we must become lovers incarnate, just as He has become incarnated for love of us, and for our brothers and sisters.

This love must lead us to communication with others because we have just been in communication with God…..[75]

Clearly the holier our communication outside of the confessional the more holy shall be our communication of love, truth, mercy, within the confessional.

As within everything else in our vocation of divine election, as holds true for all the baptized as well, we are surrounded by examples of the sacred possibility of it all!

I speak here of our participation in the supportive mystery, and ministry, of the Communion of Saints.

                                                               Following in Christ’s steps, those who believe in Him have always tried to help one another along the path which leads to the heavenly Father, through prayer, the exchange of spiritual goods and penitential expiation. The more they have been immersed in the fervour of love, the more they have imitated Christ in His sufferings. They have carried their crosses to make expiation for their own sins and the sins of others. They were convinced that they could help their brothers to obtain salvation from God who is the Father of mercies. This is the very ancient dogma called the Communion of Saints. It means that the life of each individual son of God is joined in Christ and through Christ by a wonderful link to the life of all his other Christian brethren. Together they form the supernatural unity of Christ’s Mystical Body so that, as it were, a single mystical person is formed. [76]

When we refrain from using Eucharistic Prayer I, the Roman Canon, or use it reluctantly so long as we can skip over the Saints names; when we are disinclined to celebrate the Mass of a particular saint unless that one is a formal feast or obligatory memorial; when we visit our people in their homes, in hospital, places of work and so forth, or visit the schools, without calling upon the Guardian Angels and Patron Saints of those we are about to visit, or sit in the confessional for hours without penitents coming, yet not calling upon our Guardian Angel, Patron Saint, all blessed priests in heaven to join together to seek the lost and bring them to sacrament – in what reality are we living?

If we are in intimate communion, dare I say a daily working relationship, with the Angels and Saints, and then we shall find communicated to us by them a profound sense of place and experience of reality, namely, that we are living in the midst of truth.

Actual reality is, in the main, invisible to the naked eye of the body, ineffable to the intellect while being simplicity itself to the heart. [Phil.4:4-9]

When we read the lives of the saints it is striking, from the time of the great holy men and women of the desert to the present, of the importance saints gave in their lives to both the sacrament of reconciliation and to spiritual direction.

Oftentimes the term ‘confessor’ meant both the priest to whom one went for sacramental mercy and for spiritual guidance.

The spiritual giants, such as the Fathers of the Desert, in the area of sacred teaching/guiding of souls were not always ordained priests. In more recent history holy ones such as St. Theresa of Avila and St. Therese, the Little Flower, Bl. Dom Columba Marmion, Archbishop Martinez, Startez Silouan, Elder Zosima, and the Servant of God Catherine Doherty, priests and laity, have either been spiritual directors in particular or their writings have, and do, serve as resources for souls seeking to be guided by the Holy Spirit.

Often times when I address priests on the importance of our being available as spiritual directors/spiritual fathers, the initial reaction is a complaint that they do not feel adequate to the task and anyway there is hardly the time to spend giving direction.

Frankly the majority of what occupies us administratively can always be done well, if not often times better, by the laity.

As to the issue of not being up to being a spiritual director, even more than specific training in the seminary or through a particular institute, assuming always these places of formation are in accord with the Magisterium, is the essential formation which we will receive if we ourselves are directed by a spiritual father, a master of the interior life.

                                                                     Without confusing the sacramental moment with spiritual direction, priests should know how to identify opportunities to initiate spiritual dialogue outside of the celebration of the sacrament. “Rediscovery and promotion of this practice, also during the various moments of the sacrament of Penance, is a major benefit for the contemporary Church.” Such leads to an awakening of the sense and effectiveness of the sacrament and creates the conditions necessary to overcome the present crisis. Personal spiritual direction forms true apostles, capable of activating new evangelization in society. The success of the mission to re-evangelize so many of the faithful who are estranged from the Church requires a solid formation for those who have remained close to her.

                                                              New evangelization depends on an adequate number of priests; experience teaches that many respond positively to a vocation because of spiritual direction, as well as the example given by priests who are interiorly and exteriorly faithful to their priestly identity. [77]

                                                       ….through the Fathers of the Church God has made it clear to us that we need spiritual direction….St. John of the Cross has said that “only a fool directs himself”. Especially should people dedicated to God seek direction. Through this grace they realize their poverty and their weakness. We need a spiritual guide on the narrow road that leads to heaven. The devil delights in placing confusing signposts on our way, especially at our major crossroads….

                                                      ….That holy man, that priest, must know the state of your whole self mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

                                                      ….The great Spiritual Director, Christ, who stands behind your spiritual director, already begins to bless you. Often without your realizing it, He gives the beginning of answers, and places a great peace in your soul…because you have recognized your dependence upon the priest He has given to direct you.

                                                       Through spiritual direction, you have taken the greatest precaution a human being can take against pride. Pride is the greatest enemy of a Christian, the one sure guide to hell. Pride is the devil’s daughter, or perhaps even the essence of the devil himself. It was pride that made him hurl into the endless heavens his terrible, challenging cry to God: “Non serviam!”

                                                       I know that there are some among you who, strangely enough, still question deep down in your souls the need of spiritual direction. Due to spiritual sloth, you do not see the need for communicating the state of your soul to that other Christ. He is the person whom you have chosen with the grace of God to lead your soul to the green hills of the Lord, to that sanctity and life of perfection that you have promised solemnly when you made your promise before the Blessed Sacrament. But to question the need of a spiritual director is to question God, the Church, and the popes themselves. [78]

If at no other moment in our lives as priests, certainly in the sacrament of reconciliation we ourselves, like the laity, must enter into that faith which perceives, embraces, lives reality.

Namely, in confession we must trust that our brother is indeed priest like us in persona Christi.

The same holds true in spiritual direction.

Can we really expect the laity to return to regular confession, to the place where the Merciful Christ dwells, if we are never there on our knees as true penitents, soaking the floor with our tears? [Mt.18:3; Mk.2:5; Lk.13:3; Jn.8:31,21; Jn.20:22,23]






It is First Friday.

After celebrating Holy Mass and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, for a day of adoration, before leaving I led the people, three times in honour of the Holy Trinity, in the traditional invocation of faith’s trust:

                                                   O Sacrament Most Holy, O Sacrament Divine, all praise and all thanksgiving, be every moment Thine.

During that invocation my heart was surprised for the second time in less than a day by a procession of priests across my heart.

The first time they were in my heart was during prayer and meditation upon the Holy Eucharist last night as I prepared my notes for this reflection.

I recall saying to the Lord at the time I didn’t get the connection between these priests and what I was preparing to write about.

Again this morning I mention the same thing to Him.

The first of those priests who came into my heart was one, now long since entered into eternal rest, with whom I served when I was newly ordained and assigned to the cathedral.

This most compassionate and steadfast of priests bore in his physical being horrific scar tissue, while humbling admitting a constant struggle in his heart to forgive those who had so brutally tortured him, the SS guards in the camp where he had been held, with hundreds of other priests, many of whom we executed there.

The second priest, who these days with utter compassion serves as a chaplain for the military, carried in his heart the wounds inflicted by his barracks mates in the country where he grew up and was first a seminarian.

His country at the time was under the evil oppression of communism.

The communists, while barely tolerating the existence of the Church, liked to take men from the seminary and force them into several years of military service, ordering the other men in the barracks to attempt to break the spirit of any seminarian in their midst by whatever means they chose. Most of those means were of the kind which would truly render a man so deeply shamed and discouraged that often he would indeed have his spirit broken.

With this priest they failed: undoubtedly because of this priest’s devotion then as a seminarian and now as a priest, and trust in the protection of Our Lady of the Eucharist.

The third priest, as a child during the Second World War, was interred in this country along with his parents and thousands of others. Even though they had lived here for generations in the hysteria of war, because they were ‘ not like us ‘ and deemed a threat to national security, their property was confiscated and they were placed in camps under heavy guard.

Yet he emerged from that experience a loyal citizen still, eventually heard the call of Christ, became a Catholic, left behind an excellent career and became a priest, a priest of incredible gentleness.

The fourth priest when I first met him was in seminary a year behind me.

He was playing on the docks with a childhood friend the day Saigon fell and had but a few moments to choose to run up the gangplank of the last ship to manage to get away, or follow his friend back into the city and possible arrest and detention since he came from a military family well known for their Catholic faith.

He chooses to escape, leaving behind his family and his country.

Finally another older priest, this one also long ago called home to the Father.

He suffered much both in his childhood and in his early life as a priest. He too had tasted the horrors of war, but as a chaplain to those fighting against the Nazis.

More, he suffered from religious authority because of his unwavering advocacy for true justice for the poor and the oppressed.

Eventually he offered himself in response to a call from the Spirit and Our Blessed Mother, as a priest for a newly forming community of lay people who are dedicated to working with the poor, both the materially and the spiritually poor.

After some years in the field houses of this community he was recalled to the ‘motherhouse’ and for over twenty years served as Guestmaster for visiting priests, washing toilets, making beds, sweeping floors, until his health rendered even those simple tasks too much.

He spent the next near two decades living in a small room in the community’s infirmary, a victim soul of suffering and intercessory prayer.

He was instrumental in my own return to the practice of our faith, in particular to a return to the sacrament of reconciliation and remained my confessor for years.

In the last years of his life I had the privilege to help care for him and treasured every word he would say, most especially his constant statement that: “Once I have celebrated Holy Mass the day is complete, it is a divine day.”

These are the priests who processed across my heart as I was preparing to write about the splendour and mystery of the Holy Eucharist.

Each of them: a suffering soul.

Each of them: a priest of incredible compassion, love and courage to live and speak truth.

Each of them: a most beloved brother, some of them mentors, one of them my own confessor.

So I begged the Lord yet again: “What Lord is the connection?”

“Contemplate ground wheat, crushed grape, My broken open Heart.”

Then I began to understand a bit more deeply this mystery that, as priests, we not only celebrate and receive, not only offer but are offered.

Like Christ we too must be broken and distributed.

Like Christ Priest we as priests must have our hearts broken open.[Hos.6:6; Hb.10:5-7; Ps.51:19; Mt.22:37ff; Jn.19:34]

Christ loves us with a broken open heart.

The Church has always seen in the breaking open of His Sacred Heart the gushing forth of the sacramental life of grace.

Standing before our crucified Lord, this river of grace pouring forth, we contemplate the ultimate act of the virtue of trust in and abandonment to the loving will of the Father.

Christ’s Holy Resurrection is the glorious love-fulfillment of that trust.

Here we discover the source of our own trust and abandonment to the Father’s Holy Will for us, to His love.

Here too we are before the necessity of our own hearts being broken open in imitation of Christ priest to whom, through sacramental ordination, we are most profoundly configured by the Holy Spirit.

Once again with confidence we turn to the Holy Spirit, offering Him our hearts as surely as Christ offered His to the lance. [Jn.16:13-15]

After His Holy Resurrection Jesus comes to us, as He did to the Apostles, and finds us, often like them, doubting and struggling. He invites us in our pain and confusion to touch Him by touching His Holy Wounds that we might know He is real! [cf.Jn.20:27]


That we might believe.

It is through the locked door of our hearts, if we open to Him [Rv.3:20], into the deepest regions of our terrified hearts, that Jesus comes and it is in allowing Him to touch those deep wounds that we touch Him.

Our most tender Lord does not force Himself upon us, thus, as we read in Revelations 3:20, He comes only as far as the door of our being. There He patiently remains waiting, knocking, and seeking leave to enter.

The wonderful thing about allowing our hearts to be broken open is that henceforth there is no longer a closed and locked door ever barring His entrance!

We must allow Him to enter and touch us in the depths of our deepest wounds if we are to be healed, if we are to have abundance of life.

We can be more than a little anxious when we finally come to understand this mystery and truth that we can only truly love, in imitation of Christ, with a broken open heart.

Broken to us means something painful, like a broken bone, or promise.

We speak of marriages that have broken up, of friendships that have been broken off.

Broken things, in our consumer culture, are usually things thrown out with the trash, hence broken for many means devastating rejection or abandonment, a profound breach of trust.

Broken hurts.

Broken can mean being unlovable, or unforgiveable.

Original sin broke the original intimacy between man and God, broke the original unity between man and woman.

The result was fear and distrust.

Suddenly God, the loving one, became God the feared one.

When He came looking for His first children the response to His tender call became the first utterance of pathos and a sadness which remained unavailed until the Saviour should have His own cry become ours.[Gn.3:10; Mk.15:34]

Once again, if we yearn in the slightest to understand the wonder of our existence, the true meaning of life, the reality of our being in persona Christi, we are at the foot of the Cross.

We of hearts which must be broken open contemplating the Priest whose Heart they have torn asunder.

On the Cross Christ has taken all our fear, pain, vulnerability, loneliness, questions, tears, sins, and more than we can ever comprehend, upon Himself.

This is ultimate gift of Self.

Only if we open wide the door of our being, offer our own hearts to be broken open, will we experience the entrance of Christ into the depths of our hearts, spirits, souls wherein He shall fill us with His own light and salt us with fire that we, true priests, can then go forth and make self-gift as priest to all our brothers and sisters as salt and light [Mt.5:13,14] and truly lay down our lives, moment by moment, as gift of true love, as He has asked us: love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Heavenly Father. [Mt.5:44, 45]

The breaking open of our hearts is in essence experience of Eucharist in the fullness of we, as priests, being both the one who offers and the oblation itself.

It is a deep configuration to Christ wherein the Sacred Liturgy becomes more than a sacred event we celebrate but a sacred reality we live in our very flesh, mind, heart, soul:

                                               Broken and distributed is the Lamb of God, broken and not dismembered, always eaten and never expended, but making holy those who receive It.

So exalts the Church in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom!

We priests must allow the Holy Spirit, in a real way, to break and distribute us to our people as surely as we break and distribute the Lamb of God to them.

In breaking open our hearts the Spirit will not dismember us, that is abuse our fear of trust, the fear of abandonment to Divine Providence as being a danger of annihilation.

Indeed the more we surrender, the more we allow the mystery of kenosis, the breaking open of our hearts which allows us to be emptied of the false and sinful self in imitation of Christ’s own self-emptying, the more we shall be filled with the utter fullness of God!

My heart believes there is a direct connection between the not uncommon resistance among priests today for the celebration of popular pious devotions such as Holy Benediction, Adoration, devotions to the Most Sacred Heart, and this fear of being, as one young priest likes to repeat: too priestly!

Translation: too clerical.

Yet St. Paul tells us that we are called to ‘bear one another’s burdens’ [Gal.6:2].

 Our people are heavily burdened and does not Eucharistic devotion ease their pain?

Is not the Sacred Heart their comfort?

And the Apostle adds that it is in bearing one another’s burdens that we fulfill the law of Christ. That law, we know, is simply: love one another. [cf.Jn.15:17]

We most likely would resist less the movement of the Holy Spirit within us to sanctify us with a broken open heart that we might truly love, if He were to break us open through some sweet mystical experience.

In reality our hearts will be broken open through struggle with faith, with God, as Jacob struggled before us [Gn.32:23-33], the reality of spiritual warfare as shown in Revelations chapter 12.

Yet when we receive Love’s wound then we enter into a depth of communion of love with the Holy Trinity where ours becomes the beloved’s own experience. [Sg. Of Sgs. 5:4]

Moment by moment too, in a manner which is quite hidden and a protection from any form of pride, we are broken open, and healed too, through the nitty-gritty of the sacred duty of each moment.

We are, after all, mere vessels of clay within which is this great treasure of our holy vocation of joy and all other sanctifying grace from sacraments received.

So we can rightfully say with the Apostle, and rejoice in its truth and be thankful for the experience[s] of being goaded by the Holy Spirit into humility! [2Cor.12:7-10]

Actually it is a protecting grace!

Jesus, with great joy, at the very beginning of His public life for our redemption, proclaims the truth of His being sent by the Spirit, the same Spirit who is active within us. [Lk.4:17-19]

Because we have free will, and thus a tendency to sin and to a persistent type of attempted self-protecting which actually is a closing of our hearts to Him, the Holy Spirit is necessarily persistent in His work of breaking us open!

That this is ultimately a gentle operation is made clear in St. Paul’s extraordinary Letter to the Romans, especially chapter 8, in particular verses 5-9, 14-17, and 26-28.

The Holy Spirit does this because of the Eucharistic reality that we are, as priests, both the ones who offer and are offered. He also does this so we in our turn, having been anointed in persona Christi, seek out the poor, the captive, the downtrodden, loving them, serving, announcing to them that since He is Risen, every year IS the year of the Lord’s favour!

Again, since we are endowed with free will Christ can only come to the door of our being and knock, begging admittance.

When we allow Him to enter it is the same as giving the Holy Spirit full consent to henceforth allow into our beings only Christ and the persons and things of Christ and to break open our hearts that all else may be removed from us, most especially our false self.

Of course we all know that as a result of our own sin-wounds and the wounds inflicted upon us by those who have sinned against us we often have hearts like something sealed in a jar or walled up in a tomb.

Ordination, as we also know only too well, is not some magic potion that suddenly renders us whole and holy.

Like all sacramental grace it demands constant cooperation for the Spirit to transform, transfigure us so we become what we are.

Christ knocks at the door of the tomb in which we have buried ourselves, or where we are held captive by some addiction or fear and He cries out to us: Come out! [cf.Jn.11]

Christ also seeks to shatter the jar of our fears and illusions.

If we but allow Him to do so, and allow the Spirit to accomplish His work within us, then we shall experience the joy of a broken open heart which becomes a wide open door through which processes the Most Holy Trinity in communion of love, filling us with the utter fullness of God. [Jn.1:16; 2Cor.4:11; Gal.2:19,20; Gal.3:27; Gal.4:6,7]

Faith is the gift whose fruit is trust. Trust is the willingness to say, and mean it no matter what our emotions may be doing at the time: “Yes, you may break me open O Holy Spirit and configure me ever more fully to Christ of the Broken Open Heart. You may empty my being of all that is not holy, set me free from what has me captive, heal my blindness which is so dark because I fear, fill in my poverty due to my sins with the Good News of Divine Mercy, free me from having been pulverized and downtrodden by the allures of the world. Declare within my deepest being the year of the Lord’s favour so that I live no longer, only Christ lives in me!”

It is to make St. Paul’s prayer, while on our knees our own! [Ep.3:14-21]

We are the stewards and ministers of the treasury of sacramental grace.

It is essential we willingly, and frequently, put our face onto the ground adoringly at the foot of the Cross, crying out in all truth: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner.

Once we have soaked the ground with our tears, wept for our own sins and those of the whole world, we can then lift our eyes towards Him and contemplate with all the love of our broken hearts He who’s Heart they have broken open.

There, in the depths of the communion of love, we will come to understand a broken heart is both a loving and an obedient heart.

There too we will come to open ever more the depths of our heart to the ineffable reality of the Most Holy Eucharist.

                                                             ……all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate are bound up with the Eucharist and are directed towards it. For in the most Blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ Himself our Pasch and the living bread which gives life to men through His flesh – that flesh which is given life and gives life through the Holy Spirit. Thus men are invited and led to offer themselves, their works and all creation with Christ. For this reason the Eucharist appears as the source and summit of all preaching of the Gospel: catechumens are gradually led up to participation in the Eucharist, while the faithful who have already been consecrated in baptism and confirmation are fully incorporated in the Body of Christ by the reception of the Eucharist.

                                                Therefore the Eucharistic celebration is the center of the assembly of the faithful over which the priest presides. [61]

It is this reality of our sacramental consecration as priests, this sublime and central experiential truth of our communion of love with the Most Holy Trinity, which is celebrated by us as act of faith and reality, intercessory prayer and thanksgiving.

No matter how our raw humanity, our very clay-ness, may seem to weigh upon us during the sublime event of celebrating Holy Mass, we draw constant reassurance, affirmation and strength from the very Eucharistic prayer of Christ Himself, our High Priest who the night of His Passion prayed for us in particular: Jn.17:11-19.

Sometimes, it is true, because of the combination of all the preparatory things we need to, especially before Sunday Masses, weddings, funerals and other particular solemnities, and too often because of the daily celebration of Holy Mass, we can find it difficult to be truly reverential and attentive.

Celebrating the heavenly liturgy here on earth may at times be experienced as a rather blatantly human endeavour because, priest though we are, we remain men.

This can be particularly acute when, having received our Lord and God, the Divine Lover, in Holy Communion we are surrounded by a lot of activity, people, sounds, sights, and a certain pressure to quickly get about the business of bringing our Eucharistic Lord to our brothers and sisters.

Then, once they have been fed, all too quickly there can be a certain wave of restless. They want to leave. Or we want to flee. Either way we quickly move through the final prayer, sometimes followed by announcements which, if we be honest, truly have no place in the liturgy. The blessing, the recessional and greeting people as they leave.

There follows any number of things to do and before we know it we are back in the rectory.

However we need not remain stuck in such a sequence.

The ritual itself provides, indeed states, there should be time for thanksgiving. It need not be excessively long, but surely we can take a few moments to thank He who has just made such a comple As with Baptism and Confirmation it is important we remember our First Holy Communion. The first time He permeated our beings with His Eucharistic Self. Remember too the first time we celebrated Holy Mass.

Certainly we cannot, of our own effort, duplicate those first experiences, but we can beg of the Holy Spirit a renewed and ever deeper faith in and love of the One who gives Himself to us.

                                              …… Holy Communion is the most excellent means of living in Christo. Through it, the priest unites himself in the full spirit of love of the Saviour: ‘He that eateth My flesh…abideth in Me and I in him’ (John vi.57). Moreover, after Holy Communion he continues to live in the radiance of the heart of Jesus, enveloped, as it were, in the atmosphere of His love and of His grace. By remaining constantly united to the Saviour the priest makes the divine gift bear abundant fruit in his soul:  ‘He that abideth in Me and I in him, the same beareth much fruit’ (John xv.5). [61] As with Baptism and Confirmation it is important we remember our First Holy Communion. The first time He permeated our beings with His Eucharistic Self. Remember too the first time we celebrated Holy Mass.

Certainly we cannot, of our own effort, duplicate those first experiences, but we can beg of the Holy Spirit a renewed and ever deeper faith in and love of the One who gives Himself to us.

                                              …… Holy Communion is the most excellent means of living in Christo. Through it, the priest unites himself in the full spirit of love of the Saviour: ‘He that eateth My flesh…abideth in Me and I in him’ (John vi.57). Moreover, after Holy Communion he continues to live in the radiance of the heart of Jesus, enveloped, as it were, in the atmosphere of His love and of His grace. By remaining constantly united to the Saviour the priest makes the divine gift bear abundant fruit in his soul:  ‘He that abideth in Me and I in him, the same beareth much fruit’ (John xv.5). [61]

Our sacramental reality of being in persona Christi will fragment, indeed dissolve into a mere function unless we, like St. John the Beloved before us, nestle frequently, trustingly and lovingly, against His Most Sacred, and broken open for us, Heart.

We need this intimacy with the Divine Lover and there is no better time for this contemplative union between us than when we have received Him in the Holy Eucharist.

While such a lingering with Him may not be possible immediately after receiving Him during the liturgy or right thereafter, we should strive, and if our people know this is what we need they will respect the time we take, to be alone with Him as soon as possible.

Only through intimacy with Christ of the Wounded Heart will we ever overcome the fear of having our own hearts broken open. Only through that same intimacy will we willingly embrace the cross daily and follow Him wherever His love takes us.

                                                             The mystery of the Cross is the compendium of the beatitudes. In it are found, in unity of sorrow – the most perfect unity that exists after the unity of love in the bosom of God – the virtues and the gifts which the beatitudes produce in an incomparable and divine degree of perfection. The divine nakedness of the Cross is the consummation of detachment. The unutterable state of Jesus as victim, totally surrendered to divine justice in the sacrifice of Calvary, is the height of meekness. The immense desolation of Christ on the Cross is the depth of holy sadness of those who weep. The immortal victim is supreme justice and supreme mercy united on earth in an ineffable kiss of pain, as they are united in heaven in the divine kiss of love. The holy, unfathomable and infinite purity of the nakedness of Christ Crucified is the divine summit of purity on earth, as in heaven nakedness, divine simplicity, is infinite purity. And the sublime monument on the top of Calvary is the last word of love, both human and divine on earth.

                                                                When we contemplate Christ on the Cross with the enlightened eyes of the heart, we grasp this most profound and fundamental truth, that there are only two consummations of sanctity because there are only two unities: that of love in heaven and pain on earth. Sanctity is simplification. God is most holy because He is infinitely simple; souls are holy because they are simplified in God. In the discourse at the Last Supper, when He asked the Father for perfect holiness for His own, Christ said, ‘That they may be one, even as We are one.’  The Father and the Word are joined in the unity of the Holy Spirit, that is, in the unity of love. Souls are united in the Cross of Christ, in the unity of pain. [63]

The Holy Eucharist is communion of love.

Communion of love is Trinitarian.

“Pain”, cries out with affirmation and joy, teaches the Servant of God, Catherine Doherty, “is the kiss of Christ!” [Sg. Of Sgs. 1:2; Ps. 16:11]

Holy simplicity is that freedom which is the hallmark of the children of the Father, that trust which is the hallmark of hearts which know they are beloved of Christ the Divine Lover, that obedience which is the hallmark of wills and souls totally surrendered to the movements of the Holy Spirit.

The more we allow our hearts to be broken open the more we shall truly love Christ and the things of Christ, the Church and all she asks of us in truth-teaching, fidelity to ritual and the more we shall be true humble, loving servants of our brothers and sisters.

If we are not in the depths of this communion of love with the Holy Trinity, the source and summit of which love flows from the source and summit of our sacramental life, the Holy Eucharist, then we will, inevitably, seek a substitute.

The heart cannot be without love.

Either the heart embraces the reality of Real Love Himself and the Love offered us, or the heart will accept unreality and become captive by some other.

One of the most classically manly men of the two-fisted, hard drinking, no nonsense kind of the last century, who grew up through all the wars and other chaos of that bloody time, was touched in the depths of his soul by the Little Flower and our Blessed Mother. Subsequently another woman touched his heart and to make self-gift to her it meant embracing poverty, agreeing the apostolate she founded must come first and, eventually, it meant embracing chastity as well.

All the weight of the cross, all the pain of that aspect of his vocation was mingled with much physical pain because of his heart condition.

In both senses of the phrase.

In his professional life he had been one of the toughest reporters in a very tough era when newspapers where the main source of news for most people.

He was also one of the most highly paid and famous.

In the early days of the apostolate, by then known, as it is today around the world, as Madonna House, he helped keep the little community going by writing books.

Towards the end of his life his childhood dream was fulfilled when he was ordained a priest.

To participate in any Divine Liturgy he celebrated was to see the face of a man, a priest, totally in love with Love Himself.

It was to see in the radiance of his face, the tenderness of all the movements, gestures, words which the rubrics ask of us, the intimacy, confidence, faith, hope and joy flowing from the Eucharistic love affair.

Years before, while still a layman, as noted in his book I Cover God, he was walking in the forest, chanced upon a pine tree, kissed it and tasted a drop of resin.

His heart was suddenly moved with love and his heart heard the voice of love Himself:

                                                                I have kissed you with the kiss of all My forests …but I have been much more intimate than that. I have also kissed you with the kiss of My mouth! My Son! My Word!

                                                               My Son, My Word, was and is the perfect Man. He was and is the essence of humanity, as well as the essence of divinity. My Son, My Word, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, God and Man, is placed daily on your tongue by one of My priests – even as the lifeblood, the essence, of the pine, was placed on your tongue by yourself.

                                                             You felt the pine sap. You felt its pungent, aromatic taste; its oily pleasantness; its enduring flavour. You do not, ordinarily, taste anything in the Host except the taste of bread. And this taste is neither pungent nor long lasting.

                                                           Only your soul knows the wondrous strength and sweetness in the Communion Wafer – in the Body and Blood, in the Soul and in the Divinity, of My Son, My Word.

                                                          You cannot taste Divinity!

                                                          Jesus is the essence of humanity, the essence of all the people I have put upon your earth. You are part of it, and it is part of you. The pine you tasted is a perfect tree. There is no taint in its essence. The Host you swallowed was, and is, human and divine perfection. There is no taint in it. There is no taint in Mary. There is no taint in her Son.

                                                         I am I. I am God. Out of My mouth comes the Word. The Word I utter is I. I am the Father of the Word. I am the Concord, the Love, that exists between the Voice and the Word. I am the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. I am the Three-in-One, the One-in-Three. I am the Crucified. I am the Resurrection and the Life.

                                                        ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God; and the Word was God.’ ‘The Word made flesh.’ The Word I uttered is a kiss. The kiss of My mouth. The kiss of peace. The kiss of pity. The kiss of boundless mercy. The kiss of consolation. The kiss of love. The kiss spurned. The kiss betrayed by a kiss, and sold and slain. The kiss of redemption. The kiss triumphant over death. The eternal kiss of God. This is the kiss I give to free you, My slave. I am God and you are but a slave. You kneel before Me at Communion. You are My subject. Yet I am your subject too, for I come to you at your bidding! I come to you gladly. I stoop to you. I visit you. I kiss you with the kiss of My  mouth. I give you the kiss of eternal life. [64]

The Cross is the Tree soaked with the resin of His Precious Blood, poured forth from Love’s broken open Heart.

Every time we approach the altar and celebrate the Sacred Mysteries we are in Love’s embrace, in communion of love.

Let us stop resisting the invitation to be so plunged into the reality we celebrate that we fear the ever more complete breaking open of our hearts, or resist the kiss of His mouth.

The Holy Gospel reminds us that one of the reasons for the breaking open of His Heart is for the purpose of our being still in love’s contemplation of Love poured out. [Jn.19:37]

We know that it is our own sins which break open His Heart.

But He only wounds us with redemptive love.

At the beginning of this chapter I mentioned some priests who were much on my heart. Among them the eldest who had been my confessor for decades.

One year during the party we had to celebrate his birthday, and his more than fifty years as a priest, I was sitting beside him when another priest approached and said with great affection: “Well Father, just imagine all the Holy Communions you have received in your life!”

The old priest looked up.

His face was brilliant with a shimmering radiant light.

He simply smiled a smile of one who absolutely trusts he is beloved. [Jn.6:27]

When we truly love someone and that love is real and holy we yearn to be with them always, we think about them, make choices with their best interest at heart.

In a word we make a gift of ourselves to them.

Thus with each Holy Communion our hearts ever more humbly, ever more generously, ever more zealously ask the question about the ‘to do’ aspect of our being [Jn.6:28,29] and live it out precisely by being who we are!

At the heart of everything is faith.

Faith, as we know, is not only ascent to the truths of faith, but it is also a deep trust in all that the Church asks of us.

Faith does not tinker with the content of truth, nor the truth of proper sacramental form.

Faith not only believes that what we consecrate is His Real Presence, but never alters anything within the Sacred Liturgy.

Humble obedience is the external witness of faith.

When we are disobedient, even in little things, we begin to distance ourselves from that obedient intimacy with the Father which Jesus offers us in communion of love.

What should be the humble, untainted, celebration of the Heavenly Liturgy becomes pockmarked with our own egos and there is a real sadness which envelops our good people when they see an incomprehensible twisting of what should be only of and about Christ into something which becomes a paltry performance rather than a sublime celebration of the mystery of faith.

When we do such things we join interiorly at least in a type of return to our ‘former way of life’ and in a sense begin to no longer accompany Jesus in the depths of fidelity.

Who among us would ever want to hear Love Himself ask: DO YOU ALSO WANT TO LEAVE?

That question, in John 6 verse 66, speaks to the heart of our struggle to be truly humble, faithful, obedient servants of the very mysteries we celebrate.

In 1990 Cardinal Godfried Danneels, addressing himself as much to his priest sons as to his people, wrote a pastoral letter of clear truth-teaching and exquisite tenderness on the holy sacramental priesthood. It has been published in English as: Messengers of Joy.

In this great pastoral the Cardinal speaks about what can cause the heart of a priest to become emptied of joy, seek to flee the Cross, the lance, the tomb. He also addresses the reality of our being priest in the midst of the culture of death in what is seen to be the post-Christian era. In so doing he faces straight on the pain of many priests who struggle with what swirls around us, distracts or tempts us in raw contradiction of the truth alive in our hearts.

                                                           ….priests must often pass from great joy to deep sadness within a few moments. This need to shift gears, to empathize alternately with joy and sorrow, makes great demands on their hearts. It can be exhausting, but is also gives them a special serenity, a certain satisfaction. Pastoral work often means that we must stand in mid-stream, half-way between two shores. Every priest is familiar with the tension between justice and mercy, between doctrine and practice, between requirements and compassion; between what the Church teaches and what is possible to the poor believer. Some people expect priests to be rigorously orthodox, adhering literally to every detail; others expect realism, a recognition of the need to adapt and of the need for ‘inculturation.’ Priests can be trapped between liberals and conservatives. Poor St. Christopher carrying the Infant Jesus between two shores which want nothing to do with each other! [65]

Even during the celebration of the source and summit of our faith we can experience that immense stress of which the Cardinal speaks and it can drain our capacity to be fully present to the reality of who we are and with Whom we are in communion of love.

During those times when we most experience this pulverization is the moment when in fact the lance is breaking through the outer shell of our hearts and we are being wounded with love!

When all we want to do is flee, to hide, to find some place where we are not being torn at, our hearts should take comfort in the very cry spoken by our predecessor in the sacred priesthood, and share in his faith. [Jn.6:68, 69]

Since reality is we cannot love without a broken open heart reality also is that when our hearts are truly broken open we become icons of charity and icons of communion of love.

This is when we become truly what we are, shepherds, teachers, and can then form with our people, who receive Christ in Holy Communion, that community of living and humble charity which builds the civilization of love.

Then, once again across the earth, for all to see, for all to discover as the pilgrim’s path, their true home on earth, a place of refuge and hope, a house of love, will the Church, in each parish, be what She is and we priests will truly become what we are.

Thus will our people be what they are called to be through their own baptismal vocation to holiness. [Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-35]

If we are to build up the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church on earth, to form true community, build the civilization of love, then it becomes necessarily urgent we priests be of one mind and heart with Holy Mother the Church, the Holy Father and have true communion of love among ourselves as bishops and priests. [1Jn.4:12]

The icon of the perfection of God’s love within us is the obvious love we have for each other.

So necessary to the full proclamation of the Gospel, and so much is this unity in charity also the essence of the lived mystery of faith we celebrate, that it forms part of Christ’s own priestly prayer to the Father on our behalf. [Jn.17:20-23]

Disunity between our hearts and the heart of the Church, the heart of the Pope; lack of love for our brothers in the holy priesthood, is the evil spawn of negativity, egoism and usually is fuelled by that most common and pernicious of priestly sins: gossip.

        Negativity and gossip are potent satanic weapons which discourage hearts from true devotion and generosity, leading to the destruction of the shepherd and the scattering of the flock.

As much damage as can be done when we fail to preach orthodox catholic teaching, mess around with the rubrics, deny that we are indeed Father, hide behind the porous veil of secular dress, nothing equates the damage done when our people see we fail to truly love one another.

There is really, in spite of the very serious others which have wounded the Church across the ages, no greater scandal than disunity among the shepherds.

Only when we live the Gospel command of love and its adherent unity, with our lives without any compromise, will our people be united in charity. [Jn.15:8-17]

Having just instituted the sacraments of the holy priesthood and the Holy Eucharist, heading with an obedient heart towards the fulfillment of the will of the Father even to having His Heart broken open on the Cross, Jesus pours out those words of life for us.

This is the detailed description of our divine election, our vocation of joy through ordination.

               Jesus here tells us completely who and why we are in persona Christi.

The Holy Eucharist can truly be called our very reason for being!

Yes, if we allow our hearts to be broken open our own hearts will become Eucharistic hearts, filled with the fire of the Spirit, the selflessness of Christ, the love of the Father.

                                                   In the resurrection of Jesus God has poured the fire of His love into the entire universe….

                                                  …If we who have been baptized with fire allow that fire to consume us, if we simply allow God in us to be God in us, then everything we touch and every person we gather into our arms and hearts will feel the risen flesh of Jesus.

                                                ….Catherine {the foundress of Madonna House Lay Apostolate} has always said, “I can endure anything between two Masses.” Jesus never asks us to endure anything without His Body and Blood….

                                               …..Between two Masses: because Jesus did not count the cost, He baptized time itself with the fire of God’s love. The time between one Eucharist and the next becomes the time of the towel and the water, the time of washing my        brothers’ and sisters’ feet. At first we do not understand, but as we wash –grudgingly counting each minute – we begin to discover that through this washing, in the very act of loving so humbly, Jesus is feeding us with His risen Body. As He makes the commonplace bright with His glory, our minds fall silent, and only our hearts can grasp what He shows us: that in loving as He loves we are offered with Him to the Father and are received with Him as the Easter bread by all those we serve.

                                                                              After the Supper with His friends, Jesus went to the garden, where He said, “My heart is breaking with sorrow” (Mk.14:34). He is risen, but to live the joy of His resurrection is to experience the heartbreak of Christ. We say, “That’s it. I’m finished. I follow the Lord and look what He has done to me.” We are not finished, however; we are just beginning, as Jesus was. As that tiny little cramp that you thought was yourself breaks open, you discover that within there is this radiant stillness of everlasting life – Jesus Himself, the Lord, with His Father and the Holy Spirit.

                                                              You discover that stillness by washing the feet of others every day. You may well see only the naked, dirty feet until, by the great tenderness of the Father, the Easter bread begins to purify your heart, and the Easter light begins to cleanse your eyes. Then you begin to see whose feet you are washing, and who is washing your feet as you wash others’. Then the time between two Masses becomes what the Mass itself is: loving sacrifice transformed by the Father’s love into perfect joy. Then the Lord’s word – “that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete”. (Jn.15:11) – is fulfilled in you because, as you let Him feed you with His love and let Him make you too the bread of love, your heart becomes what His heart is: an icon of that love that makes the sun rise on the good and the evil alike, that lets the rain fall both on the just and the unjust. [66] 




We know that through sacramental Baptism we are plunged into the sacred mystery of salvation. Through the same sacrament we become participants in the history of the Church. Through Baptism we are configured by the Holy Spirit initially, and ever more completely if we co-operate with grace throughout our lives, to Christ, crucified and raised from the dead.

Baptism initiates us into discipleship. We are not only escorted through the gateway of sacramental life, but encouraged, as it were, by the same Holy Spirit, to hunger for the fullness, source and summit of the life of grace, receiving Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist.

Grafted as branches onto the Vine Himself we become members of His Mystical Body, members and children of Holy Mother the Church, participants in the life of the Communion of Saints, interceded for by the saints in heaven and benefiting the souls in purgatory by our prayer on their behalf.

At the same time, through Baptism, we become participants, co-workers, in Christ’s own priestly, kingly, and prophetic mission.

We become missionaries, first to our brothers and sisters in the Faith, then to all who, knowingly or not, are seeking the fullness of sacramental life, life in Christ, Christian life,  the anointed life.

Now, through Christ become true children of the Father, co-heirs with Christ, living temples of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit continues His work within all the Baptized, and within those chosen by Him to become priests, the process of our divine election.

In the context of our divine election the sacrament of Confirmation, being as it is the second of the three sacraments which indelibly seal the soul, is most worthy of our frequent meditation upon its continuous gift of the grace of fullness of the Divine Guest of the Soul and the consequent gifts and fruits which the same Holy Spirit lavishes upon us.

We alone, chosen by divine election and ordained in persona Christi, are blessed, sanctified, sealed with all three of the Holy Sacraments which indelibly mark the soul.

Marks: of holiness and beauty.

Marks: of communion of love.

Marks: of joy.

Marks: of no little responsibility to become what we are.

Haunting marks for all eternity even should we – may Christ have mercy on us – die unrepentant in the state of mortal sin.

Of course it may well be since for most of us it is many, many years since the day of our youth when we were confirmed, that the continuous reality of this sacrament is not always, nor even easily, present to our hearts.

The following may well help us recall that marvellous day when the Bishop, shepherd and father of our souls, anointed us with the Sacred Chrism, calling down the Holy Spirit who comes upon us laden with such heavenly gifts for us from the treasury of Christ’s Redemption:

   ….the reception of the sacrament of Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace. For ‘by the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed. [57]

Completion of baptismal grace, more intimately bound to the Church, lavished with that strength which is of the Holy Spirit, affirmed in our reality of being witnesses of Christ and enjoined with the full range of joyful obligation to be evangelizers and defenders of the faith, with all our words and deeds!

It is the call to preach the Gospel with our very lives!

If we truly take this to heart, how much easier it will be as priests for us to labour joyfully, even in the heat of the day, in the vineyard of the Lord, to tirelessly tend the flock, and adhere with deep interior peace to all that Holy Mother the Church teaches and to submit with magnanimity to the demands of being called, rightly, Father; clerical dress; fidelity to rubrics.

Indeed we shall, through such little things done well, find within us that courage which has endowed the Church over the centuries with a vast cohort of sainted confessors and brave martyrs.

Further, we shall soon discover that the Spirit Himself blesses such fidelity on our part through the return of many souls to the sacraments and the conversion of countless others to the faith we proclaim with our lives.

How vital then, in light of this sacrament of Confirmation which binds us ever more closely to Holy Mother the Church, that we take deep into our hearts, and given the reality of the times grant pure intellectual ascent too as well, the Church’s own self-understanding:

                                                     …awareness of the mystery of the Church is a result of a mature and living faith. From such faith comes that ‘feel for the Church,’ which fills the Christian who has been raised in the school of the Divine Word. He has been nourished by the Grace of the Sacraments and of the ineffable inspirations of the Paraclete, has been trained in the practice of the virtues of the Gospel, has been imbued with the culture and community life of the Church, and is profoundly happy to find himself endowed with that Royal Priesthood proper to the people of God.

                                                  The mystery of the Church is not a mere object of theological knowledge; it is something to be lived, something that the faithful soul can have a kind of connatural experience of, even before arriving at a clear notion of it. Moreover, the community of the faithful can be profoundly certain of its participation in the Mystical Body of Christ when it realizes that by divine institution, the ministry of the Hierarchy of the Church is there to give it a beginning, to give it birth, to teach and sanctify and direct it. It is by means of this divine instrumentality that Christ communicates to His mystical members the marvels of His truth and of His grace, and confers to His Mystical Body as it travels its pilgrim way through time its visible structure, its sublime unity, its ability to function organically, its harmonious complexity, its spiritual beauty.

Images do not suffice to translate into meaningful language the full reality and depth of this mystery. However after dwelling on the image of the Mystical Body, which was suggested by the Apostle Paul, we should especially call to mind one suggested by Christ Himself, that of the edifice of which He is the Architect and the Builder, an edifice indeed founded on a man who of himself is weak but who was miraculously transformed by Christ into solid rock, that is, endowed with marvellous and everlasting indefectibility: ‘It is upon this rock that I will build My Church.’

                                            If we can awaken within ourselves such a strength-giving feeling for the Church and instil it in the faithful by profound and careful instruction, many of the difficulties which today trouble students of Ecclesiology, as for example, how the Church can be at once both visible and spiritual, at once free and subject to discipline, communitarian and hierarchical, already holy and yet still be sanctified, contemplative and active, and so on, will be overcome in practice and solved by those who, after being enlightened by sound teaching, experience the living reality of the Church herself. [58]

Christ loves His Bride the Church, pours Himself out for Her.

Confirmation binds us, as all Her children, more closely to Her, thus closer to Her Divine Bridegroom.

Ordination, configuring us in persona Christi, configures also in the person of He who is the Divine Bridegroom.

We are sacramentally blessed with a double grace of love for the Church.

Flowing initially from the sacrament of Confirmation for us, and for all the laity as well, this love for the Church means a deep respect and adherence to all the Church believes and teaches, celebrates and lives.

The Church is both communal and missionary by Her very nature, so we too are called upon to foster and participate in the communal, the family dimension of this pilgrimage through time as members of the Mystical Body of Christ, and, to be evangelizers, missionaries, both to the de-churched and the un-churched.

True for all the Baptized, affirmed and strengthened in this mission of forming the community, the family, the civilization of love and spreading the Gospel, through the sacrament of Confirmation, how much more so does this become a sacred responsibility, and joy, for we priests in virtue of our sacramental ordination.

                                                           “It is the first task of priests as co-workers of the Bishops to preach the Gospel of God to all men…[so as to]…set up and increase the People of God.” Precisely because preaching the Gospel is not merely an intellectual transmission of a message but “the power of God for the salvation of all who believe” (Rm.1:16), accomplished for all time in Christ, its proclamation in the Church requires from its heralds a supernatural basis which guarantees its authenticity and effectiveness. The proclamation of the Gospel by the sacred ministers of the Church is, in a certain sense, a participation in the salvific character of the Word itself, not only because they speak of Christ, but because they proclaim the Gospel to their hearers with that power to call which comes from their participation in the consecration and mission of the Incarnate Word of God. The words of the Lord still resound in the ears of His ministers: “Whoever listens to you listens to Me; whoever despises you despises Me.”(Lk.10:16). Together with St. Paul they can testify: “The Spirit we have received is not the world’s spirit but God’s Spirit, helping us to recognize the gifts He has given us: we speak of these not in words of human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, thus interpreting spiritual things in spiritual terms.”(1Cor.2:12-13). [59]

In a deep and intimate way, through contemplation of the full meaning and continuous grace in our lives of the sacrament of Confirmation, we can become closer to the Divine Guest of the soul, the Holy Spirit.

Prior to the Second Vatican Council, at least within the Western Church, there was a tendency to take the Holy Spirit for granted.

Some spiritual writers of the time often referred to Him as the forgotten Person of the Holy Trinity.

Here I will draw upon a classic work by the great and holy former Archbishop of Mexico, Archbishop Luis M. Martinez, whose profound work, written with deep devotion, is known in English as THE SANCTIFIER.

                                                         To the Artist of souls, sanctification and possession are the same act: for sanctification is the work of love, and love is possession.….the first relationship that the Holy Spirit has with souls is that of being the delightful Guest…..

                                                        The first gift of love is love itself, and all other gifts emanate from this supreme gift, as from their source. Therefore, the Gift of the love of God is the Holy Spirit.

                                                         The Holy Spirit brings to our souls the fruitfulness of the Father and binds us lovingly to the Son.

                                                       ….the Holy Spirit is truly the soul of our soul and the life of our life.

                                                          On the night when Jesus made us His friends, He revealed His secrets to us, and we heard from His lips the unfathomable promise that the Spirit of Truth would teach us all things. The operation of the Holy Spirit in our souls is motion. He sanctifies us by directing all our activities with the sweetness of love and the efficacy of omnipotence. He is the only One who can moves us in this way because He alone can penetrate into the hidden sanctuary of the soul, the enclosed garden, invisible to creatures.

                                                  ….in this very special movement the Holy Spirit takes up His abode in the deepest, the most intimate and most active part of our being. He constitutes Himself the immediate director of the soul, which in its full strength and freedom moves only under His inspiration. This intimate and very special movement is the work of love. It is founded on love, caused by love, and leads to love.

                                                   The Holy Spirit must be intimately united to a soul in order to move it. He moves us because He loves us……His movement is the caress of infinite love; …..the Holy Spirit moves us because in His intimate fusion with our soul, which is the work of charity, His divine movements, His holy palpitations, make themselves felt throughout the whole man, who is one with Him. [op.cit.p.60]

This IS communion of love with the Holy Trinity through intimacy with the Divine Guest of our soul!

This is our baptismal vocation in all its glory.

This is the affirmation lavished upon us in sacramental confirmation.

If, in being called upon as priest to celebrate any sacrament, and we find the celebration of that sacrament is a source of stress because it seems the people are lacking in faith or due reverence, or, if when it comes to discerning reception of sacrament we are tempted more towards abusive authoritarianism or lack of fatherly compassion: it is time to beg the Divine Guest of our soul to reanimate our own faith and charity.

If anything or anyone has become the prime object of our attention and affection, other than Christ and the things of Christ: it is time to beg the Sanctifier to renew within us His tender gifts of metanoia, kenosis and true contrition.

If our minds, hearts, souls are confused, swayed, or in bondage to any teachings which seek to overturn the treasures found in the whole deposit of faith and morals confided by Christ to the Church: it is time to beg the Spirit of Truth to renew within us all truth.

If our hearts and souls are in agony as we see Christ re-crucified in the Church, in the hearts of brother priests, in the hearts of the laity: it is time to beg the Spirit of courage and compassion to renew His strength and spirit of forgiveness within us.

If, after having laboured in the vineyard in the heat of the day, evening’s fatigue overwhelms, accedie claws at our hearts which themselves seem to have frozen over, as if we have forgotten our first love: it is time to beg the Spirit of Pentecost to renew within us our sacramental confirmation and set as afire once more.

In all these and other instances where our sinfulness and poverty seem to overcome us it is time to turn humbly to the Holy Spirit who will lavish love and comfort upon us.

The profound experience of being dedicated workers in the vineyard or the wheat field and there appearing before us no particular harvest or that the tares are choking the little shoots, this should neither surprise nor discourage us. Our Divine Lord Himself saw many leave Him when at Capernaum He first spoke of Himself as the Bread of Life, He Himself saw even His chosen ones flee in the face of fear.

We priests are human beings, men, ordained men to be sure, but men still, ordained to preach the Gospel of Truth and Love with our lives without compromise in a marketplace which is a culture of death.

We are missionaries to a secular world where people are deeply fearful, wounded, and almost incapable of seeing beyond their own immediate wants.

We are baptized, confirmed, ordained men, priests in a very visible vocation at a time in history when the sheer reality of our being priest is seen by many as justification to abuse, pulverize, reject, ignore, even martyr us.

We are Fathers to children who leave home in droves with nary a backward glance, Shepherds of a flock marred by cognitive disconnect from what is actual reality, Teachers and Sanctifiers for those who have suffered a profound loss of both the sense of faith and sense of sin.

How much do we need to draw constantly on the gift of our Confirmation and its attended grace which strengths us in the faith and binds us more closely to the Church, thus to each other, for we are but a little band of brothers expected to cover with love and truth such a vast world, such an huge extended family.

The attended loneliness of such a unique vocation as a divinely elected pilgrim amongst such a vast number of pilgrims and those who do not even know the ultimate purpose of life is to pilgrim with the Church, through Christ, guided by the Holy Spirit, home to our Heavenly Father, can be a real discouragement and great danger for we priests.

We need to turn always to the Holy Spirit who is alive and active, in motion, within us.

Open to Him we can cry out that indeed, while it is true we are believers [1Jn.4:16] nonetheless we need, in our own words, with our own tears, always to beg of Him: faith-MORE, hope-MORE, love-MORE, life-MORE, truth-MORE, courage-MORE, even unto martyrdom.

Through the gift of faith we shall grow in trust.

Through the gift of trust we will open wide the doors of our being to the Holy Spirit more and more.

The Consoler, Councillor, Advocate, Spirit of Truth – whom the Father constantly sends upon us in the Name of Jesus our Lord and God – will dwell within us as Jesus promises. [Jn.14:26]

As such grace unfolds within us, strengthens and renews us, we will hear more deeply in our hearts the words also from the Beloved Apostle about the grace of remaining rooted in the words of Jesus, what He teaches us, so that we remain in Jesus and with Jesus in the Father. [1Jn.2:24-27]

Confirmation is affirmation by the Holy Spirit of our call to holiness, to oneness in and with Christ, a prelude to the even deeper configuration to and intimacy with Him which is ours when, as a result of our divine election, we are ordained in persona Christi.

That too is the movement of the Holy Spirit within us.

All of this, all sacraments, are for the glory of the Father and thus of deep intimacy with the Father.

All sacraments are Trinitarian.

Our vocation of joy is Trinitarian.

                                                                   …..we might say that the ideal of the acts performed under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit corresponds to the Father. The ideal is the first exemplar of the work. The Father is the beginning; the work of sanctification is a work of paternity and adoption; from the Father ‘all fatherhood in heaven and on earth receives its name.’ And the end of perfection is Jesus, for Jesus is the image of the Father. During the days of His mortal life He sought the ideal of His acts in the bosom of the Father. The will of the Father, which He came upon earth to accomplish, and the glory of the Father, which formed the one great desire of His soul, appear in the Holy Gospel as His supreme norms. In the most solemn moments of His life the Son lifted His profoundly understanding eyes to the Father, and seemed to gaze with all intentness and sweetness upon that ocean of light. [60-a]

The sanctifying grace within us through Confirmation is primarily the work of the Spirit Himself within us.

The Holy Spirit: urging us to imitate, to participate in, Christ’s own relationship with His Father, our Father.

The Holy Spirit: setting us ablaze with the fire of divine love.

The Holy Spirit: crying out within us Abba! Father – that we might ‘live and move and have our being’, truly, fully, in the Father.

The Holy Spirit: striving to fill us with the utter fullness of God, with Christ, Light from Light, and True Light from True Light:

                                                                    In order to teach us, this unique light has to be dispersed. It has to be adjusted to the capacity of each one of the seven gifts, as the ray is diffused in the colours of the spectrum. Only God can contain Himself in His infinite unity; in us, especially in exile, the facets of His unique beauty must appear one by one. [See note 60-b]

Once we have renewed within us, by the Holy Spirit, an appreciation for, understanding of, openness to the reality of, the sacrament of Confirmation, and by the movement of the Holy Spirit within us co-operate with all He seeks to accomplish within us through His lavishing outpouring of all His gifts, what fire shall blaze within us, what divine light shall pour forth from us!

What a passion we shall have to diligently prepare all those seeking to receive such a splendid gift in the communion of love.

With what sacred urgency shall we go forth and seek out the lost to re-evangelize them, the non-believers to bring them the Good News of Jesus Christ.

How great shall be our courage to preach only Truth, our strength to make the gift of love and forgiveness to all, in particular our enemies, how unswerving our proclamation and defense of truth, especially the truth about the sacredness of life from the womb to the tomb.

                                            In the gift of fear, He is the sovereign we revere as the Master of life and death; in fortitude, He is the omnipotent force that delivers itself into the hands of weakness; in piety, He is the Father to whom we must adhere with filial affection, extolling His glory; in counsel, He is the eternal and supreme norm of human action; in knowledge, the inexhaustible exemplar of creatures; in understanding, the supernatural end that sheds light on all knowledge. And in wisdom, He is the focal point that illumines the soul because He is the focal point of love, and because He and Wisdom, united in an embrace of love, have revealed with love’s gentleness the secret of all truth. [60-c]