Tag Archives: Priest




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]



 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]





In the evening as I left the rectory for a walk, praying the Rosary, I came near the main alley of this neighbourhood.

The alley runs between the abandoned warehouses and the school.

A man came walking by.

He walked as one bent over with fatigue. His clothing indicated he was probably working in one of the factories over the hill at the bottom of our street.

My heart was immediately moved to pray for him, and all men, women and children throughout the world who labour long hours, in often dehumanizing conditions, for barely enough to put food on the table.

Just as I was passing the alley down which the man had headed, I heard him call out a name, and noticed a small child running towards him.

When the child was close enough he leapt into the man’s arms, his father.

As the man lifted the small, living, joyful weight onto his shoulders I noticed he was no longer moving with heavy step of exhaustion, but walked tall, straight, as if filled with new energy. [Gal.4:6,7]

Before ordination sacramentally configures us as father, in persona Christi, we are, sacramentally in Baptism, born anew as children, sons of the Father.

Already in baptism we become participants in the priestly, kingly, prophetic mission of Christ.

Ordination impels us, with great love, to become fully missionaries to all our brothers and sisters, especially those who ‘labour and are heavy burdened.’

We priests participate in the mystery of being both children, along with all the children of God, thus brother with all our brothers and sisters, and father, shepherd, teacher, evangelist, for those same brothers and sisters.

                                                 Catholic doctrinal tradition describes the priest as teacher of the Word, minister of the sacraments and leader of the Christian community entrusted to him. This is the starting point of all reflection on the identity and mission of the priest in the Church.

                                   ….Many of the baptized live in a world indifferent to religion. While maintaining a certain faith, these practically live a form of religious and moral indifferentism, alienated from Word and sacraments which are essential for Christian life.

                                  …For the contemporary Church, Mother and Teacher, the mission ad gentes and new evangelization are inseparable aspects of her mandate to teach, sanctify and guide all men to the father.

                                     ….In a particular way, priests have this duty since they have been specially chosen, consecrated and sent to make evident the presence of Christ whose authentic representatives and messengers they become. [48]

Thus we need to be truly aware of, grateful for, that baptismal faith which makes us His children. [Gal.3:26]

We can never contemplate to exhaustion the incredible gift and reality of our baptismal faith.

Indeed if our baptismal faith is weak, uncertain, confused, tainted in anyway by the surrounding culture of death, or specious notions in theology or spirituality, then our ability to be authentic evangelizers as priests will be seriously compromised.

Long before we were ordained, indeed a necessary gateway, we were brought by the Holy Spirit into new life in Christ at our baptism. [Gal.3:27]

It is this first clothing which makes possible our later configuration to Christ in the fullness of divine election at our ordination.

Satan wages war against the followers of Christ, the children of Mary. This we know not only from Revelations chapter 12, but from life experience.

What is true for all the baptized is an even more constant experience for we priests. [Col.2:6-8]

Pope John Paul II constantly, in his writings on the priesthood, urged us to be aware of the authentic reality of the sacramental priesthood, just as he constantly urged all the baptized to be aware of the reality of baptism.

For us priests it is a call for us to be fully aware of both sacramental realities of our ‘grace in return for grace’ existence.

Thus we must strive always to be aware, with great humility, that before we are celebrants of Christ’s sacraments, we are recipients of His sacraments.

We encounter in sacrament the One whose sacraments we bring to our brothers and sisters.

It is one of the realities which make our Catholic religion the religion of glory.

                                                    The whole liturgical life of the Church revolves around the Eucharistic sacrifice and the sacraments. [49]

It is often a reality for priests that we encounter much stress around the celebration of the sacrament of Baptism because of the very loss of a sense of faith and faith practice among the people. Thus it can be difficult for us, when striving to properly catechize parents and godparents alike, to appreciate the reality of what is being asked for on behalf of the child.

It is to be prayerfully wished that instructing parents, godparents, adults seeking to be baptized will offer us the opportunity to re-discover anew the tremendous gift of grace which is our faith, our baptismal, sacramental life.

Baptism is, to be sure, being reborn in and through Christ as we are plunged into the mystery of His death and resurrection.

Baptism is also a renewal, sacramentally, of that communion of love offered us by the Holy Trinity at the moment of our creation by the loving act of God.

Indeed the Catechism of the Catholic Church, where we are taught in paragraph 366 that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God “also reminds us of our creation for the purpose of this communion of love as noted in paragraph 367: “…man is ordered to a supernatural end and…his soul can gratuitously be raised beyond all it deserves to communion with God”.

We are called to by the Trinity, in particular through Baptism, as St. Peter reminds us, to this communion of love through grace given us by, the All-Holy One.

We are all called to holiness! [1Pt.1:15,16]

The more we accept the love of the Holy Trinity, the more we become love for others, and through love’s humble service, the holier we become.

                                    There is one characteristic common to all the Saints and holy people of the Church – a characteristic that predominates in the lives of the Apostles. It is their personal love of the Lord.

                                   ….Our Lord’s plan for each priest is a personal partnership: ‘We: Jesus and I.’ This is how He would have each priest live and act – in the first person plural. Our Lord wants to share every moment of our life, especially every moment of our ministry. He wants us to live and work in complete dependence upon Himself and His love, never forgetting, never doubting it. He wants us to think of Him always in the second person singular – not the third as many priests do. He wants us to be His friend; but He wants even more than that. He wants us to find in Him and to give to Him, all the love that human hearts can give each other. [50]

This intimate love affair begins with baptism, is re-established in confession every time we remove ourselves from this love through sin, is nourished and fortified, deepened, indeed made more passionate, every time we receive Him, glorified, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in Holy Communion.

The greater the depth of our meditation upon the reality of our baptism and its gift of faith, the more profound becomes our understanding of this same holy sacrament, in particular when we are blessed with the opportunity to baptize.

Indeed the preparation for and the celebration of this sacrament will no longer be an occasion when satan may attempt to seduce us into the sin of arrogance through a too narrow interpretation of the requirements expected of parents asking to have their child baptized.

We will be moved in the depths of our hearts with a fatherly patience, a shepherd’s understanding, a teacher’s truth-speaking ability to form where formation is needed, to overlook where charity should prevail.

When we know we are beloved of the True Lover, we rejoice in the mysterious reality that sacraments are not only sacred events, holy realities, but wonderful places of encounter with the Divine Beloved.

Thus we will approach teaching of the sacraments fully aware the Divine Lover seeks to encounter their very persons, no matter their apparent poverty of faith practice, and we will trust the power of the sacraments themselves.

Our people, irrespective of the sacrament they approach us for, particularly irregular or non-practicing parents seeking baptism for their child, will see in our eyes the tender expression of Christ Himself, His love for them.

This will motivate and encourage them to be willing students of faith and eager to resume faith practice.

Not as some imposed requirement, rather as their response to Love’s call.

Holy Mother the Church, in her own tender wisdom, places the renewal of our baptismal faith in the heart of the Easter Liturgy.

It is a moment we should enter with extreme gratitude and celebrate for our people with due reverence.

With our hearts full of joy at His Holy Resurrection we actually celebrate the first moment of what Scripture elsewhere refers to as the love we had ‘at first’.

For us priests it is also reliving the moment when our divine election to our vocation of joy, in persona Christi, began.

A reminder too that above all we are apostles of Love.

                                                          People need to hear at least once a week that God truly loves them, that He wants a relationship of love with them, that He cares infinitely for each one, so much that He is present to each one’s joy and each one’s sorrow, to each effort and each failure, that He loves and loves and loves and loves, that He forgives and forgives and forgives. [51]

It is when we priests doubt that truth, fail to trust His love for us, we run the risk of appearing unloving to our people and frustrating them in their desire to return to baptismal faith practice or to grow ever more in their lives of charity towards all.

Ours must be the very words of Jesus Himself, poured forth from our hearts as ardent prayer that it be so! [Jn.15:8-11]

The more we strive to become what we are through baptism the more we shall become what we are by virtue of our sacramental ordination as priests.

I do believe in the depths of my heart there is a direct connection between that priestly angst which seems at the root of so much sorrow in the priesthood today, such confusion, being vulnerable to pressure from those who would reduce priesthood to a mere function able to be ‘performed’ in most respects even by the un-ordained, and a type of forgetfulness regarding the reality of our baptism.

                                                       Following Christ is not an outward imitation, since it touches man at the very depths of his being. Being a follower of Christ means becoming conformed to Him who became a servant even giving Himself on the Cross (cf.Phil.2:5-8). Christ dwells by faith in the heart of every believer (cf.Eph.3:17), and thus the disciple is conformed to the Lord. This is the effect of grace, of the active presence of the Holy Spirit in us. Having become one with Christ, the Christian becomes a member of His Body, which is the Church (cf.1Cor.12:13,27). By the work of the Spirit, Baptism radically configures the faithful to Christ in the Paschal Mystery of death and resurrection; it ‘clothes him’ in Christ (cf.Gal.3:270: ‘Let us rejoice and give thanks,’ exclaims Saint Augustine speaking to the baptized, ‘for we have become Christ!’ Having died to sin, those who are baptized receive new life (cf.Rom.6:3-11): alive for God in Christ Jesus, they are called to walk by the Spirit and manifest the Spirit’s fruits in their lives (cf.Gal.5:16-25). Sharing in the Eucharist, the Sacrament of the New Covenant (cf.1Cor.11:23-29), is the culmination of our assimilation to Christ, the source of ‘eternal life’ (cf.Jn.6:51-58), the source and power of that complete gift of self, which Jesus – according to the testimony handed on by Paul – commands us to commemorate in liturgy and life: ‘As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes’ (1Cor.11:26). [52]

As these truths permeate our being our hearts will become ever more filled with that Divine Fire which so burned in the Heart of Christ!

Indeed we shall feel ourselves, and yearn evermore, to be compelled to spread that fire through evangelization, baptizing the newly born or converted, seeking out the lost, and giving ourselves over fully to the missio ad gentes.

In a word: to spread His fire as He yearns. [Lk.12:49]

This is our call to holiness, to be fire spreaders, to set the world ablaze with love in return for Love.

True there will be those moments, perhaps even hours, days, weeks or more, of struggle when it may seem our hearts have grown so cold we have barely a spark to spread, but even the tiniest spark can begin an immense blaze.

So, by grace, we live faithful to the duty of the moment, our hearts open to this heartfelt plea:

                                                    ……try to walk in the way of sanctity which God has chosen for you….The pursuit of sanctity is like an interior flame, a sacred fire which we bear within us. At times this fire seems to be only a spark, but, believe me, it can be revived and become bright again. If we wish the Father, when He looks at us, to be able to say, as He said of Jesus: ‘This is My beloved Son,’ let all our efforts and all our aspirations tend towards the establishment of the reign of charity in our hearts. [53]

The real and great tragedy, the true scandal, pulverizing the priesthood today is not, per se, those abuse or heresy scandals which receive so much media attention.

They are, to be sure, serious indeed as sin certainly always is.

The great tragedy, which is fundamentally the root cause of those sins which become the perhaps more obvious, at least to the media, is our failure as priests to willingly become saints.

                                                      The saints know a truth that sin keeps secret: the human spirit is robbed of its natural dignity when it is content to be only natural. Evil claims to be natural, and this is the heart of its deceit. [54]

Baptism is both the gateway to the fullness of the rest of sacramental life and the call to holiness.

By sacramental ordination we become in persona Christi; in the person of the All Holy One.

                                            So how is it that we are not gathering our forces together to counteract the strange forces that continue to infiltrate into the Church, which arise even within the Church to manipulate the Church. There is one way in which it can be done, and only one way: the way of holiness. For this we were born: to be holy. We are given every advantage by the Church to follow the path of the Holy One who calls Himself ‘the Way.’

                                              The priest is a shepherd. He has a flock given him by God. For this he was ordained. God asks from His priests one thing: that he himself cleanse his soul, that he walk the path of the Holy One, now falling down, now bruising himself, but since the path is made by God, God is around and He will help the priest to stand up and continue walking. [55]

Flowing from our first experience of the communion of love and our baptismal commission to be witnesses to Christ, His Holy Resurrection, His Gospel of Love and Truth, of Life, comes that constant call to holiness which the Spirit Himself speaks to the depths of our being every moment of our priestly lives.

It is the call to become a living flame of love.

Jesus, the night of His Passion, having arrived at the hour when He would indeed spread divine fire and set the world ablaze, told us the time had come to ask for everything in His Name.

In the very asking and receiving will come the enhancement of our joy. [Jn.16.24]

The ancient prayer to the Holy Spirit begs Him to come and kindle again within us the fire of our first love, our true joy.

To become a living flame: that is the Gospel proclaimed by Jesus the Master. That is what He Himself is, the blazing sun who lights the whole world…..

                                                          ….. there is no secret about the nature of that fire. It is simply love. Love is the fire the Son of God came to cast on the earth….the burning passion for His Father and for us that bore Him to the cross and through it to His resurrection. Love is the fire the risen Lord pours into the hearts of all those who follow Him, those who hear His voice as well as His first friends.

                                                         This love is more than a human word or metaphor. It is the living Spirit of the living God, alive in us. It is the Holy Spirit who pours God’s love into us and makes us living flames. If we want, then, we can become living flames of love because, as Jesus has promised, His Father does not refuse the Spirit to anyone who asks. If we ask, we shall receive abundantly.

                                                        …..we are not on fire. Why not? I think that there are two reasons. The first is that we are uncertain that such extravagance is either possible or desirable. The second reason is that we are honestly not sure how to ask for the Spirit, even if we do sometimes see clearly that we can have no real joy outside the fire of His love.

                                                       In the story of the Pharisee and the publican, the Master is responding to this bewilderment of ours. He is telling us how to ask for the Holy Spirit. He is revealing to us the only fuel for the fire that He wants to set in our hearts. That fuel is humility….The Lord wants to teach us how to be humble, by telling us the truth about our own wretchedness as He reveals to us the greatest truth – the truth enfolding and encompassing every other truth – that is the mercy of His Father. [56]



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So it is with us and Jesus.

So it is with us and the Father.

So it is with us and the Holy Spirit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pope Pius IX reminds us that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He was, truly, interiorly starving to death.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are we illuminators or extinguishers of the light?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love does such things.

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

Love does such things.

Ours too is a complete vocation.

We too must do what love does.

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

It is a refusal to serve.

Love never refuses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Such reading is thus primarily a time of receptivity.

It is time for LISTENING!

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

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

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

These caves seemed endless to us.

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

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

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

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

And enjoy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We can apply it to ourselves as well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For instruction!

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

That is what our basic approach to prayer must be.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The sign of life!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one naturally wants to be crucified.

In truth, the Cross is our joy!

The struggle to be faithful is the only lasting gratification.

Christ is our comfort, our love, and acceptance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



In his very first encyclical, Pope John Paul II, drawing on the wisdom of Holy Mother the Church from the beginning, teaches:

For the whole community of the People of God and for each member of it what is in question is not just a specific ‘ social membership’; rather, for each and every one what is essential is a particular ‘vocation’….we must see first and foremost Christ saying in a way to each member of the community: “Follow Me.” [1]


Since Christ is then calling every baptized person to follow Him we can joyfully assure ever boy and man who ask us if they are being called: Yes!
Specifically: to holy sacramental priesthood?
Discernment over time will make that clear, but our initial ‘yes’ to them, coupled with urging them to pray for clarity, will encourage them to continue to listen to the Holy Spirit who leads us to follow Christ.
Certainly some of our brothers are being called not to priesthood but to holy marriage, consecrated religious life, the lay apostolate or the consecrated state of virginity while living and working in the world.
But many more of our brothers, be they still children, youth, young adult or even older, are being called to holy priesthood.
Perhaps many more than we know because we are not consciously, publicly in fact, encouraging them to voice the call they are experiencing in their hearts.
There are those, priests and laity, some claiming because of published studies to have this nailed down as absolute fact, who for years having been pushing the notion that there is a critical shortage of vocations to the priesthood.
Frankly I think that is dangerously close to insulting the Holy Spirit.
The implication is that He is NOT calling forth generosity from among the baptized boys and men of this generation.
That is simply a lie.
There is no crisis of ‘call’.
There is an apparent crisis of ‘response’, mainly, if we be humble about it, in those countries, dioceses, parishes, where there is little in the way of orthodox catholic teaching, sacramental practice and a lack of Eucharistic adoration and true devotion to Mary.
The fundamental problem is one of holiness.
To the degree that we priests are holy, faithful to the teachings of the Church, visible in our own faith practice, and obviously devoted sons of Mary, Queen of the Clergy, to that degree those being called to priesthood will take note and be encouraged.
To the degree that our parishes are holy, our families are holy, to that degree boys and men sensing the call in their hearts will find encouragement to say a generous, indeed an heroic, yes!
We all know that someone who is obviously content, joyful, dedicated in their chosen profession/vocation, encourages the young to want to not merely imitate them but to join them in that life.
No secular profession would send dour, angry, dissatisfied, representatives on a recruitment drive.
Why do we?
It may seem a type of unfair stress but the reality is we are always recruiting, or discouraging, priestly vocations.
There’s no way around it for ours is a most public vocation.
We live in the main in rectories, which are at the very least quasi-public places.
Every sacrament we celebrate involves at least one other person {confession} and our dear people notice everything we say and do!
Even our ‘uniform’, which in humility we should always wear, renders us visible wherever we go.
Thus like Christ in whose person we are, we truly have nowhere to hide.
Not that we should ever be involved in anything we’d ‘need’ to hide for.
Thus each contact, direct through sacramental celebration, hospital visits, school visits, home visits and somewhat indirect, such as just walking around town, can be either an encouraging act of recruitment or a serious discouragement to he who senses the call of the Spirit.
How true is this when in particular we are celebrating Holy Mass!
The young in particular are extremely observant, and better informed about authentic sacramental ritual and orthodox catholic teaching than we perhaps realize.
They have, after all, grown up in an era that has made them media savvy.
They also have access to the internet and are used to a Holy Father, the world’s parish priest, who is accessible to them and to whom they listen far more intently than a lot of priests understand.
Indeed Pope John Paul II showed himself an astute encourager of vocations when he celebrated his fiftieth anniversary of priestly ordination by publishing his book GIFT AND MYSTERY, in which he beautifully illustrates the reality of call and response:
The story of my priestly vocation? It is known above all to God. At its deepest level, every vocation to the priesthood is a great mystery; it is a gift which infinitely transcends the individual. Every priest experiences this clearly throughout the course of his life. Faced with the greatness of the gift, we sense our own inadequacy.
A vocation is a mystery of divine election: “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.{Jn.15:16}” [2]

Our very existence as created persons is the beginning, for we priests, of this ‘mystery of divine election’.
Thus our very existence should suffice for an exhilarated heart.
All the more then should our gratitude be all the more joyous for the immense gift of Baptism and the totality of sacramental life.
Most especially for our entire Eucharistic life, from our First Holy Communion, to our first Mass celebrated when we were newly ordained, to this day’s Holy Mass and Communion!

We live in sacramental reality:
The Eucharist constitutes the culminating moment in which Jesus, in His Body given for us and in His Blood poured out for our salvation, reveals the mystery of His identity and indicates the sense of the vocation of every believer. In fact, the meaning of human life is totally contained in that Body and in that Blood, since from them life and salvation have come to us. In some ways, the very existence of the human person must be identified with them, so that this existence is fulfilled in so far as it can, in its turn, make itself a gift for others. [3]

Not only our response then, but the very gift we make of ourselves, and the very way in which we encourage vocations to the priesthood, is irrevocably Eucharistic.
Thus the example of a priest with a true love of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, who celebrates Holy Mass with ritual fidelity, reverence and joy, who visibly radiates his being in persona Christi capitis giving the living Christ to his brothers and sisters in Holy Communion, becomes a true icon of the splendour and joy of priesthood to those boys and men sensing deep in their hearts the call.
As priests we know true Eucharistic piety deepens daily our own fiat.
Naturally the critical environment for the first responsive stirrings to the invitation from the Holy Spirit for a yes to the priestly vocation is the family.
A truly orthodox, faith living Catholic family is the ideal environment to nurture the future adult male’s vocation response.
How vital is our priestly support and service for families.
It is the Domestic Church which is the bedrock of the universal Church.
Look at this more closely: a faith-filled family nurtures faithful adults.
In particular, men who will enter the seminary with hearts open to formation towards sacramental ordination as priests in persona Christi capitis.
We priests do a grave injustice to Holy Mother the Church, as well as a serious disservice to men contemplating the priesthood when we are constantly telling horror stories about seminary life.
The seminary is not supposed to be either a mere college dorm, an ecclesiastical frat house any more than a pretend monastery.
Seminary is a serious experience of intellectual, moral, philosophical, theological, liturgical and spiritual formation. It is the place and time of deep encounter with the Holy Spirit who purifies a man’s soul that He might configure the man to Christ Priest. Thus seminary formation itself is a constitutive dimension of our vocation.
Seminary is the soul’s journey with the shepherds to the cave, the wise men to the home where is the Child and Mary and Joseph. Seminary is Nazareth, the Desert, the house at Bethany; it is to be in the company of the Apostles, learning from the Master Himself; it is Tabor and the Upper Room, the Garden, the Cross and sometimes the tomb, that place of utter stillness trust awaiting to be called forth, like Lazarus, to life renewed.
We are led by the star to Mary who presents Jesus to us, we adore Him with the gifts of our body, heart-love, and soul-will [Mt.2:9-11].
This stirring in our souls noted by the Holy Father as ‘divine election’ is akin to the star which guided the Magi and the seminary must be the place of encounter with the Child Christ, the Teaching Christ, Christ who heals, forgives, with Christ Priest, Christ on the Cross, Christ Risen, Christ ascended to heaven, seated at the right hand of the Father.
The man who is now a seminarian brings the gifts of himself, body, mind, heart, and soul.
Seminary is both epiphany as encounter with Christ and a gradual inner epiphany for the man being formed.
It is to be fervently desired, as in prayed for, that the man will enter a house which is a place of profound encounter with Jesus and Mary; a place of orthodox teaching, love of the Church, loyalty to the Holy Father, liturgical fidelity, joyful chastity and absolute charity.
Seminary years should be marked by a willingness on the part of the man to enter more deeply than ever before in his life into the ‘garden enclosed’ where alone are the soul and the Trinity. There, in intimate converse and love, the Holy Spirit brings about the necessary radical conversion of heart, metanoia.
The false self, so bound by the sin of the world, by personal sin, wounded by the sins of others, perhaps uncertain about relationship with the Trinity, is taken by the Spirit into the very heart of Christ’s own kenosis that the man be emptied of all that is not of Christ.
Seminarians must begin here to take as the normal ebb and flow of daily life that we need to have our face to the ground in both a constant plea for mercy and a heart’s love-adoration of the Triune God. Equally vital is a heart which listens and learns from the wisdom, faith and fiat of the Blessed Virgin Mary, having a devoted son’s confidence in her maternal love, guidance and protection.
Thus, like the Magi, the man will eagerly lay at the feet of the Child the gift of himself, and as a true disciple will embrace the cross and follow Christ, surrendering himself totally to the movement of the Holy Spirit who configures us to Christ Priest.
Lived authentically, seminary life itself is an ever more generous and joyous response to ‘divine election’.
It is a period of particular grace.
The attitudes towards self, other, Church, orthodoxy etc., developed in the seminary are the template of priestly life.
Jesus teaches us how it should all come to pass, for we are ‘scribes’ instructed by the Holy Spirit [Mt.13:52].
Naturally enough to be properly instructed presupposes a willingness to learn, that humility which admits it knows not everything!
Seminary is, after all, the place where we are to be formed as shepherds according to His own Heart:
The seminary can be seen as a place and period in life. But it is above all an educational community in progress:….to offer to those called by the Lord to serve as apostles the possibility of reliving the experience of formation which Our Lord provided for the Twelve. In fact, the Gospels present a prolonged and intimate sharing of life with Jesus as a necessary premise for the apostolic ministry. Such an experience demands of the Twelve the practice of detachment in a particularly clear and specific fashion, a detachment that in some way is demanded of all the disciples, a detachment from their roots, their usual work, from their nearest and dearest [cf.Mk.1:16-20, 10:28; Lk.9:23, 9:57-62, 14:25-27]….
In its deepest identity the seminary is called to be, in its own way, a continuation in the Church of the apostolic community gathered about Jesus, listening to His word, proceeding towards the Easter experience, awaiting the gift of the Spirit for mission…..
The seminary is, in itself, an original experience of the Church’s life……
From the human point of view, the major seminary should strive to become “a community built on deep friendship and charity, so that it can be considered a true family living in joy………
It is essential…..that the seminary should be experienced not as something external and superficial, or simply a place in which to live and study, but in an interior and profound way. It should be experienced as a community, a specifically ecclesial community, a community that relives the experience of the group of Twelve who were united to Jesus. [6]

Thus throughout our lives as priests we should be able to recall our seminary years as a period of graced formation.
Most important from those years should be our recalling of the beginning stages of a more intimate relationship with Christ.
Remembering, therefore, this precept of salvation and everything that was done for ours sake, the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the enthronement at the right hand, the second and glorious coming again…..[7]

Essential to our remembering, that we might live in the profound reality of ‘living, moving and having our being’ in the Father, with Christ, led by the Holy Spirit, this seminary formation, immersion in the Holy Gospel, is crucial and should be frequently drawn upon from a joyous memory.
Prayer – in particular intimate communion of love with the Holy Trinity – is the atmosphere we must live in for our souls as surely as we necessarily live in an oxygenated atmosphere for our very lives sake.
Prayer – especially Holy Mass, adoration, Divine Office, lectio divina, pious devotions, in particular meditative praying of the Stations of the Cross and the Holy Rosary, with Mary as our teaching guide deep into the mysteries of our redemption and faith, is not only foundational during seminary life but in our daily lives as priests.
If we have not already become men of prayer during the formative years in the seminary, immediately is a good time to begin!
Pope John Paul II, with great wisdom and joy, sadly with much misguided criticism, amplified the ranks of Saints through the canonization of priests, religious and laity from all possible vocations and nations. This in turn has led to a greater awareness of, and telling the stories of, holy ones in our midst who may, or may not, be presented someday for canonization, but whose lives bear specific witness to the joy of holiness.
The joy of self-gift, of fiat, for the sake of the Kingdom, charity towards all and for the love of God!
One such soul whose story is now being told is a particular witness to the critical importance of seminary formation and of a profound life of prayer for seminarians and priests alike.
He is also a witness to the joy of divine election and willing response to that call.
His name is Father Eugene Hamilton.
Father, on this earth, was a priest with us for barely a few hours.
In heaven, priest like us, he remains, as we shall, priest forever.
Since at every Holy Mass, at each altar, we are celebrating on earth the heavenly liturgy, he is with us still.
Any man, at least of high school age, certainly all priests, cannot fail but to be inspired, encouraged, by the example of this young priest. Even in his barely formed youth Father understood that configuration to Christ Priest means precisely that!
His story is admirably told by Fr. Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R. in his book: A PRIEST FOREVER.
It is a book to be highly recommended as a gift to any young man considering priesthood.
These words of Fr. Hamilton stress prayer as constitutive of our response to divine election:
The importance of prayer to me is rooted in my upbringing and life experiences. Chief among these is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is from the Eucharist that my daily prayer takes root. Praying the Liturgy of the Hours for me is an extension of that high point of prayer, the Mass. From such an appreciation comes a better understanding of Christ’s Presence in the other Sacraments as well, especially Penance. The Rosary provides an opportunity to meditate on the mysteries of Christ’s life, while walking in faith with Mary…
Thus my personal prayer life has been developed with the goal of union with God, recognizing that I have been called to serve Him and His Church. My prayers motivate my thoughts, words, and deeds towards this end…..
Intellectual examination of the importance of honesty, chastity, docility, humility, charity, and prudence has translated into the application of such virtues in everyday life. All of this takes place while being grounded in prayer.
The ability to give Christian witness, especially in the area of perseverance and quiet charity, is something which stems from my trust in God. [8]
Prayer is the experience of encounter with the Divine Lover, Christ Priest. From this flows a wellspring of prayer lived: fidelity, openness to Christ in all His Sacraments, the teachings of the Church, service to Her, loving service of all our brothers and sisters with a heart which is honest, chaste, docile, humble, charitable and prudent.
It is faith lived.
Faith, noted exquisitely by Fr. Hamilton as the ever deepened experience of encountering Christ in the mysteries of our salvation, the mysteries of the Holy Rosary: ‘walking in faith’ in the company of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
…many of us – to the grave detriment of the Church, to the great sorrow of the faithful – have forgotten who we are, have mis-learned what the priesthood is all about or have been mis-taught the realities of the holy priesthood of Jesus Christ……
…Of course many priests are faithful to the traditional ideal of the priesthood, the ideal of the priesthood as developed by the early Christians, as presented to us by…the true believers of all times, the saints who have laid down their lives century after century that priests, ordained priests, should be truly ministers of Christ’s benefits, graces and love for the people of the church and for the whole world.
Yes, saints know what a priest is. Saints have always had a total faith in the transformation which takes place in a poor sinful man at the moment when the bishop imposes hands upon him. Saints have always seen in the priest a great glory, the glory of Tabor, the glory of the risen Christ shining through the personal sinfulness of a man. We have hands of clay, feet of clay. We stumble and fall like every other human being. We commit sins, any one of the seven capital vices, including all their ramifications. True, but saints have seen in us something beyond the sinfulness, beyond the intelligence or stupidity of a man, beyond his immense weaknesses. They have seen Christ. They have crawled to priests on their knees for forgiveness. They have adored with all their might the sacrament he confected at Mass. They have given their lives for that sacrament. They have hungered and thirsted for the bread and wine which he alone can provide to feed them and strengthen them in their terrible spiritual combats, in their life of total self-giving, of sacrifice and ever increasing life….
Catherine Doherty….with all her heart says to priests, “I love you. I believe in you. Be who you are. You are Christ….I believe in priests. I always will. For I know they are Christ. Christ’s love and mercy and tenderness made visible upon earth and multiplied all over the world wherever there is a priest.”[9]

This is our divine election.
This is our vocation.
This is our joy [Mk.16:19, 20].



WHEN I WAS a child, decades before the Second Vatican Council, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was celebrated according to the basic formula laid down after the Council of Trent, thus it is commonly known as the Tridentine Mass.


In the section known as THE MASS OF THE FAITHFUL of that liturgy, the priest began with an Offertory verse:

BENEDICTUS SIT DEUS PATER: Blessed be God, the Father, and the Only-Begotten Son of God, and also the Holy Spirit: because He has shown His mercy towards us!

It was participating in those Masses, celebrated according to the, by then, ancient rite, in Latin, and later as an altar boy serving Mass, that the earliest conscious memory of my life began to flower into a profound desire: to be a priest!

The fire of that desire was always the longing to celebrate Holy Mass.

As is clear from reading this telling of the mystery that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more, often times, frequently for years on end, it seemed that dream was impossible, if not virtually rejected by the sinful choices I so often made.

Now, in the first years of my fortieth decade of life, my studies completed, the Bishop was calling me to ‘orders’, that is, he had set the date for my priestly ordination.

Throughout my seminary years I had asked Our Blessed Mother that, if possible, the chosen date by the Bishop would be on one of her feasts. And so it would be, and not only that, but the same date as the ordination of my spiritual father, which had taken place nearly a quarter of a century before mine.

I was to be ordained with four confreres and so this meant the cathedral was packed with all our families, friends, relatives and, most movingly, not only the priests of the diocese but various priest friends and newly ordained confreres from across the country.

Reception of any sacrament is so sacred that any attempt to put the event, the experience, in words, will necessarily always fail to convey the full impact of sacred mystery.

Yet I feel in my heart an attempt must be made.

Not, however, with my own words.

There are no better words than those of Holy Mother the Church herself, from the Preface to the Canon of the Mass for the Mass of Ordination:

Father, all-powerful and ever-living God, we do well always and everywhere to give You thanks.

By Your Holy Spirit You anointed Your only Son High Priest of the new and eternal covenant.

With wisdom and love You have planned that this one priesthood should continue in the Church.

Christ gives the dignity of a royal priesthood to the people He has made His own.

From these, with a brother’s love, He chooses men to share His sacred ministry by the laying on of hands.

He appoints them to renew in His Name the sacrifice of our redemption as they set before Your family His paschal meal.

He calls them to lead Your holy people in love, nourish them by Your word, and strengthen them through the sacraments.

Father, they are to give their lives in Your service and for the salvation of Your people as they strive to grow in the likeness of Christ and honour You by their courageous witness of faith and love.

Within that brief solemn prayer is contained the whole truth about this sacred mystery of a mere man being sacramentally transfigured by the Holy Spirit into Christ.

It is the holy will of the Father there be but one priest, one mediator, Jesus Christ.

It is also the holy will of the Father that Christ be truly, always, present among us in the reality of sacramental life, most especially in the Holy Eucharist.

For this reality to be made present in time, space, history, the Father wills through the power of the Holy Spirit that men be sacramentally transfigured in persona Christi, in the person of Christ.

It is Christ who chooses the man to be ordained.

It is NOT the man who assumes priesthood.

It is the power of the Holy Spirit, passed by Christ to the Apostles in the upper room and through them to their successors, the bishops and priests across the millennia through the laying on of hands, the invocation of the coming down of the Holy Spirit upon a man, that makes this sacramental reality, real.

The priest is to continually renew the Paschal Mystery which he does each time he celebrates Holy Mass.

He does this for the children of the Father, the family, the holy people, mentioned in the Canon, a people made holy by the same Holy Spirit through their reception of the sacraments, Baptism, gateway to sacramental life, and all the others, and when they render themselves unholy through sin the priest, in the person of Christ, has authority to absolve their sins so in Christ they can begin again to be, to live, as a holy people.

Ordination is not glorification of a man.

Ordination is sacred consecration of a servant who is to pour himself out, like Christ, for the people.

There is another word on this mystery of ordination, of priesthood, of what transpired on the day of my ordination, and it is from a woman who has an extraordinary understanding and love for this sacred mystery, in particular for every priest and who gave her life for priests, the Servant of God Catherine Doherty:

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 the 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 the 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. [dg]


Finally, there being on the face of the earth as I write these lines no more consummate living icon of the fullness of this sacred, awesome, mystery of sacramental Divine Mercy, than Pope John Paul II, it is from him this final word, seeking to convey the ineffable grace of my ordination and of every moment of being priest, now nearly twenty years a reality of my being:

The one about to receive Holy Orders prostrates himself completely and rests his forehead on the church floor, indicating in this way his complete willingness to undertake the ministry being entrusted to him……I was thinking back on that moment of ordination and I wrote a poem………Peter, you are the floor, that others may walk over you…not knowing where they go. You guide their steps……In lying prostrate on the floor in the form of a cross before one’s ordination, in accepting in one’s own life — like Peter — the cross of Christ and becoming with the Apostle a ‘floor’ for our brothers and sisters, one finds the ultimate meaning of all priestly spirituality. [dh]

Until the day I am lain in a plain pine box, vested as all priests are in death to celebrate Holy Mass, each moment of my life has been, will be, a continual, graced, struggle to become what I am by ordination: PRIEST!

To become, joyfully, ‘floor’!





THE FIRST READING in today’s Holy Mass was from 1 Samuel 3, wherein the young man is called by the Lord and utters his famous: “ Here I am Lord! “


One of those modern songs, I dare not call it a hymn, used ad nauseam for years at ordinations and other liturgies, repeats that ‘ here I am Lord ‘ phrase over and over, but in a context which is more laudatory of ourselves than humble praise and gratitude of His calling to us.

This originates, I believe, in the misconception that once we have said ‘here I am Lord ‘, things are a done deal.

Yet the very life of Christ Himself, indeed the very ‘fiat’ of Our Blessed Mother, testifies that answering His call is but the bare beginning.

He calls us constantly to an ever deeper metanoia/conversion of heart and more dispossessed kenosis/self-emptying, so that by the purifying action of the Holy Spirit we may come to such a complete imitation of, configuration to Christ, that we can indeed, with the Apostle, cry out in truth: “ I no longer live, Christ lives in me! “

The perfect “Here I am Lord “is, of course, Jesus Himself — Jesus in the Garden and on the Cross, saying His ‘here I am ‘to the Father: [Lk.22:42] and [Lk.23:46].

Like probably everyone else, when hearing His call, I sincerely believed my ‘Here I am Lord ‘was complete.

Of course it was, in the narrow confines of that immediate moment, but, it was limited by my lack of understanding about the reality, the implications, as well as the gift, of His call: Whoever wishes to come after Me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me. [Mt.16:24]

Christ was obedient unto death….here is the ‘essence’ of our life……We are going to be tempted; we are going to be scourged. Everything is going to be against us; for the one thing the devil doesn’t want us to do is to die on the cross of our Lord…….At night, before you go to sleep, keep in your mind this thought: “ He was obedient unto death. “ [cu]


It is in the reality that our — no, in truth I can only say my: it is then in the reality that my ‘Here I am Lord ‘ is not yet complete that I am beginning to write the end chapters of this work, renewing my prayer that should anyone, should you, ever read this it will console your heart with the merciful, lavish, communion of love truth that, no matter how mired we are in sin, grace abounds all the more! [Rm.5:20]

I’M STILL reflecting in my heart upon the Desert Father story of the old man whom the devil distracted from trusting Christ by the scattering of the old man’s palm leaves.

What a metaphor for my life!

The old man said, indeed I say to the Lord, I weep because of the suffering, the shock, humiliation, frustration, yea even the fearfulness, that the devil should be allowed to treat the baptized of the Lord in such a horrible manner.

Jesus touches me, as He touched the old man, with tenderness, and Infinite patience, teaches me yet again a basic truth I always neglect — more than merely forget — the devil has his way with me when I seek to struggle in spiritual warfare, in even the ordinariness of life, by my own wits.

“As soon as you called upon Me satan fled for I have overcome him. “

Yes Lord, You, and You alone, are the Victor.

Once I had started university, as the Dean had requested, I informed him, telling him at the same time I was ready to move out of my living situation but given the cost of university and books did not have the income to get a place of my own. He said he would take care of it for me.

Weeks went by.

Winter arrived.

The Dean contacted me and said I was accepted for the fall term in the seminary and to proceed with the required medical check-up, necessary copy of my Baptismal certificate and gave me a list of basic books I would need, including the breviary for celebration of the Divine Office.

He suggested that even though the obligation to pray the Divine Office would not actually be mine until I was, some years in the future, a deacon, it would be good even now as a layman to begin to pray it.

As to my living situation he trusted my word I was living chastely and would soon have a place for me to live.

Today as I sit here and pen these lines in the rectory of a friend, where I am having a little holiday, I look out through the lace curtains into the expansive yard, with its statue of Mary, flower beds in full bloom, grapevines embracing their lattice. Across the alley, above the roofs of houses on the far street, the sky is boiling with black clouds, as thunder cracks the silence of this summer afternoon, and, lightening heralds the sudden downpour which slakes the earth, burdened by this latest drought.

It has been a good day. [Lk. 1:37]

We are nearing Epiphany.

Once again I fled these pages for months!

I have been scurrying around, chasing palm leaves again!

At this rate I’ll be on my deathbed and they’ll have to uncurl my fingers from around the pen with which I shall still be scribbling away.


Such a relentless companion of late.

A veritable cyclone of palm leaves.

It has occupied me much, both as a priest serving the dying, and the grieving, and very much in my own heart.

A great mystery in this season when we celebrate His birth — but then here is a deep mystery worthy of constant contemplation: God leaps down to earth Incarnate as a man, lain in the manger and ascends to heaven after having Risen from being lain in the tomb.

So far, since I last wrote any of this, I have attended the funerals of five dear brother priests and been the priest present as two of them were called home.

Each was in his own way a true holy servant of God, His People, our people.

It is also true that the actual reality of a person’s goodness becomes apparent only in death.

This is borne out by the fact, as another priest once remarked in a homily, we seem in our grief blessedly purged, in most instances, of all but the most tender and respectful memories of the deceased.

Yes, each of those dear brother priests was a mixture of saintliness and the woundedness of sins committed, sins thrust against them. But in the end each died in the arms of Jesus and Mary as we, their brother priests, prayed they be forgiven the sins of their youth.

The Pieta moment, for all Our Blessed Mother’s priest sons.

Is this not the joy of our Catholic sacramental faith that within the Church all are members of the same family, saint and sinner alike, and everyone is welcome and Our Lady is there as tender Pieta for all “ now and at the hour of our death! “

This week, the latest death of a brother priest hit me particularly hard, indeed reminded me too of the need to continue this writing.

Meanwhile I hereby pay a debt to my brother priest who died this week, a debt which is another example of the mysterious way in which Christ is always there, knocking on the door of our being and asking entrance:

Almost thirty years ago, not many months after finding myself unemployed from one of my many jobs, I was hitchhiking around the country.

It was early fall and the nights were quite cold.

This particular night the cold was aggravated by a steady drizzle and I was alone, cold, wet, hungry and, in spite of my anger at the Church, found myself desperate enough to bang on the door of a rectory in the small town where I was stranded.

It was well after midnight and no one seemed about anywhere in that town. There was no all-night gas station or coffee shop. No shelter of any kind.

After some pounding I noticed a light come on in an upper room. A few minutes later lights came on near the door. The door opened and standing before me, dressed in a black cassock, stood an elderly priest.

All I remember saying was, “Hello Father. “, and the priest instantly inviting me in.

The place was warm and before I had gotten too far in my tale of woe the priest assured me I could stay the night and immediately took me into the large kitchen, put on the kettle, disappeared for a few minutes and returned with some dry clothes, showing me a bathroom down a hall where I could clean up, dry off, put on the warm clothes.

When I came back into the kitchen he had a simple meal of soup, toast and coffee already prepared, gave me directions to a guest room, and left.

When I came down to the kitchen the next morning he had already prepared an ample bacon and egg, toast, coffee, breakfast. He’d even washed and dried my clothes.

As I was leaving after that breakfast he pushed what seemed to me like a fistful of cash into my hand, told me to keep the clothes, insisted I take a bible and a book of the lives of the saints, and as I stepped out of the door he said: “ You MUST return to the faith!”

A few days ago, just before Christmas, I took the elderly priest who lives here with me to the bedside of a dying brother priest. We anointed him, gave him Holy Viaticum, prayed the prayers of the dying as he fell asleep in the arms of Our Blessed Mother.

Both of those priests, the one who died, and the elderly one who accompanied me, had been brother priests together for decades and had even once served together in the same parish.

The one whom I anointed and gave Holy Viaticum to is the same priest who sheltered, clothed, fed, and encouraged me to return to the faith those thirty years ago.

Please God by now I have chased enough palm leaves.





WEEKS PAST, and while things seemed to return to the way they were — my companion returned from the coast, I kept up my free-lance work — things were much changed, though it would take time for me to comprehend just how they had changed.


Early one afternoon I sat with friends watching the television coverage from Rome as a man, small of stature, emerged onto the ancient balcony to give the Church and the world his first pontifical blessing.

What struck all of us, and certainly I had been interiorly comparing this new Pope on sight to the image of Pope Paul VI, was his smile!

It seemed the world instantly rejoiced and embraced this humble little man of the kindly father’s smile.

Yes, change was afoot.

One day a letter arrived from my former spiritual director, last seen in the black cloud diesel smoke of a departing bus.

It was a strange letter.

The gist of it being a vague description of his plans to be a priest and scholar in some new charismatic community and an almost off-hand note that he has passed on my ‘file’ to another priest to be my spiritual director.

I was infuriated by both the fact of the ‘file’, in other words my letters to him over the years and his comments, and that he assumed a] that I wanted a spiritual director and b] that I would want the priest he picked as my spiritual director even if by some stretch of the imagination I should figure out either that I wanted, or even more distressing, that I needed one!

So I, in that instant, made one of my more stupid inner-vows that I simply would not respond, should I ever hear from this new priest.

But then I read the end of the letter and came upon the name of the ‘new’ priest.

It was the name of a priest who was a dear friend of mine from The Community!

The very priest who had received my first vows in The Community more than a decade before.

He was someone I admired as a man, a friend, an intellectual and especially as a priest.

Perhaps, just perhaps, this wouldn’t be such a bad turn of events after all.

Still, I did manage to find this change rather threatening.

It was as if my soul knew this priest would indeed be the hound of the Hound of Heaven Himself!

THE HOLY SPIRIT has His own way of driving a point home!

I was about to take a break in writing today, this already the second chapter written today, when my heart was moved, — as I was giving thanks in the very writing for the priest mentioned in the letter, he remains these twenty plus years later still my spiritual father, — to recall this word about Abba Evargrius:

..we also saw a most learned man, wonderful in every way, Evargrius by name. To him among other powers of the soul was granted such grace in the discernment of spirits and the purging of thoughts ( as the Apostle says ) that it was thought that no other brother had ever achieved such subtle and spiritual knowledge. He had gathered his great understanding by his studies and his experience but above all by the grace of God. [bz]

Within the common sense wisdom of that old saw, ‘ the man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client ‘, is the germ of a more vital truth: the soul who is its own spiritual director embarks upon a fool’s journey.

It is the Holy Spirit Himself who teaches the soul its need for direction and then Himself directs the soul.

The surest protection for the soul from error, in this dialogue and guidance of the Holy Spirit, is the instrumentality of a wise and holy spiritual director — preferably an ordained priest.

…through the Fathers of the Church God has made it clear to us that we need spiritual direction. All Christians, all Catholics, should make use of it. St. John of the Cross has said that ‘only a fool directs himself ‘….people should seek direction. Through this grace they realize better 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. [ca]

Even before I had been contacted by this new priest, new in the sense of his being suggested as a spiritual director for me, the Church and the world, strangely even my own heart, were plunged into sorrow once more through the shocked suddenness of the death of the smiling little father of us all, Pope John Paul the First.

This time it would be a strange period of mourning I would undergo.

I even went to Holy Mass — though not Holy Communion being as I was still unwilling to confess my sins in the sacrament of confession.

Oddly I was feeling as a child who has lost their father.

What WAS happening to me?

How came it to pass that I was losing my taste for the life I had lived with such frenzied determination these many years?

Was this some auspicious change occurring within me, or a mere atavistic anomaly in the rhythm of my life?

Then once again, through television, the world fixed its eyes upon, the Church cast her gaze towards, the ancestral balcony, and there emerged a strong man, also a smiling man, ‘from a far country. ‘

THIS NEW BISHOP OF ROME intended to be a servant. And so, before the eyes of the world, John Paul II prayed, ‘ Christ, make me become and remain the servant of Your unique power, the servant of Your sweet power, the servant of Your power that knows no eventide. Make me a servant. Indeed, the servant of Your servants.’

And the message of this ‘ servant of the servants of God ‘ was the call of Christ to His disciples: BE NOT AFRAID! Be not afraid to welcome Christ and accept His power. Help the Pope and all those who wish to serve Christ and with Christ’s power to serve the human person and the whole of mankind.

Be not afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ. To His saving power open the boundaries of states, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Be not afraid. Christ knows ‘what is in man.’ He alone knows it. [cb]


Prayer to St. John Vianney

St. JohnO Holy Priest of Ars, the infamous attacks of the devil which you had to suffer and the

 trials which disheartened you by fatigue would not make you give up the sublime task of converting souls. The devil came to you for many years to disturb your short rest but you won because of mortification and prayers.


Powerful protector, you know the tempter’s desire to harm my baptized and believing soul. He would have me sin, by rejecting the Holy Sacraments and the life of virtue. But good Saint of Ars dispel from me the traces of the enemy.

Holy Priest of Ars, I have confidence in your intercession. Pray for me during this novena especially for … (mention silently your special intention).