The call to the priesthood. It is a sacred call. Those who hold privilege to it often neglect to realize the immense obligations and directions required to hold such an office. Too often it has become a career, filled with menial office duties and filling a calendar with events. These men find themselves swayed by the enormity of their position, and see the relationship building side between parishioners and priest more important than their relationship building between Christ and priesthood.
And the parishioners love it. The availability of a pastor on their schedule is important.
It is also selfish on the part of the parishioners.
What both fail to recognize is what Robert Cardinal Sarah so poignantly pointed out:
There is a missionary trend that emphasizes political involvement or struggle and socio-economic development; this approach offers a diluted interpretation of the Gospel and of the proclamation of Jesus. The shortage of priests, the defects in their missionary activities, and a troubling absence of interior life, for lack of a prayer life and frequent reception of the sacraments can eventually cut the Christian faithful off from the wellsprings from which they ought to quench their thirst…Robert Cardinal Sarah, God or Nothing
“We might very well look into the seminaries that, in a cumber of countries, particularly in the West, are insufficiently provided for…[A] true seminary must be a school…where one learns to develop a genuine interior life. A man formed by that school to become a priest prepares to pray well so as to speak about God better, for one can find words about God only after having encountered him and established personal ties with him…Prayer is always the first thing. Without the vitality of prayer, the priest’s motor and that of the Church idles as a result.”
Time spent fraternizing with the laity is time removed from the priest’s time spent with God.
Prayer, the first thing…
St Francis de Sales once said, “Every one of us needs half an hour of prayer a day, except when we are busy – then we need an hour.” The more there is to do, the more prayer is needed.
Recently, our pastor was in the hospital. In his stead, another priest filled in. We were told that Confession would be held half an hour prior to Mass. When we got to the church, the priest was not there. And when he showed up late but with time still to spare, he spent that time set aside for Confession chatting with people he knew in the back of the church.
Another time, a priest failed to show up for Mass at all in another parish we belonged to. People were left standing outside the church wondering where he went. New to that parish, we were informed that this was not uncommon.
At yet third parish, the laity had lined up outside the door of the Confessional. But the priest never showed up. Nor was anyone notified of any cancellation of the sacrament. That occurred quite frequently.
This has become a very common experience among the majority of parishes across the country. Spending time conversing instead of being available for the Sacraments cheats the laity out of opportunities to gain Graces. And it is a skewed vision of the role of the priestly office.
The interior life of the man who has attained the sacred trust as a priest has failed to fill himself with a true Love of God. Without a deep interior life, founded upon by study of the Scriptures and prayer, there is nothing to give to others but from the shallow well of limited knowledge abiding inside his mind.
Importance of prioritizing…
We had another priest many years ago who was so focused on himself, that even being at the Mass was difficult. It was clear that God was far from his thoughts.
Other priests , deemed it their function to interpret every upcoming part of the Mass. Unwilling to follow the rubrics (the red letters in a missal indicating what the priest is supposed to do at specified times), they frequently inserted their own viewpoints and explanations, diluting the very words of Christ Himself. Even at the Consecration.
There is a definite sense of holiness among a priest whose focus is not only on God, but on sharing the knowledge of Him outwardly to others. It shows in his love of every part of the Mass, and in the way he participates in the sacraments.
His homilies may not be the very best, but his heart, soul, and understanding of the God with Whom he communes is evident in his presentation. And in his desire to share the tremendous love that has filled his soul with God’s presence through his prayer life. Even a willingness to teach the laity knowledge gleaned from their years in the seminary.
The ones who serve with authenticity of their role as “Alter Christus” (the “other Christ”, or in the role of Christ as priest in certain functions, such as Confession and the Concecration at Mass) is reflective of their personal interior life. For no one can grow to holiness, no one can share to others what which cannot be found within themselves.
If Christ is not a part of their interior conversation daily, hourly, in every moment, it will reflect in their inability to go beyond human weakness. And no one can teach anything greater if the only teacher they learn from is themselves.
That learning of the One they serve is found only in the interior silence of their soul.
…if we wish to create for the seminarians an atmosphere conducive to an encounter with Christ, silence and the edification of the interior man are indispensable…”Robert Cardinal Sarah, ibid
Prayer, the everything…
It is a human phenomenon that those with whom we socialize has an affect on who we are. Their mannerisms, characteristics, their viewpoints – the core values that make them who they are tend to rub off on us. Who we choose as friends, therefore, will determine who we become.
The same is true for the priest. Especially in which seminary he was trained in. And also in what he chooses to engage.
For those who insist on pursuing social or political activities, St. John of the Cross was very clear,
Let those…who are singularly active, who think they can win the world with their preaching and exterior works, observe here that they would profit the Church and please God much more, not to mention the good example they would give, were they to spend at least half of this time with God in prayer…Without prayer, they would do a great deal of hammering but accomplish little, and sometimes nothing, and even at times cause harm”St. John of the Cross, The Spiritual Canticle 29.3
Anyone who wants to gain interior peace cannot toss away prayer as the most important thing in their lives. It must become the priority before anything. The offering of all their words and works for each and every day.
The Benedictine motto, “Ora et Labora”, “Prayer and Work”, cannot be separated from spiritual growth. The busier we are, the more it becomes essential to make it a point to offer every action of the day as a form of prayer to God. For interiorly, in that silent space of our hearts, God resides. And with Him, we will become increasingly like Him with Who we converse at every moment.
The priestly formation…
It is therefore a very important part of the priestly function to spend their time devoted to their prayer life. For all the works of their hands should come from the One Who chose them for their sacred vocation.
Negating the importance of maintaining and growing that relationship will only result in that aridness that Cardinal Sarah spoke of. Without the elixir of life within themselves, they will never have the vital waters of Life with which to quench the spiritual thirst of their flock.
We need to pray for these men, especially the seminarians. May they have grow within themselves the hunger for knowing the God Who they have been called to serve.
And may the laity who are being served pray that the Graces fill the hearts of the priests. For it is through them that we receive the teachings and love of Christ first.