“No one will touch it with a 10-foot pole,” best-selling Catholic author, speaker and convert Elizabeth Ficocelli said to me when presenting the manuscript for the children’s book Where Do Priests Come From? “At one point a New York publisher was interested but then the abuse scandals began to break and they dropped it like a hot potato.”
“Yeah, I can imagine,” was my uneasy response as then current secular headlines calling for Pope Benedict’s arrest and/or demand that he “step down” from the Seat of Peter were all over the AP wires.
As the mother of 3 sons, my own heart was restless in regards to the on-going, ever-unfolding priest scandals that rocked the Catholic Church. Although no such scandal had touched my own life, I often thought of, and prayed for, the families who had experienced abuse.
How could I, then, consider publishing a book that upheld the priesthood as a noble and dignified calling? How could I, with limited reach and resources, consider a book that other Catholic publishers wouldn’t ‘touch with a 10-foot pole?’
I suppose that if the priesthood were simply a “made up” practice of the Catholic Church I, too, would have walked away from Elizabeth’s book. After all, my own company is just a “David” in an industry of “Goliaths” and it would seem that instead of boldly going where others wouldn’t, it would be more fitting—it would certainly seem wiser and show more business acumen—that I take my cue from the big guys and walk away.
But my heart wouldn’t allow me.
Somehow I knew that if I walked away from this little gem of a book, the good Lord was going to ask me some tough questions when I stood before Him. Maybe it is because of all the research I have done over the years from my Jewish roots book or maybe it is because my small company could much more quickly and easily round up an illustrator and bring this necessary book to print—amidst scandal and contention that surrounded the Church—that my heart knew the answer before my head could process it.
Still, should I be brazen enough to imagine that this book may bring one boy to the priesthood or that it might allow others, not called, to simply understand that the holy priesthood is an institution that deserves respect and understanding despite the current climate?
While I may never know why my heart was filled with the understanding that I was supposed to publish this book, I do know that I am filled with joy when I look through the beautifully illustrated pages and read the words that shed light on the question: where do priests come from?
Knowledge, as they say, is power.
Part of my joy with this book—despite the pain of considering how the scandals have brought tragedy to so many—comes from the knowledge that the holy priesthood was instituted by Jesus Christ—it is not an institution that the Catholic Church “made up” but is, rather, an institution established by God. Moses was called to consecrate his brother, Aaron, as high priest. In Aaron’s responsibility as such we most closely understand our own Catholic fulfillment of this sacred call upon a man’s life. Understanding Aaron’s role as having been “set aside” to serve God begins to reveal the ways in which a Catholic man may be “set aside” to serve as well.
The Protestant teaching is one of a “universal” priesthood in which the special, “set-aside” priesthood is no longer relevant or necessary. However, in denying that the priesthood still exists as a position essential to the Church, we would be required to deny the fullness of our faith which includes the Sacrifice of the Mass and the power to forgive sins—the binding and loosing in Matthew 16:19; 18:8 and John 20:23.
And I, for one, am not willing or able to deny the fullness of our faith. I could never walk away from the Eucharist and so could never walk away from the holy priesthood as instituted by Christ. I have had to learn how to deal with my own empathy towards wounded families, which at times is almost overwhelming, and still embrace the truth of the priesthood. It has not been easy for any of us who cares about others while loving Mother Church.
So what is our next move as Catholics?
Some call for the ordination of women into the priesthood. However, any real understanding of the practices and teachings of our faith reveals the absurdity of such a proposition. Others call for the acceptance of marriage for priests believing that this will increase the numbers of men who commit to the Sacrament of Holy Orders—but again this is an uninformed answer given by those who do not know their Catholic faith, its teachings and practices, or what it means to be in accordance with the teachings of the Magisterium.
Our next move, then, is that we catechize ourselves under the auspices of faithful Bishops and clergy—that we become vigilant when cruising through the Internet and reading blogs and articles about our faith; that we know why we do what we do. That we understand what it means to form our consciences according to objective truths and not subjective truths.
Without a doubt, our next move ought to find us passionate about upholding the holy priesthood as a linchpin of our faith—without the priesthood we will be completely lost. Make no mistake about it.
I’ve been reading Father Groeschel’s book Arise from Darkness wherein he writes: When we are …betrayed by those we thought we could rely on…we can pick up the Cross and wave it…To boast in the Cross, it seems to me, is an almost fierce gesture when we confront all that would defeat us and say: “Look at the Cross, all of you, and know that I shall not be overcome, because the Lord of Life is with me and in me, and he will go with me even through the valley of the shadow of death.”
I’ve chosen to emphasize the phrase “betrayed by those we thought we could rely on” and apply this particular passage to the Church’s Cross right now in regards to the priestly vocation. We will rely on those whose responsibility it is to right these horrible wrongs and to punish but we also MUST, in the fierceness that Father Groeschel speaks of, now be willing to wave this Cross and not let it overcome our Church.
Instead of running away from acknowledging the holy priesthood as an institution set up by God, Elizabeth’s book faces it head-on. Where Do Priests Come From? relies on research, surveys and a passion to uplift those called to the Sacrament of Holy Orders. It is a beautifully illustrated book that is able to teach young and old alike about this God-given institution and why we are called to build it up, honor it, and cherish it. This wonderful book inspires us to pick up the Cross and in fierce gesture collectively say: WE shall not be overcome!
Note: Where Do Priests Come From? is the first in a series of vocation-awareness books by Elizabeth Ficocelli. The second book Where Do Sisters Come From? is due out in January 2011 with Where Do Deacons Come From? due out in mid-2011.