When I saw the video of Fr. Stephen Schumacher from the Archdiocese of St. Louis standing in front of the city’s statue of St. Louis, while surrounded by an angry mob, I knew it was a pivotal moment for priests in this country. This young priest attempted to engage with an angry mob set on destroying a statue of a saint they know nothing about, which was evidenced by the ignorance being shouted at him as he attempted to offer a history lesson about the king and saint.
As radical secularism continues her march towards the Church, propelled forward by the diabolical forces that ultimately fuel such rabid hatred, priests will be asked to defend the truth in ways that have been unknown in this country during our lifetime. Fr. Schumacher showed the angry mob and the world what it is to stand with and in Christ as a Catholic priest, even in dangerous situations. He put his life in danger in order to spread the Good News.
The priesthood has suffered tremendously under the weight of the sex abuse scandals for the last 18 years. It has suffered even longer under those who sought to make the priesthood in their own image and the image of the world, abandoning Christ and the flock entrusted to them. Regardless of these stains, Christ loves His priests and so should we.
Much will be expected of priests in the coming years, whether they can see it yet or not. There are plenty who do, such as Fr. Schumacher who—guided by the Holy Spirit—was able to withstand a very dangerous situation in patience and charity. It will not be the last time he finds himself or his brother priests in such a situation. In the future, he and his brother priests may be asked to sacrifice their freedom or blood. More mobs will come. Priests’ radical witness to the Gospel will be greatly needed in order to shine light into the darkest places within the hearts of so many lost souls.
A spiritual response to what is transpiring is primary. We as the laity must come to see priests as they are called by Christ. Many saints and holy men and women down through the ages have been given insight into the nature of the priesthood. Lay and religious women have been called to love priests with the radical love of Christ through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. They have been able to see the priesthood with a supernatural vision often clearer than priests themselves. It is their deep love for priests, and Christ in His priests, that has helped heal the wounds, confusion, and corruption that have darkened the priesthood since its institution at the Last Supper.
One of these holy women Catherine Doherty, founder of Madonna House, and spiritual mother to priests. In her book, Dear Father, Doherty writes of her profound, moving, and insightful love for priests—a love so immense that the priests around her struggled to understand it. Many priests could not understand her insights into the priesthood since they did not conform to their own experiences, but she continued to love and serve her them with an open heart, which eventually led them to grow in their priestly identity. Eventually they came to see that her depth of understanding about the priesthood was God-given.
Too often the laity wants to criticize the priesthood’s many faults. Critiques are necessary in order to get to the heart of what is infecting the priesthood at present, but we often forget that the burdens placed on priest’s shoulders are much heavier than our own. Most of us with a vocation to marriage and family life will stand before Our Lord being asked if we cared for our children and the souls he sent our way. Priests will be held accountable for thousands, and sometimes millions, of souls.
Doherty understood what was required of priests and she sought to lovingly guide them to a deeper understanding of their identity in Christ so that they could faithfully live their vocation. She wrote to priests in Dear Father:
“Priests are men twice set apart by the Lord. You’ve heard the Lord speak twice, once at Baptism and then at Ordination, calling you forth to become another Christ. He asked you to arise and go into the abysses, into the man-made hells on earth, and there abide until you are dead, dead to yourselves, dead to the flesh, to pomp and all worldly honors, to all that men hold dear.
Yes, Christ calls you to arise and go into the abysses of man-made hells where few know his awesome, healing, gentle name. There you will find Mary, who abides in all the hells and haunts of men, because as Mother of God, she also is the mother of men.”
Her words ring true now as priests face more and more hostility from the culture, a growing indifference from their flock, the darkness of spiritual warfare, an identity crisis within their ranks, and the loneliness of the Way of the Cross. Doherty understood that standing before angry mobs armed with charity and truth was a part of what Christ asks of His priests.
She herself had lived through the extermination of many priests while living in Petrograd, Russia. She watched as the priest who was celebrating a secret Mass in the middle of the night was shot and killed at the makeshift altar right after consecrating the Holy Eucharist. She knew deep within her that priests are called to surrender everything to Christ, even their very lives.
Years later, while living in Canada, she experienced a vision of the priesthood after falling asleep in prayer one night. In that vision, she saw the wounds, weaknesses, sins, and temptations of countless priests who were standing in front of her. It transformed her. She no longer sought to accuse them for all of their wrongdoings. Instead, she sought to love them and show them compassion in order to help renew them. In so doing, she was able to help priests who had fallen, or were in danger of falling, return to the Way of the Cross and the dying-to-self required of them.
It is easy for us to be critical of the priesthood given what has happened in recent years. Doherty understood this tendency. There needs to be reform, renewal, and justice, but all of this must be predicated on love. We cannot continue to beat our priests over the head with the sins of their brothers or their own weaknesses and failings. They are going to need our encouragement, prayers, and penances on their behalf now more than ever. It’s time to forgive as Christ forgives.
Night has fallen. We must stand up and fight the spiritual battles necessary for our priests and bishops. We must seek to love them despite their weaknesses and failings and truly stand with them. Catherine Doherty shows us how to love priests and examples like Fr. Schumacher’s inspire hope in both Christ and His priesthood; but in order for priests to be able to rise to the occasion, they will need our fervent prayers and penances. Pray hard and with immense love.
Image: Mass in a Connemara Cabin by Aloysius O’Kelly