Priests for the Kingdom

As the Jubilee Year for Priests begins, allow me to offer a brief reflection on the beauty and dignity of the priesthood. I write as one who has lived in this state of life for more than twenty years and who has regular contact with many good priests from around the world. Pope Benedict’s call to dedicate a year to deepening our appreciation for the priesthood is an invitation to reflect deeply on the mystery of priestly grace being lived in our midst. We have all been blessed, literally or figuratively, by the ministry of priests, and we all must thank God for this great gift to our Church and our world.

Some realism about the priestly vocation has to both enlighten our view of priests and dampen our expectations of them. Catholic priests are not worldly leaders, they are not perfect and they are not God. Rather, they are God’s chosen servants given the duty of blessing, teaching and leading souls to heaven, and for that reason they have a fierce reckoning to go through on the Day of Judgment. On the final day, the High Priest Himself will weigh His black-robed servants in the scales against the souls that were sent them for care, and the scales will not lie.

The failure of a priest is sad and hurtful, but that just proves that the priest is immersed in the woundedness of the human condition and given to the people for their welfare. He always bears the scars of battle and sometimes fails. He always has to apologize more than the average man for his failures because they have a greater impact on people, and if his public profile is higher than most, his humiliation is often much greater because his faults and failings are usually seen in living color by thousands. That is the tremendous risk of being a priest, but he knows about it ahead of time and he takes it for the sake of the souls he is called to serve. The priest has to throw away everything to serve God’s people, including his comfort, his ambitions and his ego.

Even though priests don’t ask it enough, every priest needs the prayers of his people to support him against the wiles of the world, the flesh and the devil. More than anything, however, he needs prayers to strengthen and confirm him in the grace that he has been given to be that shining light of faith to the world. The grace from these prayers always returns to the one who prays because everyone who prays for priests is served better by them. Prayers for the priesthood in general add more soldiers to the ranks of the clergy and keep some of the failing ones from leaving. Prayers for individual priests and their souls are enormously helpful to a priest’s integrity and his generosity of service. We must never underestimate the power of prayer for God’s servants. They are always fruitful for the Kingdom of God.

People can sometimes be very generous to priests in a material way, and I can say from a personal standpoint that such generosity is always appreciated by us. However, priests really don’t need material gifts or homes offered to us as substitutes for the sacrifices we make for the Kingdom. The Church takes care of us in these aspects of life. What we need is spiritual support for our spiritual work and every once in a while a healthy reminder from the laity that our vocation is not of this world. The prayers of the faithful have gone a long way to sustaining priests in their commitment to the salvation of souls just as the prayers of priests bring so many of the laity the strength they need to overcome the difficulties of life and be fortified for our ongoing spiritual combat.

Just as every soldier deserves good leadership in war because his life will depend on it, so God’s people deserve good priests who are spiritual warriors fighting for their souls, because if these are lost, everything else is, indeed, lost.

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  • noelfitz

    Again a great article.

    The articles in both “Today” and “Touched by Grace” are uplifting and encouraging. However those in “The Edge” often do not encourage me so much in the faith. They are often negative and complaining.

    As the Pope said recently our religion is not essentially about morals but about Christ.

  • Mary Kochan

    Ok, Noel, your complaining has finally convinced me. I will put the gun down and stop forcing you to read the Edge…

  • noelfitz

    Thanks, Mary, I get your point. But at times it is no harm to be challenged.

    However I would not be here, encouraging participation in our Round-Table, if I did not appreciate all that you and your colleagues are doing for the Faith.

  • cece

    Say a prayer for a priest everyday. Your life in heaven depends on these men.

    Since the Mass is our most powerful prayer, I always try to pray for the priest on the altar while he is consuming the Eucharist. “Lord, keep Fr. Tom Euteneuer faithful to the Gospels always.”

  • aquinas74

    Dear Fr. Tom:

    A good reminder regarding your humanity and spirituality. Being 70 and the father of 7 children and 12 grandchildren, I have been blessed by the priests, all quite human, I have known. Fr. Noonan and Fr. Kelly of Divine Savior Church in Los Angeles (please, not “community”). I loved to serve Mass for them and just loved to serve Mass the “old fashion way.” This was the time for a real High Mass, the lighting of those giant candles (my friend, Dennis Cochran and I, would argue over who was going to light the candles). Ah – and the Latin Mass. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, how much I miss Her.

    There was also an Irish priest, Fr. Thomas McGovern, also of Divine Savior, who seemingly was more interested in involving the kids in sports than their spiritual life. He loved being with the kids. I pray that his interest was both truly Christian and wholesome. I was terrified of him. I learned later that he was transferred to a Black parish in Los Angeles; the folks just loved him. I was thankful for knowing that.

    This was in the 1940s through the 1950s.

    Then there was Fr. James O’Callahan! He was a parish priest living at Good Shepherd parish in Beverly Hills. I met him in the late 50s as the Chaplain of the Newman Club of Los Angeles City College. Folks, I have never known such a dynamic, inspirational, an orthodox priest in all my life – except for Fulton J. Sheen. And a personable man! I thank Jesus for the privilege of having come under his wings.

    Fr. O’Callahan had more energy in his little toe than I had/have in my whole body. He had a third of his stomach and had to eat 6 times a day. He was both the spiritual and intellectual director of the Newman club. He introduced us/me to that wonderful cardinal, whose cause for sainthood, seemingly, is moving forward glacially. Each and every week, in addition to his regular parish duties, he had prepared a topic with “C”atholic spiritual and intellectual life and presented it to the Newman Club members with such profound fidelity and vigor, that it moved me so; I’m sure it moved others as well. He finally received what he had prayed for – a parish of his own in Hacienda Heights, CA.

    Parenthentically, he also introduced me to Bill Buckley of National Review fame. That was in 1957/8.

    After I moved on to the military, a marriage to a fine Latina (with a warry and cautious slight glance at Sonia), I never saw that giant of a Priest and man again.

    Even after the 2002 revelation of the sordid and putrid activities of some priest, perhaps more than I/we would like to acknowledge, I still am wedded to the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. I have ALWAYS felt a closeness to the Church, like my Mom, as the Blessed Lady is Notre Dame, unlike that sordid university by the same name.

    Fr. Tom, my queen Sandra and I pray for, among other causes, an increase in “normal, spiritual and orthodox priests and religious.” We are blessed in Boise, ID, to have some of them, more I hope that I am aware of. Some appear to be orthodox, yet I wonder. Some are definitely not – we pray for them too.

    Ora pro nobis.

    Fr. Tom, this one is for You!

    God Bless You! God Bless You! and God Bless you, Fr. Tom.

    Sincerely in Jesus,

    Phil Ferguson, O.P.L.