For the last few years I have listened to priests, seminarians, and my brothers and sisters in the laity vent their frustrations about the clergy. From the scandals to the distressing silence in response to the news that nearly 70% of Catholics deny the Real Presence to the toll the pandemic has taken on the priesthood and the laity alike, there is great concern about the state of the priesthood and the hierarchy in the Church today.
Many faithful Catholics who are trying to live lives of discipleship and holiness have felt like spiritual orphans abandoned by their spiritual fathers throughout this pandemic. Divisive decisions by various dioceses which divide us rather than foster authentic communion have only served to deepen already gaping wounds that were already festering from the scandals. There is a deep longing within the hearts of the faithful for a holy priesthood and for loving spiritual fathers on fire with the love of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.
After listening to all of these struggles from others—both priests and laity—about the issues facing the priesthood, seeing it myself, and spending time in prayer and study of the priesthood, it became clear to me that the answer requires a strong spiritual response. It requires supernatural faith, hope, and charity and supernatural vision. To fight spiritually for our spiritual fathers in a more dedicated manner. The answer came through this year’s liturgical calendar.
Providentially, there are exactly 54 days between the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (June 12) and the Memorial of St. John Vianney (August 4) this year. Our Blessed Mother is the Queen and Mother of our priests. She draws out their spiritual fatherhood and leads them to love as Christ loves. She keeps them pure, chaste, and celibate. She leads them along the Way of the Cross and to their calling to be crucified with Christ. She also does not tolerate clericalism, corruption, abuse, and sin in her priest-sons. She leads them to become the saints they are called to be.
St. John Vianney is the patron saint of parish priests. He is an example to the priesthood of how the priest’s ministry will only be fruitful in the measure he is willing to die-to-self for God’s people. A crucified priest who is deeply prayerful, Eucharistic, a man of mortifications and penances, Marian, who fights spiritual battles—including demons—for the salvation of souls, who speaks the truth when it is difficult, and who loves with the heart of a father will save more souls than a priest who focuses on administrative tasks and/or social work and is crucified on this false cross. One is the authentic path of the priest and the other is a counterfeit.
The priesthood needs renewal. We live in dark days and we need men to lead us into battle. To fight for us as loving spiritual fathers. To lead us to the truth and to tell us the hard things we need to hear in order to become saints. Men who are dedicated to leading us to become saints because they themselves are serious about sanctity. Holiness is not measured by niceness or how personable a priest may be. Does he help us become saints? That is the true sign of a spiritual father and a holy priest. When we encounter authentic spiritual fatherhood, we will never want to settle for anything less again. How do we help priests become stronger spiritual fathers? We pray and fast for them.
All of our priests need us praying for them. This 54-day novena is not simply for those priests who caused scandal. It is for all priests. The priests who are holy need our prayers to persevere in their ministry so that they will not fall backwards. There is not a single priest on this planet who is too holy for our daily prayers. We should also be offering thanksgiving to the Eternal High Priest for all of those priests who live their priestly vocation with fervent loyalty and love to God. Never think your priest is too holy for your daily prayers!
We need to be praying for those priests who are in danger of leaving the priesthood. Those who have fallen into despair and darkness who do not think they can go on. The most desolate and heartbroken of priests need us to pray for them. All those priests around the world who are persecuted or abandoned. As well as those priests who are paralyzed by addiction and habitual sin. Those who hurt and abuse others and those who cover it up. For priests who are enslaved by the world, the flesh, or the devil and have fallen into mediocrity.
Once again, we need to pray for spiritual fathers. We live in a time when masculinity and fatherhood has been viciously attacked. Too many men do not know how to be fathers—natural or spiritual. We need spiritual fathers who will fight for us because the fight is already here. All we have to do is look around at our culture to know that our Catholic faith is under attack, not just from outside, but from within.
One of the major reasons the clergy sex abuse scandals took place is because priests and bishops either forgot or never understood that they are fathers. They are not bureaucrats, politicians, and administrators. A father never tolerates the abuse of his children and fights with everything he has to protect them. One of the hallmarks of clericalism is the willingness to sacrifice the innocent in favor of the institution or to protect one’s own. This is a diabolical inversion of spiritual fatherhood.
We need to be making reparations to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary for the sins of priests. This especially includes the scandals and failings during the pandemic, but it also includes the sins of our own parish priests, priests’ sins against the Blessed Sacrament and God’s Word, and the times they have failed to teach, to govern, and to sanctify God’s people. The more we are willing to offer reparations for the sins of the clergy, the greater the renewal that will take place within the priesthood. Full healing will not come until we are willing to fight on behalf of our priests through prayer and sacrifice. If we truly love our priests, then our greatest desire should be for them to become saints.
Now is the time for priest-saints to rise up and renew the Church. Like ages past, we need priests who are willing to live the radical calling of the Gospel in new ways that will speak to this time and place. St. Francis of Assisi, St. Dominic, St. Philip Neri, St. Peter Damian, St. Maximilian Kolbe, and countless other saints changed the Church and the world through their witness. We need priests-saints who are men of joy, peace, bold preaching, sacrifice, fatherhood, and crucifixion.
Day in and day out, Catholics spend hours arguing about the state of the Church in social media. The answer to the renewal of the priesthood begins in prayer and fasting. It begins with mortifications offered for our priests. When we start fighting the spiritual battles necessary for them, change will begin to happen. So long as we focus on fighting in social media and elsewhere without engaging in the real spiritual battle, divisions will only grow and the status quo will continue. If we have time for social media, then we have time to pray this novena on their behalf. Your own parish priest needs your prayers.
Our priests need us to pray a 54-Day Rosary Novena for their sanctification and in reparation for their sins in union with Our Immaculate Mother, St. Joseph, St. John Vianney, and all the angels and saints. We’ve started it in my area and others are starting it in their dioceses. This is a grassroots movement that’s goal is for a holy priesthood and for an increase in holy vocations to the priesthood through prayer and sacrifice. As St. Therese said in her beautiful prayer for priests:
Jesus, I pray for your faithful and fervent priests;
for your unfaithful and tepid priests;
for your priests laboring at home or abroad in distant mission fields;
for your tempted priests;
for your lonely and desolate priests;
for your young priests;
for your dying priests;
for the souls of your priests in Purgatory.
But above all, I recommend to you the priests dearest to me:
the priest who baptized me;
the priests who’ve absolved me from my sins;
the priests at whose Masses I’ve assisted and who’ve given me Your Body and Blood in Holy Communion;
the priests who’ve taught and instructed me;
all the priests to whom I am indebted in any other way, especially ____
O Jesus, keep them all close to your heart,
and bless them abundantly in time and in eternity. Amen.
For information about praying the 54-Day Novena for priests you can go here or you can simply find a 54-Day Rosary Novena online and pray it from June 12-August 4 for our priests, bishops, seminarians, and for holy vocations to the priesthood. Now is the time to fight for a holy priesthood.
image: Priest and deacon celebrating traditional Mass at St Pancratius (Rome) by Thoom / Shutterstock.com