Four years ago in Mexico City, I and my fellow pilgrims shed tears on the tomb of Ven. Maria Concepción Cabrera de Armida (1862-1937) as we asked her prayers for conversion of heart and greater willingness to sacrifice for priests.
My pastor considers a parish to be a partnership of prayer and sacrifice between shepherd and flock. He led our pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which included a morning at Ven. Conchita’s tomb. There, he invited a woman who does penance for priests to tell her story, inspiring us to do the same.
Conchita will be beatified on May 9. She was an “ordinary” wife and mother of nine to whom Jesus confided the urgency of prayer and sacrifice for His priests. “I will entrust to you a different martyrdom,” Jesus told Conchita. “You will suffer what the priests undertake against me. You will experience and offer up their infidelity and wretchedness,” (quoted in Praying for Priests: A Mission for the New Evangelization by Kathleen Beckman, p. 24). While raising her family, Conchita was loyal to her call. Few were aware of her intense interior martyrdom. The Lord told her that her sufferings would bear fruit at a time to come.
For a Time Such as This
In 2002, St. John Paul II asked “Catholics to stay close to their priests and Bishops, and to support them with their prayers at this difficult time.” Because of the crimes of a few and the cover-up of those crimes, these “difficult times” continue.
As the world’s bishops meet in Rome, lay people have a chance to bring sunlight to disinfect what episcopal passivity has festered. Jesus reminds us, “You are light for the world (Mt. 5:14).” How can the laity help restore trust and give comfort to the injured and betrayed, including holy priests and Bishops who have suffered from the failures of their brothers?
Hope in the Cross
The answer is ancient as Christianity, for it was born at the Cross. “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother (Jn 19:25).” As reported in Conchita: A Mother’s Spiritual Diary, Our Lord told her: “Give me souls who love me in suffering, who find their joy on the Cross. My Heart thirsts for such a love, an unselfish love, an expiatory, crucified love….Yet it is the only true love, the love which saves [and] purifies….”
Many of us, moved by Our Lady of Fatima’s message to the three shepherd children over a century ago, pray and sacrifice for souls who have rejected God: “Pray much and make sacrifices for sinners, for many souls go to hell because there is no one to make sacrifices for them.”
But who will pray for the purity and protection of priests, whom Christ has called as His “other self” to administer the Sacraments that heal the people and make them holy? The Vatican summit tells the urgency of our call as lay people to sacrifice for priests on whose holiness the world depends. “But if salt loses its taste, what can make it salty again (Mat 5:13)?”
You Can Do This
Our Lady told the children at Fatima, “Many persons, feeling that the word ‘penance’ implies great austerities, and not feeling that they have the strength for great sacrifices, become discouraged….” Following are ways in which we can begin to sacrifice for priests in ways that are not too difficult. They are offered here as three approaches that I hope will spark ideas for you to begin this practice.
First Way: Added Sacrifices
At Conchita’s tomb, I was inspired to make three sacrifices for priests; one was cold showers. I soon found myself in a warm bath, not admitting to myself I was doing it to avoid the freezing shower! So I switched to cool showers—bearable, but not comforting. Since that adjustment to accommodate my weakness, God has enabled me to practice all three sacrifices.
These “add-on” sacrifices have the advantage of reminding us every day that we are embracing deprivation specifically for priests. We never do something uncomfortable without our enemy asking, “What are you doing that for?” And we remind ourselves, “So that priests, upon whom our holiness depends, may be holy.”
Sweetening the Bitterness
The more we love God, the sweeter sacrifice becomes. To put this love into practice, we can attach a particular intention to each act of penance. For example, if you leave sugar out of your coffee, offer it in reparation for the bitterness of the world’s criticism of priests. Or if you give up alcohol on certain days of the week, pray that priests’ hearts may be inebriated with the love of the Holy Spirit. Giving up caffeine could evoke your intention that priests are strengthened in fatigue. Such intentions are also powerful in warding off temptations to abandon your penance!
Second Way: Pains of Daily Life
The second way unites the pains, slights, disappointments, and tedium of daily life with those of Jesus. Our model is Mary at the foot of the Cross who said “yes” to what God was doing for the salvation of souls. The advantage to this way is that our whole day can be offered for priests in the morning, using some approved form of the morning offering.
While our day is “covered,” we can also build a habit of noticing moments of joy or pain, and uniting those moments with Jesus and Mary for priests. For example, if you’re stuck in traffic, you can pray that priests obtain the patience they need. During a tedious chore, you can ask Jesus to give joy to priests as they minister to the sick. A glorious sunrise can be united with the glory of God to pray that priests see God’s glory in everyone they meet.
Third Way: Adoration and Prayer
The advantage of adoration is that when we spend time with Jesus Eucharistic, the Eternal High Priest, our prayers for priests take on a special power and immediacy. When we pray the Rosary for priests, Mary’s humility is invoked, which demons hate. Lectio Divina, prayerful meditation on scripture, has a special power because the Word is Jesus, who has conquered sin and death.
How Do I Begin?
In a book I highly recommend, Praying for Priests: An Urgent Call for the Salvation of Souls, author Kathleen Beckman urges us to begin by discerning our sacrifices at the tabernacle. Penance isn’t something we make up for ourselves. It grows out of friendship with The Crucified and His Mother, who invite us to share in their mission. The silent, unmistakable voice of God will lead us to the sacrifices that God has chosen for us. “Whoever wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me (Lk 9:23).” Close friendship with God is what gives to sacrifice a joy that the world, the flesh, and the devil can’t take away.
When You’re Tempted
You probably know not to do any penance that damages your health. And it’s good to take the penance you’ve received in prayer to a priest to make sure it’s from God and not from pride, which would cause you to get discouraged later on.
Remember that when you are tempted to abandon your sacrifice, don’t give up at that moment. If you think you’re being called abandon a penance, bring it to God in prayer. Temptation is a sign that you’re doing something vitally important to build up the Kingdom of God and the demons can’t stand it.
St. John Paul II reminded us that “so much pain, so much sorrow must lead to a holier priesthood, a holier episcopate, and a holier Church.” At this pivotal moment in Church history, it is a joy to know that you and I have an important part to play in making that vision a reality.