Worldly Priests: Learning to Love the Leper in My Life

There is a beautiful story from the life of St. Francis of Assisi that is instructive for all of us. The saint carried a deep fear and repugnance of lepers. One day as he was making his way on horseback near Assisi and he stumbled upon a leper. He decided by God’s grace to lean into his fear and to walk up to the leper and kiss him. The leper reached out his hand in need of money, so St. Francis gave him some money. When St. Francis went to mount his horse, he turned, and saw the leper was gone. He knew then it was Jesus whom he had encountered. 

This story is a powerful witness to what we are called to when we encounter the “lepers” in our lives. We all have them. We may not think so, but deep down there is someone or a group of people that we are repulsed or scared by in some way, unless we are far along the path to holiness. It may be a physical disorder like leprosy that we do not handle well, much like the sight of blood for some. It may be our mother, father, siblings, other family member, co-worker, former friends, political opponents, races, cultures, or specific sins and weaknesses in others. It may even be certain strains within the clergy. The latter is my current leper. 

During the clergy sex abuse scandals in 2018, the Lord gave me a new mission through His Mother to be a spiritual mother to priests. He asked me to pray, sacrifice, and suffer for them. I was filled with fervor and a profound motherly love of priests that was clearly a grace from the Lord alone. One day my heart, vision, and understanding changed and I saw before me sons in the same manner that I see my daughter. It was powerful, and at first a bit odd, but spiritual maternity—like spiritual paternity—has a long tradition in the Church. There are countless souls in need of the spiritual love of mothers and fathers. 

As is the case with any vocation—primary or secondary—first fervor was beautiful, rich, and joy-filled. It was a new and exciting path that I had never expected or asked for. It was pure gift from God through His Mother. A profound gift for a mother who lost five babies and has never been able to have more after the birth of my daughter. The Lord was still asking me to be a fruitful mother, but on a spiritual plane. It was the answer to my prayer for more children, but in a way that could only come from the Lord. 

There is a deep connection between suffering and this calling. I knew the two were intertwined because the Lord made it very clear to me from the start. In the beginning, the Lord poured tremendous graces into me, so that I was able to suffer joyfully for priests, even in the face of my own excruciatingly painful chronic illnesses and my husband’s. I experienced a glimpse of the joy the saints felt in suffering when I offered torturous medical tests up for priests. Something that I had only read about in books became reality for me.  

I felt invincible, which is often what first fervor feels like. The Lord releases copious graces into a soul when entrusted with a new mission, but what I didn’t understand was that those tremendous graces and deep, sacrificial spiritual love was in preparation for the trial and testing that would be my path in this life. Even though the Way of the Cross is central to my own spirituality, I missed the fact that I was to be tested in the promises I made to the Lord in prayer except without the graces of first fervor. 

As COVID-19 labored on and I saw souls die without the Sacraments, rampant fear, bureaucracy instead of true spiritual leadership, the behemoth false idol of liability take center stage, completely irrational decisions, worldliness, corruption, and the seeming abandonment of many of the faithful in their suffering, all that fervor began to drain away. My heart began to cool.  

I watched in dismay as young priests struggled under the weight of bureaucracy. Scandals and confusion became more normative. Anyone who thinks the sex abuse scandals are in the past hasn’t been paying attention. In my few short years in this mission, I have seen priests leave for affairs, accusations, ICE issues, and die suddenly. I have seen the agony in the faces and words of priests struggling to go on. The weight of it all became extremely heavy and discouragement began to set into my soul. 

My leper is priestly men who show cowardice in the face of suffering and who abandon those they have been entrusted to protect. The more I saw this happen, the more my heart hardened. The more I suffered and knew that I was supposed to offer it to the Lord through Our Lady for these priests, the angrier I became. I shouted at the Lord in prayer: “Why should I be crucified for men who will not be crucified for me and the Church?” The enemy had found my weakness and closed in with the cacophonous din of hell.  

Hatred, bitterness, unforgiveness, and resentment are glimpses of hell and I battled them constantly for three years—and I have no doubt I will continue to battle them at times. My sins and weaknesses led to my complete failure in the trial and testing I endured. Too often my response was non serviam. Pride rooted more deeply in my soul. I didn’t want this Cross. I wanted the saintly priests, not the ones hiding in the Upper Room. I had completely misunderstood what the Lord was asking of me and I rebelled interiorly against my calling. 

I failed to love in the way I had promised the Lord. I failed to love with the motherly heart of Our Blessed Mother. A Mother who welcomed back the 10 who abandoned her Son in His darkest hour and who stood with St. John at the foot of the Cross knowing his brothers were absent. The men most dear to Our Lord left him when His hour came. Yet, He forgave them. Our Mother remained a mother to them no matter what. 

Every one of us has people in our lives like this. Those people who abandon us in our hour of need. People who have deeply hurt us through betrayal, rejection, or abandonment. The pain they have caused us runs deep and if we are not careful can become a tool of the enemy for our own destruction. The enemy wants to convince us that their sins are unforgiveable. Their weaknesses greater than our own. The great spiritual blindness on my own part was the fact that my growing hard-heartedness was much more gravely sinful than the weaknesses of priestly men paralyzed by fear. Men who needed my loving compassion in order to help strengthen them to do what they are called to do rather than my condemnation. 

We are all weak in different ways. People like myself who are prone to action and running into suffering are also more likely to be plagued by temptations to pride over those who do not run in. This is a betrayal of our mission from God, which is to strengthen our brothers and sisters who are suffering. We are also prone to mistaking our stubbornness for righteousness. We must humbly admit that our hard heartedness is the path to destruction not heaven. To love is to willingly accept crucifixion for others who have hurt us. This is the antidote to the lies of the enemy that keep us trapped in bitterness, anger, repugnance, or self-righteousness. 

Loving is not weakness; it unleashes true supernatural power. Forgiveness is true strength. Willingly praying, sacrificing, and suffering for men who have fallen into the lies of the world, the devil, or the ego is to love as Christ loves. It is to love as a mother loves, which is a love that never gives up on her children: spiritual or natural. We must love them in their fear as Our Blessed Mother does and pray they will experience the Resurrection and Pentecost anew. The same is true for the lepers in your own life, whoever they may be and regardless of what they have done to you. 

The Lord reminded me recently in prayer that he came to save the sick and many times throughout history the sick have been the clergy. The Lord gave me this calling—as he has given to countless other women in our day—because priests need help. The clergy sex abuse scandals have unleashed a powerful oppression of fear over the clergy that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated. We live in trying times that are only going to get worse. They need our spiritual support and repeated forgiveness. We are called to spiritually defend our priests, especially the ones who fail us. 

Our Blessed Mother went to the Upper Room and stayed with her spiritual sons. She set aside her own betrayal and sorrow in order to minister with love and mercy to those terrified, heart-broken, and agonized men. They knew they had failed. St. Peter knew his pride and hubris led him to abandon the Lord for comfort and safety. They didn’t need her to upbraid them. They needed to know that she still loved them and that she would be there for them. She prayed and ministered to them. 

I know there are many people who are deeply wounded by the state of the priesthood right now or by the particular “lepers” in your own life. I have sat and listened to stories of those people who priests have sinned against in a variety of ways. I’ve listened to priests themselves who are bearing the heavy weight of their brother priests’ sins. I have personally endured the sins of priests and bishops. I have given talks to people who are utterly demoralized by the state of the Church. These are particularly painful wounds because each priest is called to be an alter Christus

Even so, the vitriol and constant anger on the state of things in the Church and the world, as well as the sins others commit against us, quickly becomes a tool for the devil. Our wounds are weapons the enemy uses against us, and only by God’s grace, can those wounds become conduits of supernatural grace when offered with an open heart for others. None of what I am saying excuses the sins, abuses, coverups, worldliness, and corruption in far too many regions of the clergy or the sins others committed in our lives.  

What I do know is that it is pride and the lie of the enemy that keeps us focused on the sins of others at the expense of prayer and sacrifice on their behalf.  It leads to spiritual blindness of our own sins. There are people in our lives whose souls need saving and our hard-heartedness only furthers them on the path of destruction.  

To love as Christ loves means to get off of our metaphorical horse and to kiss the leper that is the priest who has become worldly, corrupt, or paralyzed by fear or the other person who is a leper in our lives. It is to see that priests are men given the highest dignity from the Lord and somewhere along the way it became tarnished. All people are made imago Dei and we must seek to see Christ in them.  

Like Our Blessed Mother and Our Lord at His Resurrection, we must be willing to say “peace” to them. We must be willing to pray fervently on their behalf that they may return to the Way of the Cross they are called to in this life for the salvation of souls and the salvation of their own souls. We must do the same for the other lepers in our lives who need to experience the peace of Christ in the face of sin and failure.  

Who is the leper in your life? They are the person Christ is asking you and me to love and in doing so we will encounter Him along the road. 


By

Constance T. Hull is a wife, mother, homeschooler, and a graduate with an M.A. in Theology with an emphasis in philosophy.  Her desire is to live the wonder so passionately preached in the works of G.K. Chesterton and to share that with her daughter and others. While you can frequently find her head inside of a great work of theology or philosophy, she considers her husband and daughter to be her greatest teachers. She is passionate about beauty, working towards holiness, the Sacraments, and all things Catholic. She is also published at The Federalist, Public Discourse, and blogs frequently at Swimming the Depths (www.swimmingthedepths.com).

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