Tag Archive: priests


The Priest

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“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” –John 14:18

A discussion on the Mass cannot be separate from a discussion on the gift of the priesthood. Crowing the offering of the priesthood of believers, God’s ministerial priests make the Eucharistic sacrifice present. The word “priest” means one who makes sacrifice. Chosen from among men, he presides over the banquet of love. As “another Christ” his hands, voice and body become the very instruments of Christ, used to pour out every kind of grace. The priest’s vocation is to be steward of all gifts which the Mass imparts. We see clearly that his actions, words, prayers and vesture have something to teach us about the gifts.

Gold in the vesture of the priest is not belonging to the man, but to God’s presence which wraps him as a mantle. We think of how the prophets of old chose their successors by placing their mantle upon them. We think of how Christ elected his own apostles and remember that every priest is enrolled in the apostolic ministry of preaching the Gospel to every nation.

The oil of a priest configures him especially to Christ. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit burns a brilliant seal upon his soul. It is the oil of gladness, of Our Savior’s eternal priesthood. He goes to the wellspring of Christ’s own life and draws out the Eucharist from which we all drink. He gives us the sacrament that heals, atones and saves. During the elevation of the host and chalice, let us imagine that oil is being poured out over the people, cleansing us, strengthening us, making us new.

When the priest prays quietly at the altar, he is praying for himself- and for us. Jesus’s disciples asked him: “teach us to pray” and this is what the priest does. Like the Good Shepherd who leads us, he teaches us a silent way of prayer, of turning our eyes to the Heavenly Father and trusting in Him. He lifts up his children, diligently cares for them and feeds them honey from the promised land.

The priest does many acts of reverence during Mass. He bows his head, lifts his hands, makes small crosses and big crosses. Genuflecting before the consecrated Eucharist, he shows adoration for Christ. We worship with head, hands, feet and lips because Christ became man and worshiped his Father in this way. Watching these gestures and responding to them, our whole being participates in the Holy Sacrifice.

Lastly, the priest works hard to provide for our nourishment. He spends many hours in toil, tending to the sick, weak and spiritually wounded. His celibate fecundity and wholehearted devotion become rich milk flowing in the desert. By laying down his own life for us, he provides us with a model of Christian living. In following self-abandonment, we find true happiness. What a happy sight is a priest wearing his collar amidst a bustling, public place! The priest is a quiet, humble enduring token of God’s presence with us always.

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It has been brutal. For the past year and a half, a struggle ensued for my mind and soul. Constant spiritual warfare wore me down to the point where, on most days, I could barely hold up my head. Going to Mass became a chore. Something was seriously wrong within my soul. All this time, it seemed God was distant. Watching me, yes, but with his back turned the other way. I wandered in the desert like the weeping Israelites, praying and hoping for the streams of life.

During the worst times, I could barely pray. Nothing gave me the joy and consolation I formerly felt. Even throughout Mass, everything remained numb, dead inside. Seeing Jesus in the priest’s hands: the solution to all my ills, I begged Him for deliverance, remembering in my mind the most-dreary verse of Psalm 88: “Friend and neighbor you have taken away, my one companion is darkness.” What the melancholy King David sang thousands of years ago, I felt in my heart this day.  Asking God for His grace, I decided to snub the devil by taking up even more prayer.

Now was not the time to let up. It was time for heavy artillery. Eucharistic adoration. If the local parish didn’t have exposition, I’d go into the church, before the silent tabernacle and voice my complaints and regretfully, not enough thanksgivings. Adoring the sacred host, the Real presence of the Lord is a remedy of peace, a soothing balm on the wounded soul. When you have one foot in the grave, in front of the tabernacle is where you need to be.

Another weapon: The Divine Office. A very ancient and powerful prayer, using the Scriptures, prayed in union with the entire church. It ensures the name of God be blessed at every hour… and the devil hates that! You don’t need to pray all five in a day as monks do. Start with Vespers or Evening prayer, which is easiest. Work your way up. Try chanting, in monotone or with accompaniment. As St Augustine advises: “He who sings prays twice.”

The spirits of despair and anger had encompassed me. There seemed no place to run. Last night, I struggled through my rosary, feeling suffocated by the evil and sin which weighed down heavy. Feelings of worthlessness, weariness and stress hung over my brow. It is no consequence that during the darkest times, Mary came to me, a quiet and serene presence. There is such power in the Mother of Christ, Our Perpetual Help. She crushes the serpent’s head. Wherever a public rosary was offered, I’d try best to make it.

But I am here to proclaim that God does wondrous things, even when we’re on the brink of giving up. We are always ready to give up, but Our Lord, He never gives up on us. Frayed, at the very end of my rope, I attended the rosary and adoration service at a nearby parish in Winter Haven Florida. The priest there is known to be very nice. He once heard my confession on the spot. I asked him before the service if he had time but he was understandably busy. After the service, I approached him and told him about this spiritual warfare I’d been going through, asking for his prayers. Even before we spoke, he could tell something was up. I glanced away, explaining that I’ve been thrown into so much confusion that I wasn’t even sure if I committed sins or not. He offered to bless and then absolve me!!

Taken totally by surprise, I knelt down before him, my eyes on the white stole hanging from beneath his robes. The power to forgive sins. Next to the voice of your husband, saying “I love you,” there is no better sound than a priests voice saying “I absolve you.” To me, it’s Jesus saying “I love you.” Totally beside myself with gratitude, I kissed the priest’s stole, thanked him profusely and skipped out of the church like a giddy fool.

Finally, I knew what it felt like to be that one leper, who showing himself to the priest, found he was completely healed. My heart racing, my face aglow, I ran and told everyone nearby of God’s goodness, of the healing power Jesus Christ gives through His “other Christ’s”, how God always comes through when we least expect it, how His love endures even in darkness. And that is why I wrote this for you today.

Good News.

The Lord is great and so merciful beyond measure! He truly gives good things to those who ask! For a long time, there is something I kept silent, perhaps believing that it was “too good to be true” But my heart has known it for quite some time, the Lord has finally entrusted a priest to me, as my spiritual son.

Last year, I attended a religious retreat during which Our Lord did extensive work on my soul, painful and extensive work within the period of three days. If one looks at a former entry in this blog, dating from June 10, 2013 (https://catholicwvengeance.wordpress.com/2013/06/10/a-retreat/) you will see my thoughts and reflections on this retreat, which I often describe as “like Holy Week” because during this time, I began to crucify the old self and let the new woman be resurrected. And let me tell you, it was long time coming. I met a young priest on this retreat who was newly ordained. He opened my heart to God’s love and after I left, his kindness left an impression in my mind, so much like the kindness of Christ Himself. Well, I went home and promptly took up the Divine Office again. Chanting it it with others, every morning and evening also left an impression, that this rhythmic prayer unified with the whole Church could be a means to taste heaven and intercede for others. Every now and then, I offered Lauds or Vespers for this kindly young priest. Nothing more.

Then came the soft, voice of the Lord saying “Pray for him”. So I started offering more prayers. However, myself being so stubborn in nature and skeptical to an infuriating degree, I grew slack. Let me tell you now, that when God wants something done, He WANTS it done. I learned that quick. He began urging me to pray for this priest, even at night and even in my dreams! If I did not stop whatever I was doing and pray for this priest, anxiety would well up in me so that I could think of nothing else but this poor man stumbling into some sin because of my negligence. So, by the grace of God, I “adopted” our kindly young priest in question, envisioning him as an innocent child yet with the power to call Christ down from heaven, who needs help in this great vocation. Not that I by my own power can help him, but Our Lord, He delights in hearing me ask for His help.

Recently, due to my horrible pride, and the attacks of the Devil (I never underestimate that dirty rat anymore) I nearly rejected my own spiritual son. I said “This is too good a thing to happen to me,” “He doesn’t even know me”, “He probably doesn’t even want my help.” And the worst one: “What use is it?” Going to adoration on a sunny Friday afternoon, seeing my Lord there, sitting silently with me, it made those thoughts go away. For so long, I had wanted God to outright say “Okay, Rachel this is your spiritual son. Yes, I gave him to you, here he is.” Yet, He never used words. The warmth and peace of His presence simply confirmed it.  This priest needs me, he needs my prayers. At last, at last this wonderful thing has happened. A beautiful soul, a priestly soul, has been put into my clumsy hands for special care! It is such good news that I had to tell others! What amazes me that the one whom God gave me at first as a brother and a father, was now given to me as a son, that I may be taught how to love. He truly is a compassionate God who meets all needs for all people! Every moment when I suffer, either from a headache or a hard day at work, I think of this priest and offer it up for him.

And Our Lord is still fond of waking me at night and asking for a few Hail Mary’s on his behalf. Blessed Mary, who is mother to all priests, is such a strong advocate for both of us. I entrust this priest to her because she can watch over him at all times. Such tenderness, that I feel for this spiritual son of mine, she is the one who taught it to me first. The Devil be driven far from him, I pray, and may his priesthood bear much fruit and may every blessing which is given to me, be also given to him.

 

 

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         “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created.”

–  St Augustine, Confessions.

 

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Every person in the world can recall a moment in their life when they looked upon something utterly beautiful, a painting, a landscape, ornate building, thread of cloth, graceful animal or blooming flower. Maybe it was a multi-hued sunset or a sky full of stars that dazzled like diamonds. I’m also sure everyone can recall a song or piece of music that captured the soul. Still in these modern days of drum & base and synthesizers, the emotive strains of Mozart, Palestrina or Bach cause one to pause in amazement. Why do these things affect us so? Because, beauty is a testimony to divinity, it places us in the presence of God.

I have heard a many atheists affirm this. The austerity of an old cathedral, the poetic meter of a sacred text or the lofty tones of Gregorian chant speak to something deep inside of them. Everything beautiful or awesome in this world bespeaks an ultimate Beauty and Awesomeness. We love beauty because God, who is beauty Himself, created it. We crave beauty because we hunger for God.

Lately, I’ve noticed that people have been talking a lot about the beauty, ritual and “pomp” of Catholicism, how much it ought to be peeled back to reveal a more simple Gospel. Truly, extravagance and luxury in the Church can take grievous heights, becoming a worldly sort of splendor and causing scandal to the outside world. We only need to look far as the excesses of the Renaissance popes only 600 years ago. Easily, we can regard the ecclesiastical affluence that fanned the flames of the Protestant Reformation. Even today, a bishop who drives a fancy car and lives in a spacious mansion causes scandal- and rightly so. There is a such thing as improper extravagance, which makes the church appear like an elitist club, which damages the soul. However, allow me to distinguish this from the proper “extravagance” belonging to our faith and due to God.

Read details of the Jewish Temple described in the Old Testament book of Kings. How it was framed in fine wood, gold and bronze, how purest incense burned there night and day. This was regarded as the place of God, where His Holiness dwelled, a place betwixt heaven and earth- and it was adorned so. Now, we all know Christ gave us a Temple of His body, made not with human hands, a real and true presence of God with us. No one would argue against that. Yet, I think few make the connections here between Jewish worship and Christian liturgy. When Jews worshiped in the Temple, they believed they were imitating the goings on in heaven. And when Christians gathered for liturgy, they believed they were participating in heaven! Man would no longer just imitate God; no, he would become part of God, become one flesh with Him in the Eucharist. What was once a dim shadow has been seen in clear light- Christ, who was crucified and resurrected, calling each one of us to be His flesh, to be His body! I don’t know about you, but this calls for some celebration.

Contrary to popular belief, a priest’s ornate vestments aren’t for his own glory. They instead represent putting on Christ, entering into His heavenly glory, a glory in which we are greatly unworthy to participate! But see how much Christ loves us. He dons His prodigal children in robes, welcomes them into new life and gives us the feast of Himself! While we may deem it rather boring to hear monks chanting for hours on end, consider that all the hymns in the world, sung ceaselessly cannot describe the depths of God’s love!

Splendor in liturgy isn’t something that should be condemned. After all, the priest only wears those gilded vestments once a day at most. He doesn’t wear them when greeting his friends or when preaching on the street. He wears them, as is proper, to partake in the wedding feast of the Lamb Most-High. At Mass, the person and personality of a priest disappears, subsumed in the vesture of Christ. Yes, we could go on over and over about how many unworthy priests stand at the altar but such critique misses the point. Consider us all sinful, stained and unworthy who stand at the altar. Our God is a God of forgiveness, second-chances and decadent love. He gives to us out of gratuitous generosity. Should we not render praise to him gratuitously?

Beauty can be simple, it can be poor and mean just like the stable at Bethlehem. No one is required to adorn their church with materials they cannot afford. No one is exempt from relieving the poor. This is why, the Catholic Church, despite its historical glories, is still the world’s leading charitable organization. With beauty comes responsibility.  To whom much is given, much is expected. A priest who dons splendid vestments while turning blind eye to the poor and suffering, commits insult against Christ. As he is dressed in Christ, so should he act as Christ. Splendor needs to speak of something higher than ourselves, needs to be an unspoken prayer to God and a token of his gratuitous love for us. It must have meaning. Splendor for splendor’s sake is never good.

I firmly believe in a simpler Church that is also a beautiful Church. Mary, Mother of Christ, in all her poverty, radiated pure, godly beauty.  Thus, so should the Church, the Bride of Christ. She should be bedecked as for a wedding-feast, a bride blushing timidly yet fearlessly carrying high the bejeweled cross.

So I say, let her priests wear the spotless, vestments of Christ while at the same time, running to spread His Gospel, to uplift the fallen and impoverished. Let his fluid chant sing a love-song to Christ and His people. Let the vast, stained-glass windows of cathedrals teach a parable, gilded altars declare thanksgiving and clouds of incense herald holy paths. Where there is love, there is an unspoken beauty; ever ancient, ever new but never meaningless.

 

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Women in the priesthood, there are theological reasons why this is not possible and as a woman, I don’t feel slighted in the least. God made men to be priests in order to teach men love and sacrifice which women learn naturally. Because men express the fallen nature so clearly, He wanted to raise them up. We all know women make better counselors, teachers and helpers, but God says “I am doing something different, look what I can do for men who are weaker in these areas for my own glory” The fact a man can be celibate, loyal, faithful and wholeheartedly dedicated to God is an even greater surprise then for women to do so and He is a God of surprises!

What is more likely to make you say “wow” a dog that can play fetch or a cat that can play fetch? You know what I’m saying?

Sooner or later, it comes natural for a writer who is engrossed in their new Catholic faith and in all things ecclesiastical, to want to write about clergy. Stern priests waging war against the powers of darkness, crafty bishops and determined popes make for excellent characters. They are themselves, each one man, laid bare and, for the most part, without mundane desires, clichéd motives and romantic affairs. The story of a clergyman is simply, the story of a soul.

It is easy for a writer to get swept up in epic matters when dealing with clergy characters, partially, from the attributes aforementioned and partially, because they are characters who seldom display their vulnerable, human traits. Indeed, many fictional churchmen are iron-willed or altogether immoral while most, real men waver somewhere in between. Sometimes, in works lacking original quality, they are one-sidedly apathetic, fanatical or power-hungry, to the point where the man is erased and the stereotype is all that stands.

Clergymen have dual-citizenship as to speak. The man dwells on earth, entrapped within sensations, desires and fears while the soul of the man fixes eyes on the heavens, ever battling unseen demons. He is man, wholly man. And despite his impotence or cowardice, he embodies the meaning of what it is to be man.

A priest, whether portrayed as a ruthless tyrant or a weeping martyr, is Adam. The Spirit of God is breathed into him, giving new life and new meaning to the fatherly vocation. Even the most-abominable cleric, which is seen throughout books and movies, is called to be Adam, a tiller of the soil, a tender of the flock and a father of the household. He is the caretaker of Eve, the woman, the Church. He can teach his spiritual children to be like Cain or Abel. And mostly, like Adam, he will fail, will waver and will sin.

But it was through Adam that the tribes of Israel were born and the line of David. Where sin abounds so does virtue. That is why the name of the evil pope will be forgotten in literature, except perhaps the most infamous examples who hearken back to Judas, and why the name of the good will last onwards. Shallow people get caught up in the life of Alexander VI or Cardinal Wolsey, and think their stories to be epic romances whereas people of true, deeper faith are enraptured by the lives of Leo The Great or John Fisher. They preoccupy themselves with those who are living, whom they will meet one, grave day in heaven and ask of them untold questions.

Verily, where Adam failed, there is Christ, the True Adam and True Priest. Where there is sin, there lies hidden a story of redemption. The life and death of a clergyman is measured by sin and redemption. In a good story, one you will want to read again and again, the sinful priest realizes his destiny. He eventually shrugs off the weight of the world, repents and then dies as a chaste, old man- or at least, bequeaths to his children the virtues he never himself learned. The story of a wicked cardinal does not become epic when he falls from grace, robs the poor or defiles his body- no; this tale only enters the realm of saga when he gives himself back to God.  It is repentance that gives sin worth- otherwise it is just obscene repetition, only good for backroom novels and second-rate literature.

When writing of clergy; keep three factors in mind: every priest is a sacrifice and a sacrifice-er, a ruler and a slave, a virgin and a father.

      The priest is a victim, offered up for sake of his people. Even the most worldly of priests did not own themselves. Their breath was taken from them in the end just like every other man’s, their toils laid into the foundation of the Church. The priest is a lamb, led to slaughter. If any trouble or misery fall upon his flock, it shall fall upon his shoulders. At the same time, he offers sacrifice, the one and only Eucharist of Jesus Christ, the Eternal Lamb of Heaven. The most corrupt and vile cleric must still, despite all his ventures and wills, prepare this Most-Holy sacrifice at the altar.

         The priest rules over his family and flock. He is father and presider over them yet he is also a manservant before them and the entire Church of God. He bows down his head beneath the flock’s sins and bares them up in absolution. Even if he may be devoid of life in himself, he must immerse the newborn soul into baptismal waters. Even if he repents not, the priest must provide the sweet unction of forgiveness at every deathbed.

       Did you consider that even the lustful priest, after his own flesh, is yet a virgin? There is a right way and a perverse way that one is virginal: The Godly priest keeps chastity and prudence at his side, knowing not charm or romance or affections. He is like Christ, born of a virgin, married to Heaven and not to this world. However, one can be in his spirit, a boy and never a man. His soul knows not the consummation with Christ and stays to itself, waning in spiritual poverty. By this second way, is the priest who commits debauchery. While he is virgin, the priest is a father of many children. As the Great Apostle Paul, he becomes father to his children by the Gospel. As they are babes, he feeds them and raises them up, giving them spiritual meat in good time. Married to God, he gives himself away and lays down life so he may sire mature children of faith.

What are good models or mold for clergyman characters? I suggest simple reference to the Scriptures, for therein, lies the ultimate saga of priesthood. I have said before that the priest is like Adam. Thus, the bishop is like Moses, the cardinal like Peter and the pope like King David. Yet, they all must be like Christ- or else, they are the same as Judas. The priest is Adam, tiller and husband of the Church. He is the primal man, closest to original nature. He wills good at all times, though weak-willed and gullible, and perishes in the duties of protecting his family and flock. By the sweat of his brow, he lives, by the outpouring of self, he loves. His children are many. The best priest of fiction will mimic in every way, Adam, that first patriarch.

     The bishop is Moses, law-giver and miracle-worker. He rules the Church. He is covenanted man, closest to what God wills him to be. Christ sees in the bishop a meager and inferior reflection of Himself. The bishop leads his people unto new frontiers; he quells their disputes like a high-priestly judge. He is so united to the flock that on his body, their suffering is mirrored. When he wavers, so do they. When he sins, they do despair.

        The model cardinal is as Peter, prince and steward of the Kingdom. He governs the church, brother to the bishop, sharing in the priesthood. He is also covenanted man, urged by God’s will. However, like Peter, the Chief disciple, he represents power mixed with weakness. His courage quickly becomes cowardice yet his every curse becomes a holy blessing.

        The most-legendary pope is David, holder of the keys, royal arbiter of the Kingdom. He judges the Church. He bears the burden of the Covenant, commanded by God’s will. Like David of Old, he lingers between grave sin and untold holiness. With each and every commission of adultery, his heart is rent and his soul driven to repentance. The words always upon his lips are: “Miserere me Deus.” “Have mercy on me, O God.” He represents both Christ and the flock. Because the saints wage constant war with devils, the pope will be embodied by thus. If he makes a judgment with evil, he reflects Satan and when judging rightly, he mirrors the Lord Christ. Like Adam, his sin is carried onto the next generation but like David, he is foresworn a fixed place, free from hell’s pressing dominion, at the Lord’s door and gate.

Study these types and write of them carefully. Know what it is you are telling. Cling to the eternal romance which God has unraveled before mankind, throughout history, and you will hold within it, the story of all wickedness and virtue, of all grief and joy, of all death and life- the story of our fall and rise- and of our final salvation.

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Anti-clericalism.

 

Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction; pay attention and gain understanding.”   – Proverbs 4:1

Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.”  – Hebrews 13:7

 

Let me tell you about a facebook experience I had:

 

Now all those who are familiar with “Cardinal Fratelli” are going to laugh.

I went into a group simply called “The Bible”, under the name and profile picture of “Cardinal Fratelli” and posted something about how we must obey God instead of the modern age. Immediately, several people responded accusing poor Fratelli of wanting to control people and one even praised Martin Luther for breaking away from the “tyranny” of the Catholic Church. The next week, I posted the same exact thing as myself with my own picture and several other people responded, congratulating me for my godly insight! They hated Cardinal Fratelli not because of what I had him say but because of what he looked like: A Catholic priest.

The priestly hierarchy of Catholicism is often subject to attack.  Opponents believe the church should be egalitarian, congregational and individualistic. They despise any vestige of power in the church, dislike priests – especially bishops, and tend to struggle with authority.

However, the New Testament itself speaks of ministerial offices in God’s church; elders who teach, deacons who serve and bishops who rule. In fact, the bishop’s office is usually described as not only magisterial but governmental. They are called “guardians of the flock.”

Certainly, the Apostle Peter advises church elders not to “Lord over the flock”. Indeed, a bishop who belittles or subordinates others abuses his authority and doesn’t please God. However, the existence of ecclesiastical hierarchy isn’t based on subjection. It’s not there to enslave or demean anyone but rather is for edification, unified teaching and doctrinal preservation.

Under bishops, the Church defined a majority of Christian doctrines which are taken for granted. The human and divine nature of Christ, His deity, the Trinity and the New Testament Canon itself are gifts from this conciliar, hierarchal church. Without such a foundation, Christian teaching becomes flimsy sinking back into the past.

Why the objection?

People who have anti-clerical tendencies usually misjudge the clergy’s role, struggle with obeying authority-figures or perhaps suffered past-mistreatment by a priest. Many scowl at ministries being off-limits to others, elaborate priestly vestments or respect shown towards a bishop. Some fail to realize that in God’s eyes, they are just as important and loved. The Bible is correct when describing all people’s equality before Christ. When misinterpreted, this teaching means something entirely different; a church-society without defined roles.

Samewise, Scripture teaches that not all share the same ministries or gifts. Being in the Body of Christ does not mean everybody gets elected bishop, no, rather everyone has unique offerings. When these gifts are used properly, Christ’s mission is fully realized.