The Holy Curé of Ars and the Priesthood
Rarely has someone been so acutely aware of the meaning of the priesthood, its greatness and immense responsibility as St. John Mary Vianney, the holy Curé of Ars. He himself stated, "Oh, how great is a priest! The priest will not understand the greatness of his office till he is in Heaven. If he understood it on earth, he would die, not of fear, but of love." In a catechetical sermon he explained to his parishioners in simple words the sublime dignity of the priesthood and its importance for the sanctification of the people. We are quoting here some passages of his sermon On the Priesthood:
My children, we have come to the Sacrament of Orders. It is a Sacrament which seems to relate to no one among you, and which yet relates to everyone. This Sacrament raises man up to God. What is a priest! A man who holds the place of God - a man who is invested with all the powers of God. "Go," said Our Lord to the priest; "as My Father sent Me, I send you. All power has been given Me in Heaven and on earth. Go then, teach all nations.…. He who listens to you, listens to Me; he who despises you despises Me." When the priest remits sins, he does not say, "God pardons you"; he says, "I absolve you." At the Consecration, he does not say, "This is the Body of Our Lord;" he says, "This is My Body." If we had not the Sacrament of Orders, we should not have Our Lord [in the Blessed Sacrament]. (St. John Vianney, On the Priesthood)
Normally speaking it is a priest who administers baptism and so pours supernatural life into souls, making them children of God. It is the priest's mission to nourish us in a special way with the word of God for our pilgrimage on earth. Further, the priest is the minister of divine pardon in the Sacrament of Penance; absolution, given in the power of the Blood of Jesus Christ, washes away the guilt of sin from our soul. And when we come to the point of death, besides the assistance of Mary and the angels, the priest raises us up in a special way by anointing us with the strength and healing of Christ.
The humility of our state of being, being bounded in our flesh, cries out for visible, human ministers of the grace of Christ. The priest is the visible minister of Christ, who “has the keys of the heavenly treasures; it is he who opens the door; he is the [visible] steward of God, the distributor of His wealth” (ibid.) After God, the priest is the key figure in the communication of grace in the Church because of his visibility. The Holy Curé of Ars warned:
Leave a parish twenty years without priests; they will worship beasts. If the missionary Father and I were to go away, you would say, “What can we do in this church? There is no Mass; Our Lord is no longer there: we may as well pray at home.” When people wish to destroy religion, they begin by attacking the priest, because where there is no longer any priest there is no sacrifice, and where there is no longer any sacrifice there is no religion.
When the bell calls you to church, if you were asked, “Where are you going?” you might answer, “I am going to feed my soul. “ If someone were to ask you, pointing to the tabernacle, “What is that golden door?” “That is our storehouse, where the true Food of our souls is kept.” “Who has the key? Who lays in the provisions? Who makes ready the feast, and who serves the table?” “The priest.” “And what is the Food?” “The precious Body and Blood of Our Lord.” O God! O God! how Thou hast loved us! See the power of the priest; out of a piece of bread the word of a priest makes a God. It is more than creating the world. ... Someone said, “Does Saint Philomena, then, obey the Cure of Ars?” Indeed, she may well obey him, since God obeys him.
If I were to meet a priest and an angel, I should salute the priest before I saluted the angel. The latter is the friend of God; but the priest holds His place. Saint Teresa (of Avila) kissed the ground where a priest had passed. When you see a priest, you should say, “There is he who made me a child of God, and opened Heaven to me by holy Baptism; he who purified me after I had sinned; who gives nourishment to my soul. “At the sight of a church tower, you may say, “What is there in that place?” “The Body of Our Lord.” “Why is He there?” “Because a priest has been there, and has said holy Mass.”
What joy did the Apostles feel after the Resurrection of Our Lord, at seeing the Master whom they had loved so much! The priest must feel the same joy, at seeing Our Lord whom he holds in his hands. Great value is attached to objects which have been laid in the drinking cup of the Blessed Virgin and of the Child Jesus, at Loretto. But the fingers of the priest, that have touched the adorable Flesh of Jesus Christ, that have been plunged into the chalice which contained His Blood, into the pyx where His Body has lain, are they not still more precious? The priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus. When you see the priest, think of Our Lord Jesus Christ. (ibid.)
The Need for Holy Priests
Having seen the immense dignity of the priest we need also to recall that due to the nature of his sublime call the priest must strive with all his being to be a holy priest, a good shepherd, in order to be able to lead many faithful effectively on the path of salvation and holiness.
Though it is true that an unworthy minister can still administer the Sacraments validly and in this way be a true channel of grace, nevertheless, God respects man’s free will and depends on our free cooperation with grace. For this reason, the efficacy of a holy priest, a priest who lives in profound union with Our Lord, is much greater than the efficacy of a lukewarm priest. Hence, St. Thomas, while affirming that even a priest in sin validly celebrates the Mass, still, “insofar as it has [an additional] efficacy from the devotion of the priest interceding, … in this respect there is no doubt but that the Mass of the better priest is the more fruitful” for the Church and those who participate (Summa Theologica, III. Q. 82, art. 6, c).
Again, take the life of Blessed Pope John Paul II as an example: how many hearts and lives have been touched and changed through the ministry of this one man? Because Pope John Paul II lived from the word of God and allowed himself to be guided by the spirit of Christ, he in a sense became CHRIST, living among us here and now, touching hearts and changing lives. He himself writes, “the greater or lesser degree of the holiness of the minister has a real effect on the proclamation of the word, the celebration of the sacraments and the leadership of the community in charity” (John Paul II., Pastores dabo vobis, 25).
Prayer and Sacrifices on behalf of the Priesthood
A priest too is confronted with the countless temptations of modern life and, moreover, is especially targeted by the enemy. The enemy always persecutes the good shepherd first, because he knows, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed” (Mt 26:31).
Temptations and attacks must be resisted and conquered by prayer and penance; first of all by those of the priest himself, but also the prayers of the faithful help priests resist temptation and grow in grace and virtue.
The Congregation for the Clergy states:
Behind all priests there is a spiritual mother who asked God for their vocation. She bears them through spiritual suffering and “nourishes” them by offering to God all her daily activities, so that they become holy priests, priests faithful to their special identity and special commitments. (Eucharistic Adoration for the Sanctification of Priests and Spiritual Maternity, 2013,p. 13)
Consequently, not merely knowing about the priesthood, but praying and offering God sacrifices for the priesthood are indispensable in our days. Undoubtedly In the great spiritual battle in which the Church finds herself God is allowing the shepherds to be struck and thus the sheep to be scattered. Therefore, let us in response offer our petitions and pains to God that He might have mercy on His people by sanctifying His priests, so that they may have the love and dedication of the Good Shepherd in leading Christ’s flock.
There is an old saying: With every priest, a thousand souls are either saved or lost. For this reason, praying for priests is so important for the sake of the entire Church. In the brochures Eucharistic Adoration for the Sanctification of Priests and Spiritual Maternity the Congregation for the Clergy, fully aware of the crisis in the priesthood, encourages the faithful to make Eucharistic Adoration and offer sacrifices in reparation for and in order to give strength to priests. The document asks the faithful to consider the spiritual adoption of a priest to give him the spiritual strength needed to fulfill his so very important ministry. All the dioceses of the world were asked to establish a program of prayer and most especially, of continuous Eucharistic adoration so that: “from every corner of the earth, prayer of adoration, thanksgiving, praise, petition and reparation will always be lifted to God; an incessant prayer in order to raise up a sufficient number of holy vocations to the priesthood, and secondly, to accompany them spiritually, with a type of spiritual motherhood.” (This brochure was re-published a few months ago with a few additions. See last page of this letter.)
Priests are called to be the salt of the earth. The Little Flower became keenly aware during her pilgrimage to Rome when she met many priests, that there is the danger that the ‘salt’ may lose its taste. Now, in order that the salt of the earth remain salty, or in other words, that priests can remain good shepherds, we need to pray for them, and not only a little, but very much. There should not be any day in a Catholic’s life that he does not pray for the priesthood. The Lord calls us all to take the responsibility to pray for priests seriously.
May God touch the hearts of many souls on behalf of the priesthood so that they may carry priests and bishop through their prayers, thus gaining strength and vigor for them so that they be able to fulfill their so important mission. A priest once said: “A priest is not born of an angel, but of a mother. He is chosen from amongst the people, is anointed with the Sacrament of Priesthood and returned back to the people, to the Church – into their care, their prayer and their love. The priest is a sign of the omnipotence of our God. Pray for priests. Love them. Support them. Help them to be holy. We priests are weak and fragile. If your knees are not bent in prayer for us, we stumble and fall. We need your prayer.”
Let us entrust the priests especially to the care of our Blessed Mother, the tender Mother of Priests. Let us place all priests spiritually into her Immaculate Heart that she may form them according to the image of her Divine Son, Our Good Shepherd and High Priest!
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