Concrete suggestions for the Year for Priests
When he announced the Year for Priests, Pope Benedict said that he hoped to “deepen the commitment of all priests to interior renewal.” How can lay people join in that effort? Let me offer four practical suggestions.
1. Pray for priests
The first order of business, certainly, is to pray for priests—to ask the Holy Spirit to bring us the renewal that the Pope sees as so necessary. Since it’s all too easy to form the intention to pray for priests, and then forget about it, a few concrete resolutions might help. For instance:
- Pray for the priest during Mass. Pick a specific time during the Mass when you can easily remember to pray for the celebrant. Personally I find it easiest to remember the priest at the Orate Fratres, when he asks the congregation to pray “that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable…” At that point, isn’t he asking for our prayers that he might be a good priest?
- Pray for specific priests by name. “Adopt” a priest or two to remember in your daily prayers. You could add a seminarian as well. There is no shortage of priests who need special help for one reason or another: priests who are ill or aging, priests who are struggling with their faith or their vocation; priests who are in conflict with their parishioners or with their bishops; priests who are facing criticism (deserved or not) for their public statements. It’s easy to pray for a priest with whom you are friendly, but it may be more helpful to pray for one with whom you have had difficulties.
- Make small sacrifices as spiritual offerings for priests. Here’s a very concrete example: The next time you feel the urge to complain about a dumb homily, keep quiet and offer up your frustration for the spiritual welfare of the homilist.
- Pray for priests before the Blessed Sacrament. Without priests we could not have our Eucharistic Lord present in the tabernacle, so the connection is obvious: love for the Eucharist implies love for the priesthood. Is there a church near you, where you could drop in once a week for a short time of quiet prayer? If not, pray that some day there will be—that the Lord will call enough good men to the priesthood so that parishes can be opening rather than closing, and Eucharistic adoration can become more commonplace.
2. Invite a priest to dinner
Has your pastor ever been over to your house for dinner? If not, why not? If you’re on friendly terms it should be a natural thing to ask him over for the evening. If you’re not particularly friendly, what better way to ease the tensions than to break bread together?
Don’t make a big production of the event, and don’t make the priest the main focus of attention. Let him relax a bit. Let him experience an ordinary evening with an ordinary family. Maybe you’d like to discuss parish affairs—nothing wrong with that—but don’t make that discussion dominate the evening. Let him hear about your life, about the everyday business of the household.
But before he leaves, ask the priest to give your family his blessing. Better, ask him to bless your house as well. By doing so, you’ll gently remind him that he’s not just “one of the guys;” that he’s set apart for his ministry, and you want—you expect-- that ministry from him.
3. Ask a young man to consider the priesthood
How many young, single Catholic men do you know? Have you ever wondered whether one of them has a vocation to the priesthood? He could be wondering the same thing, and you just might be able to push the idea along. See if you can find a way to ask him, in a very matter-of-fact way, whether he has ever considered the priesthood.
Don’t make a big issue of it. Ideally it should be a natural question: the sort of question you could ask any young man who isn’t already well advanced in his career. (“Have you ever thought of going to law school? Have you ever thought of becoming a priest?”) Just ask the question and move on. You’re not on a heavy-pressuring recruiting mission; you just want to plant a seed in his mind.
Don’t rule out any potential candidate for the priesthood. You might be surprised to know which young men are secretly thinking about entering the seminary, but don’t dare tell anyone because they’re afraid people would laugh. The potential priest might not appear particular pious. He might enjoy a beer and a ballgame as much as all his friends. He might even have a steady girlfriend, but he hasn’t shown any inclination to propose to her.
When you ask a young man to consider the priesthood, you’re not demanding anything, nor are you settling anything. You’re simply giving him “permission” to ask the question for himself—letting him know that it’s a reasonable question to ask.
For years a priest who is a friend of mine has made a habit of asking his fellow clerics what first made them think seriously about the priesthood. My friend reports that one factor stands out above all others: Somebody asked.
4. Go to Confession
There are plenty of reasons to make a good confession; this is just one more. This sadly neglected sacrament offers astonishing spiritual benefits for the penitent; that’s an issue for another day. For now, consider what how it helps the priest/confessor.
The Year for Priests is designed to spark “interior renewal” in the Catholic clergy: to help priests realize the nature of their ministry in persona Christi. In announcing his plans for this special year, Pope Benedict acknowledged that many priests are seduced by a secularized view of their role; they see themselves as community leaders and administrators and teachers and counselors but not necessarily as missionaries. The remedy, the Pope stressed, is for each priest to identify himself with Christ and his ministry.
For most of their waking hours priests are acting as community leaders and administrators and teachers and counselors, so it’s a challenge for them to remain mindful of their ministerial identity. Even when he celebrates Mass, a priest with a weak understanding of sacramental theology might think of himself as the convener and presider and leader of the assembly—might think, in other words, that he is the center of attention—rather than recognizing that he is acting as an alter Christus, and the Eucharistic sacrifice is work of Jesus Christ.
But no sane man believes that he has the power to forgive sins on his own authority. Each time he says the words of absolution, the priest reminds himself that he is acting as a minister of the Church, absolving sins in the name of Jesus Christ. Pope Benedict urged priests to identify themselves with Christ’s ministry; in the confessional they have no choice.
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Posted by: Scott W -
Aug. 20, 2018 7:35 PM ET USA
I too enjoy Jeff's usually excellent commentary but am not sure this essay is as good as usual. A much better essay on grave flaws in JPII's writings on cap. pun. is in CatholicCulture's library: https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=7453 The critical problem: Church teaching has recognized at least 3 purposes to punishment; JPII & far worse Francis have ignored 2 of the purposes & focused only on utilitarian issue of immediate danger from criminals.
Posted by: Jeff Mirus -
Aug. 14, 2018 9:56 AM ET USA
Eric: This is a very closely-related question. You'll notice that Pope St. John Paul II stated that "The primary purpose of the punishment which society inflicts is ‘to redress the disorder caused by the offence’". This is identical with or at least closely-related to the restoration of the balance of justice. But clearly capital punishment is not the only way to restore this balance; it is not necessary for justice to be defined as "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth". And JPII taught that capital punishment cannot be used for this rebalancing, this redressing of the disorder, unless it is actually necessary to protect the community. In other words, the Pope specifically addressed the issue you raised.
Posted by: Eric -
Aug. 13, 2018 9:05 AM ET USA
I always enjoy your thoughtful commentary Dr. Mirus. But there is one point never addressed in this discussion. The one of justice. You can argue for capital punishment, not only as a means of protection, but as a means of re-establishing a just society. A topic for another time?
Posted by: fenton1015153 -
Aug. 10, 2018 5:13 PM ET USA
Dlukenbill2151: Interesting question. Of course, I am using the term "Magisterial" in the sense of a document which, if it clearly teaches something, would be considered free from error. One of the requirements for this would be a document which is specifically directed to the whole Church in order to express the mind of the Holy Father on a particular matter of faith or morals. Encyclicals are an important class of Magisterial texts because they typically teach and they are issued, by their very nature, to all the bishops of the world. But a catechism would not be promulgated in the same way or with the same purpose. It would be an effort to summarize the notable teachings of the Church, not teach on a particular topic, and it would be "made available", as it were, for those who can benefit from it. In the case of Pius X, the catechism was extremely brief, designed as a kind of thumbnail guide to the Church's teachings. In that sense, it would be hard to construe it as a fresh and authoritative teaching act in its own right. For example, it would be a weak source to cite to settle a disputed question, more a reflection of the general knowledge of the Faith that the Pope wanted people to know at the time. It would not be fair to extract a particular formulation that seemed odd and argue that this is what the Holy Father intended to teach to the whole Church.
Posted by: Dlukenbill2151 -
Aug. 10, 2018 3:04 PM ET USA
So, if I read this article (which is excellent) correctly, papal encyclicals are considered Magisterial, but a catechism is not, would that make a catechism authored by a pope, such as the Catechism of Pope Pius X, Magisterial?
Posted by: Minnesota Mary -
Jan. 29, 2010 6:12 PM ET USA
I belong to a prayer group that meets in our Eucharistic Adoration chapel every Thursday night to pray fifteen decades of the Rosary and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy for priests. We also pray for the Pope's intentions along with several other prayers. We've been doing this for many years. Doing this as a group keeps us disciplined and focused on our obligation to pray for priests and for vocations. Afterwards we go out and have a glass of wine or a beer and discuss this website's Catholic news
Posted by: -
Jan. 29, 2010 12:09 PM ET USA
This very important for all of us in the Church. As we pray for the priests we actually help them, really help them, in their personal fight against the transcendent realties that affect all of us and more to them. That is the Spiritual Combat that they face as ministers and our prayers and petitions contribute to their protection by GOD and HIS Angels for them.
Posted by: Dalaigh -
Jan. 27, 2010 4:31 PM ET USA
There are groups praying for priests which have theri websites.There is the Cure d'Ars Prayer Group of North Carolina, USA with the website address http://www.cureprayergroup.org. In Vancouver Island, BC, Canada, there is the Pray for Priests Group whose web address is http://www.prayforpriests.ca. Each member commit to ray daily for priests, and may nominate particular priests for whom they can pray. It is suggested that these websites be looked at - even perhaps followed or expanded.