Friday, April 1, 2022

Are we praying for our priests?

I silently stood with my back to the large doors and observed the standing-room-only cathedral. People from all across the archdiocese were packed into this space: laity, religious sisters, and members of the clergy. We had gathered for the Chrism Mass: the yearly liturgy during Holy Week when three specific oils are blessed and distributed for use in the coming year. Yet, before these substances were presented and blessed--the Oil of the Sick, the Oil of the Catechumens, and the Oil of Chrism--something else took place. 

After he concluded his homily, the archbishop invited the priests to publicly renew their priestly promises. As I heard this announcement, the gravity of the moment struck my heart in a way that I find difficult to describe. 

The summer beforehand, my world had been rocked when my second son squirmed out of my body and into our living room. Those early postpartum days were joyous as we celebrated this addition to our family, rested, and visited with relatives and friends. Yet, that time was also filled with sorrow and confusion, as news of sex abuse within the Church continued to unfold and dishearten our communities. 

I now listened attentively, with my baby boy wrapped close to my chest, and my firstborn son toddling next to me. Here, less than a year after the sex abuse crisis of 2018, our family gazed on the dozens upon dozens of priests from our archdiocese as they renewed their promises: Promises to deny themselves, to faithfully and selflessly follow Christ, and to conform themselves to Him. 

After the priests renewed their promises, the archbishop turned and asked the whole congregation to stand. "As for you, dearest sons and daughters, pray for your priests..." he began. 

Here we stood, as we witnessed our priests renew their promises; promises that countless members of the clergy have broken over the years. 

Here we stood, in solidarity and unity as a bruised and hope-filled Church. 

Here we stood, us lay men and women of the Church; a visible reminder to the priests that they are not caring for some vague inspirational "cause," but for flesh-and-blood people who, like them, are following Christ. 

Here we stood, as we offered our prayerful support and encouragement, recognizing that the crises that affect us lay men and women deeply affect our priests, too. 

Together, we prayed for our priests and our archbishop, that they would remain faithful to God and lead us to Him: "Christ, hear us. Christ, graciously hear us." 

There are, sadly, priests who have betrayed those they have promised to love and serve. There are priests who are dealing with their own brokenness in a variety of ways. There are also many priests who are striving for holiness and selflessly minister to each person they encounter. There are priests who persevere through immense hardships and darkness with love and charity. There are priests who fight, day in and day out, for the salvation of souls. Despite always hearing the importance of praying for priests, there have been far too many times when I neglect to do this simple and essential task. We need to pray for our priests.

"They [the faithful] should pray and work for priestly vocations; they should help priests wholeheartedly, with filial love and ready collaboration; they should have the firm intention of offering them the consolation of a joyous response to their pastoral labors. They should encourage these, their fathers in Christ, to overcome the difficulties of every sort which they encounter as they fulfill their duties, with entire faithfulness, to the edification of all." -Pope St. Paul VI, Sacerdotalis Caelibatus

I mark my calendar for the local Chrism Mass (which is finally open to the public again!), and I continue thinking about that fateful year when I took my two young sons. When we prayed for our priests--and when we prayed with our priests in the beautiful work of the Liturgy. As I read about a priest I went to for Confession once or twice in while in college--who just pled guilty to the charge of sexual battery of a female student--I find myself more and more convinced: we need to pray for priests, we need to pray for healing, and we need to work towards restoration and greater holiness as a Church. 

"The enemies of the Church themselves well know the vital importance of the priesthood; for against the priesthood in particular, as We have already had to lament in the case of Our dear Mexico, they direct the point of their attacks. It is the priesthood they desire to be rid of; that they may clear the way for that destruction of the Church, which has been so often attempted yet never achieved." -Pope Pius XI, Ad Catholici Sacerdotii

Lord, have mercy on us all and draw us closer to yourself. Amen. 

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