I recently made perpetual promises of chaste celibacy, respectful obedience to my bishop and his successors and the promise of daily praying the Liturgy of the Hours. This all took place in the Ordination Mass for a Deacon, the last step before ordination to the priesthood. Although no one has yet asked me, I imagine there are many who question, “Why?” And that is a good question. Why become a member of a publicly humiliated group of men who have among their rank some men who have committed despicably criminal acts against innocent children? The answer is quite simple. I still want to become a priest because I desire to share with others the indescribable gift of knowing Jesus Christ through the Sacraments (Mysteries) He instituted and the truths He taught. I want to become a priest not because any Pope is a holy man – although I believe Benedict XVI to be truly saintly and unjustly attacked by the popular media – or because bishops and priests happen to be particularly holy but rather because Jesus Christ is the Holy One who will never fail to communicate His Holiness to men and women in and through the Catholic Church.
Contrary to popular belief, Catholicism is not composed essentially of Church properties, buildings or the pomp that surrounds certain of her institutional aspects and persons. The heart of Catholicism is the love of God Himself, Jesus Christ, who continues to communicate His life through the Sacraments and the loving acts of Christians. And that center, that corner stone never to be dislodged, Jesus Christ, is why I still want to be a Catholic priest and why I was ordained a deacon amidst the scandals revealed in recent weeks.
My purpose in this small article is not to rehash the particular accusations of the last weeks and defend them from a Catholic perspective. I want to help people understand how a young man's hope remains despite the shameful deeds of some among the Church's priests. At the bottom of my hope lies the firm belief that the Church is the mystical Body of Jesus Christ. He is so one with His Church that He refers to her not as a “you” but as “I.” “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” These are the words of the risen Jesus Christ to the young and zealous Saul of Tarsus who was dragging Christians away from their homes and families and consenting to their murder.
I love the Church because Jesus Christ loves her and she is His spotless bride won at the price of His blood. In the face of sin and scandal, we should never lose hope in the bride of Jesus Christ. Rather, we should all play our part in reform by a fearless examination of conscience, penance and recommitment, with God's help, to the imitation of Jesus Christ, the man of sorrows, who so loved the world that He laid down His life out of love for you and me.
A Hope for the Future
“This is a world of conflict, and of vicissitude amid the conflict. The Church is ever militant; sometimes she gains, sometimes she loses; and more often she is at once gaining and losing in different parts of her territory. What is ecclesiastical history but a record of the ever-doubtful fortune of the battle, though its issue is not doubtful? Scarcely are we singing Te Deum, when we have to turn to our Misereres: scarcely are we in peace, when we are in persection: scarcely have we gained a triumph, when we are visited by a scandal. Nay, we make progress by means of reverses; our griefs are our consolations; we lose Stephen, to gain Paul, and Matthias replaces the traitor Judas.”
(John Henry Newman, The Church Fathers, 1)
We should reflect seriously on the words “Nay, we make progress by means of reverses.”, especially during this year for priests. What must priests re-cover in order to give themselves more fully to the Lord Jesus Christ and thus become channels of grace and healing in our broken world? One aspect of priestly life to be recovered without further delay is the faithful and devout recitation of the Breviary, which has unfortunately been so greatly neglected in the years following the Second Vatican Council and still continues to lie in disuse by many.
“Yet we must convince ourselves: the time he spends in prayer is the most important time in a priest's life, in which divine grace acts with greater effectiveness, making his ministry fruitful. The first service to render to the community is prayer. And therefore, time for prayer must be given a true priority in our life.”
(Pope Benedict XVI, Address to Priests, June 16, 2008)
In this respect, the permission to make use of the Roman Breviary of Blessed John XXIII can be a most helpful school of generosity toward the Lord on account of its use of all 150 Psalms every week. Especially important, also, is daily devotion and dedication to Sacred Scripture by means of Lectio Divina. My hope as a young deacon and cleric is that reinvigorated prayer lives among priests through the Breviary and Lectio Divina will bring healing to the Church.
I have hope for the future because I know there are many young seminarians, deacons and priests who are not afraid to be generous with their lives before God and thus to be of true spiritual benefit to the men and women of today.
I want to be a priest because Jesus Christ is still alive and reigning at the right hand of the Father and because He is alive the Church is still alive.