Our priests need our prayers and to know that we support them
By Bishop Richard F. Stika
“You made them a kingdom and priests for our God.” –Revelation 5:10
St. John Vianney, patron saint of priests, knew well that, “When people want to destroy religion they begin by attacking the priest; for when there is no priest, there is no sacrifice; and when there is no sacrifice, there is no religion.” He was 7 years old when the Reign of Terror began in 1793 during the French Revolution, when faithful Catholics were considered traitors and enemies of the state and priests, in particular, were hunted down and sent to the guillotine. To destroy the Church meant that the priesthood needed to be eliminated.
The young St. Jean Vianney would never forget the courage and example of the many priests who risked their lives daily to clandestinely celebrate Mass for the faithful, to hear their confessions, to instruct them in the faith and encourage them in their struggles and fears. It was their selfless example, their love of the Mass and the sacraments, and the ardent prayers of the faithful for their priests who sacrificed so much for them that helped form the great heart of St. Jean Vianney and his beautiful priesthood.
In May, thanks to the Knights of Columbus, we were blessed to host the incorrupt heart of St. Jean Vianney during its relic pilgrimage across the United States. Well over 2,000 people came to the Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus to pray for the intercession of this great saint and especially to pray for our priests. Prayers for our priests are urgently needed and indispensable.
In our diocese, we have approximately one priest for every 1,000 Catholics. In many other dioceses, the ratio is much larger. So much is expected from our priests, an expectation that would be impossible for them to live up to were it not for the strength that comes, not from themselves, but from the sacramental power they receive through their ordination and from a life of prayerful cooperation with the Holy Spirit. But this is not the only source of their strength and fortitude; it must also come from our prayers and sacrifices for them.
But too often we forget that “Our priests carry not only the full weight of our burdens, but they also carry their own.” These are the words that move the hearts of the Handmaids of the Precious Blood, a cloistered contemplative order of nuns that prays for the sanctification of priests by their lives of sacrifice. But their efforts on behalf of our priests need ours, too, especially in these difficult times.
Today, our faithful priests suffer a deep wound of terrible sadness for the victims of priestly abuse and the scandal caused by those who horribly betrayed their priestly vows. But those priests who have faithfully given themselves to God, and to those they were ordained to serve, particularly feel the anguish of the victims of abuse and suffer in their hearts for them. Let us pray for the victims of priestly abuse, and for the holiness of all our priests who labor faithfully for the love of souls.
We are reminded in these times, as St. Teresa of Avila emphasized, that “Behind each priest there is a demon fighting for his fall.” And she would add, “If we have the language to criticize them, we must have twice as much to pray for them.”
Our priests so need your prayers. Pray for them by name. Know that your prayers and sacrifices for them are also prayers for the spiritual health and sanctification of your parish. As your priests offer themselves and pray for all of you, so pray for them.
I would like to recommend the following prayer that was written by John Joseph Cardinal Carberry, who ordained me as a transitional deacon in the Archdiocese of St. Louis on May 1, 1985:
“O Jesus, our great High Priest, hear my humble prayers on behalf of your priests. Give them a deep faith, a bright and firm hope and a burning love, which will ever increase in the course of their priestly life. In their loneliness, comfort them. In their sorrows, strengthen them. In their frustrations, point out to them that it is through suffering that the soul is purified, and show them that they are needed by the Church; they are needed by souls; they are needed for the work of redemption. O loving Mother Mary, Mother of Priests, take to your heart your sons who are close to you because of their priestly ordination and because of the power, which they have received to carry on the work of Christ in a world, which needs them so much. Be their comfort, be their joy, be their strength, and especially help them to live and to defend the ideals of consecrated celibacy.”
What people need to truly live can only come through the hands of a priest. Christ gave Himself for the life of the world. And this life comes to us through the hands of a priest. “No priest, no Eucharist.” Let your priests know that you support them and offer them daily a spiritual bouquet of prayer. And if you truly want to make your priest happy, attend Mass and go to confession regularly for your spiritual nourishment and health.