July 5, 2017
(Luk 10:2) And he said to them: The harvest indeed is great, but the labourers are few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest that he send labourers into his harvest.
SAINT JOHN VIANNEY: “O, how great is the priest! … If he realized what he is, he would die…”
FATHER JOHN A HARDON, S.J.: The Value of Prayer and Sacrifice for Priests
One of the most consistent concerns expressed both by my readers and by attendees at the various talks I give, is the large number of tepid and problematic clergy. We clergy give our people much to endure, yet for the most part they are so very patient and loving with us despite our foibles and idiosyncrasies.
Most of the people are highly concerned about the widespread silence and/or vagueness of the clergy in the face of the grave moral meltdown in our culture. At best, many pulpits are silent or replete with abstractions and generalities. At worst, some pulpits and clerical teaching contain outright errors or ambiguities that (intentionally or not) mislead and confuse the faithful.
There are, to be sure, numerous exceptions to these concerns. There are many fine, hard-working priests who teach courageously and clearly, with love and zeal. However, the problem is widespread enough that it is a common concern of the faithful.
Cardinal Robert Sarah, in his recent book The Power of Silence Against the Dictatorship of Noise, presents an insightful analysis of the problem and its causes. He relates the problem to a lack of prayerful silence on the part of many priests, who find little time for prayer let alone deeper silent contemplation. He begins by referencing Fr. Henri Nouwen, who once said,
Here are two key insights. First, a priest who is not accustomed to silently praying and listening to the voice of the Lord begins to hear only the voice of the world and to parrot its slogans and often insipid, ephemeral notions. The voice of Christ and the light of the Gospel grow dim, and his mind centers more on vain things and worldly notions. Gradually, he “goes native,” taking up the mind of the world, fleshly notions, and even the doctrines of demons.
Second, a priest can slip away from the “still, whispering voice of the Lord.” He can begin to lose trust in the power of God’s grace to touch and change people’s hearts. Vigorous preaching is rooted in confidence about both the truth proclaimed and the power of grace to bring about what the revealed Word announces. It is true that the Lord’s teachings are often challenging to the faithful, but this did not trouble Christ who, knowing the power of grace, did not hesitate to point to the highest truths and confidently summon the faithful to trust in His grace and mercy to get there! Without deep prayer, we lose our trust in God and in His people.
Gradually, as Nouwen notes, a priest’s untended inner fire grows cool and the numbness of the world extinguishes his joy, zeal, confidence, and love. The demands of the Gospel come to seem unreasonable or even impossible to him. And because he sees the Gospel as too challenging he is hesitant to preach its demands. As the inner fire grows dim, he slips into watering down the Gospel message, into the obfuscation of abstractions and generalities, or into outright denial of the harder truths.
Cardinal Sarah warns priests of this tendency and its outcome:
Thus, as both Fr. Nouwen and Cardinal Sarah point out, priests who let the fire of God grow dim and who no longer trust God or His people, sin against the Holy Spirit. They do so because they come to doubt or even deny the power of grace to make possible the satisfaction of the Gospel’s demands. Human flattery and worldly perspectives are preferred to the Holy Spirit’s urging to announce the Gospel plainly, lovingly, and without compromise. Human weakness becomes the baseline for what is expected. God the Holy Spirit is dismissed as irrelevant or incapable of perfecting God’s people. This is a sin against the Holy Spirit and a disastrous end for a priest, especially one who has reached the point of outright misleading God’s people and confirming them in sinful and erroneous notions.
Therefore, I ask all of the faithful to pray often for priests and bishops. In our human weakness, we clergy can stray from prayer. From there, the fiery zeal of God and the joy of the truth give way to the thinking of the world and to a lack of confidence in preaching without compromise. From the point of compromise, things just keep getting worse.
In his book, Cardinal Sarah references St. Augustine’s own plea for prayer, and I will conclude with that:
CNA: A Prayer for Priests by St. Therese of Lisieux
O Jesus, eternal Priest,
keep your priests within the shelter of Your Sacred Heart,
where none may touch them.
Keep unstained their anointed hands,
which daily touch Your Sacred Body.
Keep unsullied their lips,
daily purpled with your Precious Blood.
Keep pure and unearthly their hearts,
sealed with the sublime mark of the priesthood.
Let Your holy love surround them and
shield them from the world’s contagion.
Bless their labors with abundant fruit and
may the souls to whom they minister be their joy and consolation here and in heaven their beautiful and
everlasting crown. Amen.
Ladder of Divine Ascent excerpt: step 14- “On that clamorous mistress, the stomach”
17. Master your stomach before it masters you; and then you are sure to control yourself with the aid of shame. Those who have fallen into the horrible gulf know what I have said; but men who are eunuchs have not experienced this.