Susanna Spencer has a masters in theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is a writer and the theological editor for Blessed is She, and writes on her own blog Living With Lady Philosophy. She is a homeschooling mother of four and lives with her family in St. Paul, Minnesota.
This past weekend nine men were ordained to the priesthood for my home Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. On the Sunday feast of Corpus Christi my family and I assisted at the first Mass, a Mass of Thanksgiving, of a new priest who had grown up in our parish. It was a beautiful Mass, and the sanctuary was full of men who had received the Sacrament of Holy Orders: deacons, priests, and even two bishops.
As the Mass went on, and I stood in back with my one year old son, I was filled with incredible gratitude for the gift of the priesthood that has been given to the Church. I watched those men in the sanctuary, who have given their whole lives to the Church, to spread the Gospel, to administer the Sacraments, to be another Christ for us, and I prayed for them. It is a good thing that Holy Orders is a sacrament, because the priesthood is a vocation that can only be lived fully with sacramental graces.
The rector of St. Paul Seminary, Reverend Monsignor Aloysius Callaghan, gave the homily, and in it he told the story of Fr. Paddy Heenan from the Diocese of Memphis who when asked to describe the priesthood in one word, said that it was “relentless.” And that word is so fitting, for in the life of a priest, there is never a moments rest.
Archbishop J. Peter Sartain who also told this story in a homily at St. Meinrad Archabbey Church in March 2012 said further:
“But there is nothing as relentless as the call of the gospel; nothing as persistent as the demands of love; nothing as unyielding as the faithfulness of God; nothing as unrelentingly piercing as the gaze of God; nothing as relentless as God’s seeking, God’s searching, for the lost sheep, for sinners like us; nothing as relentless as God’s desiring to save us and bring us home. And thus, for the monk, for the seminarian, for the deacon, for the priest, and for the bishop, there is nothing more important than seeking, and seeking relentlessly, the One who seeks us.”
The struggles that priests face, and the attacks upon their priesthood, is especially relentless in the secular world we live in. Priests need our prayers; every priest in every situation needs our prayers.
There is the young priest, who is new in his vocation. He has great reverance for the liturgy and the sacraments he administers. He is a good, holy young priest striving to live his vocation and serve the Church. He needs prayers.
There is the retired priest, resting from his labors, sometimes too sick to do anything, but so often he is helping. He fills in for other priests and says Mass. He hears confessions, and available to administer the sacraments with the power given to him by Christ. He needs prayers.
A priest in a rural area lives alone, without the support of brother priests. He travels from church to church each Sunday to bring the Sacraments to their flocks. He needs prayers.
A priest is asked to manage a large parish and a large school; the finances may not be in order. He works with the people of the parish and the office staff who help him. In addition to the business, he struggles to find time to stay close to God, to spend time in prayer. He needs prayers.
And then there is the priest who cannot administer the sacraments. He is mentally unstable and needs someone to care for him. He needs prayers.
There is the laicized priest. He has lost his faith, and left the Church. Or maybe he feels that he chose the wrong vocation. He needs prayers.
There are the priests in religious orders, those that live and work in community, those that live in silence, those that live as hermits, and those who teach or are missionaries. They need prayers.
There is the priest who has been ordained a bishop who never thought he was called to be more than a parish priest. He never imagined leaving his own diocese let alone being chosen to be a bishop. He needs prayers.
And there are the priests who have fallen; about whom so much scandal has filled the media and the Church. But they are priests forever. The mark is indelible. They need prayers.
There are the priests that are accused of something that they never did, they are proven innocent, but because they were accused, people will always remember. They need prayers.
There are the priests in countries where Catholics are persecuted. The government tries to control the Church. Or they are in a place where they and the Christians they minister to are under threat of martyrdom daily. They need prayers.
In 2002 Pope St. John Paul II designated the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus as a World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests. This tradition has been continued since 2002 throughout the Church, especially through the organization World Priest, which has organized a Rosary relay. This Friday, June 3, is another opportunity for us to join in prayer throughout the world for the sanctification of priests. I would also encourage women who feel a special call to pray for priests to look into spiritual motherhood for priests; a growing number of dioceses have groups in which women can adopt priests to spiritually mother. We must never forget that priests need prayers for their sanctification, for their very vocation is relentless.