The spiritual well-being of our priests has been on my heart lately. After reading portions of early Church history this week I was reminded that there has never been a time in history when priests, bishops, and even popes, have not had a tremendous pull on them to be trapped in the midst of the mundane and dragged away from the profound and living relationship with Christ they must have in order to lead us. In one of the readings, Pope Gregory the Great had to take time to order lumber! Lumber! It is an amazing thought but the administrative burden of a Church, the complexity of relationships, the finances, all pull at our priests and threaten their ability to find Christ in silence and to daily renew their souls for service.
Today is the memorial of St. Charles Borromeo and the following is a portion of a beautiful sermon he preached to priests on this topic. Please forward this to your priests with a note of thanks and encouragement and let them know you are praying for them. Please join with me in examining my own heart regarding how I can better serve my priest so that he can have sacred breathing room where he can turn and be refreshed by Christ and thereby be holy, strong, and able to build up the Church of God.
“I admit that we are all weak, but if we want help, the Lord God has given us the means to find it easily. One priest may wish to lead a good, holy life, as he knows he should. He may wish to be chaste and to reflect heavenly virtues in the way he lives. Yet he does not resolve to use suitable means, such as penance, prayer, and the avoidance of evil discussions and harmful and dangerous friendships. Another priest complains that as soon as he comes into church to pray the office or celebrate Mass, a thousand thoughts fill his mind and distract him from God. But what was he doing in the sacristy before he came out for the office or for Mass? How did he prepare? What means did he use to collect his thoughts and remain collected?
Would you like me to teach you how to grow from virtue to virtue and how, if you are already recollected at prayer, you can be even more attentive next time, and so give God more pleasing worship? Listen, and I will tell you. If a tiny spark of God’s love already burns within you, do not expose it to the wind, for it may get blown out. Keep the stove tightly shut so that it will note lose its heat and grow cold. In other words, avoid distractions as well as you can. Stay quiet with God. Do not spend your time in useless chatter.
If teaching and preaching is your job, then study diligently and apply yourself to whatever is necessary for doing the job well. Be sure that you first preach by the way you live. If you do not, people will notice that you say one thing, but live otherwise, and your words will bring cynical laughter and a derisive shake of the head.
Are you in charge of a parish? If so, do not neglect the parish of your own soul, do not give yourself to others so completely that you have nothing left for yourself. You have to be mindful of your people without becoming forgetful of yourself.
My brothers, you must realize that for us churchmen nothing is more necessary than mediation. We must meditate before, during, and after everything we do. The prophet says: ‘I will pray, and then I will understand.’ When you administer the sacraments, meditate on what you are doing. When you celebrate Mass, reflect on the sacrifice you are offering. When you pray the office, think about the words you are saying and the Lord to whom you are speaking. When you take care of your people, meditate on the Lord’s blood that has washed them clean. In this way, all that you do becomes a work of love.
This is the way we can easily overcome the countless difficulties we have to face day after day, which, after all, are part of our work: in meditation, we find the strength to bring Christ to birth in ourselves and other men.”
Be holy – pray for your priests – support your priests – hold them up – demand less – give more – help them build the Church of God…
PS: If you want to bless your priest, deacon, or seminarian with a great Christmas gift to help them in this battle, I can think of no better book than The Better Part by our own Father John Bartunek, LC, Thd. If they already own this book, another great one is Time for God by Father Jacques Philippe. Please purchase through us (by clicking on the links provided) so we can continue this work in service to you and the Church around the world.
Art for this post on St. Charles Borromeo: St Carlo Borromeo, Orazio Borgianni, between 1610 and 1616, CCA-SA 3.0 Unported, Wikimedia Commons.