The Urgent Need for Prayers for Priests
Christ is the High Priest in whom and through whom God gives us all things. The priest is an alter-Christus, another Christ! The priest is a gift of God, through whom He communicates to the Church his gifts of grace. "Without priests", exclaims Pope John Paul II, "the Church would not be able to live that fundamental obedience which is at the very heart of her existence and her mission in history, an obedience in response to the command of Christ: 'Go therefore and make disciples of all nations' (Mt 28,19) and 'Do this in memory of me' (Lk 22,19)" 1
The Son of God became a priest by the Incarnation, becoming like us in all things except sin. What is meant is that He shares in our weakness. Therefore, it is not surprising that priests, while they ministerially share in the power of Christ's divinity, are still subject to all the frailties of human nature, and so are also buffeted by the spiritual tempests of the times in which they live.
It is no secret that the Church and, particularly, the priesthood suffered a severe spiritual identity crisis in the years that followed Vatican 11. Over I 0,000 priests left their ministry in disillusionment (and / or bitterness). Vocations fell dramatically: a decrease of 90% in the last 30 years! While there are some signs of hope - occasioned by a certain relative rise in vocations - it remains that "better than bad is still poor! " The relative increase will not remedy the situation in the United States: by the year 2005 there will be only one priest for about every 2,000 Catholics. This is double the ratio that existed even as recently as 1992.
Surely, Christ has promised to be with His Church always (cf Mt 28,20) so that the gates of hell would never prevail against her (cf. Mt. 16,19). But this does not mean that ravishing wolves will rise up and not spare the flock (cf. Acts 20,29). Therefore, while "the Church cannot be destroyed", explains Fr. John Hardon, SJ, "the Church in any particular country can be wiped out. We have some 1900 extinct dioceses in the world today." Bleak is his prognosis: "Barring a miracle of grace, one diocese after another in the United States will disappear."
The Holy Father, John Paul H corroborates the gravity of the situation; he warns that a spiritual crisis of unprecedented proportions is looming on the horizon. In fact, he told the bishops of New England during their ad limina visit last fall, that if something is not done quickly to remedy the situation, he fears Via new era of barbarism, rather than a spring time of home, may well follow this century of tears" 2
What is the cause of this crisis? - which is the greatest in the history of the Church, according to Fr. Hardon. The cause of this crisis, Fr. Hardon believes, is the loss of faith of bishops and priests in their priestly powers. In other words, the most profound and revolutionary crisis ever suffered - far greater that the Roman persecutions of the early Church - has its root in the failure of priests to perform their duty.
What, then, can we do to alleviate this critical shortage of priests? What can we do to restore the faith of priests who have grown weak or who have already abandoned their sacred post?
Above all, we must pray. Jesus assured Peter, foreseeing his trial, "I have prayed for you, that your faith might not fail!" (Lk 22,32). And so, the Holy Father encourages us to powerful acts of trust: "In the face of a crisis of priestly vocations the first answer which the Church gives lies in a total act of faith in the Holy Spirit. We are deeply convinced that this trusting abandonment will not disappoint if we remain faithful to the graces we have received. The Church, therefore, must never cease to pray to the Lord of the harvest that He send laborers into His harvest (cf. Mt 9,38)." 3 For "it is possible", he explained on the World Day for Vocations last year, "to generate new vocations in the spirit only when the Christian community lives in an attitude of total fidelity to the Lord." 4
From the foregoing it is clear that the vocation crisis is also integrally linked to the family crisis and a world view that is opposed to life. There the Holy Father notes, "Jesus Himself has shown us by his own example that prayer and fasting are the first and most effective weapons against the forces of evil (cf. Mt 4,1 -1 1). As he taught his disciples, some demons cannot be driven out except in this way (cf Mk 9,29). Let us therefore discover anew the humility and courage to pray and fast so that power from on high will break down the walls of lies and deceit.... May this same power turn the hearts [of our brothers and sisters] to resolutions and goals inspired by the civilization of life and love." 5
But not even this is enough. We must do more than merely fasting and praying in these trying times, in order to strengthen priests in their vocation and merit more from God: we need to cultivate a spirit of sacrifice and expiation. By His sufferings on the Cross, Christ redeemed us; by uniting our sufferings to His we will contribute to the well-being of the Church and to the sanctity of priests.
Finally, at this point and time in history, we all have a serious obligation to "increase our apostolic zeal to pass on to others the light and joy of the faith." For, "we cannot be content when we consider the millions of our brothers and sisters, who like us have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, but who live in ignorance of the love of God."6 The are ignorant of Christ and the Scriptures mainly because there is a lack of holy priests.
The Holy Father takes heart from the increase of vocations and foresees the dawning of a new missionary age, which will become a radiant day bearing an abundant harvest if' - and this is an important "if' - all Christians "respond with generosity and holiness to the calls and challenges of our time." 7
Let us therefore offer, as the Holy Father begs us, "Unceasing prayers for priests .... on our knees."8
Fr. Matthew Hincks, ORC
1. Pastores dabo vobis, 1.
2. L'Osservatore Romano, 28 October, 1998.
3. Pastores dabo vobis, 1.
4. Message for the XY.XV World Day of Prayer for Vocation, 3 May 1998.
5. Evangelium Vitae, 100.2
6. Redemptoris Missio, 85,3.
7. Redemptoris Missio, 85,3.
8. Holy Thursday Letter for Priests, 1982.
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