An article in Catholic World Report for Monday, titled “A priest who offered his life in reparation for the sins of priests” by Dr Patrick Kenny, has caught my attention. Dr Kenny is the editor of To Raise the Fallen: A Selection of the War Letters, Prayers and Spiritual Writings of Fr Willie Doyle SJ, about which I have blogged about before Christmas, and his article is about Doyle. It is a very timely piece, reminding us of this holy, humble Jesuit who did indeed sacrifice his life, ministering as a chaplain in the trenches of WWI, but also of the very pressing need today to pray for priests.
Indeed, I have just read Praying for Priests: An Urgent Call for the Salvation of Souls by Kathleen Beckman, LHS (Sophia Institute Press) which makes this point. If Fr Doyle understood the human frailty of his fellow priests in 1917, how much more is the laity aware of it in our times? One might respond, of course one should pray for priests – but why is a book necessary to tell us so? Simply because Beckman, a popular Catholic writer and broadcaster in the US, goes deeply into the subject, explaining the how as well as the why of this “urgent call”.
In his foreword, Fr Mitch Pacwa SJ remembers his seminary in 1963. Over 500 young men entered with him, to formation that included three hours of study daily, daily Mass, daily Rosary and weekly Confession. Then came the disruption following Vatican II; only 38 men were finally ordained.
Beckman is part of her diocesan exorcism team. As she reminds us, in an exorcism a demon is forced “to attend to his hatred towards priests because of the Eucharist”. If Satan can destroy a priest’s faith, whether through sexual temptation or other weaknesses, he destroys that man’s desire to celebrate Mass and consequently the powerful graces that flow from it. Recalling the murder of the French priest, Fr Jaques Hamel, at the altar as he celebrated Mass, she points out that he called out “Be gone, Satan!” twice before he died.
The author cites authors, such as Fr GW Rutler, and Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, as well as Pope Benedict XVI, who have all drawn attention to the need of priests for intercessory prayer. In particular, she quotes the wise and saintly Fr John Hardon SJ, who stated that “The Catholic priesthood needs prayer and sacrifice as never before since Calvary.” We should treat this statement with the gravity it deserves.
In response to this situation the author has initiated a new apostolate of clergy and laity in 2013, the Foundation of Prayer for Priests. Its members bind themselves to prayer, sacrifice, service and study. In particular, they consecrate themselves to Our Lady, “for to live Marian consecration is to live Christ.” Our Lady is the heavenly mother of all priests. For Saint John Paul II, she was the one who deflected the bullet during the assassination attempt on his life, the one to whom he dedicated himself, taking the motto “Totus Tuus” from St Louis de Montfort, her great champions.
Beckman also draws attention to many other “spiritual mothers” in the Church’s history, such as St Monica, who prayed for the conversion of her son, St Augustine; St Catherine of Siena, a counsellor to popes; Eliza Vaughan, whose large family produced many priests and nuns, including a bishop, an archbishop and a cardinal; and St Therese, who had a special love for missionary priests.
She suggests that whenever possible Catholics make a Holy Hour in front of the tabernacle for the sake of priests. She advises readers not to be anxious about what prayers to say: “Cultivate a listening heart. Jesus is pleased to have your company.” She tells an anecdote of the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen, (who decided early in his priesthood to make a daily holy hour): once when he made it he was so tired that he fell asleep the whole time. When he woke up he asked God “Did I make a Holy Hour?” He received the reply, “Yes! That’s the way the Apostles made their first one” – a reference to the Garden of Gethsemane.
The book also includes a prayerful response to current clergy scandals – a Rosary of reparation in which prayers are said at each decade: for victims of abuse, for their abusers, for falsely accused priests, for healing and for forgiveness. It is packed with good advice and spiritual sustenance.
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