A Word on Priests, Our Spiritual Warriors
“Judge the Catholic Church not by those who barely live by its spirit, but by the example of those who live closest to it.” (Ven. Fulton Sheen)
People are often astounded when they learn that I, a victim of rape by a Catholic priest, am not only still Catholic, but also pray daily for priests and hold them in a place of special respect. Hear me out. In the midst of seemingly endless stories of abuses and corruption within the Catholic Church, so many of us are frustrated and angry with many priests, bishops, and leaders. Rightly so! However, I think that it's crucially important to not group all priests and religious into one big, corrupt clump. There are still good, holy priests and bishops in our world! I have been privileged to know many and I contribute my ever growing faith to these faithful soldiers of Christ. Why should they be forced to suffer for the sins of their brothers?
Listen, I understand how triggering entering a church can be. To this day, I sometimes feel physically ill at Mass and the priestly white collar can bring back unwanted memories. However, this is a cross I bear willingly knowing that it was one very evil priest who raped me, not all priests are corrupt, and good, holy priests are vital in our world. Just as we can't make the sweeping assumption that "all teachers abuse students" (because some teachers have, indeed, abused students), we cannot say that, because some priests have done evil, that all priests must be evil.
If we are committed to rebuilding our church, then we need to come together and defend and support “the good guys.” The laity needs to stand behind good, holy priests and assure them that we have their backs. We need their leadership now more than ever. However, they also need our encouragement and our prayers. Also, I think it's important to remember that there are priests who have been victims of sexual abuse themselves. Priests who have been victims deserve to have a voice same as any other survivor. I have also known several conservative priests who have been ostracized and “warned” by more liberal, “progressive” priests and bishops to stop preaching the truth about “hot button topics” such as abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, contraception, stem cell research, gay “marriage,” etc. After all, some Catholics will be less likely to contribute financially if things are being spoken about that they don't agree with. Cafeteria Catholicism at its best! I can only imagine how much good priests are made to suffer for Christ!
Stop and think for a moment about the role priests play. Jesus, completely innocent, died for our sins and He called His apostles to the priesthood to continue on with His work. The priesthood is necessary for the world. Jesus works through our priests. Think about the amazing miracle that happens at each and every Mass: a priest blesses the bread and wine which are transformed intothe Body and Blood of Jesu which is then ggiven to the people. Without priests, we would not have the gift of Jesus Himself! A priest is called to preach the Faith, not only by word, but by his example. I've seen many examples of this over the course of my life but earlier this week I heard a deeply moving account of a priest living by example and I want to share that story with you. My family and I had the privilege of attending a brief talk at our parish given by a visiting priest from Cameroon, Africa. This priest is extremely busy in his home parish and there are many people who depend on him. He described one day that was particularly busy – he had said Mass for 2,000 young people! 2,000! How many churches in the United States have that many faithful at any given Mass? I'm going to out on a limb and say that there probably aren't too many (if any at all). On this busy day, a young woman tried to speak with Father after Mass. He was very busy and had a lot on his mind and so he wasn't able to slow down and give her much time. However, he promised they would talk later. The girl tried to touch base with him over the course of the day but he was so busy that he failed to see even the text messages she had sent. When he got home after his long day, he was frustrated, worn out, and looking forward to a break. It was then that he saw a text message in which the girl told him that she was sorry but she was going to commit suicide. As soon as he got the troubled girl's messages, he immediately set out to her home. Keep in mind that where Father lives, there is a curfew in place and no one is allowed to be out past 9PM. It was 8PM when he left and the girl lived 30 minutes away.
Thank the Good Lord, the girl was there and had not killed herself. Father was able to counsel her and he promised to return the next day. By the time he left, it was about 9PM and, as he drove along the road, he came upon a roadblock. The soldiers signaled for him to stop and get out of his car. As a soldier thrust a gun into the priest's chest, Father tried to explain that he was a Catholic priest and had responded to an emergency – he explained that a girl had been ready to kill herself. The soldier responded by saying that it didn't matter - he was not a Christian anyway and that Father needed to provide “blood or money.” If Father didn't produce some money, he would be shot and killed. By some “coincidence” (more like the grace of God) Father had some money in the car (I think he said it had been donations given to him by the nuns earlier that day). He handed it to the soldier and he was allowed to go on his way. As I meditated on his story, the tears started to silently flow. Can you imagine living life in such fear? This good and faithful priest was willing to risk his own life in order to save another. He was living the Faith by example. Where this priest lives, there are many people who travel miles and miles just to attend Holy Mass. They “get” it despite the fact that they often have little education and their circumstances are so humble. Here in the United States, we have so much. Yet, we seem to understand so little and we fail to appreciate the gift Jesus Himself left us, that of the Holy Eucharist. Father's story reminded me of how much we need priests and how difficult a vocation to the priesthood can be. Priests sacrifice so much in order to bring hope and the love of Christ to others! Following Christ is not an easy path especially in today's world. Sadly, I hear of priests being ridiculed and condemned even if they have done nothing wrong. The good, holy ones are are often grouped in with the “bad guys.” Sometimes, we fail to accept the fact that our priests are human and that, at times, they do struggle and sometimes fall. To be clear, I'm not saying we should sit back and accept sexual abuse, lax teaching, or corruption. Not at all! Of course, any perpetrator of sexual abuse deserves to be punished, and corruption of any kind should be dealt with swiftly and firmly. For example, there have been several well-known priests and bishops who have, at times, spoken very ambiguously about church teaching which has only lead to confusion especially for those struggling in their faith or struggling with a particular sin. We are absolutely called to speak up when church teaching is being twisted or when priests are corrupting souls. We cannot be so complacent that we stand by and watch as souls follow the bridge leading straight to hell. Catholics do need to take a stand against these wolves in sheep's clothing.
“Good priests lead thousands of souls to Heaven. Bad priests lead thousands of souls to hell.” (St. Alphonsus Liguori)
What we do need to accept and understand is that even our "best" priests are human and they, like us, are often weak. So often, they hold us up, yet we forget the battles they are suffering in their own lives and within their own hearts. They are human beings and suffer with their own physical aches and pains, and emotional and spiritual doubts, anxieties, and fears. Who do you suppose the devil works hardest on? He attacks the shepherds (our priests) with the hopes that, if he can get them to stray, the flock will follow. The other day, I came across a shirt that reads, “PRIEST – because hardcore devil stomping ninja isn't an official job title.” The caption is humorous but there's a lot of truth to it too when I stop and think about it! I have sometimes pondered what day-to-day life must be like for a good and faithful priest striving to be holy while, at the same time, meeting the needs of his parish. I'm sure they get overwhelmed, exhausted (physically, spiritually, and mentally). I'm sure they suffer from feelings of doubt, loneliness, and anxiety. Anyone who is a parent understands that there are many, many things that you do for the good of your family that aren't seen or appreciated. In a similar way, priests do many things that go unnoticed and unheard, yet they do it out of love for their flock and for the glory of God. Part of a priest's calling is to help guide their flock to heaven but, at the same time, there are earthly demands on them (for example, they need to be sure the needs of the parish are met). That's a lot of pressure! In addition, priests need to keep themselves spiritually fit so they can better guide and help us. We may think there's not much we can do to help but something we can all do is pray for priests and even check in on them every so often if we are able.
Just as Jesus offered Himself as a sacrifice for us, our priests sacrifice their lives in love and in service to others. Their vocation is a gift, a privilege, and a huge responsibility and they can't do it alone. They need us, my friends. They need our support and they need our prayers. There are many problems in our world and so much evil all around us but, in the midst of all the turmoil, are faithful warriors fighting an unseen battle to save our church and to save souls. They are our priests, and we must join them in fighting the good fight.
Please don't turn your back on them!