Being Stronger Priests
Lately, there has been a strong demand for what is called "orthodox" priests and bishops. Orthodox comes from the Greek and actually means nothing more than “right (correct) teaching.” So people are looking for priests and bishops who put forth teaching faithful to the Church. Some in order to ensure the orthodoxy of their clergy call out of the sins of priests and bishops. This will backfire without an emphasis on the true need: holy priests and bishops rooted in prayer. The prayerful clergy will not be the unfaithful clergy. They will be what the Church needs more than anything: holy priests. It is the holy priest who will focus of being faithful to God and His Church.
This is important because we do not need a Church which has less of priests that preach cute pastel homilies AS MUCH AS WE NEED more and more priests dedicated to the path to holiness for themselves and their people and who allow themselves to be transformed in Christ. They can serve Our Lord and his people well. Remember, Jesus warned against those who eliminated the unholy without restoring the holy. MT 12:43-45. He said the final result will be an even more evil situation. So encouraging the Holy is as important as discouraging the unholy.
Prayer does not just mean saying the Our Father in the morning, or even being faithful to the breviary, although both are important. Prayer means a daily holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament and a daily rosary. It means good spiritual reading and contemplation. It means to be strongly familiar with the Word of God and to practice Lectio Divina regularly usually in the holy hour.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen said that the priest who does the daily holy hour will not be lost. Fr. Paulo Ricardo Acevedo, Jr. teaches that to live without prayer is the spiritual equivalent of living without food. Prayer is essential.
Daily prayer for the priest should not be compartmentalized as in: "I will pray during this time, and do what I want for the rest of the day." Prayer should be in everything we do and we need to communicate with God regularly in our prayer.
St. Alphonsus Liguori taught in his book "How to Converse with God" that prayer should be a conversation with God like one speaks to a friend. That kind of prayer can be ubiquitous in the life of a priest and will change how we live. This is essential for the priest or the Bishop.
When we seek to pray, the Lord will lead us down the path He wants us to walk and show us what paths we must abandon. Prayer will help us to be sincere in our service to Him.
We need to pray before we engage in all kinds of situations in ministry and our personal life. This is especially pertinent when surfing the internet. First, a good Catholic, ordained or not, needs to make sure his internet browser is on safe search (the second of two or three settings) limiting images to those that are appropriate. There are few, if any, reasons to browse the internet with that safe search setting set to off. Second, before using the internet, a good quick prayer asking the Lord not to let you go where you do not belong is essential.
Prayer is also the method to fight evil. I learned a long time ago that we do not fight evil, God does. So our method of fighting evil is through praying to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. Those who challenge evil directly will be consumed by it, for evil is stronger than we are without God and weaker than we are with God.
If you are going into a situation that you fear could lead you away from God, even for an hour—such as meeting some old friends who are not Catholic in a reunion of sorts—pray first and ask the protection of your guardian angel and of St. Michael among others. Do not walk into the situation confident that you are strong enough to withstand any trouble that may come your way. You are not. Peter was not when Jesus was arrested, therefore, neither are you.
Be careful of seeing Mass as a task. Celebrate Mass regularly, daily if possible. Fr. José Augusto of Canção Nova in Brazil teaches that for a Catholic priest not to celebrate Mass daily is like the man who does not talk to his wife daily. Do not fall into the trap that Mass is a task and not to have to do "the task" is a blessing. Mass is not a task, it is a calling and choosing to treat it otherwise is not a healthy way of being a priest.
Make sure you prepare your homily well. Do not do it off the top of your head. Rather, spend hours in study, research and writing your homily. I personally use the Verbum software that allows me to search Bible verses and references from the Sunday readings in the Catechism, Church documents, the Fathers of the Church and in contemporary writings. Using that research, I come up usually with around eight to twelve pages of notes to write a one thousand word (two pages) homily.
Do not ignore your critics including the militant ones. They may be acerbic, but the fool ignores his critics. What they usually indicate is that they want strong priests who lead the Church to holiness. That is what Christ called you to be. You may disagree with these critics’ style or even their positions, but beneath this is the issue and usually they are seeking a holy Church with holy people, led by holy priests and bishops. Do not let their methods lead you to believe they are wrong on the issues.
Those looking for Father Friendly should not be ignored either, but in both cases do not compromise your role as priest: listen, absorb what you can and throw away what you cannot. I remember someone criticizing me for not welcoming everyone at a funeral to the Eucharist. There was little I could do with her complaint and I made that clear to her. However, she knew I listened to her concerns and offered my explanation why I could not welcome more people to the Eucharist.
You have no right to speak in your own name words that contradict the Church. People do not attend mass to learn what you think of what the Church promulgates. They listen to you to hear what the Church founded by Christ teaches. Your homily must not be commentary on what you believe the Church should do say, but rather what the Church actually says. The minute you speak for yourself instead of the Church, you are not doing what you are ordained to do. If you do disagree with some magisterial positions then seek to understand why you disagree and embrace the wisdom behind the teaching. I doubt you can demonstrate greater wisdom than that of the 2000 years of Catholicism. Even Jesus' words did not contradict the law and prophets, neither can you.
There is another problem with speaking against Church teaching. You may think you know better than the Church, but you may also be succumbing to the vice of pride. Pride, the mother of all sins, will lead you down the path of great praise for your words, but it will lead you away from the path to humility. Humility, the mother of all virtues, is how we approach God and His Church. St. Teresa of Avila taught that with humility you can draw God into your heart by a thread. Beware of pride. Only the humble recognize its presence. The prideful end up lost by blindly following the sound of pride's voice.
Finally, do not be afraid to challenge convention. I have yet to find youth ministry to be effective in the long term anywhere, now it is an industry with youth ministers requiring salary and benefits more than the parish can afford. Fr. Matthew Schneider, LC suggests a budget of about a half a million dollars for such a program. What parish can afford this?
When people tell me to begin youth ministry, I explain that parents do not go to Mass and anything you do in youth ministry will not be enforced at home. When the parents attend church, then call me about youth ministry. So I create an atmosphere where parishioners of all ages will be served. I use story homilies for family masses for the whole family to discuss the message and found that the youth get the meaning more quickly than the parents and that teaches the parents.
Remember, the Church's first need is good, holy priests and bishops. We need to understand this and live it.