When my oldest son Athanasius was about five years old, I observed him playing with his Star Wars toys, imagining a great battle of the good Jedi knights against “the bad guys.” As I watched him play, I asked him: “Athan, if Jedi were real, who would be more powerful: a Jedi knight or Father John (our parish priest)?” Immediately, he answered: “A priest, because only a priest can change bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus.” It’s an observation that we adults often forget. In home schooling families, and in all Catholic families, the role of the priest is so important that life without them is literally unimaginable.
We’ve heard a lot of talk over the past years about the “bad priests”. The “bad priests” make news. In Hollywood, when a layman morally fails, not only is he not attacked, but the act is often celebrated. Divorced and remarried couples are fawned over, with every move reported, lest we miss a beat.
When a priest fails, he is attacked and immediately called a “hypocrite” by the media. St. John Vianney wrote that when people wish to attack the Faith, they begin by attacking the priests, since the role of the priest is vital to the Faith. Though they regard the priesthood as a sham, members of the media nevertheless hold priests to a standard that they would never hold for members of any other profession. This makes for a strange irony: even those who hate priests instinctively recognize the dignity of the priesthood.
Pope Pius XI called this a “tribute”, writing:
“A last tribute to the Priesthood is given by the enemies of the Church. …[T]hey show that they fully appreciate the dignity and importance of the Catholic Priesthood, by directing against it their first and fiercest blows; since they know well how close is the tie that binds the Church to her Priests. The most rabid enemies of the Catholic Priesthood are today the very enemies of God; a homage indeed to the Priesthood, showing it the more worthy of Honor and Veneration.”
Priests are not endowed with a charism of perfection. Priests are men. They have temptations and weaknesses. We have every reason to believe that they are tempted more than laymen (although we also have every reason to believe that they receive more grace to assist them). They have bad days; they encounter unfriendly administrations. They must deal with the fact that the court of public opinion has passed sentence on them because of recent scandals. They are given accusatory glances by people who know nothing about them.
Yet they persevere. And we husbands and fathers must learn from this perseverance. We fathers sometimes tremble at the thought of the responsibilities in our lives: our work, our financial responsibilities, our wives, our children. Priests are responsible for every soul in their care. We fathers need to learn this art of perseverance from priests, and pray for the grace of perseverance.
It is also vital that we fathers teach our children the power and dignity of the priesthood. Children tend to marvel at the power of angels, but we should remind our children that, as many of the saints have observed, the priest possesses power that has not been given to a single angel in heaven. St. Alphonsus Liguori observed that St. Michael the Archangel could chase away devils, but only a priest could absolve the sins of the penitent. All the saints in heaven can pray for you, but only a priest can offer you absolution. No angel has the power to offer a single Mass. It has even been observed that the angels tremble at the power of the priest. St. John Vianney wrote: “If I were to meet a priest and an angel, I should salute the priest before I saluted the angel. The latter is the friend of God; but the priest holds His place.”
We must also learn to do something that we never do enough: thank the priests with whom God has blessed our lives. To the priests who are reading this, on behalf of myself, and I believe many home schooling fathers, Thank you. Your sacrifices are not in vain. By the grace of God, the souls of our children will be your trophies in heaven. Your vow to depart from the secular world is what has given our families a home. Any success we have as Catholic fathers is impossible without you. We cannot claim any victory that is not yours first. When our families are at peace, it is because you have granted us the consolation of the Sacraments. The love and dedication that you show Jesus inspires us. And please know that you are in our prayers, now and always.
Prayer for Priests
Keep them; I pray Thee, dearest Lord.
Keep them, for they are Thine
The priests whose lives burn out before
Thy consecrated shrine.
Keep them, for they are in the world,
Though from the world apart.
When earthly pleasures tempt, allure —
Shelter them in Thy heart.
Keep them and comfort them in hours
Of loneliness and pain,
When all their life of sacrifice
For souls seems but in vain.
Keep them and remember, Lord,
they have no one but Thee
Yet, they have only human hearts,
With human frailty.
Keep them as spotless as the Host
That daily they caress;
Their every thought and word and deed,
Deign, dearest Lord, to bless.