The Dignity of the Priesthood



Excerpts From RETREAT COMPANION FOR PRIESTS by Fr. Francis P. Havey, S.S.

Nihil Obstat: E. A. Cerny, S.S.
Censor Librorum
Imprimatur: +Francis P. Keough, D.D.
Archbishop of Baltimore, October 19, 1950

TAN BOOKS AND PUBLISHERS, INC.  Published on the web with permission.

"For the zeal of thy house hath eaten me up."------Psalm 68: 10


The Priest's Temptations

Our Lord in the desert just before His public ministry is tested by temptation. The temptation is Messianic in import: "If Thou be the Son of God . . ." Satan strives to alter the spirit of our Lord's ministry and to turn Him from His purpose of life. He besets our Lord in the solitude before His work, while He is faced by His life as a whole. The temptation is momentous-----to weaken or neutralize His action upon mankind. The multitude follows the great leaders and teachers: and these are as their ideals and motives. Our Lord's experience was unique because He was the one only Savior of men.

   We, like our Lord, are in lonely retirement, contemplating our ministry. The demon, we may be sure, is intensely interested in us. He hates all that Christ loves. His one passion, dark and evil, is to deprive Christ of souls. He is the anti-Christ. He tries to fight God through us. He is the brains, the real organizer of the evil forces which beset us. What glory could he not take from Christ; what harm could he not do to poor souls by getting into the motives and standards of one priest! "Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat."

   Now our ministry is Christ's work, and this is to be done in Christ's way. Our spirit must be the spirit of Christ. We must have His mind. In knowing Him we come to know ourselves. We cannot realize the meaning of what is passing in our hearts, till the Master dramatizes it before our eyes in His own Person, or analyzes our experiences in a painting where the characteristics are presented and the confusing details eliminated. "In Thy light we shall see light." "Tempted in all things like as men are."

   The First Temptation. The deprivations of the priest beget temptation, and these the demon intensifies. Our Lord is pale and weak from fasting; He feels the hardship of this self-denial. The demon seeks to stir in our Lord a self-regarding tone of mind to use His office and privileges for His own comfort. Turn this lump of stone into bread to quell your hunger and depression! You have the powers of nature in your hand, and you are weak and hungry! You have the power to alter your austere lot; it is your own choosing. Soften the hardships a little! The demon strives to mislead by half truths. We scarcely take these for suggestions of the demon concerning the spirit of the priesthood, so subtly does he mingle evil with noble aspirations. The suggestions look so reasonable. This temptation does not seem to have been to sin, but to deviate from standard: not to accept hard conditions if we can help it, to let up a little, to soften the will.

   This temptation recurs at the end of our Lord's ministry-----He will not accept the words of the Apostles or the legion of angels in His hour of greatest need. Take care of your health and spirits! Why be so strict? If our Lord had accepted this tone of mind, He would have altered His ministry, and we should not have had "the Gospel." The priest wants no reminder that he lives by bread. There is no fear of his not giving care enough to the needs of his body; but there is danger lest he should think of nothing but these needs and starve his soul. "Not by bread alone doth a man live." See where our Lord puts the emphasis! We have physical needs and we have spiritual needs; the wants of our lower nature are clamorous and elemental to our manhood. The many live like the animals for "bread alone," for this is the most universal of all temptations, and it has special power of fascination in our day. But we cannot indulge our body much and develop our soul. We must choose between two sets of inclinations, and sacrifice the lower to the higher, for they are in conflict within us. They are alternatives. And it is momentous for our sanctification and our ministry what answer we shall make in the pleading of comfort and the risk to health against duty. The priest is for Christ and his course with the multitude, and all great services involve self-sacrifice.

   Under the pretense of modern improvements we are in danger of turning priestly credit into a resource of a soft life with the veneer of religiosity. Am I for the people, or are the people for me? Let me give my conscience a straight answer. Has my ordination increased my worldly condition? How about my table? Is it a means to minister to the people or to self? I must regulate it by Christian principle. The health of the priests, the work to be done, the diocesan allowance, and the poverty of the people are elements of the problem to be brought to Christ for judgment. Our Lord sent His first priests out with a staff. Can I get along the roads of life with a cane, or do I need an automobile? At any rate, the sleek, high-powered car is a social irritant. Am I striving by the furnishings of my house, by my table and abundant recreations to compensate for the lonely life of celibacy which I vowed for the love of God? Am I striving to turn my house into an earthly home? Am I scheming for an earthly resting place? What am I getting out of my priesthood: abundance of ease or much work and merit? Am I overanxious about my health? What of my vacations? Am I absorbed by the layman's world of sports and theaters? Do we belong to the small leisure class of this active, democratic land? Am I asking the least and giving the most? Am I a spiritual man, devoted to souls, merged into my work? Am I risking anything upon Christ? Am I sustained by my magnificent vocation?

   The test is this: Can I offer my recreations and vacations to Christ? He has a claim, not only on part of my time, but upon my whole life. It was He Who put the touch of austerity in the priesthood. I have a soul; I am a priest. My soul and my God are paramount. There is but one real commandment: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart."

I am not saying, Take this or that resolve; but don't yield to the undisciplined impulses of the heart, don't drift, but take yourself in hand. Organize your life and surroundings upon the right principles of Christ, and, if in doubt, seek advice. Let me discern the tempter who approaches me in the dry, withered spots of life-----the solitude of the lonely country parish, or the solitude of the soul in the great city. There are moods in which everything except the material looks unreal; in which the life of faith takes on an aspect of desert where nothing human grows. The season of spiritual dryness, the dreary outlook is tinged by depression and fear as of a prisoner in a cell. Then the tempter whispers, "Let up in work, shift the cares to someone else. Be like others. Turn to human companionship, to the layman's world. Soften the hardships a bit. Turn these stones into bread."

   The temptation of the lonely pastor of a few scattered sheep in the outlying reaches of this unequal country is to contrast in recurring moods his meager life, diminished to a bare existence, and the poor outlook for the future, with the situation of priests, perhaps even classmates of his, in the great cities, where the parish buildings, multitudes of Catholics and abundant resources glorify the priests. Then comes the temptation to unlawful compensation, to snatch some comfort from life-----just to be human, or to sink into dull inertia.

  The appeals that stimulated my ideals in youth will not serve me now. I need a spiritual soul and mature priestly faith through and through. My personal loyalty to Christ is at stake. He led me to the mission I hold, and said to me, Curam illius habe. "Labor here in My name and for My sake! And I at My return will repay you. Now indeed you have sorrow, but I will see you again and your hearts shall rejoice and your joy no man shall take from you."

   The Second Temptation. "Show yourself to men." The demon realizes that he has to do with a spiritual man, so he shifts the scene from the desert to the Temple. Temptation grows out of victory, grows out of good, and grows with our growth. "It preys upon our refinement, it haunts our quickened imagination, it rises up out of our deeper study which has disturbed it." [Newbolt] If I am let alone, the devil must find me not worth troubling.

   The demon is now on his own ground, and turns into temptation the priest's desire to win men. The Archangel who was lost because he aimed at power, not at goodness, whispers now in the ear of Christ, "Show your powers, take the short-cut of self-display to win men instead of the long, dreary way of patient, suffering love." For moral work, conscience suggests self-denying habits as the means; the demon suggests self-assertion to rouse the passions to act upon men in the tumult of life, the noisy popular movement. Show yourself to the people. They yield to the strong. You have a mighty eloquence; use that, instead of your humble parables to the poor and illiterate. You have the power of miracles: draw attention to yourself; make an instant impression; raise excitement and stun the crowd. See the people gathered in the courts of the Temple, feeding upon hopes of a Savior. If You are the Son of God come down straight from Heaven before their eyes. They seek signs: give them now the very sign of the Son of Man coming in the heavens. "Cast yourself down from the Temple!" Why so many miracles in private, so few in public? Get out of the country into the city, get into the newspapers and the public movements of the day. Keep yourself in the public view in the cities, gather crowds, create a following; prolong and intensify your active ministry. Use power as Joshua and Isaias: show the signs which strike men most. Arouse the imagination and enthusiasm of the crowd in the capital. Use miracle, not merely as evidence, but as the gist of your mission. Be "a miracle-man."

  Why did our Lord forego winning the world to Himself by the public display of His power? This was the mystery to His disciples. Why did He charge those whom He healed not to make Him known? Why delay in assuming the title of Messias? Why hide Himself from those who would make Him king? Why did He evade the popular uprising in Capharnaum after His first outpouring of miracles? Why did He avoid the towns of Galilee after He cured the leper on His first circuit?

   St. Mark throws light upon this mystery: See how the crowd in Galilee rose at the outset of His ministry after the cure of the leper; how they turned to Him at the lake, and followed Him to the desert! Why? Because they heard of the things He did. Could success be greater! Mothers brought their children to Him for His blessing, the sick sought a cure, and sinners came with tears of repentance. The crowd offered Him a crown to rule them. He had cured Oriental leprosy and had given them the bread they had been used to toil for with sweat and care. It seemed as if the Kingdom had come, His purpose attained. Alas, the movement was shallow. St. John explains why our Lord seemed always to be forsaking the reasonable way to success. He had come to introduce the misunderstood and disliked moral kingdom; to put God in the hearts of men. He did not come to inaugurate a Christian Science movement for health and dreamy peace. He cared not for excitement as of a camp meeting or religious revival, but for reflection and prayer-----the Kingdom of God.

  He strove for real conversion, to raise men's minds from this world to God, to lead them through this passing evil world to the enduring world where God is all in all, the world of faith and the supernatural. He began His "hard sayings," and lo! the crowd broke away. The crowd always has the crude philosophy of comfort. They wanted this world, not the next, and would use religion to tighten their hold upon this world. Our Lord explains in the parable of the sower what will come of His ministry. A small group of disciples-----the spiritual, the earnest, the faithful of good will are all that remain to Him. These He now draws closer to Him as dearer to Him than ties of flesh and blood; and He begins to give them His full truth. His way is the Way of the Cross: of prayer, labor, self-sacrifice, blood, even to having joy set before Him and choosing the Cross. The demon suggests the way of power. Our Lord chose the way of apparent weakness. He did not intend to convert the world by miracles. He wrought miracles of evidence, indeed, that men might have reason to believe in Him; but He wrought our salvation by the Cross. He set Himself to make men rise to God by giving up the world. He gave it up Himself; He picked out poor fishermen for Apostles; He led a poor life of hardship and labor; He evangelized the poor in their tongue and form of thought: Christ is not to do His saving work by self-assertion or self-vindication or personal ambition. He will not dominate men as a master, but seek them as a servant, in plain speech and with the ever thankless trouble of seeking souls. As St. John Chrysostom points out, He puts no trust in money or legislation to further His cause, but trusted only to supernatural methods. He preached grace, taught morality, showed the people the love of God, and, in His own Person, offered them an example of prayer, humility and suffering.

   Men who are mad for this world will not be converted to rise above the world by worldly priests of the gentlemanly, cultured type. Our Lord wanted large results from His Apostles. He looked for efficiency; yet He spoke oftenest to them of the crucifying virtues-----of prayer more than of purposeful will, of obedience more than of initiative, of poverty more than of ways and means, of lowly-mindedness and meekness more than of energy, of self-denial more than of the psychology of persuasion, magnetic personal charm and immediate success. These hard virtues bring the priest into intimacy with Christ, the uprising of self is suppressed, and then, the Lord energizes them in vast labors. So must the world be converted. Am I putting real trust for supernatural results in
self-assertion, in scholarship, in popularity, power of speech, material improvement, natural energy, financial ability, organization? These are, indeed, great natural forces which make an instant impression upon men. Am I aiming at the real religion for my people, of conversion from the world to God, of union with God by the great virtues of faith, hope and love? I need the grace of God upon my ministry. The "Cross" is my resource. Our Lord triumphed by the Cross, not in spite of it. Many of the Saints wrought no miracles in their lives; great missionaries converted crowds, not by miracles, but chiefly by humble, patient, enduring love.

  The way of self-display, though it looks forceful, involves the superficial claptrap of immediate success. Minds and hearts are to  be won to God-----to give themselves to Him, to live, not to this world, but to Him. This is real religion. Grace is needed. The Cross of Christ is the means-----the slow, hard, patient way of self-denying love. Going around doing good at the cost of much trouble, and bearing the grief and sins of the many in sorrow. The blessing is on that.

    The Third Temptation. Temptations sift us. We cannot know what we are till we are tried in heart and reins. When all is well with us, our apparent devotion may be high spirits or self-interest. "Out of hearts thoughts are revealed" by trials and temptations. What is in the depth of our hearts, self or God? Come, let us be thorough! What is our ideal of life? The last passion of fine men is to have a name in this world, to be no common man; of a priest, to leave his impress upon the people, a long memory-----perhaps a monument. It is ambition, self-exaltation. So the tempter comes a third time to our Lord. Now he uses no "If Thou be;" he comes into the open and seems to say, "I know men; I have sounded the greatest; You belong to the select few. You can rise above personal comfort; above the sophistry of immediate results; You can have enduring power in this world. How glorious is a name from age to age! See the panorama of history: see the epochs as they unfold, and a great leader at the head of each! The scene speaks for itself. 'All these will I give Thee'-----not an altogether empty boast, for the demon has power in human affairs. Don't be a dreamer, an idealist! Let us have an understanding! The great have achieved supreme power by coming to terms with the world. The world can be gained in one way only, by adopting the world-spirit. This argument is the secret, to be plain; the price of power. The leaders of Your own race have been too narrow and unreal to draw the nations to them. Leave the supernatural out! If you be unworldly, man will not understand Your speech; they will laugh at You; You will be a great failure, the world will turn its back upon You, if You do not heed my advice. Don't spend your time upon a handful of poor provincials; don't cultivate the poor and outcast; don't throw Yourself away! Fall in with the popular ideals; put Yourself at the head of the movement of the day!"

  Jesus answers, "The Lord thy God thou shalt adore, and Him only shalt thou serve." God, not self, must be exalted. In Christ, the prince of this world has nothing. Our Lord rejects the popular ideal of the kingdom, and  thus loses His Own people. He rejects Satan, and thereby has him as an implacable enemy. He does not rally His disciples with the sword, and so stands abandoned before Pilate-----a King, not of this world. He loses His life, lays it down while His failing ears hear the cry of derision, "Save Yourself!"

    "Amen, amen, I say unto you, if the grain of wheat falling on the earth dieth not, itself remaineth alone; but, if it die, it beareth much fruit. He who loveth his life, shall lose it, and he who hateth his life in this world, preserveth it unto life everlasting." [John, 12: 24, 25] Here is the profound issue of loss and gain for the priest. Are we to gain for self or for God? to exalt self or God? "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself." The priests who save themselves-----the able, the good-livers and the shrewd-----develop themselves and turn their opportunities to their own account, thinking to expand their lives and to insure their welfare and happiness, whereas they waste themselves eternally in sterile selfishness, in ease, in books, in reputation and monuments. Our Lord binds Himself to the priest: here is the sharp test of our faith. Are we content with God? Do we venture our all upon the promise of Christ? Are our lives much different from what they might be if He had not intervened in them? What have we given up for His sake Who said, "Come, follow Me?" What have we laid up with Him?

  We have engaged by our priesthood to go against the natural desires of our hearts. Though we are of like nature with our fellowmen, yet we have the grace to give up what we might else keep, enjoy and make much of. We give up for Christ and for the Gospel what it is natural to keep for our own sakes-----the layman's lot, and the life of personal ease and of exaltation.

  To say that we feel inclinations to ease, to popularity and to power, is to acknowledge that we are human. But the vital matter is this: what are my settled convictions, my aims, the drift of my deliberate choices? What are my ideals of the ministry? Our Lord is sensitive to our aims, and motives, as He was with His first Apostles. His work depends upon us, for He has deigned to make us necessary to Him; but we are worth no more than our inner purposes and motives.

  Our Lord endured to have false ideals of the ministry thrust upon Him in the desert. He was true man, "of the substance of His mother, born into the world," "tempted in all things like as we are, yet without sin." The temptations came before His eyes in their full power, and He renounced them as a great lie and fraud, not to be compared with the blessings of turning from self and this world to choose God and to serve God in Him.

   Let us now pass under the eye of Christ in this retreat, and bare oureslves to His gaze; and, trying ourselves before Him, see how far we may have yielded to the tempter who seeks to neutralize or spoil our ministry by altering our ideals, and who has often whispered his lies to us in weak and lonely hours, when our heart was faltering from innate weakness, depression at the outlook, from opposition or results delayed, or from weariness of hum-drum routine in which we seem to be losing ourselves.

   Try me, O God, and seek the ground of my heart: prove me and examine my thoughts. Look well, if there be any way of wickedness in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Prayer for Holiness in Priests

Grant, O Lord, that every hand laid upon Thee at the altar may be a friendly hand, whose touch is tender and consoling as Joseph's was; that the lips which form so many sacred words may never be profaned by frivolous or unworthy speech; that priests may guard, even in the noisy streets of the city, the impress of their noble functions, the bright token that they have but lately come down from Thy holy mountain; and in their garments the fragrance of the altar, that everyone may find them living memorials of Thee, accessible to all, yet more than other men.

      Grant that they may contract from the Mass of today a hunger and thirst for the Mass of the morrow, that the sacred anticipation be their last thought at night and Thy tender summons their first awareness in the morning; that Thy priests, filled with Thee and Thy good gifts may give largely to the rest of men who look to Thee. Amen.

In Our Dear Savior's dialogue WIth St. Cathertne of Siena, He tells us that nearly all of the evils that are done by souls subject to the priests are the fault of bad pastors, because had they corrected them, these evils would not have been. God demands of us, says St. Catherine, that, instead of cursing such faithless priests and prelates, we earnestly pray for them, begging God's mercy and forgiveness, lest they be damned forever in Hell. If all of us did this, God promises, "I will have mercy on My Spouse [the Church], reforming her with good and holy pastors; then the good pastors will reform her, correcting by force, those under them."

     For the greater honor and glory of God and the salvation of souls, please say these prayers daily and distribute them to your fellow Catholics. Below you will find where you can order prayer cards [in black and white, with the same image used in color here] and with these two last prayers.

  Prayers for Holy Priests

      My Dear Jesus, Thou desirest that we pray the Lord of the harvest that He send zealous laborers into His harvest. Deign to raise up in Thy Church, and especially in this diocese, numerous and holy priests who, taking Thy Divine Heart as their Model, will, in the exercise of their holy priesthood, promote the glory of Thy Heavenly Father and the salvation of those souls whom thou hast redeemed with Thy Precious Blood. Give us truly holy priests who, inflamed with the fire of Thy Divine love, seek nothing but Thy greater glory and the salvation of souls.

     O Mary, Queen of the clergy, pray for us; obtain for us a number of holy priests.

Prayer to be Said at the Priest's Communion

     O Lord, may Thou find shelter and rest gently within the heart of Thy priest . . .  [say his name]

     Make him, O Lord, a priest according to Thy Heart: meek, humble, zealous, so that all he does will be for Thine honor and glory. Mold him into a man of prayer and labor, insensible to earthly things, and sensible only to Thy love and to the graces of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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