One of Dan and I’s Lenten resolutions was to re-do our “Priest Basket.” It had been too long and we have been wanting to re-do it for over a year… so we made it a Lenten promise. Finally, on Good Friday night… the 11th hour… we accomplished what we had hoped. We made this little basket when we were first married. In it is filled with the names of priests – priests we have met, priests that others knew, some we were close to, and some we had only met once. The goal has been all these years to pick a priest out once a day, and pray for them for that day. This practice has ebbed and flowed, but it has not died. And, in times such as these, it seems of great importance to renew this practice, and pass it on to our children, with urgency.
I’m sure it was St. Therese long ago who inspired me to pray for priests. She had a great devotion to praying for priests… a part of her Carmelite spirituality. I really related to that early on, as I have been blessed to have good priests surround me all my life. They have been role models, spiritual fathers, bosses, spiritual directors, confessors, and friends. For every stage of my life, there has been a priest who has helped me spiritually. I am so grateful to the Lord for each of them.
We need to pray for priests. They are God’s children. They are human. They are sinful. They are or have striven for holiness. Just like us. Called to great holiness, even in the midst of being sinners. Some are new at the gig; “baby priests” we affectionately call them. They are full of zeal and generally, that yearning for holiness is strong and it shows. Some are pros… maybe have been a priest for 50 plus years, and their nearness to the end of this life and the beginning of heaven is such a reality, that that yearning again is very strong. And many priests are in the middle … somewhere between novice and expert. There is the priest who stays close to Jesus in the Eucharist, and our Lady, and that zeal for souls never seems to fade. There are those who struggle to keep this zeal, being worn down by the many, many responsibilities that priests have these days. They still believe, but they are tired and not sure how to kindle that fire again. And there are many priests who are completely discouraged. Perhaps the politics of their diocese has gotten to them, or the lack of faith of the “faithful”, or the empty confessionals or low attendance at their Masses, or their own personal struggles have completely weighed them down. Some are so worn down they don’t believe what they once were so eager to share with their parishioners. Some have walked away, leaving behind their collar for another life, forgetting that they have an indelible spiritual character imprinted on them, claiming them as one of God’s priests, forever. Just as we have our struggles along our faith journey, our ups and downs, our moments of faith and moments of doubt, our seasons of joy and our seasons of sorrow – so do they. We must, oh how we must pray for our priests! They need our prayers. Every priest. Even the ones we are convinced are super holy. Because every priest has their struggles. Every priest needs encouragement. Every priest needs the grace that comes from that person offering a prayer for them. Just as we do.
Yesterday was Good Friday. As I thought ahead of the service who I would offer my communion for, two priests came to mind. One a “baby” priest, and one an “expert” priest. Both filled with great zeal for souls. Both very devoted to our Lord, and both close to our Lady. Two priests people could look at and say, “Oh, they are great! They don’t need prayers. Offer your communion for a struggling priest.” But, these two priests popped into my mind, out of the blue, and I usually take that as a cue from the Holy Spirit to pray for people who just pop into my mind. Who knows what they may be struggling with internally, but perhaps my prayer will help them. Or maybe the grace from that one communion is supposed to help continue to kindle that fire in their hearts for their zeal for souls.
This Thursday, our diocese is very blessed to host the relic of the heart of St. John Vianney. St. John Vianney was a simple country priest, who lived his priestly vocation to the max. He spent hours upon hours in the confessional, bringing people back to the state of grace. He gave simple, profound homilies on our faith, renewing faith in his parish, and really the world, as we now have access to his homilies. He knew that death was imminent, and that his people must be ready for heaven. He loved bringing Jesus in the Eucharist, to his people. And how he loved Mary. He was asked once how long he loved Our Lady, his response, “I loved her almost before I could know her.” So beautiful. He lived an austere life, boiling potatoes on Sunday for him to eat for the week…. imagine what those potatoes tasted like on Friday… He was often visited by demons, and even Satan himself. If only he would have less zeal, then maybe they would have tormented him less. If only he would become lukewarm, then maybe they would stop their visits. But, St. John Vianney did not lose faith; he did not lose his zeal. If anything, it made him give even more of himself to his people. He so desired them to go to heaven, that no pain would deter him. He is the patron saint of priests. There is no coincidence that this year the Knights of Columbus have coordinated this relic tour in the U.S., that the shrine in France lent them the relic, that this relic is coming to our diocese. It will be such a gift to go and pray for all the priests in my life, and I am beyond thrilled that our diocesan priests will be coming to spend time with this dear saint. How good the Lord is!
And so, our priest basket will wait on our dining room prayer table. We will pick one out each dinner to pray for. And, starting this Easter, we will give the children each a priest to pray for all week. And we will renew our practice of praying daily for an increase of people answering the call to the priesthood and religious life. Currently, we have 178 priests in our basket. I hope one day soon, that number will increase dramatically. St. Therese and St. John Vianney, pray for us.
(Photo from a dear friend of us venerating St. John Vianney’s relic in DC this January.)