“We ought to fast, and to abstain from all vice, and from all that will lead us into sin, as well as from extravagance and superfluity. We should often visit the churches, and venerate and reverence all ecclesiastics on account of their office, and because they distribute the Sacred Body and Blood of Christ, which they offer in sacrifice, receive themselves, and administer to others. And let everyone know and hold for certain that we cannot be saved except through the sacred Words and the Precious Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which priests preach, announce, and distribute, and of which they are the sole ministers.“ -St. Francis of Assisi
“Because the priest must live out this gift of self in a very public way — the priest is a great sign, a witness, for the rest of us about what our humanity is all about. He reveals this to us through a suffering love for Christ, for the Church and for those entrusted to his care.
There is another important thing about priests who are willing to suffer this kind of knowledge – they are always men of great prayer. By this, I do not mean that they are always great contemplatives… what is important is that one is faithful to the gift of prayer entrusted to him. When we are faithful to the gift of prayer – even if it seems shallow [to us] – it makes our prayer great. That is, in part, why I can say that these are men of great prayer. Their life of prayer is an expression of a constant mature love, a humble cry of the heart. Sometimes this may be joyful and consoling. Often, it is dry and offered in the midst of the severest struggles. It is like a lamp of hope – and what such priests very seldom realise is that this small still light not only helps them find their own way – but for some of the rest of us, that humble light is just what we need to go on.” (Dr. Anthony Lilles)
In this reflection on the great gift and vital importance of the Holy Priesthood in the life of the Church, Blessed Pope John Paul II, who will be canonised on Divine Mercy Sunday, 27th April 2014, wrote this letter to priests the world over in 2001:
“Priest: you are precious in God’s eyes
“I am also thinking of the work you do every day, work that is often hidden and, without making headlines, causes the kingdom of God to advance in people’s minds and hearts. I want you to know of my admiration for this ministry, discreet, tenacious and creative, even if it is sometimes watered by those tears of the soul which only God sees and ‘stores in his bottle’ (cf. Ps 56,8). Your ministry is all the more admirable when it is tested by the resistance of a widely secularised environment, which subjects priestly activity to the temptations of fatigue and discouragement. You well know that such daily commitment is precious in the eyes of God.
How precious in the eyes of God is your work: not primarily for what you do, but for what you are. Indeed, as priests we are Christ, truly and forever. This sometimes almost strikes us with fear, the fear of finding ourselves in front of something so great, too great for a mere man. This is why, several times, the Lord offered to the first ones he called the encouragement he offers us: “Take heart, it is I; have no fear” (Mt 14,27).
“Have no fear, it is I”, the Lord’s words must penetrate you, especially in times of hardship and discouragement, you must let them live within you until your conscience recognises that they are addressed to you and not just to the Apostles long ago.
Taking care of your own interiority must always remain your priority. It is the primacy of “being” over “doing”.”
(Extract from the Introduction of the ‘Letter of Bl. Pope John Paul II to Priests’ in 2001.)
Lord Jesus Christ, please give us Holy Priests – all for the Sacred Heart of Jesus, all for the Immaculate Heart of Mary, in union with St. Joseph. Amen.
Update: A link to the homily of Pope Francis to “brother priests” delivered at the Chrism Mass on Maundy Thursday 2014: