This week, we’ve had some great role models for priests. St. John Eudes and Pope St. Pius X, both great men of holiness, men who loved their priesthood. Pope Pius X gives us an imitable example of holiness: embracing the folly of the cross, simplicity of life, and humility of heart. These three things, founded on true piety, will lead a priest to be holy as the Jesus requires hims to be.
As a young priest, I am trying to renew myself in this call to holiness. Over the Summer, I took a group of 12 pilgrims to World Youth Day in Rio. The most impressive thing for me during the visit was the Way of the Cross with Pope Francis. He stated that every pilgrim, especially the Brazilians who had touched the cross or who had seen it must leave something on it. What are you going to give up? I took his question to heart.
I know I try hard to make the Catholic Church and myself approachable, relatable, and well, cool. I am the target of Pope Francis’ comments about priests driving flashy cars (maybe not many will say a Volkswagen GTI Turbo is flashy, but honestly I blushed when I read his message) and I do try to mix with people to bring Christ closer to them. To open the doors of the Church, wherever I am.
But maybe being cool isn’t all that’s needed for the New Evangelization? The YouCat is clever, but it doesn’t have all that’s needed for a Catholic. And for the times I try to relate to people, maybe I lose a little of the sacrifice of being a priest by not embracing more priestly fraternity and the uniqueness of the priesthood. When I stood there listening to the Pope after the Way of the Cross, I grasped the little wooden WYD pilgrim cross they gave each of us, and I decided that being a good priest wasn’t good enough. I want to be a great priest. And I know Jesus was asking me there: “What do you want? To be as you are, a good priest? Or are you ready to make some sacrifices in your relationships, let go of those occasions of sin and to really be a great priest?
Pope Francis is really challenging us priests by his embracing the folly of the cross, his humility of heart (maybe too humble at times) and his simplicity of life. Maybe he’s our generation’s Pope St. Pius X? His words and example are definitely inspiring to me.
I was recently given a book on the priesthood dated Pre-Vatican II. It is a collection of homilies and fervorinos for priests from Msgr. William Schaefers published by the Bruce Publishing Company in 1946 in a book called Keepers of the Eucharist. A paragraph that has helped me keep focused on embracing the folly of the cross is one in the chapter titled: “Holiness, His Greatest Achievement”:
The good priest will recognize the dangers that beset him. They are many. To mention but a few: familiarity with holy things may beget an unholy carelessness; long service in the confessional may breed a feeling of indifference toward souls that need help; disappointments and disillusionments, often very painful, may pare down the priest’s initiative, may even lead to a hunger for lay sympathy and lay companionship that can become occasions of sin; obligatory and much mingling with the laity at parish functions can lead to familiarities not becoming to the collar; lack of a routine of living and working can beget laziness- which saints and spiritual writers consider an unpardonable sin in a priest; the contagious influence of a lax, easygoing, and and easy-living world can beget the spirit of worldliness in a priest. And most dangerous of all, perhaps, is the ever burning fire of the deep-seated passions- they have been the cause in times gone by of such spectacles as saints rolling themselves in thistles and thorns, spectacles which only mildly interest modern Catholics and a world that has set up for itself a shockingly low standard of morality.
It’s time to begin again to recreate ourselves as holy priests. At least for myself. And I am excited and grateful to be surrounded by the great priestly saints and great mentors and examples here in the Church Militant.