I was going to write today about the mystery and blessing, the incredible importance of Sunday.
However while chatting with the firstborn son of my heart, a truly extraordinary convert to the Catholic faith, who with his wife, is expecting their second child, he suggested: “Speak to seminarians. Tell them what they are getting into.”
So dear young and older men, seminarians, for whom I pray daily, from my heart:
Our brothers and sisters throughout the Church, our brothers and sisters throughout the entire world, whatever their religious beliefs or lack therefore, desperately need good and holy priests, father-servants who will pour themselves out in humble service.
In the seminary you experience all forms of pressure, some external, many internal.
Some of this pressure is anointed by the Holy Spirit.
It is the experience of His preparing you so on the day of your ordination you will indeed be so configured to Christ that forever after you shall be in persona Christi!
So prayer, lots of prayer, hours with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is key; lectio, being immersed in Sacred Scripture, especially the Holy Gospels – not to figure them out but to be fed – is key.
Devotion to our Blessed Mother, actual consecration Totus Tuus is key.
Frequent, and truth-speaking, Holy Confession with clear magisterial-faithful spiritual direction is key.
Finally, of course, an open and obedient studiousness of intellect and heart, for all Holy Mother the Church offers you from her treasury of theology, liturgy etc., through the dedication of your professors.
Becoming a good and holy priest-father-servant to everyone is to be well formed intellectually, emotionally, spiritually.
Become a saint!
Once ordained the Holy Spirit will intensify His work within you. You will come face to face with your own wounds, fears, falsities on an ever deeper level as He seeks to sanctify you more and more.
Thus it is critical to maintain a full spiritual life, adoration, closeness to Mary, meditation on the Holy Gospels, frequent Confession, spiritual direction, throughout our lives as priests.
Fail to do so and we become parodies of what we are, reverting to worldly clichés rather than divine wisdom when preaching or worse, seeking comfort in ways and places which destroy our very vocation and souls.
While it is true in a sense as priests we must be professional, priesthood is neither a career nor profession: it is who we are, 24/7.
Jesus must be our one true love and we must seek none other.
As a priest, day in and day out, in all sorts of circumstances, you will encounter among the people in this era of the culture of death, a degree of confusion and fear you cannot possibly imagine while in the seminary.
These, our brothers and sisters whom we are ordained to serve, they will look to you not so much for answers as for the power of your presence, Christ’s presence, with them.
In reality all we have to give them, and in truth this is everything, is Christ.
Love them truly, passionately, generously, compassionately as Christ loves, for you are in persona Christi for them.
Little by little, in the school of Our Blessed Mother, as a priest, you will be brought ever deeper into the fullness of the loneliness of Christ, the suffering of Christ.
Go to the school of Mary daily. There is the best source of priestly wisdom and spirituality. Wrapped in the mantle of Her love we are best protected from satan, for whom we are a preferred target.
The weight of human sin in all its forms, of human loneliness, anger, hurt and all the rest will begin to be so present to you at times it will seem inescapable.
As a Roman Catholic Priest you will be subject at times to gossip, anger, even hatred as people transfer their hurts from God or Church or some priest or family or life itself or their own self-rejection onto you – and this is as it should be.
Be filled with joy when that happens for it means you are decreasing so Christ may increase.
Every accusation, every gossipy word, every drop of spittle, every slap, everything cast upon you by human beings or by satan crashed against Jesus first so that only a tiny little bit actually reaches you.
Do not be afraid!
Martyrdom through the daily nitty-gritty ending task before you will be real – and martyrdom by blood is becoming more and more probable for you.
There is not greater joy and no greater love, day in and day out, than to lay down our lives for everyone else and it is in the daily self-gifting to others we are formed to be able, if asked by Him, to surrender to martyrdom of any kind, even of blood.
Every day my dear brothers there will be a time when you will find rest in Him, when the lightness of His yoke upon you and the sweetness of His burden shared with you will be so intense as to be indescribable to anyone but a brother priest.
Every day there will be a time when hope becomes a vast ocean, when mercy becomes an unending cascade of wonder and love.
Every day there will be a time when darkness flees before light, death is overcome, the truly hungry are really fed, a time when everything you must face, choose to face, have been ordained for is woven together in a tapestry of truth, life, love.
That time is when you approach the holy altar and celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and God becomes present with us!
I have a simple framed sheet of red rice paper on which is a name written in Chinese characters.
It is the name of a young priest ordained in China, his homeland.
The day after his first Mass he was arrested and put in solitary confinement where he languished for years and in which solitude he died, never having been able to vest and celebrate at an altar the way we priests over here take [sometimes too unreflectively] for granted.
But I tell you: priest forever he now celebrates with Christ in heaven what he only once was able to celebrate with Christ on earth.
This is the ultimate purpose and joy of priesthood: to celebrate Mass for the people.
In light of the extraordinary gift, mystery, love-life-giving joy of celebrating Holy Mass each day, which makes for the priest each day perfect and complete, whatever faces us, in formation as seminarians or in the nitty-gritty of daily priestly life, is worth it!
As the Servant of God, Catherine Doherty has said: “The heart of a priest is pierced, like Christ’s with the lance of love.”
My prayer is that at every Holy Communion during daily Mass in the seminary you will allow the lance of love to pierce your hearts ever more deeply until, emptied of all that is not of Christ, you will allow yourselves to have hearts so wide open the entire world may enter there to find rest and mercy in Him!
If I were to put what you will face as priests in a simple phrase I would say this, with all my heart: You will face the sheer joy of the Cross and in that joyous suffering you will encounter and be one with the Beloved, Jesus Priest.