Practicing What We Preach

As he struggled with the question of whether or not to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church, John Henry Newman expressed his desire to encounter ministers of Christ carrying out the mission of their Lord and his Apostles in mid-nineteen century England. He recognized the need for evangelists in the University town of Oxford, but also in the poor urban areas experiencing the ills of the industrial revolution. Shortly before his entry into the Church, Newman wrote to Mrs. J. W. Bowden:

If they (these Italian missionary priests) want to convert England, let them go barefooted into our manufacturing towns – let them preach to the people like St. Francis Xavier – let them be pelted and trampled on, and I will own that they can do what we cannot. I confess they are our betters, by far.

In midsummer of 1844, John Henry Newman providentially met Fr. Dominic Barberi, known in his Passionist community as Dominic of the Mother of God. Newman found the holiness in action that he had been seeking for years in the missioner’s simple way of presenting the faith. In Barberi, Newman met the missionary he had imagined and hoped for in his letter to Mrs. Bowden. Everything about the Passionist priest bespoke simplicity of life and poverty. He wore a threadbare habit and old sandals on his bare feet. He carried the cross over his heart, sown onto his Passionist habit. Likely, he also sported another crucifix in his belt that he held when he preached on the passion of Christ. Although he was eager to call the members of the Oxford Movement to faith and conversion, Fr. Dominic also felt especially drawn to preach to the poor in the industrial towns. Through his traditional methods of evangelization, street preaching among them, Fr. Dominic opened himself to the attacks of a populous with strong prejudices against the Catholic Church. On a number of occasions, opponents threw stones, mud, and other undesirable objects at the priest as he preached. His practice was to pick up the stones and kiss them. Newman, strange to say, admired the Italian’s flair for the dramatic. Certainly, he admired the Passionist’s zeal for the conversion of England.

In fact, Newman knew that Fr. Dominic had desired to be a missionary in England from the time of his priestly ordination. Frustrated for decades by circumstances that prevented the community from establishing a mission in England, and by his own difficulty in learning English, Barberi persistently petitioned his superiors to send him to preach the Gospel on English soil. Newman admired Barberi’s conviction that God was calling him to re-evangelize England, his perseverance in requesting the assignment, and the respect and obedience he showed his religious superiors. In this history, Newman recognized the obedience of Christ to the will of his Father. For Newman, Fr. Dominic’s life was indelibly marked by the virtue of Christ. Precisely for this reason, the Oxford Professor found the priest’s preaching irresistible.

Consequently, on October 9, 1845, after years of scholarly research and agonizing soul searching, John Henry Newman, known by many as “the Imperial Intellect”of the nineteenth century, was received into full communion with the Catholic Church by simple Italian priests. Significantly, Barberi, not Newman, is hailed as the “Shepherd of the Second Spring” of the Church in England. Years after Barberi’s death, Newman recalled vividly the impression the street evangelist had made on him:

Father Dominic was a marvelous missioner and preacher filled with zeal. He had a great part in my own conversion and in that of others. His very look had about it something holy. When his form came within sight, I was moved to the depths in the strangest way. The joyfulness and affability of his manner in the midst of all his sanctity was in itself a holy sermon. I hoped and still hope that Rome will crown him with the aureole of the saints.

I chose Blessed Dominic Barberi as a model of a priest who practiced what he preached, a priest who converted Newman more by his example than through his teaching.I settled on Barberi knowing that I might have as appropriately selected other exemplary priests as models: St. John Vianney (patron of parish priests), St. Philip Neri, St. John Avila, St. Louis de Montfort, and St. Josemaria Escriva, all secular priests. I chose Dominic Barberi precisely because his living of the evangelical virtues of humility, obedience, poverty, and chastity in imitation of Christ, made him radiate Jesus Christ. I shall return later to these virtues which Bl. Dominic professed as vows in the Passionist Congregation, and which the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council asked all priests—religious and secular—to embrace as the means that best serve the priestly ministry.

I must confess that when I was invited to speak on the assigned topic: “Practicing What We Preach,”I was not overjoyed. The topic seemed moralistic and unexciting to me. My first reaction was to ask myself, “Do I really need to travel so many miles to admonish you, my brother priests, to keep the Ten Commandments and the Precepts of the Church, to celebrate the Holy Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours, to visit the Blessed Sacrament and pray the Rosary every day? Do I need to tell you that it is offensive to God to steal parishioners’ money and indulge yourself in a lifestyle well above the level of your peoples’ incomes, to live in homes that your parishioners could not afford to inhabit, to commit adultery, to fornicate with women or men, to ignore the Church’s teaching on contraception, or even to encourage it in the internal forum, to Google pornographic web sites, to flaunt the authority of your Bishop by refusing an assignment that he proposes, or speaking about him disrespectfully with priests and lay faithful? I believe we all know that these actions are incompatible with the priesthood, and need to be brought to the Lord in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

There is another problem that I find in the title, “Practicing What We Preach.” Let’s turn the topic around: “Preaching what We Practice.” If a priest’s main interest is himself, then his every homily is likely to be all about himself. I confess that after listening for two decades to seminary formators and transitional deacons (not to mention permanent deacons) preaching about themselves, often in a clever variety of ways, I coined a name for a new, and obviously faux, branch of Sacra Doctrina: “Meology!” If a priest preaches “meology” and practices what he preaches, there is little or no possibility of speaking about priestly virtue, is there?

This brings me to a possible solution to the problem that I had with the title of my presentation. The grace that Christ gives each priest in his ordination is not the grace to keep the commandments. That grace is imparted in baptism, and strengthened by confirmation, and the Eucharist. In the process leading to ordination, the bishop, and those who work with him in the formation of future priests, seek to ascertain if the candidate is a sincere disciple of Christ, who lives from the graces of the sacraments of initiation. This process of discernment happens in the external forum of formation and in the internal forum of spiritual direction.

Those involved in priestly formation are asked by the bishop to discern whether or not Christ is calling this particular man, who is already his disciple, to share in the mission of the Apostles. Does the candidate have the heart of the Good Shepherd? Does he have the desire and the capacity to teach, sanctify, and be a pastor to God’s people? Is he willing to give everything to Christ, and to allow Christ to use him for the rest of his life as his living instrument of salvation? Along with the discernment of what might be called “the charism of the Good Shepherd” is the need to recognize the charism of priestly celibacy for the sake of spiritual fatherhood. The question that must be answered is: “Has grace disposed this man for the character and grace of Holy Orders? Is the Holy Spirit forming him and preparing him to act in persona Christi?”

With this in mind, allow me to tweak the title of my presentation a bit. How about this title: “Becoming Who We Preach: Allowing the Lord to Manifest Himself in Us through the Character and Grace of Holy Orders.” Simply stated, I shall attempt to move the accent mark from do’s and don’ts, from Commandments and Precepts—important as they are in the life of each Catholic—to the priestly configuration to Christ, which is the grace of Holy Orders.

Christ’s Relationship with the Father as the Paradigm of the Priest’s Relationship with Christ

In his text on ecclesiological topics, Called to Communion, Joseph Ratzinger noted that Christ established the priesthood in the Church to mediate his presence and saving grace. Ratzinger introduces the teaching on the priesthood by pointing out the central truth of the Christian Creed: God the Father eternally begets an Eternal Son and, in the mystery of the Incarnation, sends his Son, filled with the Holy Spirit, on a mission to our world. Each Christian’s salvation depends on his or her faith in this temporal mission and eternal procession.

In light of the procession of the Son from the Father, Ratzinger constructs an analogy that helps fosters understanding of the nature of the priesthood instituted by Christ, and the kind of union the ministerial priest must have with the Incarnate Word, the High Priest.

In Called to Communion, Ratzinger describes the relationships of paternity and filiation within the life of the Trinity:

The paradox of Jesus’ mission is expressed most plainly in the Johannine formula interpreted so profoundly by Augustine: “My doctrine is not mine.” Jesus has nothing of his own aside from the Father. He himself is involved in his doctrine: thus he is saying that precisely what is most intimately his own—his self—is that which is altogether not his own. What is his is what is not his; nothing stands next to the Father, everything is entirely from the Father, and for the Father. But precisely by this expropriation of himself, Jesus is totally one with the Father. His selflessness is his true accreditation: it gives him ultimate authority, because it becomes a pure transparency that makes God the Father himself present.1

As the Son in eternity and in time proceeds from the Father, so the Apostles and those who succeed them in the Catholic priesthood proceed from the Son. Before venturing any further, we must acknowledge, of course, the metaphysical difference between the Son as a subsistent Trinitarian relation, a Divine Person who has assumed a true human nature as his own, and the ministerial priest, a weak and sinful creature, who Christ establishes in a graced, created relationship with himself and his church in the reception of the sacrament of Holy Orders.2

The first Trinitarian Procession, which is the foundation of the relationships of paternity and filiation, is the model for priestly identity and sanctity. As the Word proceeds from the Father in both the eternal procession and the temporal mission, revealing that everything he has comes from the Father, so Jesus elects and calls, forms, and sends the Twelve, who like himself, have nothing that is their own to give. Everything they have comes from the Lord Jesus. The Evangelist John is particularly clear that the Twelve continue the mission that Jesus received from the Father: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

Ratzinger suggests that his reader compare these statements of Jesus about his mission and the mission of the Twelve. On one hand, the Lord explains his total dependence upon the Father: “The Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” (Jn 5:19) Also: “I can do nothing on my own authority; as I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” (Jn 5:30) On the other hand, using the image of the vine and the branches, Christ describes the absolute dependence of his apostles on him by saying: “Without me, you can do nothing.” (Jn 155)

  • Reflecting on the priest’s ministry, we ask: May any Christian believer on his own authority proclaim to another Christian:
  • “Repent and believe the Gospel!”
  • “Take and eat for this is my body given up for you.”
  • “Take and drink for this is the chalice of my blood poured out for you.”
  • “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.”

Commenting further on this comparison, Ratzinger observes:

Nothing that makes up the activity of the apostles is the product of their own capabilities. But it is precisely in having “nothing” to call their own that their communion with Jesus consists, since Jesus is also entirely from the Father, has being only through him, and would not exist at all if he were not a continual coming forth from, and self-return to, the Father. Having nothing of their own, draws the apostles into communion of mission with Christ. This service, in which we are made the entire property of another, this giving of what does not come from us, is called sacrament in the life of the Church.

Ratzinger further observes that ordination is not about the development of the priest’s powers and gifts. It is not the appointment of a man to a function because he is especially good at the work, or because it suits him, or because it strikes him as a good way to earn his bread. The Catholic priesthood means, rather, that a man gives what he himself cannot give: the Word that he preaches, the sacraments that he administers, the sanctifying grace that he mediates. From the moment of his ordination, the priest is on mission and becomes the bearer of that which another has committed to his charge. Ratzinger notes:

It is also impossible for anyone to declare himself a priest or for a community to make someone a priest by its own fiat. One can receive what is God’s only from the sacrament, by entering into the mission that make one the messenger and instrument of another … According to the Gospels, Christ himself conferred both the structure of his mission and his existence as mission on the apostles, to whom he entrusts his full authority, thereby binding them to it. This bond to the Lord, which enables man to do what he cannot do but what the Lord does, is synonymous with the sacramental structure (115-116).

Priestly Character and Grace

The priest is objectively related to Christ precisely through the character and grace that he receives in Holy Orders. Stated simply, the character, the spiritual and indelible seal, configures the priest to Christ, the head of the Church, and gives him sacred power for the service of the Church. The grace of the sacrament disposes him to do those things that Christ intends to do in him. Character and grace taken together tell us that the priest exists in the Church solely to be a mediator between Christ and the people of God.

Priests who are already consecrated to Christ through their baptism are configured to him in a new way through the character of the sacrament of Holy Orders. This character empowers the priest to make Christ, and his grace, present in the ministry of word and sacrament, and through the pastoral care he gives to his people. Although the character of Holy Orders as a signum configurativum—that is, “a sign that configures the priest to Christ”—enables him to make Christ present in his preaching and governing mission, the power of the Risen Christ is most fully realized when the priest acts in persona Christi capitis—“in the person of Christ, the head of the Church” in the celebration of the Eucharist and the other sacraments.

The character is both sacramentum et res:3 It is the inner, abiding sign or seal (sacramentum) that Christ has consecrated a man to share in his priesthood through the laying on of hands; and it is also the source from which flows the graces of the sacrament. The character points backwards in time to ordination in the Church precisely because the sacrament is an act of the heavenly Christ through the Spirit—the effect of which is indelible. Through the character, Christ gives the minister a real share in his threefold office as priest, teacher, and shepherd. The character is the foundation of the res, which is, the effect of the sacrament, in other words, the reality of a man mediating the grace of the One Mediator.

Along with the character of Holy Orders, priests also receive the grace which has been called in recent magisterial teaching “pastoral charity.”4 This sanctifying grace disposes the priest to put his life totally at the service of him whose presence he bears and who he re-presents in the Church. The priest is supernaturally disposed—“wired” so to speak—to do everything for the Father’s glory through the Son. To be more accurate, we may say that the character and grace of ordination, taken together, supernaturally dispose, or “wire” the priest to surrender himself to Christ. Through that surrendering, the Lord may preach and teach through his priest, administer the grace of the sacraments through his priest, and shepherd his people through his priest.5

St. Thomas Aquinas explains the relationship of character and grace lucidly:

Now a character disposes the soul directly and proximately to the fulfilling of things pertaining to Divine worship: and because such cannot be accomplished suitably without the help of grace, since, according to John 4:24, “they that adore” God “must adore him in spirit and in truth,” consequently, the Divine bounty bestows grace on those who receive the character, so that they may accomplish worthily the service to which they are deputed.6

The Grace of Holy Orders and Human Cooperation

Through the grace of Holy Orders, the priest is disposed to offer himself to Christ so that the Lord might exercise his ministry through his famulus, his servant, or minister. Making himself readily available to Christ and his people at all times for the works of ministry requires many graced acts of the priest’s human will, acts which necessitate a dying to self. The priest grows in holiness to the extent that, through grace, he allows himself to be habitually at the service of the High Priest—in the words of Presbyterorum Ordinis, “a living instrument of Jesus Christ.”

The Jesuit priest, Father John Hardon, in The Catholic Catechism, presents an insightful explanation of the relationship of the character and the grace of baptism, confirmation, and holy orders:

In Christians, the character they possess is something like the source of grace, inasmuch as it places them in contact with Christ. He is the heavenly vine whose branches we are through the character, which gives us a right actually to possess grace if we place no obstacle in the way.7

Historically, one of the first theological insights into the nature of the sacramental character of the priesthood is that, although God intends the man who has been sealed with the character of the priesthood to live in the grace of the priesthood, mortal sin destroys the union of character and grace. For the sake of the people, a priest is objectively capable of acting in persona Christi capitis even when he is no longer united to Christ in friendship because of grave sin. Few situations harm the Church as deeply as a priest who ministers to his flock in mortal sin for which he will not repent. The priest in this state quickly loses all taste for matters supernatural.

It is also possible for a priest, although in the state of grace, to become tepid in his exercise of the priesthood. There comes a moment in the life of nearly every priest when he becomes bored with sacred realities. The Desert Fathers called this sloth, acedia. The priest’s awareness of Christ’s desire to act through him, and his corresponding desire to be a servant of Christ, can easily be dulled, leading to a neglect of prayer. Excessive involvement in secular affairs, some of which may be venially sinful, others morally neutral, also present an obstacle to priestly holiness. Inappropriate relationships, attachment to material possessions, the promotion of self, and ambitions of various sorts, distract the priest, and even impede or block his union with Christ, and harm his service of the people. In either situation, there is a problem of spiritual life. In the case of the priest who is content to live in mortal sin, there is the death of priestly spirituality. In the case of the priest who has, to some degree, lost interest in his mediation of grace, there is an illness that will, at least, bring unhappiness and lack of authentic fulfillment, and, at the worst, terminate in spiritual death.

The Universal Call to Holiness

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council in fact laid out a plan of spirituality for all of the members of the Church, and within this program, a specific way for the man of holy orders.

In fact, Chapter V of “The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church” (Lumen Gentium), entitled, “The Universal Call to Holiness in the Church”(De Universali Vocatione ad Sanctitatem in Ecclesia), the Fathers of the Council affirmed the traditional teaching of the Church that all the baptized are called to the perfection of Christian holiness that is the perfection of charity. The path of holiness that most of the faithful take is through our contemporary, secular culture. They attain holiness through the sanctification of family life and by bringing Christ and Gospel values to have an impact on our world.

Interestingly, Fr. Jordan Aumann, who led the Institute of Spirituality at the Angelicum for many years, spoke of “secularity” as the specific path of the lay person to holiness. With the eloquence of Cicero, Fr. Jordan spewed forth diatribes against those bishops and priests who attempt to “clericalize” the laity, a tendency that unfortunately remains current.

The Council also affirmed that the path of the priest’s holiness is pastoral charity. Bringing the lay faithful the grace of the Word of God, and the sacraments of grace, bishops and priests form the laity in their mission of sanctifying the world. The priest himself becomes holy by uniting himself to Christ, and allowing the Lord to preach, sanctify, and shepherd his people through his ministry. Consecrated men and women aid the entire Church through the witness of the evangelical counsels. When they live the counsels in a vibrant, spiritual community, religious men and women help the lay faithful and clerics to understand that it is possible to live for Christ alone. Fr. Aumann identified the religious’ path to holiness as Gospel exemplarity.

The Evangelical “Virtues” for all Christians

One of the most radical teachings of the Second Vatican Council, a topic that has been hardly addressed, is the call of every member of the Church to embrace, according to his or her state of life, the Gospel counsels of Christ. Chapter V of Lumen Gentium introduces the theme: to attain the perfection of Christian charity, every member of the Church must embrace to some extent the Gospel virtues that religious men and women profess as vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. The Council Fathers gave voice to the teaching of Christ and St. Paul, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis de Sales, and the current Catechism of the Catholic Church:

Whereas supernatural grace empowers the Christian to keep the Commandments of God and, thereby, live and die in charity, so the Gospel counsels facilitate the exercise of charity, and foster the perfection of that virtue of charity which is the form of all other supernatural virtues. To the extent that a Christian is detached from personal possessions; to the extent that a Christian is chaste in thought, word, action, and relationships; to the extent a Christian seeks to die to self in order to obey the will of God in the details of life; to that extent the practice of charity is facilitated and grows exponentially in the human heart transforming the Christian in the image of Christ.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church presents the traditional doctrine succinctly, ending with a quotation from St. Francis de Sales’ Treatise on the Love of God:

1973 Besides its precepts, the New Law also includes the evangelical counsels. The traditional distinction between God’s commandments and the evangelical counsels is drawn in relation to charity, the perfection of Christian life. The precepts are intended to remove whatever is incompatible with charity. The aim of the counsels is to remove whatever might hinder the development of charity, even if it is not contrary to it.32

1974 The evangelical counsels manifest the living fullness of charity, which is never satisfied with not giving more. They attest its vitality and call forth our spiritual readiness. The perfection of the New Law consists essentially in the precepts of love of God and neighbor. The counsels point out the more direct ways, the readier means, and are to be practiced in keeping with the vocation of each:

{God} does not want each person to keep all the counsels, but only those appropriate to the diversity of persons, times, opportunities, and strengths, as charity requires; for it is charity, as queen of all virtues, that gives to all commandments, all counsels, and, in short, all laws and all Christian actions their rank, order, time, and value.

Fr. Jean Pierre Torrell, O.P. in his recent work, A Priestly People, suggests that theologians, and spiritual writers, refer to the traditional evangelical counsels as evangelical virtues in the lives of all Christians who do not profess the counsels as vows. In other words, the Second Vatican Council invited every disciple of Christ to live these virtues in order to nurture and facilitate the practice of charity in their lives.

The Evangelical Virtues for All Priests

As we bring our focus back specifically to the priest and his spirituality, we find several assertions that might be noted again. First of all, speaking by way of the analogy proposed by Ratzinger, the grace of ordination disposes the priest to be united to Christ as Christ is united to the Father. Stated most simply, the priest is purely relative to Christ, and should seek to do everything he does in dependence on Our Lord. Everything that he has to give to his people belongs to Christ. He has nothing of his own. Christ, through the Spirit, presses in on the priest, prompting him to seek his human fulfillment and happiness in dying to self, and mediating the grace of the One Mediator.

After the initial fervor of ordination, every priest must face the truth that he is afflicted by the three-fold concupiscence noted in the First Letter of St. John:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire* are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever (1 John 2:15-17).

The rock bottom foundation of the priest’s holiness is the awareness that Christ must be the central person in his life, the person who he seeks each day in contemplative prayer. In this union of “heart speaking to heart,” the priest will become increasingly aware that everything he has to give to others of lasting, supernatural value is what he has received from Christ. Hence, humility of heart will be the source of his clinging to Christ – or in the words of Bl. Teresa of Calcutta—of his cleaving to Christ in love.

In his habitual communion with the Lord, the priest will find a reservoir of grace to fight against the concupiscence his finds in himself. It will prompt him to live the gospel virtue of simplicity of life, and even voluntary poverty chosen for the sake of the Kingdom. The more the priest trusts that the Heavenly Father will take care of all of his needs, the less he will depend on the good things of this life for meaning and pleasure. He will then be recognized as a poor man who is perfectly at home with the poor. The less he owns, the freer the priest will be to preach, administer the sacraments, and be the good shepherd who is ever attentive to the flock.

The Church presumes that the priest practices the chastity that is expected of every Catholic who receives the Eucharist. Priestly celibacy presumes and grows out of the virtue of chastity. Through fidelity to celibacy, the Spirit forms the priest into a faithful husband of the Church, and father of God’s people. Binding himself to the cross of Christ through celibacy, grace makes the priest desire to see Christ living in the souls of as many people as possible. Celibacy makes him paternally protective of the life that he and other priests have generated and nurtured in souls. The priest who gets celibacy is spiritually fecund, and in a sense, supernaturally promiscuous—he never has enough spiritual children!

The grace of Holy Orders prompts the priest to always seek the will of him who sent him rather than his own will. The faithful priest intuits that the will of God is inextricably joined to the will of the bishop in his life. Although bishops often make mistakes, a priest will not go wrong if he listens to his bishop, and obeys him. In a mysterious way, God always works in the priest’s life through the bishop who links him to the apostolic ministry and the will of Christ.

The more fully the priest lives the Gospel virtues of humility, poverty, celibacy, and obedience, the freer he will be to do the will of Christ and, strange to say, the freer the Lord will be to manifest himself in his priest’s life and ministry.

Conclusion

To close the circle of this presentation, I return for a moment to Bl. Dominic Barberi. I chose him as the model of a priest who allowed himself to be transformed in Christ. I chose him not because he was a religious priest who professed the Evangelical Counsels as vows. Rather, I chose him because he lived the virtues of humility, poverty, celibacy, and obedience for the sake of Christ’s character and grace in his soul. The Church asks each of us to do likewise.

The decision on how each priest will live these Gospel virtues is made deep within the sanctuary of conscience through the promptings of God’s Spirit, and often with the help of a wise spiritual guide. For some, the decision is made at the beginning of priestly life. For others, it comes later through a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Happy is the priest who grows imperceptibly, but surely, in humility, poverty, chastity, and obedience as he experiences only that he is ever more in love with Christ, and savors the taste of dying to self so that Christ might live in him.

It was mainly because Fr. Dominic radiated Christ’s priesthood so concretely through the renunciation of self that John Henry Newman recognized Christ’s glory, and hastened to be united with him in the Eucharist.

God’s people readily hear Christ preaching, they encounter Christ worshipping his Father, and caring for his flock in the priest who is humble, poor, chaste and obedient. The Bride recognizes her Bridegroom, and responds to his voice in the priest who has become, by grace, the Christ he proclaims.

Perhaps John Henry Newman had Fr. Dominic Barberi in mind when he wrote the prayer, “Radiating Christ,” that was so dear to the heart of Mother Teresa of Calcutta:

Dear Jesus, help me to spread your fragrance everywhere I go.
Flood my soul with your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly,
That my life may only be a radiance of Yours.

Shine through me, and be so in me
That every soul I come in contact with
May feel your presence in my soul.
Let them look up and see no longer me, but only Jesus!

Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as you shine,
So to shine as to be a light to others;
The light, O Jesus will be all from you; none of it will be mine;
It will be you, shining on others through me.

Let me thus praise you the way you love best, by shining on those around me.
Let me preach you without preaching, not by words but by my example,
By the catching force of the sympathetic influence of what I do,
The evident fullness of the love my heart bears to you.

Amen.

  1. Joseph Ratzinger, Called To Communion. P. 113.
  2. See, Jean-Pierre Torrell, O.P., A Priestly People. Mahwah, NJ, Paulist Press, 2013. P. 188-9, for a clear and balanced explanation of the Second Vatican Council’s description of the priest as a living instrument of Jesus Christ (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 12).
  3. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1581: This sacrament configures the recipient to Christ by a special grace of the Holy Spirit, so that he may serve as Christ’s instrument for his Church. By ordination one is enabled to act as a representative of Christ, Head of the Church, in his triple office of priest, prophet, and king.
  4. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1585: The grace of the Holy Spirit proper to this sacrament is configuration to Christ as priest, teacher, and pastor, of whom the ordained is made a minister.
  5. The question of the sanctifying grace of Holy Orders is addressed in the Supplement of the Summa Theologiae, Q. 35, A.1: The works of God are perfect; and consequently whoever receives power from above receives also those things that render him competent to exercise that power. … Now just as sanctifying grace is necessary in order that man receive the sacraments worthily, so is it that he may dispense them worthily. Wherefore as in baptism, whereby a man is adapted to receive the other sacraments, sanctifying grace is given, so is it in the sacrament of Holy Orders whereby man is ordained to the dispensation of the other sacrament.
  6. Summa Theologiae, III, Q.63, A.4, ad 1.
  7. John Hardon, S.J., The Catholic Catechism. New York, Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1975. P. 504.
Fr. Frederick L. Miller, STD About Fr. Frederick L. Miller, STD

Fr. Frederick L. Miller, a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, is presently spiritual director of the College Seminary of the Immaculate Conception at Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ. He also teaches courses in Systematic Theology in the major seminary.

Comments

  1. Hello Fr. Miller. Thank you for this article, which is of course clearly written primarily for priests. As a lay Catholic however, I read it with great interest because both the present and the near-term future of our Church is wedded tightly to the spiritual maturity and health of our priests and bishops. You wrote succinctly of such correspondence in your Conclusion, in a positive light:

    “God’s people readily hear Christ preaching, they encounter Christ worshipping his Father, and caring for his flock in the priest who is humble, poor, chaste and obedient. The Bride recognizes her Bridegroom, and responds to his voice in the priest who has become, by grace, the Christ he proclaims.”

    Opposed to this is a darker and sorrowful possibility: a tepid, worldly priesthood that in fact opposes life and holy zeal in the Church, and instead attracts and cultivates a correspondingly tepid and worldly laity. It was thus troubling in your article to read of possibilities for tepid priests that ring painfully real:

    “It is also possible for a priest, although in the state of grace, to become tepid in his exercise of the priesthood. There comes a moment in the life of nearly every priest when he becomes bored with sacred realities. The Desert Fathers called this sloth, acedia. The priest’s awareness of Christ’s desire to act through him, and his corresponding desire to be a servant of Christ, can easily be dulled, leading to a neglect of prayer. Excessive involvement in secular affairs, some of which may be venially sinful, others morally neutral, also present an obstacle to priestly holiness. Inappropriate relationships, attachment to material possessions, the promotion of self, and ambitions of various sorts, distract the priest, and even impede or block his union with Christ, and harm his service of the people. In either situation, there is a problem of spiritual life. In the case of the priest who is content to live in mortal sin, there is the death of priestly spirituality. In the case of the priest who has, to some degree, lost interest in his mediation of grace, there is an illness that will, at least, bring unhappiness and lack of authentic fulfillment, and, at the worst, terminate in spiritual death.”

    This paragraph of yours is very troubling to read. I have been blessed to come to know several truly holy priests – holy in their sweet and firm transparency to the Christ who is their life – but I have also come to know some who seem sadly characterized by the Scripture that you cite, in loving “the world or the things in the world.” They do not radiate Christ, but “the world,” with its desires: “the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride of life” — which come not from the Father but from the world. (1 John 2:15-17).

    This is a long response already, but my intention was and is to suggest something. Your paragraph quoted above reminded me of a very similar assessment of spiritual malady described by Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange in his classic, The Three Ages of the Interior Life (online, http://www.christianperfection.info). I know you are familiar with his work. This malady he describes as spiritual retardation – a failure to advance in the interior life beyond that of the beginner in the purgative stage – a failure to reach, in other words, the life-changing encounters with the living Christ and His Spirit that are part of the illuminative stage. He introduces the section in his book with this:

    “Of these retarded souls, some who formerly served God with fidelity are now in a state bordering on indifference. Though in the past they knew true spiritual fervor, we may say without fear of rash judgment that they seriously misused divine graces. Had it not been for this misuse, as a matter of fact the Lord would have continued what He had begun in them, for He does not refuse His help to those who do what is in their power to obtain it.

    “How did these souls reach this state of tepidity? As a rule, two principal causes are indicated: the neglect of little things in the service of God and the refusal to make the sacrifices He asks.”

    I am convinced that the “cure” of this malady is simply the recovery of that necessity which was lost by neglect and by spiritual infidelity: Christ. Christ must be found again, in all His saving Truth. The fire of His eyes must sear and penetrate the soul, exposing all that it will and must. He can be found again, because He has not moved one inch from where He remains. But our priests who have moved from Him, must seek Him again as if their lives depend on it – their lives, and the life of the Church they were called to serve.