A Letter to Senior Priests

Dear Fathers,

Thank you for answering God’s call to be a priest and for your many years of active ministry in parishes, shrines, hospitals, schools, colleges, the military, retreat centers, and the missions. Thank you for all of the times you offered the sacrifice of the Mass, heard confessions, anointed the sick, baptized new members of the Church, witnessed marriages, and spent time listening to people. I know that if you were able to, you would still be in active ministry today. I understand that having to give up your ministry because of health problems has caused you sadness and suffering. I am praying for Jesus to give you His spiritual consolation. I hope you know how much He loves you.

As priests, you already know about the value of redemptive suffering and have shared this teaching with others. You also know that God loves you very much. Nevertheless, it is still difficult to suffer. You may be lonely, isolated, experiencing poor health or physical pain, having difficulties living in an assisted living residence or nursing home, and miss being in active ministry.

You know that Jesus is with you and you are not alone. Your guardian angel is also always near, and Mary and the Saints are interceding for you. I want to remind you that you also have a family in the Church who loves you — not only your friends, relatives, and former parishioners, but all the many Catholic laypeople who are very dedicated to praying for priests and are thankful for your vocation. They are praying for you — even if they haven’t met you.

If you can no longer help in parishes, your ministry can continue. St. John Paul II, who endured serious health challenges in the last years of his life, wrote in his Letter to the Elderly of the important contributions older people can make. “How many people find understanding and comfort from elderly people who may be lonely or ill and yet are able to instill courage by the loving advice, their silent prayer, or their witness of suffering born with patient acceptance!” Addressing older priests and bishops, St. John Paul II wrote: “The Church still needs you. She appreciates the services which you may wish to provide in many areas of the apostolate; she counts on the support of your longer periods of prayer; she counts on your advice born of experience, and she is enriched by your daily witness to the Gospel.”

The priesthood is a vocation and state of life, not a job. As priests, you still represent Jesus to people. Your example can continue to inspire people to live as faithful Catholics. As priests for many years, you are an example of perseverance in the Faith and in your vocation. Like Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, you can use this time in your life to provide a ministry of prayer. Your prayers are needed by the Church and the world; you can contribute to saving many souls. Please do not give up. Please accept the remaining time God is giving you as a gift to continue serving Him as a priest. We still need you.

I have been given a great gift from God of having become friends with some very holy, wonderful priests at the end of their lives. My time with them was very special; they became spiritual fathers to me and I became their spiritual daughter. I am thankful that God allowed them to live longer. The time they gave me changed my life. Their prayers and friendship gave me a closer relationship with God, greater compassion for people who are sick, and helped me to grow in true Christian love. During my time with them, I discovered my vocation of spiritual motherhood. They prayed with me and for me, listened to me, advised me, and became important members of my family. Recently, God has given me other spiritual fathers. I am very grateful for their friendship. I am so inspired by their faith, their love for Jesus and love for others, and by their desire to keep serving Jesus in their vocation. I appreciate the time they spend with me. I understand that they are experiencing difficulties caused by their health problems and by living in nursing homes, but I hope that they can feel Jesus’ love for them and His peace. I hope they know the great value of their prayers and their suffering, and that although their ministry has changed, they are still needed as priests.

Do not be afraid to allow others to share your suffering. Perhaps God wants to bring you His consolation through your friends’ visits. While you have always taken care of others, you may now have to allow others to take care of you. If you have family members and friends who want to assist you in any way, please allow them to. You may be helping them much more than they are helping you. We are created to be a gift to others and Jesus calls us to serve others. Assisting you will bring your friends and relatives to a closer relationship with Jesus, which will give them great joy. You are also ministering to them. Many people are lonely today because others have no time for them; they are busy with work, or wasting time with their phones, computers and televisions. Many adults also grew up without a father in their lives and need the spiritual fatherhood of priests which represents the love of God, our Father. Your availability to others, the time you spend with them, the spiritual advice you offer, the prayers you pray with them and for them, and your blessing are ways that you are continuing in your ministry as a priest.

This time has the potential to be the greatest time in your vocation, not because of any great deeds but because in your suffering, you are most conformed to Christ. As priests, your role is not merely functional; you represent Jesus to the Church. In old age, illness, pains, sadness, you represent Jesus in His suffering. The more you unite your suffering with him, the more you will reflect Him to others, leading them to unite their suffering to Him too. Everyone on earth will suffer in some way and often many times in their lives, whether from illness or pain or betrayal or persecution or poverty or the death of a beloved family member or friend. When others see you remaining strong in faith, hope, and love, and showing love and kindness to others, and even experiencing peace and joy, despite your suffering, it will inspire them in their present or future suffering to also stay close to God. Your prayers and suffering can accomplish more than homilies and parish administration. This may be the most heroic time of your priesthood and a time of great sanctity for you.

Some priests question why they have lived so long if they can no longer be active in ministry. We cannot know why God keeps some people on earth longer than others and must acknowledge it is a mystery. However, we can trust that it is part of God’s plan for you, and your life is a gift and of great value to God. He knows you are needed here, even if you don’t know why. You are never too old. Your faith helps you remain young in spirit.

Although the Church teaches that suffering is redemptive and can bring about great good for the person who suffers and the people aided by his suffering, no one wants to suffer, and it can be difficult to endure. I don’t want you to suffer and if there was a way I could remove it, I would. I know I can help you by my prayers, and want you to know that I am praying for you and so are many Catholics, including my friends in the Community of Mary, Mother of Mercy. I pray for your healing. I pray for your spiritual consolation.

Perhaps you are feeling discouraged or unhappy; perhaps you are waiting for God to bring you home to Heaven. You know He will call you when it is the right time. While you are here, your ministry continues. Please be open to the ways you can still serve the Church, and know that you are still needed. You remaining time is very valuable. Perhaps you can still hear confessions. If you feel well enough, perhaps you can be available for people who will appreciate having a spiritual father who will listen to them and pray with them. You may not realize the impact you will have on your new friends who come to visit you, but I can assure you from my experiences with senior priest friends that your kindness will be received with gratitude and with love. I will always remember them and always pray for them. For example, I think of my friend Father Rooney, the first chaplain of our organization, who used to lead our weekly meetings, even when he was experiencing pain or was very tired. I think of Father Reginald, a Franciscan friend, who was a great example to me, as despite his poor health, he faithfully prayed the Liturgy of the Hours and spent most of his day in his room praying. There are many more senior priests who have been a great influence on my life.

I pray that God will help you in every trial and give you all the graces you need. I ask Mary, Mother of Priests and Mother of Mercy, who loves you as her spiritual sons, to always intercede for you.


Louise Merrie

Louise Merrie About Louise Merrie

Louise Merrie is a freelance writer on Catholic subjects. Her articles have been published in Catholic Life, Catholic Exchange, Novena Magazine, and the Saint Austin Review. She is the author of Fulton Sheen: Evangelist of the Modern Age, published by the Catholic Truth Society. She is the founder of the Community of Mary, Mother of Mercy, an organization which supports senior priests through prayer, friendship, and service (communityofmary.org).