“No words I can use would be too strong to state that the Catholic priesthood needs prayer and sacrifice as never before since Calvary,” wrote the late Jesuit Father John Hardon in “The Value of Prayer and Sacrifice for Priests.” He reflects on 30 years of teaching priests, living with priests “and having labored for them, loving them and suffering with them.”
“One saint after another has declared that the devil’s principal target on earth is the Catholic priest,” he wrote. “Priests need, Lord how they need, special graces from God. We ask, why pray, then, for priests? We should pray for priests and bishops because this has been the practice of the Church since apostolic times. It’s a matter of revealed truth. It is a divine mandate.”
I thought of this because ordination time in the U.S. — around June, near the feast of the Sacred Heart and Father’s Day, which has always seemed appropriate — has begun. Recently news broke that a prominent priest I know announced he is petitioning Rome for laicization. Whenever I hear such news — and I have known more than a few priests who became laicized for various reasons — I have the same reaction: a piercing heart and nagging feeling that I haven’t been praying enough for this priest or the whole priesthood. Who among us does?
There are some who are spreading the message to pray urgently for priests more than others. Kathleen Beckman answered the call in founding the Praying for Priests ministry. In her book “Praying for Priests: An Urgent Call for the Salvation of Souls,” Beckman begins with a quote from St. John Vianney: “When people want to destroy religion they begin by attacking the priest; for when there is no priest, there is no sacrifice; and when there is no sacrifice, there is no religion.”
It’s been almost a year since the initial news about allegations against the former cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Beckman writes: “This defining moment in the Church begs for reforms of a temporal order, but these will be only as strong as the spiritual response of prayer, penance and reparation that must undergird them. Atonement for the sins in the Church over too many decades will be required. … Love for God and the Church will help us to resist the temptation to hurl stones at clerics, the majority of whom are authentic good shepherds. Scripture proposes a better response: to share in the suffering of God’s sinful people and commit to more prayer, fasting and almsgiving to atone for collective sins.”
In its June 2019 issue, the Atlantic’s magazine cover read “Abolish the Priesthood.” On Twitter, a sister of the Daughters of St. Paul (#MediaNuns) had a great response to this secular opinion. Sister Andrew Marie (@SrAndrewFSP) tweeted a picture of some of the ordination cards she has collected. She believes she has a call within a call to pray for priests and has invited priests to send their ordination cards. She keeps the cards in her breviary so that she can pray for these newly ordained priests. Some cards include crucifixion scenes and the Sacred Heart of Jesus burning in flames. Sister Andrew Marie suggests in another tweet: “Pray a Rosary for the priest who baptized you. You don’t even have to know his name, God does! But if you can find your baptismal certificate then you can pray for him by name!” She’s advancing the work that Father Hardon so urgently stressed.
Sister Francis Marie Seale took a leap of faith to found the Daughters of Mary, Mother of Priests, which spiritually adopts priests. This new order supports Catholic priests through prayer and sacrifice. Sister Francis is currently located in Spokane, Washington, and is looking for women to join her mission. To contact her, or to submit a priest for spiritual adoption, visit www.adoptapriest.org.
Don’t let this season pass by without some additional commitment to praying for the fidelity — and holy boldness — of priests.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review.