Becoming a new priest in the middle of the scandal: ‘I wondered if I was in the right place’

Becoming a new priest in the middle of the scandal: ‘I wondered if I was in the right place’ September 22, 2018
Pxhere/Public Domain

A few days back, my friend Gary Zimak interviewed me for his radio show, and we were talking about the present crisis afflicting the church. “What advice can you give people?,” Gary asked.

Without hesitation, I answered: “Pray for our priests.” 

Whether we realize it or not, faithful priests are the collateral damage of this onslaught. I’ve heard from several priests (and a few deacons) from around the country, who have all said the same thing: “I feel so alone right now.” These men who have embraced Christ’s cross, and carried it with them through all sorts of trials and tears, are anxious, depressed, overwhelmed, crushed.

Some feel like everyone is watching them suspiciously, just because they wear the collar; others feel as if the hierarchy has thrown them under the bus. One priest friend wrote to me that he is reliving a lot of what he went through in 2002. “The laity got me through that,” he said. “I believe they are the ones who will pull me through this, too.”

If you don’t think this is affecting the priests you know, think again. 

One woman wrote to me about her pastor, a man I know and admire and who has welcomed me as an overnight guest as his rectory: “I don’t know if you’ve been in touch with him lately. But he’s really hurting now because of the headlines. I think he’s received a lot of grief.”

Folks, please: pray for your priests. So often, they are there for us. We need to be there for them.

Let them know that they are loved. Let them know you support them. Take them out to dinner. Drop them a note. Offer a kind word, a smile, a prayed rosary, a Mass or just a heartfelt “thank you.”

Those who are continuing to embrace the cross of our present age deserve our gratitude and, even, our love. They are men like Father Jonathan Mitchican, who wrote about becoming a new priest as the world was exploding around him:

As news of scandals circulated through headlines, I was lying face down on the floor before the altar at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Walsingham in Houston. Soon I would kneel in front of the bishop so that he could lay his hands on my head and ordain me a priest. But while I was lying there, rather than thinking about my impending ordination, I was listening carefully for one name to be sung. Earlier in the day, I was told that I could add the name of one saint to the litany. “St. Mary of Egypt, pray for us,” sang the choir, and my heart leapt in my chest.

In many ways, St. Mary of Egypt is a saint for our time. From an early age, she took pleasure in luring married men and those who were religiously devout to give up their chastity for her. It was for this reason that she traveled to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, hoping to defile as many young pilgrims as she could on the way. But when she got there, she tried to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and found that she could not. She looked at an image of Our Lady and realized that it was her sin keeping her out, so she repented in tears. After entering the church, she heard the voice of God calling her to cross the Jordan where she would find rest. She went to the Monastery of St. John the Baptist on the banks of the Jordan where she made her confession and received Holy Communion. The next day she departed to live alone in the desert where she would stay for the next half century until her death.

It was a long, slow healing process for St. Mary. She spent the first 18 years in the desert daily plagued by her passions and the temptation to return to her old life. It took intense and fervent prayer for her to change, along with humility and a deep experience of God’s mercy. But by the time she met her biographer, St. Zosimas, in the last year of her life, she was so holy that she radiated.

I have had a devotion to St. Mary of Egypt for a long time. I see in her story a powerful narrative of grace that resonates with my own sense of gratitude for the way that Jesus has changed my life. She ran about as far away from God as she could and she wounded herself deeply in the process. Her transformation from sinner to saint was not instantaneous but took humility and a willingness to suffer over a long period of time. It is that kind of humility that we need in the Catholic Church today if we are going to heal from decades of dark secrets and broken promises. It is a patient, slow stripping away of our defenses that will be the only cure for what ails the willful and battered Bride of Christ.

As the news stories began to break during the week of my ordination, I wondered if I was really in the right place. Yet as a new priest, I remain hopeful—optimistic even—for the future of the Catholic Church in my lifetime.

Read on to learn why.

Please: Take a moment today to pray for our priests. 

From Cardinal John O’Connor: 

Lord Jesus, we your people pray to You for our priests. You have given them to us for OUR needs. We pray for them in THEIR needs.

We know that You have made them priests in the likeness of your own priesthood. You have consecrated them, set them aside, anointed them, filled them with the Holy Spirit, appointed them to teach, to preach, to minister, to console, to forgive, and to feed us with Your Body and Blood.

Yet we know, too, that they are one with us and share our human weaknesses. We know too that they are tempted to sin and discouragement as are we, needing to be ministered to, as do we, to be consoled and forgiven, as do we. Indeed, we thank You for choosing them from among us, so that they understand us as we understand them, suffer with us and rejoice with us, worry with us and trust with us, share our beings, our lives, our faith.

We ask that You give them this day the gift You gave Your chosen ones on the way to Emmaus: Your presence in their hearts, Your holiness in their souls, Your joy in their spirits. And let them see You face to face in the breaking of the Eucharistic bread.

We pray to You, O Lord, through Mary the mother of all priests, for Your priests and for ours.

Amen.


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