Today marks the first day of the Year For Priests, which will run until June 19th, 2010. Today is also the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which is no coincidence. It’s a call for priests to evaluate their own lives and ministries, to rededicate themselves ever more to the Heart of Jesus, and it’s a time for us to pray for our priests, that they may be guided by God in a special way as His holy instruments.
To be certain, the life of a priest is not an easy one. Priests are often lonely, particularly as the Catholic social fabric has torn in many cities. The days of having your pastor over every Sunday for dinner seem to be over, unfortunately. In general, priests are facing daunting challenges now more than ever, as the West seems to be slipping out of the hands of the Church (and Christendom generally) like a wet fish. The priestly sex scandal has disgraced the Holy Orders severely. Priests today are often viewed suspiciously, as homosexuals or pedophiles (or both). A great many priests have disgraced the calling by intentionally acting and teaching counter to the Catholic Faith. Often, even our seminaries are led by dissidents who knowingly reject the Catholic Faith: to be a well-meaning priest overcoming these obstacles out of a love for God and neighbor speaks volumes about the depth of love such men have (and must have). The biggest burden is that the responsibilities of the priesthood create accountability: Luke 12:48 says that “to whom much has been given, much will be required.” I asked my priest at Men’s Prayer Group last night whether it was easier or harder for a priest to be saved, and without hesitation he said “harder.” The responsibilities are immense, and while the ability to lead people to Christ is incredible, so are the perils of misusing this office.
Without meaning to sound sentimental, the devil himself longs for our priests, and goes after them without mercy. Brother Martin Luther wasn’t the only Catholic cleric who was tormented by Satan. The Holy Curé D’Ars, St. John Mary Baptist Vianney, for whom this year is named, was physically tormented by the devil because of his incredible ministry (if you haven’t read up on this amazing saint, you ought to: Pope Benedict is also making him the patron saint of all priests, rather than just the patron saint of parish priests). The fact that these men devote their entire lives to the spiritual ministry makes them prime targets for the forces and principalities of darkness (Ephesians 6:12).
I’m elated that Pope Benedict XVI made this upcoming year the Year For Priests! Please, say a special prayer for your priests today (and throughout this year). They need your help, and prayer is one of the best aids we have to offer.