To priests in difficult circumstances

A note from Fulton J. Sheen to priests in difficult circumstances:

When nothing makes sense, when one is certain that “things can no longer go on like this,” one immediately is brought face to face with the most thwarted and disappointed man in the Gospel: John the Baptist…. His mission did not end as he thought it should. Like the earth shaking under his feet, there vomited up that awful sense of meaninglessness which seizes any man of God when he is seemingly not supported by God….

To whom shall we go in such black moments as we face the ugly mask of meaninglessness? John the Baptist went to Christ. Even though he did not understand the Master’s ways, he would bring his despair to Jesus. As Christ on the Cross would go to the Heavenly Father in the darkness of the Fourth Word, so the Baptist would go to Christ in the bleakness of his cell. In stark abandonment no theological discussion, no dialogue with a colleague will solace the heart, but only the experience of having an encounter with Christ. He could have said, “Oh! What’s the use? The hell with it. I’ll give up the priesthood. I made a mistake. This life demands more moral courage than I can summon. This is the end.”

On the contrary, John took all his doubts and despair to the Lamb…. But there are times when the strongest are weak; if he is pure, he feels weak when temptation attacks him; if he is hungering for righteousness, he feels weak in face of the apathy of his colleagues. When the remediless weaknesses of our humanity are upon us, then the strong search for the strongest. And this is what John did….
Somehow or other, Christ does not answer OK when we say, “Help me.” Priests may pledge their lives to Him at ordination, but there will be moments when they will think that He is not equal to their “unbearable situation”…. But in such moments, like John, they must bring their seeming defeat to the Lord, and never brood over it and assume that they know better than the Lord. Blessed is he who in spite of inner questionings and frustrations, still sees no hope for the future except in getting closer to Christ.

Once we begin to separate in Christ His Priesthood and His Victimhood, the priestly life is full of wreckage. His Priesthood can account for our success; His Victimhood alone can explain our defects. When really are we more His? When we are offering, or when we are being offered? The Lord left His own cousin in jail when He could have smitten the bars like Samson. But the Lord Himself would spend Holy Thursday night in jail. Christ the High Priest was inseparably victim; hence He beats down no storms that rise against Him. He rides upon them. The aspiring boy, Joseph, is thrown into a well. Moses is left along the Nile. And John is beheaded….
Though the Lord does not rescue us from the unbearable, His Heart is so grateful for our acceptance of His Will…. The moment we condemn the Lord for forgetting us, is the time when the Lord most highly praises us. We have no idea how much we are loved in that hour when it seems we are most unloved. John thought himself as a broken and forgotten reed, but the Lord saw him as unshakeable as a rock…. In the Divine Order, the imprisoned souls fly. No priestly heart has freedom; it is mastered and victimized: it must be captured before it can fly. The hour of frustration is the day of emancipation. The apparent forgetfulness of Christ as we toil in oblivion is the time when we are most remembered, for it is possible to be “greater than John the Baptist”: and that is by being the “least.” The ark that the Spirit of Christ builds can float in all flood waters. We are winged by our wants. The hope of the future mansion is the house unfinished here. The priesthood learns victimhood in the unsatisfied soul.

(from Chapter 17 of Those Mysterious Priests” by Fulton J. Sheen – Kindle version.)

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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2 Responses to To priests in difficult circumstances

  1. maynardus says:

    Absolutely beautiful. Sheen was so good at making the difficult bits intelligible that I sometimes forget how eloquent he could be. As the father of five young boys I felt that this resonated with me as well, and I just read it aloud to my wife who also found it very moving. I plan to forward it to a few priests who could use the encouragement. Thanks for posting it.

  2. webpoppy8 says:

    Thank you for sharing that beautiful Sheen passage. I hope you find it encourages you.

    I pray for you guys all the time. God bless you!