A cautionary tale about why we must NEVER stop praying for priests

I read the news that former priest and liberal critic of the Catholic Church James Kavanaugh died at the age of 81.  The story is on mlive.com.

One of my spies told me something that the obituary does not mention: Kavanaugh asked for and received the Apostolic Pardon just before he died.

Never stop praying for priests… priests who are faithful and those who are not, those who are capable and those who are less so, those whom you like, those you don’t.

The devil HATES priests with a malice that humans cannot fathom.  With diabolical angelic abilities they do what they can to drag priests – upon whom so much rests – down and then farthest down of all.

Pray for priests.

I once had an experience that underscores this plea.

I used to commute by train into Rome from Velletri everyday at oh-dark-hundred … every…day.

One morning there was a commotion on the platform in one of the little stops on the way.

Someone had thrown himself in front of the train.

There were a couple other priests there, standing around with their hands in their pockets.  Therefore, I – who always carry an oil stock – got down on the messy track and anointed the still slightly shuddering body and sent him heavenward with the Apostolic Pardon.

The next day my bishop called me in and asked for my version of what had happened.  I told him.

He then told me that the man was an ex-priest, a Salesian. 

Simply the luckiest desperate ex-priest ever, perhaps. 

Who knows what prayers, what work of angels sent by others, saved that man that morning.

Never stop praying for priests, effective or hapless, faithful or not, near saints or obviously lacking. 

Do not stop praying for priests.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Father, thank you!
    O Jesus, Mary and Joseph, save souls, especially those of your priests!
    Sr. Maria Lucia of Fatima said that the devil is constantly tempting and harassing priests and consecrated souls.
    If we only believed this, and really prayed for priests and consecrated!
    Believe me, I know this to be the absolute truth. I pray to God that I will have a priest to absolve me, anoint me, and give the the Apostolic Pardon at the moment of my death.
    It is all too terrible to contemplate without these. But if God wills, He will provide.

  2. FrCharles says:

    Thank you for this today, Fr. Z. I believe what you say, With diabolical angelic abilities they do what they can to drag priests – upon whom so much rests – down and then farthest down of all. I have often felt in myself and in what I observe in the clergy and religious life that it is a spiritually hazardous life. It could help us to become saints, but it could also make us more miserable sinners and menaces to the faith and to the world than we could ever have been in the secular or lay states.

  3. Cath says:

    One of our intentions at our family rosary is priests everywhere and then the kids list the names of a few priests in particular. Where would we be without priests?

  4. An American Mother says:

    As C.S. Lewis has one of his characters say, “I have lived a long time in this world, and never have I seen such a thing as Luck.”

    Pray, pray, pray for priests! This really IS a war, and they are our Special Forces.

  5. Mike says:

    I have been praying for my new pastor recently–whom I don’t really like–and you know, it’s helped me see him as a person, a priest loved by God, even with his problems. Also, he hit it out of the park recently, with a fine, orthodox homily…God is good, and hears every prayer…

  6. Nathan says:

    Maybe this is one important reason why Our Blessed Lord opens a torrent, a flood of Grace and Mercy in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass–to provide a supersubstantial amount of Divine Love to the priest standing at the altar.

    O Pie Jesu, graciously fill the hearts of your priests with Divine Love and Mercy, and protect them from the wickedness and snares of the devil.

    In Christ,

  7. Susan the Short says:

    In my local deanery, there is a calendar issued each month with the name of a different deanery priest or deacon each day so that we remember to pray for all of them.

    My diocese also is launching Spiritual Maternity: you are assigned the name of a particular priest to pray for in prepetuity.

  8. Sandy says:

    Wow, Father. What an amazing “coincidence” that you were able to annoint that priest. I often say that what is going on invisibly around us, is much greater (“busier?”) than what we can see with human eyes. It can only be magnified for priests – we cannot imagine the attacks on all of you, Father. May Mother Mary’s mantle cover you with an added layer of protection.

    I ask St. Joseph daily (the patron of a happy death) to bring all my family the final sacraments and to be with us. (What’s the Apostolic Pardon?)

  9. Tom Ryan says:

    I shall relay an equally remarkable story soon…

  10. Roland de Chanson says:

    Sent him heavenward? An apostolic pardon is not absolution. How do you know whether he repented? If you had had your hands in your pockets, would he be stoking the furnaces of hell with brimstone now?

    Though I hope I am alive and sinning for a goodly number of years yet, if life does become unbearable, I will definitely not face off with a locomotive unless there is a traditional priest in the immediate vicinity. [Look before you leap.]

  11. Roland: The whole purpose of the Apostolic Pardon is not the worthiness of the individual but the great Mercy of God. If he, in fact, was sorry for all of his sins, even if a little, God takes away the rest; that’s what indulgence means….God is very merciful even to the most hardened sinner…a great mystery, yeah?

  12. Ellen says:

    I’ll most certainly never stop praying for priests. And another person could use our prayers. Mary Daly died a few days ago.

  13. By the way, for the information of all, the Apostolic Pardon at the time of death, absolves all sins(if the individual was unable to make an auricle confession), as well as an any temporal punishment due to sin. This is a great grace of the Church. It is given to all priests to give. The dying person does not have die immediately, only shortly, after given the Apostolic Pardon. It is a great grace for the individual, as well as a great consolation to the family. It is, not, however, a sure sign that the individual is in heaven. Everyone should make every possibility that they and their loved ones have a priest to give this most important indulgence at their death bed, if it is possible.

  14. Mary Daly: May Jesus have mercy on her soul! May she rest in peace. Amen.
    Thank you, Ellen.

  15. momoften says:

    Over the years, I have held a great devotion to all priests and bishops,especially if I do not like them. It has been part of our family prayer every night to recite a long list of priests whom we pray for and even those we don’t care for—after all priests are another Christ, and yes, they are attacked. Even our morning offering is given for priests. We can never pray enough for our priests. Mary, Queen of Clergy pray for them!

  16. Thanks for sharing.

    The mark of the priesthood is ever in the crosshairs of the Angel of Darkness. Take one priest or bishop down, and he knows he can get a platoon or a batallion for that matter.

  17. Roland de Chanson says:

    Fr. Z: [Look before you leap.]


  18. Agnes says:

    Ok. Ok, I will pray.

    BTW, Satan is also on the attack against families, from whom priests spring, seeming especially anxious to bring down the ones driving big vans… Pray for all!

  19. trespinos says:

    Thanks for the reminder. New Years Resolution #2-A. Our Serra Club distributed cards with the name of a diocesan priest, for each of us to remember in prayer during the Year of the Priest. I’m now going to insert it into my wallet, which I’m sure I open every day, instead of my LOTH volume, which, I’m embarrassed to say, some days I don’t.

  20. Holy Father, sanctify your priests,
    sanctify them in the truth,
    preserve them in Your name.
    May the love with which
    You loved Your Divine Son be in them.
    Keep them from evil,
    they are in the world and the world hates them.
    Protect them, they are yours.
    May not even one of those whom You have
    entrusted to Your Son be lost.
    Jesus, sustain, comfort, save Your priests.
    Divine Spirit of love
    fill them with Your charity.
    Lead them as You led Jesus,
    even to the cross.
    Grant that priests be also hosts of love:
    for God
    for their fellow priests
    for all souls.

    -prayer of the Oblate Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (following the charism of Ven. Teresa Casini)

  21. Mike says:

    My former Pastor died on last Holy Thursday, right after Mass, asked for annointing, and died beneath a statue of St. Joseph.

    Although he was smart, and I believe holy, he wasn’t especially deep in his homilies…however, Our Lord called, and he was as ready as one could be, given that he left us in only a matter of minutes.

    I took my two sons to his Funeral Mass, attended by 70 priests. I think it moved both of them, deeply.

  22. TNCath says:

    Fr. Z., I can appreciate your carrying an oil stock in your pocket at all times. A few years back in our diocese, the priests of the diocese were on a three day retreat. During one of the conferences, one of the priests who had a history of heart trouble, passed out. There were at least 50 priests present, including the bishop of the diocese, but only one, a very elderly, sickly, and saintly priest, had an oil stock in his pocket. The bishop and his priests watched in amazement as this old man went into action. Not only did the elderly priest anoint the afflicted priest and give him the Apostolic Pardon, he instructed his brother priests in what to do until the paramedics arrived. Thankfully, the priest survived, and this was one of those “golden moments” where even the bishop of a diocese got some old fashioned pastoral instruction from one of his priests.

    Orate pro illos, indeed.

  23. padredana says:

    Thank you for this post, it is a good reminder for us all.

  24. RichR says:

    Amazing stories. This type of stuff should be gathered together and put into a book for the Year of Priests.

    Hey Fr.Z., maybe you could do that……and sell it as a Kindle Book ;-)

  25. DominiSumus says:

    How wonderful! If only every errant priest was so blessed.

    Too often people have questioned why we need to pray for priests and bishops. After all they say “it’s their job to pray for us”.

    Our priests need and deserve our prayers.

    Thank you for sharing this. It was exactly what I needed after a very disheartening day.

  26. DavidJ says:

    “Too often people have questioned why we need to pray for priests and bishops. After all they say “it’s their job to pray for us”.”

    Well, that right there is what we call a “Catechismic Fail.”

  27. Maltese says:

    Awesome story Father! Great daring-do and fortitude in that situation! Seriously! Sounds like most stood aghast, while you did the Lord’s work! So many shudder and shy at death and dying, but it is a process which happens to all of us.

    I remember as an EMT working on a mother while her 16 year old daughter was looking on; she had a slight rhythm in her heart so we kept working (I was the first one to her, so I was tasked with pumping on her chest–essentially breaking her ribs, as most hands-on EMTs know, is the surest way of getting to the heart and transporting much-needed blood to the brain and extremities.) As we were still working on her, her husband showed up. He was intermittently calm, and then would shudder into tears. We worked as hard as we could, but could not bring that woman back that day. I did pray, but a Priest’s prayers would have been much more welcome, as the woman was Catholic, and died of alcoholism…

  28. Rob Cartusciello says:

    I hadn’t heard about Mary Daly. Ding Dong, the Witch is dead.

  29. I think I read one of J. Kavanaugh’s book many, many years ago. It was very strange; I did not understand it very well.
    His life (from the link you put up, Fr. Z) is tragic. I think, in some way, he was in fact, a victim of the strange times between the 60’s and the 70’s. I am in no way accepting or condoning his beliefs or actions, but he was a very confused and tortured individual.
    I knew a priest, educated in Rome in the ’50s, who was not very well grounded in basic Catholic teaching (even with being in Rome); he ended up being very influenced by the ‘zeitgeist’ of the ’60s and ended being very liberal and dissident. He was, at heart, a good man. But he was not trained or grounded properly and fell into the liberalism of the ‘spirit of the age’; I do not condone or agree with this. But I loved him. He is deceased now. But I pray for him constantly, hoping that somehow, in the next life, God in His mercy, will draw Him to His heart, purify him from his fsilings, and teach him the Truth. I pray that he will one day be in the Father’s homeland.

  30. JosephMary says:


  31. xsosdid says:

    One of the more jarring moments of my spiritual life has been having my pastor explain from the ambo one sunday morning that he was quitting his vocation. It was out of the blue. He was my spiritual director at the time. I was angry for quite a while.
    I pray for priests daily, but as you were relating this story Fr Bob came to mind… I’ve never thought to pray for him, but I will now. It’s an excellent point.

    Father, your blog is very helpful to me, as priests are a complete mystery to me. I’ve always looked at priests as if they were another species (three syllables..?), wanted to support them, but did not know how. You are excellent at expressing your vocation, and I honestly did not understand it until I started following you here.
    God bless you.

  32. bookworm says:

    Some years ago I wrote a story about a priest who was also a member of a small-town/rural volunteer fire department/rescue squad. Not the chaplain, but a full-fledged member who went through all the training and went out on fire and accident calls. He signed up because he was one of a relatively few able-bodied and reasonably young men (he was in his early 40s at the time) who were in town during the day to answer calls (many squad members had jobs out of town). He did say that he had given last rites to people on some of his rescue calls, so I presume he carried his oil stock with him at all times. Kind of takes emergency preparedness to a whole new level, doesn’t it?

  33. ghlad says:

    Fr Z, or anybody else – is Wikipedia mistaken? I hadn’t heard of the Apostolic Pardon, so I looked it up and was reading on Wikipedia that “According to the church, a person who is properly disposed by being in the state of grace (…) who receives the Apostolic Pardon gains the complete pardon of all temporal punishment due to sin that has already been forgiven by the reception of absolution and the doing of penance, i.e., a plenary indulgence. The Apostolic Pardon does not forgive sins by the act of absolution; it deals only with the punishment (purgation) due for those sins that have already been sacramentally forgiven.

    That sounds a lot different from confidence that the person’s soul is admitted to Heaven.

    Also, how on EARTH could a priest have this ability ready to go and not endure the hardship of being ready at any time to provide this unimaginable goodness to another poor soul?!

  34. Mariana says:

    Thank you Father, very salutary!

  35. ckdexterhaven says:

    Even though it’s hard to pray for some priests, I try to think of their mothers. If you were the mother of a priest, wouldn’t you want as many people as possible praying for your son? A mother will always pray for her child(ren). If a priest’s mother has died, think of it as taking over the mother’s prayers.

  36. Allan S. says:

    Q. What’s the difference between receiving absolution from an orthodox, holy priest and a dissenting, unfaithful one?

    A. Nothing.

    Food for thought, etc.

  37. Random Friar says:

    ghlad: If the soul is at all disposed to receive these graces, then we tend to presume that the sins will have already been absolved by Anointing (and Confession, ideally), and the plenary indulgence is added. To me, personally, it would baffle me for a soul to stubbornly resist that fell opportunity of grace and forgiveness before Judgment.

  38. Random Friar says:

    Allan S.: even laicized priests I’ve known, no matter how bitter the circumstances of their departure, would never hesitate to grant pardon to any soul on their way.

  39. Random Friar says:

    I meant that as further food for thought, not disagreeing!

  40. Random Friar says:

    ckdexterhaven: That’s so true! Now, *I* may forgive you for not praying for me, but trust me, you don’t want to deal with my mother in this case!

  41. kat says:

    God granted me as a little child a great love for priests and seminarians, which I grew up around, living close to a seminary and attending the liturgies and ordinations, etc. as often as possible. I still love and respect priests very much, even though I too have had to deal with some difficult ones. They are other Christs, and just too important in this world to not pray for, sacrifice for, etc. A while back Fr. Z. showed the booklet from the Angelus about the Prayers for Priests. The Crusade that one can sign up for is really great. I have a priest assigned to me whom I pray for daily, besides all the priests in general, and my confessors and special friends in particular.

    Thank you to all the priests here, Fr. Z. and his readers/writers on the blog, for your dedication and hard work; especially for trying hard to bring back tradition. God is working through you to help others see its importance and how beautiful our Faith is. When I watch our pastor, and all his sacrifices, and realize he went into the seminary and took up this vocation ONLY for the salvation of souls, well… THAT is a meditation.

    O Lord grant us many holy priests.

  42. GregH says:

    What does it mean that he asked for and received the Apostolic Pardon? Would this have been during a last confession?

  43. irishgirl says:

    Wow-that was quite a story that you told, Father Z!

    Reminds me of an experience one of our diocesan priests told many years ago. I believe he had been recently ordained [1964]. He was on his way up to the North country of New York State when a bus carrying a high school band overturned on the Thruway. He parked his car past the overpass where the accident happened and clambered down the hill to see if he could help. It was a rather messy affair-there may have been some serious injuries and/or deaths-and I think he may have gotten a little nauseated-but he stayed with the victims and [probably] anointed those who were more seriously hurt.

    All the more reason to pray ALWAYS for our priests! And I do every day in my Rosary!

  44. Agnes says:

    kat, very beautiful post. Pray for the priests we like , and pray for the priests who are cranky and difficult. All stand in the Person of Christ.

  45. Dr. Eric says:

    I pray for the good priests that they may be perfected, for the lukewarm priests that they may become fervent, for the bad priests that they may repent.

    I know of at least 4 priests from the Archdiocese who have been pulled from the sacred ministry one of whom was my vocation director whom I last saw in a mug shot on KSDK news.

  46. An American Mother says:

    This seemed apropos – another priest on the front line.


    We need to pray for them all, but especially those that are in danger.

  47. btdn says:

    I say every hour of the Liturgy of the Hours that clerics are required to say (Office of Readings, morning, evening and night prayer and one of the day-time hours). I have started saying multiple day-time hours more often and the thought occurred to me that that is an excellent time to being praying for priests, especially those who neglect the office.

  48. btdn: You are inspired by the Holy Spirit. How many priests have abandoned the Divine Office out of a sense that it is no long relevant or even obligatory.
    A priest is bound to the Divine Office EVERY DAY; he is not, however, bound to celebrate Holy Mass every day, although he is exhorted and encouraged to do so. Your loving acts of prayer are helping priests everywhere; esp. those who have neglected their duty to the Divine Office. Bless you!

  49. latinritepriest says:

    A few things in this column and responses that caused me to wonder…
    1. Extremem Unction only absolves sins of people habitually sorry for them. The dying priest may have been in that habit, or he may not have been. Only God knows if he was “sent heavenward.”
    2. I disagree with Nazareth Priest’s statement that the Apostolic Pardon forgives all sins if the person was unable to make an auricular cofession . The sacraments of Penance and Extreme Unction are the ordinary means of forgiveness of mortal sins. God determines extraordinary circumstances, in which a perfect act of contrition may be sufficient. In either case, the Apostolic Pardon is for the indulgence, i.e. the remitting of the punishment due to sin, not absolution of the sins themselves. To receive the indulgence, the person must have at least an implicit intention to receive it.
    3. I do not understand why the story included the two priests “with their hands in their pockets.” In an article about charity for priests, perhaps a little more charity would have been shown by not mentioning them. The point could still have been made about the good that came from a priest having sacramental oil at hand.
    4. If a priest does not have oil handy, he can give conditional absolution in such circumstances. Whether the sins would actually be forgiven by God would be dependent upon the habitual intention of the person. As mentioned above, the same is true of Extremem Unction.

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