Because of so much darkness, there has never been a better time to be a young priest

 At Complete Christianity (a member of the new FOEDUS – League of Catholic Bloggers) Shane Schaetzel, a lay convert to the Church, wrote a post that I wish that I had written.

Let me just say- as a forward to what I’ll post below – that this is a really tough time to be a priest. But, as I always say, of all the universes God could have created He created this one, into which He called us into existence at exactly the right point in time and with exactly the right set of tools to carry out our little piece of His overarching, divine Plan. If we dedicate ourselves to our state in life, as it is hic et nunc, here and now, God will give us all the actual graces we need to fulfill our part in His economy of salvation. Just as a war-fighter in dire harm’s way is in the safest place spiritually he can be if he acts out of duty and love of God, family and country, so too the priest. Even if the priest is trodden on by his more powerful clerical brethren and unfairly attacked by world-mired laity, he is in the safest spiritual place he can be if he acts out of love of God, Church and patria. Perhaps this is why old soldiers and old priests tend to be great friends.

In any event, the post I mentioned above is addressed to young priests. The writer gives them his perspective on what is truly needed from priests today, what lay people (and other priests, frankly) need from them, even in the face of opposition.

I am reminded of the lot of ancient doctors and their patients in the time before anesthetics. Doctors don’t stop cutting just because the patient is screaming for them to stop. Priests mustn’t stop bringing the right stuff, just because the worldly are screaming for them to stop.

Here is some of the post, which I wish I had written…

The Greatest Time to be a Priest

A candle in darkness outshines a bonfire in daylight.

Not in living memory has there been a better time to be a priest. Not within a hundred years has there been a better time to be a priest. Not within a millennium has there been a better time to be a priest. And I say this as a man who has no desire to become a priest whatsoever.

This is not addressed to the aged men who grace our parishes and cathedrals now, but rather the young men just getting started, those men recently ordained in the last ten years or so, and those men still in seminary, as well as those men contemplating the priesthood. There has never been a better time to be a priest than now, but only if you’re a young priest.

By young priest, I mean a priest who is not only young in body, but also one who is traditional in spirit. For the great darkness that has befallen the Church is your chance to shine like a flame. I’m going to tell you a secret now. It’s probably a secret that you already know, but it helps sometimes to hear it from others, or to get a different perspective on it. There has never been a greater time to be a priest, because now you can do so much with so little effort. The darkness has made this possible.

[…]

So, maybe you’re a young priest, or maybe you’re in seminary, or maybe you’re a young man thinking about becoming a priest. Do you want to know how to be a great priest? Do you want to know how to attract Catholics and converts from far and wide? Do you want to know how to build a congregation larger than anyone else. It’s simple really. When there’s a famine, you show up with food. When there’s darkness, you light a candle. There is a hunger in the Catholic Church for tradition, but not just tradition. There’s also a hunger for knowledge of God’s written word as well.

You, young Catholic priests, all you need to do is the following…

1. Wear a cassock.

2. Celebrate a traditional liturgy, and when I say traditional, make it as traditional as you possibly can, whatever form you use, even if it draws the ire of older priests.

3. Then during your homily, explain the Scriptures you just read during Mass. Explain them verse by verse. Use the Baltimore Catechism as an aid, keep everything as orthodox as possible, and end each homily with a short call to repentance and conversion.

If you do these things, you most certainly WILL be persecuted. You’ll be persecuted by old hippy parishioners who prefer to have their priests submissive and emasculated. You’ll be persecuted by older priests who will say you’re rocking the boat, and becoming a trouble maker. You’ll be persecuted by weak bishops who cower to the demands of old hippies, feminists, homosexuals and Marxists. Yes, you will be persecuted, but so was Christ and the Apostles before you. The fact that much of this persecution will come from within the Church only demonstrates just how deep this present darkness is. Yet it is because of this thick darkness that you will shine so brightly. Because the times are so dark, and the hunger is so great, if you do these three simple things, you won’t just be a great priest. You’ll become a Saint.

Well, said.  Fr. Z kudo’s.

Yes, indeed, you’ll be a great priest.  And you’re going to get your teeth kicked in.  Again and again and again.   And the most painful kicks will come from those who need you the most.

Keep getting up.  Don’t ever lie down.  Don’t cower.  Don’t break.  Don’t quit.

At the same time.  Don’t be stupid.  Choose your hills.  Don’t die on the slope of a meaningless or unworthy objective.  Remember your brethren, your allies in the fight.  Keep them close and keep in contact.  You don’t have to do everything alone.

Remember, too, that you – because priests are soon going to be rarer and rarer by decreasing numbers – are a precious resource, not easily renewed.  Therefore, take care for your health out of charity for those who need what only priests can give.  Taking care of yourself is a work of mercy for others.  Allow yourself to be helped.  Also, do all that you can to foster vocations to the priesthood.

It’ll only hurt for about 50 years or so.

Then, glory eternal … greeted by happy souls whom you kept out of Hell.

And this song was on the radio when I was in seminary.

Now that I’m older, there’s this version.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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15 Responses to Because of so much darkness, there has never been a better time to be a young priest

  1. Spinmamma says:

    Thank you for sharing those inspiring words–his and yours. I do believe they are the truth.

  2. veritas vincit says:

    ” I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry.”

    2 Timothy 4:1-5 (RSVCE)

  3. Gab says:

    “Wear a cassock”.

    Yes!

    During the exorcism of Annalise Michelle (1975-6), the demon was compelled to tell the truth, as is usual and, among other things, said “You must be recognisable as priests (…) and the priests must be recognisable as priests (…) namely not only with an invisible emblem/insignia … and indeed proper … they must clearly be recognisable as priests!

  4. Fallibilissimo says:

    Very well said Father. I’m also seeing (even conservative and traditional circles) a rise in very nasty and rash judgments about our clergy because of the debacle of the last years – heck, even decades. I think transparency is desperately needed in the governance of the Church, but that doesn’t mean we get to humiliate our priests, or demonize them. Sins of the tongue can land us in Hell for eternity, especially when speaking of God’s “christs” (see St Catherine’s dialogues). I believe that there is a dangerous rise in a Nietzchean styled resentment. We should be angry, but let’s never let that anger to ingratitude.

    Just last week I went to an ordination of a young priest (from what I know, a good man and traditional in many ways) in our diocese, and after the ceremony I went to wish him my best wishes. I kissed his hand as the young father said my name in greeting me. We really don’t know each other very well, and I was surprised that he even remembered my name. He’s younger than me, and yet he is a father to me in the Church. It was an unexpected and moving moment; it reminds me of the gratitude we owe our priests, and through them God.

    May God bless you fathers! Mary and Joseph, through their intercession, always keep you close to the will of Our Lord!

  5. Sandy says:

    God bless all you wonderful priests! The priests I remember from my long life are the good, decent, holy priests. I call on those who are with the Lord already to intercede for my family. I truly believe, and would add to what this young priest said, that a priest consecrated to the Blessed Mother will have powerful help not available to others, just as is true for the laity. Of course that infuriates the devil, but that shouldn’t stop us! God bless you, Father Z, for all you do and for your faithfulness to God.

  6. OrdinaryCatholic says:

    “Because of so much darkness, there has never been a better time to be a young priest” AND a faithful Catholic. I am finding it very trying in these dark times yet I know that a faith untested is a weak faith. Everyday we are being made stronger in spirit with every temptation we resist but the temptations are also getting stronger and more frequent. A priest has an especially hard time today what with the scandals and the mistrust he receives from Catholics and the secular society around him. The laity get skewered also with :”Why are you still a Catholic? How can you trust your priest? You do realize you support pedophiles when you give to the Church. Don’t push your religion on me! I don’t need God to be good so get the hell away from me! You Catholics are so hateful to anyone that disagrees with you! You’re all a bunch of mindless sheep obeying misogynist old men! ” are just some of the comments and questions thrown at us. Slings and arrows and in other cases, violence against us. Yes, priests have have an extremely difficult time today, but the laity, the faithful Catholic is not exempt either.
    These are the days that will make or break a Catholic, especially a faithful priest. More saints are made during dark days than the sunny ones. Pray for all.

  7. Two responses:

    1. I was struck by how emphatic the original poster was about interpreting Scripture, “line by line.” I am not disagreeing, but I am somewhat surprised by the vehement emphasis. This leads me to repeat my wish that many, many more of the faithful would give specific feedback about homilies, and express their wishes for the same. I realize it is intimidating to do so, and such observations may not be welcomed at all times, but I, for one, would find it extremely helpful. I get very little constructive feedback. Attaboys and “good homilies” are appreciated, but not very informative.

    2. While I agree overall with the advice, I would add an important proviso: a new(er) priest assigned as a vicar, assisting a pastor, should strive, as much as conscience will allow, to support his pastor and minimize distinctions between himself and the pastor.

    The pastor sets the pace and the vicar is not there to pull against that leadership. A vicar may well have objectively better ideas, but it isn’t his turn; and attempting to push another agenda at variance with that of the pastor will not work. Also, with prudence and intelligence, the vicar can be entirely loyal to his own judgments and principles, and yet be publicly loyal to the pastor. True moments of conscientious objection are rare, rarer than you may think. For example, suppose the pastor forbids the vicar from wearing a cassock. That is wrong, but unless he is forbidden to wear ANY clerical attire, his conscience is not being violated.

    Also, it is a fact of parish life that every pastor will have critics and people who dislike him, no matter how good he may be. Many times the reasons are substantive, but many times, trivial. In such cases, there will be people who want to latch onto a vicar and draw him into their complaints against the pastor. Folks will seek him out, flatter him, encourage him to express himself candidly on this, that and the other thing. All in pursuit of leveraging him against the pastor. “Father Young-and-New is so much better than Father Old-and-Crotchety…” Unstated is that Father Pastor made a necessary but unpopular decision, which pastors must do, and vicars almost never have to do.

    Nowadays, priests are vicars for a short time. Wait till you are pastor, you will get there soon enough. And for any priest – I repeat, priest – reading this and feeling conflicted, I also reiterate that there are usually ways to navigate these situations without betraying your principles. There are wise priests who can and will counsel you if you don’t see how.

  8. capchoirgirl says:

    Re: homily feedback.
    I’m the type of person who says “good homily” when it really was a good homily. So don’t take all of those as just platitudes! :)

  9. tho says:

    Excellent article, I especially liked “a candle at night is better than a bonfire during the day”. Faithful priests are probably suffering from PTSD due to the innumerable homosexual scandals. The writer refers to this as a time of darkness, and who can disagree. If only our prelates and Holy Father could see what a death trap liberalism is, and the answer to many of our problems is an obvious return to Tradition.
    Sadly, our poor country is suffering through the pitfalls of utopian liberalism, brought on by trading common sense for a vote.

  10. Phil B says:

    “Remember, too, that you – because priests are soon going to be rarer and rarer by decreasing numbers – are a precious resource, not easily renewed.”

    This may also mean that young, orthodox, energetic priests – even those wearing cassocks! – may find they have more room to maneuver than has been the case in the past, especially those who are able to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

  11. Capchoirgirl:

    The “good homily” response is gratifying, and I was doubting it to be heartfelt. My point is, this response is barely usefulto the homilist. Forgive me for explaining this, if explanation is not needed. What, precisely, made the homily good? Did it explain something well? What was that? Or, did it resolve a conundrum? Was it good because it was no longer than needed? Well organized? Did it use an effective mnemonic? Did it provoke a new thought? Was it encouraging, or did it prompt you to a resolution? There are many ways a homily might be good, it may surprise you to learn that what the homilist thinks makes a homily good is rather different from what the hearer finds good. More often than you might imagine, I prepare a homily I don’t like very much, only to have people comment favorably on it. Hence my interest in them telling me just what they found good about it.

    Of course I can ask, but most of the time, this creates embarrassment for the person who is not expecting such a question and fumbles for an answer. A less embarrassing approach is to ask, did anything stand out? Yet this too creates discomfort, so I refrain.

  12. Capchoirgirl:

    The “good homily” response is gratifying, and I was doubting it to be heartfelt. My point is, this response is barely usefulto the homilist. Forgive me for explaining this, if explanation is not needed. What, precisely, made the homily good? Did it explain something well? What was that? Or, did it resolve a conundrum? Was it good because it was no longer than needed? Well organized? Did it use an effective mnemonic? Did it provoke a new thought? Was it encouraging, or did it prompt you to a resolution? There are many ways a homily might be good, it may surprise you to learn that what the homilist thinks makes a homily good is rather different from what the hearer finds good. More often than you might imagine, I prepare a homily I don’t like very much, only to have people comment favorably on it. Hence my interest in them telling me just what they found good about it.

    Of course I can ask, but most of the time, this creates embarrassment for the person who is not expecting such a question and fumbles for an answer. A less embarrassing approach is to ask, did anything stand out? Yet this too creates discomfort, so I refrain.

  13. capchoirgirl says:

    I usually do give specific things that were good about the homily, but that’s a good point in general. And I can understand that what I find good might not be what the priest thought was good; I find that in my writing an awful lot. The things that I really like might go unnoticed, but the things that I wrote quickly and thought were just meh? Insanely popular. No idea why!

  14. Semper Gumby says:

    This is outstanding. Thank you Fr. Z and Shane Schaetzel.

  15. TonyO says:

    Since Fr. Fox and Shane S. mentioned good homilies, I will add my two cents in hopes they can be helpful.

    I grew up in the late 60’s and 70’s, and cannot remember that a single homily was worth taking home and talking about with anyone: full of pap and nonsense, when not heretical. Today, with 6 kids, I can somewhat reliably tell when a homily made a real impact by noting whether anyone can remember what it was about and whether it made a helpful point. What I have picked up over the years is:

    (1) DO pick apart the biblical passage. It doesn’t have to be literally line by line, but you should make an effort to pick it apart, e.g. by laying the context, or by relating it to 2 or 3 other passages, or by tying it to some doctrine, and especially by showing development from one element to the next.

    (2) Do pull in the Fathers and Doctors. You don’t have to read long tracts from them, but show that you have done your homework, and by golly show that this understanding of the passage isn’t novel to YOU, that you are yourself being led by St. Augustine or St. Thomas. (By the way, whatever happened to borrowing HEAVILY from the sermons of the Fathers?) This more than anything: don’t try to be original in the sense of finding the meaning of the passage from your own creativity, you aren’t St. Jerome or St. John Damascene. Just lay out what the saints, the Fathers and the Doctors gave us: your originality can be expressed in how you synthesize what they said for your parish today, but make it clear that this is what the Church teaches, not what you Fr. X teach. (And make sure it IS what the Church teaches.)

    (3) You don’t always have to make the passage “relevant” once you have pulled it apart and put it back together again as an ordered whole. Sure, it helps to sometimes indicate how it relates to today, but often it is obvious and don’t overplay the “relevance” theme. Great truths are inherently relevant. Let them stand on their own two feet sometimes.

    (4) True, a bit of humor is helpful to keep people awake. But frankly, if the content is truly substantive and clear, you will keep most people awake anyway. My kids often don’t get the jokes but remember the substance just fine. You don’t need to keep the jokes up all along, that’s overdoing it.

    (5) People complain about sermons that are too long, but I would complain about sermons too short (if the substance is there): I want my “money’s worth”. There has to be some give and take here: little kids can only sit still so long, but some themes need time to be stated clearly. For Sunday mass, under 14 minutes is usually too short, over 21 minutes is often too long. However, if you have a truly hot sermon that has people riveted and waiting on your every word, 25 minutes might be OK. I was at a mass where the priest gave a 45 minute homily; in the old days, when people were trained to sit still for 2 hours of political debates, that might have worked, but we are sadly lacking in the skills needed to listen that long. You can’t fix that yourself.

    (6) I have heard that priests can ask their guardian angel to quell disturbances by little kids – maybe blocking the interference of demons who don’t want your sermon heard? If so, please do so.