Advice to Priests

I was stunned the other day to have a good man, 25 years a priest, ask me for advice. Not with a specific situation either, just “Do you have any advice for me?” I didn’t know what to say to this priest of God, this man who speaks and the Word is made flesh, who grasps the hands of sinners to drag them back from the edge of that unscalable cliff, who leads people to Christ in a more real way than I ever will.

“Pray,” I said. “Love Christ and his Church and pray.”

But he wanted more. And I always have an opinion, even when I have no right to. So add this to the list of things I have no business giving advice on.1

Image courtesy of Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.

Image courtesy of Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.

If I could ask one thing of priests, it would be this: celebrate the Sacraments like you believe that they’re real. I imagine that most of you do believe that they’re real. And I’ve been privileged to know many priests whose love of the Lord is so powerfully evident in the way they lead their people in prayer. But that’s not always the case. Imagine if you celebrated Mass completely attentive to the fact that you were about to call God down to earth. Wouldn’t it be slower, more reverent, more intense? Wouldn’t you be awestruck, holding the host in your hand? Would you really make do with a quick bow if you honestly believed—or maybe remembered is the word—that Jesus Christ was truly there? More than just doing the red and saying the black (which is a great start), what if you treated the sacred mysteries like they are sacred and mysterious?

In a sacristy in Avila, the words surrounding the crucifix on the wall say, “Priest of Jesus Christ, celebrate this Holy Mass as if it were your first Mass, your last Mass, your only Mass.” If you can’t excite the emotions your first Mass stirred up, can you try to imagine how you would say Mass if you knew you were about to meet God face to face? You are, after all.

I don’t mean to imply that all you really need is emotions—or that if you try hard enough you can manufacture pious feelings. I just mean that your people don’t need good homilies. They don’t need good administrators. They don’t need friendly guys. Those things are all nice, but what they need are pastors who are showing them what holiness looks like. They need to see you and wonder at your love of the Lord. They need to believe that it’s possible to know Christ, and you can teach them that by coming to know him better yourself.

I have some Facebook friends who are priests and will occasionally post with joy about how they love the confessional. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard a bored “Say three Hail Marys now make your act of contrition” after pouring my heart out in the confessional. And I know you’re overworked. But this is sacred: a lost soul crawling home to his Father. What if you heard confessions with the immensity of this work in mind? I know you’ve heard a thousand confessions, and I do hope mine always bores you, but pray. Oh, Father, pray for the grace to remember what it is you’re doing!

Because if you really believed that confession saved souls, that confession was a sinner kneeling at the foot of the Cross and surrendering his hammer into the pierced hands, wouldn’t you do anything to draw people there? Wouldn’t you preach on mercy? Wouldn’t you be in the confessional for hours each day? Or at least for minutes each day? Wouldn’t you offer confession more than half an hour a week? I know you have so much going on. I understand that you’re pastor and teacher and counselor and administrator, but if confession is real, nothing matters more. You have parishioners who’ve been away from the Sacrament for decades because nobody’s asked them to go. Don’t just ask: beg.

From an inspiring post on priests who have given everything for the faithful.

From an inspiring post on priests who have given everything for the faithful.

Baptize babies like it’s the most important day of their lives. Prepare couples for marriage like that’s how God is making them Saints. Anoint like it’s the lifeline holding people to Christ. Confirm like you’re sending soldiers into battle. Spend enough time in private prayer that your public prayer looks more like prayer and less like a formality. The more you love Christ, the more we’ll see that radiating from you. And the more we see it, the more we’ll line up to follow.

I don’t mean to criticize, just to challenge. I’m so grateful for you and for every priest. I have such respect for you and I understand the pressures and the difficulties of wearing a dozen hats and dealing with a thousand different personalities. I know that you’ve got duties that seem to keep you from the confessional and a timeline to stick to for Mass. I know that appearances aren’t everything and that the priest who seems most bored and inattentive might be in deepest contemplation. I know it’s hard to fake reverence when you’re doubting or sick or just doing it for the ten thousandth time. I know that many of you are saints in the making, offering your lives daily for those you serve. Thank you for all that you do and all that you are, for your love of the Lord that  shines through everything you do.

But I also know that sometimes when you make a living challenging others to grow in holiness, nobody challenges you. I don’t speak for everyone, but from one laborer in the vineyard to another: won’t you please show us that you believe what you say? Won’t you please fight for us and worship for us and lead us? Remember the priest you wanted to be 5, 20, 50 years ago and be that man. Be John Vianney or Padre Pio or Don Bosco or Ignatius or Francis Xavier or Ambrose. Be Christ. Be you. But always be his.

My advice to you is the same advice I keep giving myself as I stumble through, halfhearted and distracted: be a saint. Nothing else matters.

  1. Drafts waiting to be finalized include “How to Raise Kids Who Stay Catholic” and “How to Be Good in Bed.” Don’t get too excited—it’s about chastity. []

About Meg

I'm a Catholic, madly in love with the Lord, His Word, His Bride the Church, and especially His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist. I'm committed to the Church not because I was raised this way but because the Lord has drawn my heart and convicted my reason. After 2 degrees in theology and 5 years in the classroom, I quit my 9-5 to follow Christ more literally. Since May of 2012, I've been a hobo for Christ; I live out of my car and travel the country speaking to youth and adults, giving retreats, blogging, and trying to rock the world for Jesus.
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32 Responses to Advice to Priests

  1. annebender says:

    Yes! Yes, this says it all. Thank you for this wise post.

  2. TJ says:

    Meg, if you are ever in the New Braunfels, TX area, you must must must visit the Mission of Divine Mercy, where my brother is a priest. The “realness” of the Eucharist is tangible in the way Mass is celebrated. Website here: http://www.missionofdivinemercy.com/

  3. Katie says:

    This moved me to tears: “Priest of Jesus Christ, celebrate this Holy Mass as if it were your first Mass, your last Mass, your only Mass.” It’s such a powerful exhortation and the only way the Mass should be celebrated.

  4. RuariJM says:

    Thank you, Meg. This was very moving.

  5. Marilynne says:

    You’d make a good Priest yourself Meg. I hope that doesn’t startle you too much. I am not a Catholic, but I have been to Catholic services where the Priest seems to be doing a recitation. Imagine what that looks like to a non-Catholic.

    Keep up the blogs. I love them.

    • I’m also a member (and a minister) in another denomination. Clergy seeming bored during worship are a problem for many denominations, not only for Catholics. Excellent insights, Meg.

  6. Michelle Marvian says:

    Meg, this is an amazing post. I was especially struck by confession and the picture of the priest and dying soldier.

    I am taking this personal, since like you, this advice is for me too and especially as a mom.
    Thank you.

  7. This is great, Meg! I can think of a few priests that really embody the characteristics you have mentioned here. One in particular has a way of elevating the host during consecration that always brings tears to my eyes. Granted, I don’t see him every Sunday, and I usually don’t have my kids with me, but he does a really great job of making the consecration the pivotal moment during Mass.
    Rabia @TheLiebers recently posted…{Somewhat} Wordless Wednesday: Do these pictures make my legs look uneven??My Profile

  8. Fr. Gaurav says:

    Thank you! Thank you for the reminder.

  9. Fr. Henry+ says:

    This is a wonderful reminder whether ordination was last year or 20 years ago. Peace,

  10. Wow. Insightful and thorough. If only we all approached the sacraments this way…what a difference it would make, for ourselves and those around us! And of course, I love the shout out for Don Bosco! #JohnnyB #Salesian #Catholic

  11. Rev22:17 says:

    Meg,

    Nice article — I agree completely with your gist!

    One nit: let’s not forget the importance of being formed by the Word of God as an essential element of our growth in holiness. We DO need good, relevant homilies that challenge us to grow in holiness of life, deepening our understanding of the Word of God and our ability to live by it — and this is precisely why, in the sacred constitution Sacrosanctum concillium on divine worship, the Second Vatican Council (1) sought to expand the body of sacred scripture that we hear at mass and (2) repeated the decree of the Council of Trent, often ignored at that time, that the homily is not to be omitted at masses on Sundays and Holy Days without serious reason. The kicker here is that good homilies are rooted in prayer and ring hollow in the absence of the priest’s own example of holiness of life.

    Some years ago, when I was training to become a minister of communion, the dear Benedictine abbot who was teaching the class us told us never to forget that it is the communicant’s only communion that day, and that it was our responsibility to make that moment special for the communicant. The same is true of all of the sacraments. Indeed, one of the most important benefits of the current faculty for qualified lay people to act as extraordinary ministers of communion is that spreading the privilege of bringing communion to the sick among many ministers allows the ministers to take the time to visit with the sick person and to celebrate the Rite of Holy Communion Outside of Mass properly, making that occasion the special time that it should be.

    Please keep up the good work for the sake of the Kingdom of God!

    Norm.

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  13. Mark Geisler+ says:

    Meg, thank you for this. Even though this is definitely written from a Roman Catholic primarily to Roman Catholics, I found that this speaks to me as an Episcopal priest. Clergy in other traditions, primarily those who exercise leadership in congregations, will also gain much from reading this post. It is SO easy to let ordained ministry simply become a job with an endless “to do” list of tasks that we forget to pray and be centered when presiding in the liturgy. A seminary professor once told us that the people we serve would be our greatest teachers. She’s right! Roman Catholic priests are required to say the Divine Office every day. I think this is a stroke of genius.

  14. Matthew Murray says:

    It was so good to hear this! It is so good to know that people want this. This gave me even more inspiration to continue through seminary.

  15. Deacon Jim says:

    I am preparing for ordination to the priesthood in a month and a priest friend of mine sent this to me. I have printed it out and placed it in my breviary so I can pull it out from time to time as you have encapsulated so beautifully what I, with God’s help. can approach to be in my vocation. Please pray for me–as I will for you.

  16. Sr. Barbara.M. says:

    Yet another really good one, Meg! Keep up the good work and may God bless you.

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  18. Dear Meg: I loved your post. I am an Episcopalian, who has come to love the Mass, partly because of priests who have truly celebrated it. Every priest and every Christian should read this. For we are all part of baptizing babies (and adults), supporting married couples, and setting examples for those who are confirmed. With all due respect, I think you’d make a great priest. Who know what Pope Francis will do next?
    Martie Collins recently posted…But Wait! There’s More!My Profile

  19. big_decision says:

    “celebrate the Sacraments like you believe that they’re real”

    I am seminarist. For last month I am very inspirated by a film, which I saw – “The Recruit”. One man become double agent because of money. When his “friend” asked him WHY?, he told him one story about PRIST&POPE … listen on 1h 43min 45s –> (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvzzDcwjP7Q)

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  21. Thank you, Meg. I am an Irish Columban priest in the Philippines. An Irish-Canadian friend living now in Florida sent me the link to this through Facebook. I was thinking of that photo of the priest with the soldier only the other day. I saw it first in the early 1970s after coming to the Philippines. I hadn’t seen it since then until now. I’ve no idea where it was taken, probably somewhere in Central or South America but it speaks powerfully of the priesthood.

    May I recommend http://fatherdoyle.com/. Fr Willie Doyle SJ was an Irish Jesuit who served as a chaplain in World War I and was killed in August 1917. God bless you.

  22. Yay says:

    By the way, St. Francis wasn’t a priest but a deacon. Just sayin’… (“Be John Vianney or Padre Pio or Don Bosco or Ignatius or Francis or Ambrose”)
    Otherwise, great article. Thank you!

    • Meg says:

      Oh, I was going for St. Francis Xavier–in my mind, if you pair Ignatius and Francis, it’s implied, but you’re right that it’s unclear. I’ll add it–thanks!

  23. Brad Weesner says:

    Dear Meg,

    The Rector of our Episcopalian church just forwarded this post to me, and it’s timeliness and meaning are so wonderful to receive just now. I believe that our priest here lives and practices the reverence and consistency that you have so eloquently spoke of. I’ve been to a number of churches beyond my own am always concerned about what I witness there. It’s so important to me, very important that those celebrating service are PRESENT during the service, and in the moment. I hear some sermons that begin with that certain tone of voice, a very officious tone, and the message is so non-committal that I dont really know what the message was. We are so lucky to have our priest give gravity to the service, laser-beam homily, deeply grounded and private communion, and come from a place of love in everything he does. Indeed his job has become overwhelming with the grounds, office administration falling on him now, the building repairs, Diocesan meetings, and all the weekly details that make him so burdened.

    However, during a service, he is so focused, and calm, and deliberate. The words mean something, and he speaks them clearly and in an articulated way. There is no pontification if you will excuse the term. We feel so lucky to have this traditional respect and honour given to our liturgy. I know that when I take communion, it is the most intimate and private time I have with my God, and our priest is the definite channel of that relationship.

    Thank you so much for your blog posts, I will start reading them straight away. Very well done.

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  26. Thank you Meg. Thank you for reminding me. Thank you for that beautiful image, which I’m going to post in my sacristies. Thank you for helping me to preach. Come Holy Spirit and set us priests on fire!

  27. Beautoful insight from you Meg. I always put this on my mind. Ver helfful.

  28. Kevin Crinks OSF says:

    A most amazing blog, it convicted me of my carelessness at times. Thanks so much for posting it

  29. Hey Meg, I may be late to the party but as a man discerning the priesthood I would just like to say thank you for the reminder and the challenge. I often find it is so easy to get caught up in the motions and lose sight of why we do the things we do, that it can affect our lives and ministry. Thanks for posting such a thought provoking and soul wrenching question. That is what I strive and will continue to strive for when I get ordained, God willing.

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