Pray for Priests! An Urgent Call Based on a Teaching by Robert Cardinal Sarah

One of the most consistent concerns expressed both by my readers and by attendees at the various talks I give, is the large number of tepid and problematic clergy. We clergy give our people much to endure, yet for the most part they are so very patient and loving with us despite our foibles and idiosyncrasies.

Most of the people are highly concerned about the widespread silence and/or vagueness of the clergy in the face of the grave moral meltdown in our culture. At best, many pulpits are silent or replete with abstractions and generalities. At worst, some pulpits and clerical teaching contain outright errors or ambiguities that (intentionally or not) mislead and confuse the faithful.

There are, to be sure, numerous exceptions to these concerns. There are many fine, hard-working priests who teach courageously and clearly, with love and zeal. However, the problem is widespread enough that it is a common concern of the faithful.

Cardinal Robert Sarah, in his recent book The Power of Silence Against the Dictatorship of Noise, presents an insightful analysis of the problem and its causes. He relates the problem to a lack of prayerful silence on the part of many priests, who find little time for prayer let alone deeper silent contemplation. He begins by referencing Fr. Henri Nouwen, who once said,

Silence is the discipline by which the inner fire of God is tended and kept alive … Especially we [priests], who want to witness to the presence of God’s Spirit in the world, need to tend the fire within with utmost care … [Yet] many minsters have become burnt-out cases … in whom the fire of God’s Spirit has died, and from whom not much more comes forth than their own boring and petty ideas and feelings; … It is as if [they] are not sure that God’s Spirit can touch the hearts of people [cited in The Power of Silence, p. 77].

Here are two key insights. First, a priest who is not accustomed to silently praying and listening to the voice of the Lord begins to hear only the voice of the world and to parrot its slogans and often insipid, ephemeral notions. The voice of Christ and the light of the Gospel grow dim, and his mind centers more on vain things and worldly notions. Gradually, he “goes native,” taking up the mind of the world, fleshly notions, and even the doctrines of demons.

Second, a priest can slip away from the “still, whispering voice of the Lord.” He can begin to lose trust in the power of God’s grace to touch and change people’s hearts. Vigorous preaching is rooted in confidence about both the truth proclaimed and the power of grace to bring about what the revealed Word announces. It is true that the Lord’s teachings are often challenging to the faithful, but this did not trouble Christ who, knowing the power of grace, did not hesitate to point to the highest truths and confidently summon the faithful to trust in His grace and mercy to get there! Without deep prayer, we lose our trust in God and in His people.

Gradually, as Nouwen notes, a priest’s untended inner fire grows cool and the numbness of the world extinguishes his joy, zeal, confidence, and love. The demands of the Gospel come to seem unreasonable or even impossible to him. And because he sees the Gospel as too challenging he is hesitant to preach its demands. As the inner fire grows dim, he slips into watering down the Gospel message, into the obfuscation of abstractions and generalities, or into outright denial of the harder truths.

Cardinal Sarah warns priests of this tendency and its outcome:

Christ is certainly distressed to see and to hear priests and bishops, who ought to be protecting the integrity of the teaching of the Gospel and of doctrine, multiply words and writing that weaken the rigor of the Gospel by their deliberately confused, ambiguous statements. It is not inopportune to remind these priests and prelates … of Christ’s severe words: “Therefore I tell you every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven … either in this age or the age to come. [He] is guilty of an eternal sin” [Ibid., pp. 77-78].

Thus, as both Fr. Nouwen and Cardinal Sarah point out, priests who let the fire of God grow dim and who no longer trust God or His people, sin against the Holy Spirit. They do so because they come to doubt or even deny the power of grace to make possible the satisfaction of the Gospel’s demands. Human flattery and worldly perspectives are preferred to the Holy Spirit’s urging to announce the Gospel plainly, lovingly, and without compromise. Human weakness becomes the baseline for what is expected. God the Holy Spirit is dismissed as irrelevant or incapable of perfecting God’s people. This is a sin against the Holy Spirit and a disastrous end for a priest, especially one who has reached the point of outright misleading God’s people and confirming them in sinful and erroneous notions.

Therefore, I ask all of the faithful to pray often for priests and bishops. In our human weakness, we clergy can stray from prayer. From there, the fiery zeal of God and the joy of the truth give way to the thinking of the world and to a lack of confidence in preaching without compromise. From the point of compromise, things just keep getting worse.

In his book, Cardinal Sarah references St. Augustine’s own plea for prayer, and I will conclude with that:

It is not my intention to waste my life on the vanity of ecclesiastical honors. I think of the day when I will have to render an accounting for the flock that has been entrusted to me by the Prince of pastors. Understand my fears, because my fears are great [p. 79].

Tu es Sacerdos in Aeternum by Vivaldi:

13 Replies to “Pray for Priests! An Urgent Call Based on a Teaching by Robert Cardinal Sarah”

  1. Very good post. It is obvious to the laity which priests spend time in Adoration on a daily basis and those who give it no credence. Sadly, as the pastor goes, so does the parish. I am blessed to have many holy and spirit filled priests where I live. Everyone should know that priests and bishops are going to be attacked on all sides by the enemy so they do need our prayers. I can’t stress that enough.
    I highly recommend a Seven Sisters Apostolate for every priest and bishop so that they may be covered in prayer, every day. My hour of prayer in Adoration for my pastor is the best hour of my week.

  2. Holy silence is a fruit of holy peace. You can be in a noisy world, like Jesus was in His Life, and be at peace with the world so you can contemplate God. You can be in a quiet world, like His Soul was in Sheol, and be at peace with the world so you can preach the Gospel.

  3. Growing up we were told our name was of French origin and our paternal ancestors were from France. Our name was unique enough in that if you were to find someone with that name we were most certainly related if not somewhat distant.The French could be such a peaceful and surrendering class of people that even their language is refered to as one of the romance languages. The internet has afforded many opportunities to explore and research many questions one might be looking for an answer to. I was informed by relatives and given information about our family history years back and geneologist theorized how the family name was probably a Germanic origin of the name Baldrahmni meaning ‘Baldrahmn’s dwelling.” That just didn’t really sound logical because our name was Pondrom and nothing like Baldrahmni. in my quite time I would troll the internet trying to understand the orgin of our family history and name. What I discovered and learned was that our ancestors lived in and came from the Luxembourg area. There is a village in what is now part of southeast Begium called Pondrome which according to what is known, goes back to ancient times during Roman conquest and occupation. Julius Ceasar led and invading conquest in 57 B.C. of what is now the european countries northwest of Italy. The area my ancestors came from was called Gallia Belgica by the Romans and the Romans held control of the area for four to five centuries. The regional tribes were not pleased when the Romans decided to winter garrisons there to control local area uprisings, resistance or invasions from the Germanic tribes east of the Rhine River. In looking back over where we originated and the events in their history, I had an epiphany. During the centuries the Romans controlled the region, the locals came to speak Vulagr Latin as the every day language over their ancestral Celtic and Germanic influences and this later evolved into the romance languages of French Spanish, Flemmish and the others. Our ancestors came to speak a dialect of French refered to as Walloon and the Germanic tribes east of the Rhine refered to our people as the Wallahs. Studying and understanding the past of where we came from led to a realization that Pondrom wasn’t French or German but rather Vulger Latin. The “Pond” half of Pondrome was Latin for”weight”as in a measurement of, which is where the english word pound derived from. The other half of the village name was “rome” and Rome was the capital city of the Roman empire. So the name of the village Pondrome isn’t Frech anymore than our family name is. Pondrome means “the weight of Rome” and the weight of Rome was the Roman army. Pondrome was historically noted for being strategically located between two major cities and along an improtant road for travel. It is unlikely my ancestry is of Roman descent but at some peroid when sir names were becoming the soup of the day an ancestor took Pondrome as his name such as Jean Baptiste of Pondrome and over time the “of” and the “e” were dropped. When I look back at the history of the Catholic Church prior to the late 1960’s, I remember a priesthood that was “the weight of Rome.” Somewhere along the way they lost touch with their ancestry and started thinking they are French. They might try doing a little historical research. If you don’t know where you came from how can you expect to get us back home. Wallah. Carpe Diem.

  4. Hosea 4: 6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. 7 The more they increased, the more they sinned against me; I will change their glory into shame. 8 They feed on the sin of my people; they are greedy for their iniquity. 9 And it shall be like people, like priest;

    The first and the last part of this scripture always seem to get my attention. Like people – like priest. If we don’t pray for our Priests they are in a world of hurt. It seems like a vicious cycle. The people stiffen their necks, run off to sins, and stop praying for their priests. The priests having a huge target on their backs find their arms sagging in silent prayer, look around and find few, if anyone, to help them lift their arms back up in battle (think Moses). Then the battle begins going badly.

  5. If God is,in the Present Moment. How can anyone hear Him without silencing the noise inside and outside?

    May our priests silence their hearts and minds and find the mystery of God’s light and love, now! May they Be what He wants,them to Be

  6. Thankfully at our parish, the priests and parishioners know the value of sacred silence.

  7. “I always begin my prayer in silence, for it is in the silence of the heart that God speaks. God is the friend of silence – we need to listen to God because it’s not what we say but he says to us and through us that matters.” Mother Theresa

  8. Does every American know that Antonio Vivaldi was priest? It is told about his musical genius that when celebrating holy mass he would often pause, then rush into the sacristy to write down music!

  9. Clergy = Bishops + Priests + Deacons. In my experience, your excellent comments apply equally well to Deacons.

  10. I would recommend reading the document “Eucharistic Adoration for the Sanctification of Priests and Spiritual Maternity” and visiting The Foundation of Prayer for Priests website. There is definitely a growing movement among the laity to suppport priests in prayer.
    It would be great if every diocese had an organized effort to pray for priests like the one for the Archdiocese of Detroit (Facebook page Parishioners for Priests).

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