The purity of the church is undergoing a time of testing. While some are confused, others are angry. Still others are greatly discouraged, and not a few consider leaving because their faith has been badly wounded. While these may indeed be times that try men’s souls, as Thomas Paine said early in our American history, it is also the time for lay men and women to seize Heaven with their prayers for repentance and renewal.
In November 2012, the Congregation for the Clergy rolled out an initiative promoting the sanctification of priests. As such, it sought to engage as many as possible in a ministry of praying for bishops, priests, and deacons, knowing that it would bind “Christian families, educators, and in a special way, priests, especially pastors.” (St. John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution, Pastor Bonus, article 95, §3). Kathleen Beckman, our author, was at this time a laywoman devoted to praying both for priests in very specific ways and for vocations to the priesthood, and she became aware that these efforts needed more focus and direction. She laid out an action plan to promote the initiative and received the blessing of the then-prefect for the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Mauro Piecenza. Since then, she’s written several books, established prayer groups around the world, and has been tremendously influential in helping parishes put intentionality to their aspirations to pray for their priests.
Priests are mandated to pray for themselves by praying the Divine Office and celebrating Mass at least once a day (Code of Canon Law, canon 904), but the demands on the life of a priest can be daunting. Particularly during this recent scandal, several priests have said how much it means to them that others pray for them. In a very real sense, our priests rely upon the prayers of others. The Lord honors these prayers for strength, for purity, for perseverance, for protection and power from the Holy Spirit — it is pleasing to Christ our Lord. His Mother, our mother, the Mother of our Church, indeed wishes to bring to the feet of her Son the intentions we present to her as well. In “Praying for Priests,” Beckman makes this a reality by devoting all 20 mysteries of the rosary to the sanctification of priests.
“Praying for Priests” is a book that is both inspirational and pragmatic. St. John Vianney famously said “when people want to destroy religion, they begin by attacking the priest; for when there is no priest, there is no sacrifice: and when there is no sacrifice, there is no religion” (Life of the Curé d’Ars, p. 281). Beckman underscores that the terrible clergy crimes have no doubt been allowed to develop, degrade, and fester over decades, and only in the last few years has the Church been awoken to the scope of the problems. Small infidelities or compromises have no doubt led to bigger ones. For even a comparative handful of priests to have committed these atrocities is too many for the bride of Christ.
We can offer to repair the insult and injury done to the Lord and to souls by our steadfast faith, our prayer, our sacrifice, and the offering up of our suffering. Kathleen Beckman pulls no punches at the need for ardent prayer during this time of testing. “Like the first responders to any disaster, we can enter into this situation to be rebuilders of the breach,” she writes. “Love for God and the Church will help us to resist the temptation to hurl stones at clerics, the majority of whom are authentic good shepherds. Scripture proposes a better response: to share in the suffering of God’s sinful people, to commit to more prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to atone for collective sins.”
Much as we are tempted to lose hope, we are supported by the knowledge that, prayer by prayer, devout act by devout act, we assemble our ranks, purify our hands, and “put on the whole armor of God.” We get back in the fight, and we do not fight as the world does. The Church will survive these times of testing, and she will do more than we ask or imagine through prayer and prayer alone. I am personally encouraged by The Seven Sisters Apostolate (see their website at https://sevensistersapostolate.org), small groups of lay women who devote themselves privately (or in Eucharistic Adoration) to pray one hour each week specifically for their pastor or priest. I pray that their quiet example would multiply throughout our dioceses.
At a recent diocesan meeting of the Serra Club, where I was honored to share the work of our Permanent Diaconate Formation Program, I was handed a calendar with the name of every priest and every seminarian over a series of months, so scores of members were praying each day for these brave and courageous men. I’m sure there are many other examples, but it’s probably best that we not call them out in public. Their private labors remind us of those who prayed for the Church, ones like Epaphrus of Colosse, who was “always wrestling in his prayers on your behalf, so that you may stand mature and fully assured in everything that God wills” (Colossians 4:12).
“Praying for Priests” is a great tool to help us focus our efforts — personally, via small informal groups, or in more intentional structures. This is the kind of book you should purchase and read through. You may never want to give it to your priest, but the prayers you offer will be inspired by these wonderful thoughts.
(Comments, reactions, or suggestions about a book or resource that might be helpful can be sent to Deacon Rick at firstname.lastname@example.org.)