The other night, another priest and I were discussing something that we've seen and heard a lot recently. In their kindness, people have commented, "We're praying for all of you good priests." These days, the"good" qualification, it seems, is often assigned to those who haven't abused children, covered it up, or preached outright heresy. But to be honest, that's a pretty low threshold!
It's not that we don't appreciate the prayers, but we'd be happier if you'd just pray for us period. We're not always good priests any more than any of you are always a good husband, wife, father, mother, teacher, or friend. I hope that we're trying to be good and holy priests, but some days it's easier than others. We don't want you to pray for us because we're good because sometimes we are not. Sometimes we're average, below average, or just plain failures. We want you to pray for us so that we will become more like the One who alone is Good.
Following the words of St. Paul, "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God . . . "(Rom 8:28). The present crisis in the life of the Church is likely being used by the Lord to purify all of us and make us holier. You would have to be a total spiritual knucklehead not to have examined your own conscience during these past weeks. While the vast majority of priests are not guilty of the serious sins (and crimes) that today fill the headlines, we are all, nonetheless, confronted these days by our own failures, sins, and negligences. Many of us (I don't think it's only me!!) are seeing anew the nobility of our vocation, and we are more aware of our own failures to live out that calling in imitation of Christ, the Good Shepherd. It's a grace that this is happening, but it's not a cheap grace. The Lord is pruning us, removing from us every branch that does not bear fruit, and even the branches that are bearing fruit, he prunes so that they bear more fruit. Pruning is costly, but it is fruitful.
While there was only one Judas among the Twelve, the other Eleven didn't boast and say, "Well, we may have denied and abandoned Jesus, but at least we weren't as bad as Judas." They weren't known as the "Eleven Good Apostles." They were men called by Christ, men who were sinners in need of continuing conversion and sanctification.
There is nothing more consoling than to hear from people that they are praying for us. So please, pray for us priests. But, don't pray for us because you think we are good. Pray for us because we are called to holiness. Pray because the Church needs holy priests. Pray for us because "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23). Pray that we become not just good, but that we become perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.
Thank you for praying for us.