Priesthood: January 2013 Archives

Sitting on the basket

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Catholic Schadenfreude

I grieve over the prevalence of the culture of Schadenfreude that modern technology facilitates. Schadenfreude is a kind of perverse delight taken in the weaknesses, falls from grace, or misfortunes of another. Why is there a frenzied rush, even among some Catholics, to point to the latest scandal, to comment on it, and discuss it? What is there in us that prompts us to take a morose delight in uncovering the sins of others? I often think of this wonderful story from the sayings of the Desert Fathers:

Brother, Be Careful
There was a brother who kept a woman in his cell. The other fathers decided to go and expel him from the monastery. An abba heard about this and visited the brother beforehand. The brother hid the woman in a basket, before the abba came in the door. The abba then proceeded to sit on top of the basket and converse with the brother until the other fathers came to visit. The abba ordered the other fathers to search the cell and find this woman. Not finding her, because the abba (who had a gift of seeing hidden things) was sitting on the basket containing her. The abba then chastised the fathers for falsely accusing the brother and judging him. They asked for forgiveness and left. Then the abba got off the basket and told the brother, "Brother, be careful" and left.


There are, of course, grave situations in which one is bound, as a matter of justice or to protect the vulnerable, to intervene in the matter of another's sin, but this should always be done with the utmost discretion and respect for all concerned. In the Gospel, Our Lord provides us with a plan of intervention:

If thy brother shall offend against thee, go, and rebuke him between thee and him alone. If he shall hear thee, thou shalt gain thy brother. And if he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more: that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand. And if he will not hear them: tell the church. And if he will not hear the church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican. (Matthew 18:15-17)

First of all, then, one must approach the offender and speak to him privately. If this fails to touch his heart, one should repeat the intervention in the presence of two or three witnesses. Only if this also fails to move the sin-sick brother's heart, should one have recourse to the Body of the Church. Only if he hardens his heart against the Church, that is, against the Body of Christ, should he be counted as the heathen and publicans. Most importantly, all of this takes place personally and in real time, not in the media that technology has placed at our finger tips as a two-edged sword.

The Scarlet Letter

Is it not reprehensible -- especially when one has no personal, face-to-face and heart-to-heart, knowledge of the individual concerned -- to call attention to the weaknesses and sins of a man? We live still in the accusatory culture of The Scarlet Letter. Even in Catholic circles, Calvinism (or Jansenism, which is a kind of Catholic Calvinism) thrives. How different this is from the merciful culture of the Desert Fathers, so imbued with the spirit of the Gospel.

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Nothing Worse
The old men used to say, "There is nothing worse than passing judgement".
Abba Makarios
They said of Abba Makarios that he became as it is written a god upon earth, because just as God protects the world, so Abba Makarios would cover the faults that he saw as though he did not see them, and those which he heard as though he did not hear them.
If You Are Chaste
Abba Pastor said, "Judge not him who is guilty of fornication, if you are chaste, or you will break the law like him. For He who said, "Do not commit fornication," said also "Do not judge."
Abba Moses
A brother in Scetis committed a fault. A council was called to which Abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it. Then the priest sent someone to him, saying, "Come, for everyone is waiting for you". So he got up and went. He took a leaking jug and filled it with water and carried it with him. The others came out to meet him and said, "what is this, father?" The old man said to them, "My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the errors of another." When they heard that, they said no more to the brother but forgave him.
Where Do You Want Me to Throw Him?
One day Abba Isaac went to a monastery. He saw a brother committing a sin and he condemned him. When he returned to the desert, an angel of the Lord came and stood in front of the door of his cell, and said, "I will not let you enter." But he persisted saying, "What is the matter?" And the angel replied, "God has sent me to ask you where you want to throw the guilty brother whom you have condemned." Immediately he repented and said, "I have sinned, forgive me." Then the angel said, "Get up, God has forgiven you. But from now on, be careful not to judge someone before God has done so."
Abba Poemen
A brother asked Abba Poemen, "If I see my brother sin, is it right to say nothing about it?" The old man replied, "Whenever we cover our brother's sin, God will cover ours; whenever we tell people about our brother's guilt, God will do the same about ours."

Abba Poemen said, "If I see my brother sin" -- today one may not see one's brother sin, but one can read about it, often in lurid detail. How much more, then, are we bound to cover our brother's sin and observe silence concerning his guilt.

A Favourite Story of Mine

I could bring forth saying after saying and story after story from the lives of the Desert Fathers, for theirs was a culture of mercy, marked by the meekness of the Heart of Jesus. There is, nonetheless, one final story from the Orthodox Christian East that I must share because I so love it.

Once there was a priest who got drunk on Saturday night and stayed very drunk well into Sunday morning. His intoxication notwithstanding , the poor priest rose the next day and staggering, set out for church to serve the Divine Liturgy. An Angel, sent by the Lord, stopped him in his tracks, however, and tied him to a tree, lest he go into the church, and approach the altar, and bring disgrace upon himself and upon his holy priesthood.
When his wife went into church, she saw him at the altar, serving the Divine Liturgy, and was struck by the unusual radiance and beauty of his countenance. Leaving church, after the Divine Liturgy, she was making her way home when she came upon her husband tied to a tree! "Batushka!" she said, "how is it that you are tied to this tree when I saw you, only moments ago, serving at the altar?" "Matushka!" he replied, "An Angel of the Lord stopped me on my way to church and tied me to this tree, promising to assume my likeness and replace me at the altar this morning, lest my drunkenness bring shame upon me and upon my holy priesthood." "Verily," said his wife, "I saw you at the altar, but your countenance was like that of an angel, and the beauty of it more than I ever remember seeing."

In a Vessel of Clay

The story does not recount whether or not the wife untied her husband from the tree. The meaning of the story is that, no matter how sinful a priest may be, the indelible character of the holy priesthood engraved upon his soul by the Holy Ghost is, at all times and in all circumstances, worthy of profound respect. A poor drunken priest, a vessel of clay, was deemed worthy by God of the ministrations of an Angel, for the sake of the inestimable treasure hidden within.

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Votive Mass of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Yesterday (Friday) morning we had the Votive Mass of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ (Humiliavit). It is, to my mind, one of the most beautiful Votive Masses in the Roman Missal. The Collect is addressed directly to Our Lord Jesus Christ.

O Lord Jesus Christ, who didst descend from heaven to earth from the bosom of the Father, and hast poured out thy Precious Blood for the remission of our sins: we humbly beseech thee; that at the last day we may be found acceptable in thy sight, and receive thy gracious invitation: Come ye blessed of my Father.

God Descends

The little phrase who didst descend from heaven to earth recalls the words that God, speaking out of the burning bush, addressed to Moses.

And knowing their sorrow, I am come down to deliver them. (Exodus 3:8)

God comes down. The fulfillment of this descent is, of course, the Incarnation of the Son of God. He descends from heaven into the Virgin's womb. He descends into the manger at Bethlehem. He descends into Egypt as a refugee child whose very life is threatened. He descends to Nazareth. He descends into the ordinary life of every child of Adam, and so knows hunger, thirst, weariness, sorrow, tears, loneliness, and fear. He descends into the humiliations of His bitter Passion. He descends into death. He descends into the tomb. He descends into Hades.

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In the Most Holy Sacrament

Even ascended into glory where He is enthroned at the right hand of the Father, He descends day after day to the altars of His Church, where, lest we forget the mystery of His coming down, He hides Himself beneath the appearance of a fragile piece of bread. The Most Holy Eucharist is the mystery of the humility of God, the humility of God who comes down to the point of pouring Himself out utterly. This is what Mother Mectilde de Bar calls the anéantissement of the Son of God in the adorable Sacrament of the Altar: the mystery of the All-Powerful God descending so low as to assume the appearance of bread. For love of us, sinners, and because that love compels Him to remain with us, and to nourish us with His own Body and Blood, He hides Himself and remains silent in the Most Holy Sacrament.

Lesson: Zacharias 12:10-11; 13:6-7
Thus said the Lord: I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn. In that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem. And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends. Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered, saith the Lord Almighty.

The Holy Spirit

The Spirit of grace and supplications is none other than Holy Spirit, apart from whom, according to the teaching of Saint Paul, no one can say, Jesus is Lord. (1 Corinthians 12:3) The Spirit of grace and supplications, says the Apostle,

. . . helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings. And he that searcheth the hearts, knoweth what the Spirit desireth; because he asketh for the saints according to God. (Romans 8: 26-27)

Adoration and Reparation

It is, then, the Holy Spirit -- transmitted to the Church on Calvary in the breath of Jesus Crucified, and flowing out His pierced side -- who compels some souls in every generation to abide before the Son of God, humble, hidden, and silent in the Host, in profound adoration and reparation.

"They shall look upon me whom they have pierced," says the Lord. The Holy Spirit directs the gaze of the soul to the One who, in glory and in the Sacrament of His Love, remains the Pierced One. One cannot gaze upon the Pierced One, the immolated Lamb, the Victim of the Altar, without experiencing the sweet bitterness of compunction and reparation.

A Great and Sorrowful Mystery

Seeing the fairest of the children of men, the Only-Begotten Son, wounded in His Heart, His feet, and His hands, one is compelled to ask, "What are these wounds in thine hands?" The wounds in the hands of Christ -- His hands raised in prayer, His hands extended in blessing, His hands baptizing those darkened by sin, His hands nourishing souls with the Bread of Angels, His hands anointing the sick -- these wounded hands signify His priesthood. "Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends." (Zacharias 13:6). This is a great and sorrowful mystery: Christ's hands wounded in the house of His friends.

I Have Called You Friends

What did Our Lord say to His apostles, to His first priests, on the night before He suffered? "I will not now call you servants: for the servant knoweth not what his lord doth. But I have called you friends." (John 15:15) Before doing anything at all -- even before preaching the Word of God and dispensing His grace in the Holy Mysteries -- priests are called to be the friends of Jesus -- not mere acquaintances, nor business associates -- but friends. The house of the friends of Jesus is the Church. It is in the Church that Jesus is wounded in His hands: wounded in His priests, and wounded by His priests. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger spoke prophetically of this in 2005 in his meditation on the ninth Station of the Way of the Cross:

Should we not also think of how much Christ suffers in his own Church? How often is the holy sacrament of His Presence abused, how often must he enter empty and evil hearts!How often do we celebrate only ourselves, without even realizing that he is there! How often is his Word twisted and misused! What little faith is present behind so many theories, so many empty words! How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the Priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him! How much pride, how much self-complacency!

Adoration and Reparation

Yes, Christ suffers in His own Church; He is wounded in His hands, and this in the house of His friends. To souls who grieve over the suffering of Christ in His own Church, the Holy Spirit proposes the only fitting response: adoration and reparation. Adoration allows us to kiss the wounded hands of Christ; reparation allows us to press them against our own wounds and against the wounds of all His priests. "He was wounded for our iniquities, He was bruised for our sins: the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by His bruises we are healed." (Isaiah 53:5)


Letter to Mothers of Priests and Seminarians and to all those who Exercise the Gift of Spiritual Maternity in their regard on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Mother of God

Causa nostrae Letitiae - Cause of our Joy!

Mother of God, Gate of Heaven, Cause of our Joy

The Christian People have always venerated the Blessed Virgin Mary with profound gratitude, contemplating in her the Cause of our every true Joy.

Indeed, in welcoming the Eternal Word into her immaculate womb, Mary Most Holy gave birth to the Eternal High Priest, Jesus Christ, the only Savior of the world. In Him, God himself has come to meet man, he has lifted him up from sin and he has given him eternal life; that is, a share in his very own life. By adhering to God's Will, Mary participated in a unique and unrepeatable way in the mystery of our redemption, thereby becoming the Mother of God, the Gate of Heaven and the Cause of our Joy.

Mothers of Priests

In a similar way, the entire Church looks with admiration and deep gratitude upon all mothers of priests and of those who, having received this lofty vocation, have embarked upon the path of formation. It is therefore with deep joy that I address myself to them.


The sons whom they welcomed and educated, in fact, have been chosen by Christ from all eternity to become his "chosen friends" and living and indispensable instruments of His Presence in the world. Through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the lives of priests are definitively taken up by Jesus and immersed in him, such that in them it is Jesus himself who walks and works among men.

Frail Humanity, Elevated by the Power of the Holy Spirit

So great is this mystery that the priest is even called alter Christus - another Christ. His frail humanity, elevated by the power of the Holy Spirit to a new and higher union with the Person of Jesus, becomes a place of encounter with the Son of God who became incarnate, died and rose for us. For when a priest teaches the faith of the Church, it is Christ who speaks to the People through him. When he prudently guides the faithful entrusted to him, it is Christ who shepherds his sheep. And when he celebrates the Sacraments, in an eminent way the Most Holy Eucharist, it is Christ himself who through his ministers continues the work of man's salvation and makes himself truly present in the world.

Parents' Love and an Early Education in the Faith

Normally it is in the family, in the parents' love, and in an early education in the faith that a priestly vocation finds that rich and fertile soil in which availability to the will of God can take root and draw the nourishment it needs. At the same time, every vocation also represents for the family whence it comes an irrevocable change that exceeds all human parameters and calls everyone to conversion.

Having Carried in the Womb One Who Has Become Christ's Minister

Every member of a man's family and all those persons closest to him are involved in this change, which Christ brings about in the life of those whom he has chosen and called. But the participation given to mothers of priests is quite unique and special. For unique and special are the spiritual consolations which they derive from having carried in the womb one who has become Christ's minister. Indeed, every mother cannot but rejoice in seeing the life of her son not only fulfilled but also clothed with a most exceptional divine favor which embraces and transforms it for all eternity.

Every Mother of a Priest Mysteriously Becomes a "Daughter of Her Son"

If an unexpected "distance", mysteriously more radical than any other natural separation, seems to be created in relation to the life of one's son through his vocation and ordination, in reality the Church's two thousand years of experience teaches us that when a man is ordained a priest, his mother "receives" him an a completely new and unexpected way; so much so that she is called to see in the fruit of her own womb a "father" who by God's will is called to generate and accompany a multitude of brothers and sisters to eternal life. Every mother of a priest mysteriously becomes a "daughter of her son." Towards him, she may therefore also exercise a new motherhood through the discreet yet extremely efficacious and inestimably precious closeness of prayer, and by offering of her own life for the ministry of her son.

A New Fatherhood

This new "fatherhood" - for which the Seminarian is prepared, which the priest has been given, and which benefits all God's People - needs to be accompanied by assiduous prayer and personal sacrifice, in order that a priest's free adherence to the divine will may continually be renewed and strengthened, that he may never tire in the battle of faith, and that he may unite his own life ever more completely to the Sacrifice of Christ the Lord.

An Army of Praying Mothers

This work of true support, which has always been essential to the life of the Church, today seems more urgent that ever, especially in the secularized West, which awaits and stands in need of a new and radical proclamation of Christ. Mothers of priests and seminarians thus represent a true and veritable "army", which from earth offers prayers and sacrifice to heaven, and from heaven intercedes in even greater number so that every grace and blessing may be poured out upon the lives of the Church's sacred ministers.

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Spiritual Motherhood of Priests

Therefore, with all my heart I wish to encourage and offer special thanks to all mothers of priests and seminarians - and along with them to all consecrated and lay women who have received (perhaps through the invitation addressed to them during the Year of the Priest) the gift of spiritual motherhood towards those who are called to priestly ministry. By offering their lives, their prayers, their sufferings and their hardships as well as their joys for the fidelity and sanctification of God's ministers, they have come to share in a special way in the motherhood of Holy Church, whose model and fulfillment is found in the divine maternity of Mary Most Holy.

Mothers Departed This Life

Lastly, we raise a special hymn of thanks to heaven - to those mothers who, having already been called from this life, now contemplate in all its fullness the splendor of Christ's Priesthood in which their sons have become sharers, and who intercede for them in a unique and mysteriously far more efficacious manner.


With heartfelt wishes for a New Year full of grace, I warmly impart to each and every mother a most affectionate blessing, and I ask the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and of Priests, to grant you the gift of an ever more radical identification with her, the perfect disciple and Daughter of her Son.

Mauro Cardinal Piacenza
Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy

[Zenit Translation by Diane Montagna]

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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