Catholic priests are on the front lines of the call from Christ to shepherd His people. As living, breathing witnesses to the transcendent reality of the saving mission of Christ and His Church, our priests are indispensable. They give and give their lives to this mission by providing the spiritual food and shelter of Christ. While many of the phenomenal evangelistic initiatives that are fulfilling our call to the New Evangelization, what might not often be thought of is the necessity of spiritually providing for our priests.
In her new book and mission, Kathleen Beckman has given a clarion call to all of us to provide more than just material or financial support for our priests. Rather, she calls all of us to give something much more powerful: prayer.
JARED ZIMMERER: Your new book, Praying for Priests: A Mission for the New Evangelization, is a clarion call to respond to the Holy See’s plan of prayer and sacrifice for priests. In what ways does this call fit in context with the New Evangelization?
KATHLEEN BECKMAN: It is clear that intercessory prayer for priests is at the very heart of the New Evangelization considering what Pope John Paul II wrote in Pastores Dabo Vobis, no.2, “The formation of future priests…is considered by the Church one of the most demanding and important tasks for the future of the evangelization of humanity.”
The sequence of Holy See events between 1951 when Pope Pius XII wrote Evangelii Praecones (Heralds of the Gospel), and 2013 when Pope Francis authored Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel) also helps us to understand the connection. In March 2005, On Holy Thursday, Pope John Paul II directed his last formal letter to all priests, in which he affirms: “Particularly in the context of the New Evangelization, the people have a right to turn to priests in the hope of ‘seeing’ Christ in them (cf. Jn 12:21). Vocations will certainly not be lacking if our manner of life is truly priestly, if we become more holy, more joyful, more impassioned in the exercise of our ministry.”
On October 7, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI convened a synod of bishops on the topic of “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.” At the end of the month, the synod of bishops responded with the following proclamation: “The experience of encountering the Lord Jesus…must be fundamental to every aspect of the New Evangelization. This is the ‘contemplative dimension’ of the New Evangelization which is nourished continually through prayer, beginning with the liturgy, especially the Eucharist…”
Two months later, November 2012, Mauro Cardinal Piacenza, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, wrote a letter to all bishops around the world, encouraging them to ardently promote a worldwide movement of Eucharistic adoration and intercessory prayer for the sanctification of priests, principally through the promotion of an updated version of the Congregation’s booklet Eucharistic Adoration for the Sanctification of Priests and Spiritual Maternity.
The goal of Praying for Priests: A Mission for the New Evangelization is to magnify the Holy See’s plan by expanding catechesis on the interior renewal of the priesthood for the New Evangelization and spiritual motherhood, while emphasizing the complimentary role of the ministerial priesthood and the laity for our respective call to be joyful evangelizers.
JARED: In a time when the priesthood is still marred with the scar of the scandals from the past, how important is it that those devoted to the Church support their priests, not only in the physical sense at their parish, but in the spiritual life as well?
KATHLEEN: Love requires that the laity should not be only consumers of the ministerial priesthood but also contributors. While it is vital to support priests in their parish ministry, their spiritual support is the highest good and the greatest need because it is a divine mandate.
When I conducted research for the book, I was surprised by a majority of Catholic parents who admitted they are not in favor of their children becoming priests or nuns. That is why the book includes a rosary of reparation based on Pope John Paul II’s Salvifici Doloris (On The Christian Meaning of Human Suffering) for priests and laity—both of whom have caused scandal. According to Pope Francis, “Sanctity is stronger than scandal”. The Holy See specifically implored prayer “for the sanctification of priests” as the way forward for the Church. This is part of the universal call to holiness. Holier priests lead to a holier Church, and a holier Church will attract people back to Jesus Christ because holiness is extremely attractive.
JARED: Are there any examples of laypeople who displayed heroic virtue in their devotion to supporting the priests in their life that we might be able to emulate?
KATHLEEN: The book contains an entire chapter on Heroines of Spiritual Maternity wherein the lives of several laypeople are highlight because they displayed heroic virtue in the service of priests. Included is St. Monica, a laywoman, wife and mother whose heroic intercession and sacrifice influenced the conversion of her son St. Augustine. The pleadings and prayers of St. Catherine of Siena, a single laywoman (Third Order Dominican), influenced Pope Gregory XI to return the papacy to Rome in 1377, ending the scandal of the Avignon papacy. Quoted from the Congregation for Clergy booklet is the story of Eliza Vaughan, a laywoman, wife and mother, who came from a strong Protestant family, which helped found the Rolls-Royce car company. After she married Colonel John Francis Vaughn in 1830, she converted to the Catholic faith. During the Catholic persecution in England under Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603), the ancestral family home became a place of refuge for priests during decades of terror in England, a place where Holy Mass was celebrated secretly. She prayed to God for a large family and for many religious vocations among her children. She bore fourteen children and six of her eight boys became priests; two priests in religious orders, one diocesan priest, a bishop, and archbishop, and a cardinal. Of her five daughters, four became nuns in religious orders. Eliza is truly an icon of spiritual maternity that impacted family, church and country.
JARED: What sorts of prayer have you found to be the most efficacious in the context of praying for priests?
KATHLEEN: The most efficacious prayer of the Church is the Holy Mass so I offer my daily holy communion for priests. Another effective way to pray for priests is the offering of a Eucharistic Holy Hour for priestly virtue. In my daily Holy Hour I encounter the Eternal High Priest who imparts a great love for His priests. Praying the Rosary for priests is also most valuable. The book includes testimonies on the benefits of both Eucharistic Adoration and the Rosary. Each has a chapter outlining their historic practice and benefits. There are fresh ways for families, couples, singles, nuns and priests to offer prayers and sacrifices for priests and seminarians. Spiritual exercises included in the book also help in the area of healing and the offering of suffering. The Foundation of Prayer for Priests, an apostolate that coincides with the mission also promotes prayer campaigns such as “Offering Your Advent for Priests and Seminarians.”
JARED: Just as a priest is called to imitate Christ in their devotion to the Church and their vocation, how is it that we who are involved in the New Evangelization might imitate Christ in our devotion to encouraging, praying for and supporting our priests?
KATHLEEN: I think the best way to imitate Christ in our devotion to priests is to look to Mary, Star of the New Evangelization. In Mary, we find the proper love and response to honoring the Eternal High Priest by honoring his chosen brother priests. Fr. Emile Neubert, S.M. gives five reasons why Mary has a special love for priests. In light of these we can begin to imitate Mary’s devotion and support for our priests. 1) Mary sees in the priest a greater resemblance to the image of her Son than in any other Christian of equal holiness. 2) Jesus loves His priests with a distinctive love. Mary shares all the feeling of her Son. 3) It is thanks to priests, above all, that the work of Christ is carried out in the world. 4) In her union with her Son, she foresaw especially those who would continue His mission on earth. 5) She needs priests. It is especially through them that she can carry her mission of giving Jesus to the world.
JARED: What would you suggest as the first steps in the desire to be more intentional in our prayer for priests? Also, where might readers go to learn more about your work and this excellent new book?
First, I suggest that we implore Christ for a new infusion of the Holy Spirit to give us the desire to respond to His mandate to pray for priests and to bestow upon them the first fruits of our prayer and sacrifice. Secondly, we should ask ourselves, “What kind of priest do we want?” To the fullest extent possible, we desire the full transformation of an ordinary man into an icon of Jesus Christ so how can we help in that spiritual transformation? Thirdly, we should ask Mary, Mother of all priests, to obtain grace for us to love and serve priests as she does.
A new website launched simultaneously with the book: www.foundationforpriests.org, containing many resources on a variety of subjects such as priestly identity, intercessory prayer, spiritual motherhood and fatherhood, spiritual warfare, and the New Evangelization. Hundreds of people have subscribed forming a community of spiritual mothers and fathers united in the movement that the Congregation for Clergy desired and that Cardinal Piacenza himself encouraged. Many ‘Foundation of Prayer for Priests Vianney Cenacles’ have formed.
Priests and seminarians report that praying the Pastores Dabo Vobis rosary reflections renews them. Women and men report joy in discovering their vocation to spiritual motherhood and fatherhood. It is exciting to see how God is gathering people into this mission for priests.
The book, Praying for Priests: A Mission for the New Evangelization, is available from Sophia Institute Press or Amazon.com.