I felt the nudge of the Holy Spirit telling me, “Go pray with him.”
I had just been to a conference on the previous weekend to learn about praying with others. I did expect the Lord would tell me to pray with someone eventually. But I didn’t expect it to happen soon, nor did I expect the kind of person He would send me.
The usual daily Mass was changed to a communion service because the priest was away. The Lord was telling me to go to the deacon after the service and pray with him.
But I stalled. “Lord, what business do I have to pray over a person who is ordained, who has years of formation, who has far more experience in the spiritual life?” I asked.
I left the church, quite sure the Lord couldn’t be calling me, and even more sure that an ordained person would not accept prayer from some random lay person. But I felt guilty. In the parking lot, I tested God. “If he comes out right now, then I’ll go pray with him.”
Guess who came out right then?
I summoned the courage to ask if I could pray over him and he eagerly accepted. He started to cry as I spoke the words of my prayer. I could tell that the Lord was working through me and that this person I looked up to and assumed didn’t need some lay person’s prayer really did need it. He was just a regular person like me who needs prayer from any person who cares enough to do it.
On August 4th, we celebrated the Feast of Saint John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests. In my earlier life, I had committed an error of clericalism, assuming that clergy - because they represent Jesus - didn’t need prayers. I assumed they were closer to God than I was, so they didn’t have any problems or that their prayers were answered almost immediately. I assumed they didn’t sin because they knew the rules so well. I figured they were going right to heaven.
But we have plenty of stories in the news right now to tell us that certainly is not the case. I weep with sadness over stories about “300 predator priests” being investigated and awaiting canonical trial in Pennsylvania and seminarians and priests reportedly facing harassment or taking part in inappropriate activities with a now demoted Cardinal.
In the earlier days of my life, I might have been more shocked. Right now, I’m especially sad for the way these priests sinned. Was it pride? Did they think they’d never be caught? Did they think they were above God?
Those who are ordained need prayer. Just like the laity, they are tempted by one or some or all the seven deadly sins of pride, wrath, gluttony, greed, sloth, envy and, yes, lust. They have moments of fear, doubt and dryness in prayer just like the laity. But they don’t have it easier than the laity. They have it harder. Evil works harder to tempt the clergy; their sins cause more damage and cause greater scandal, taking down other souls with them.
Pray for them in their temptation. They sin too. They need conversion too. They are being purified just as we are being purified.
Commend your clergy to Mary. Put them under her mantle. She loves them more than their earthly mothers do. They hold her Baby in their hands. They transmit Him in the sacraments. They are charged with the care of her Son’s Church. Imagine her tears at the loss of ordained souls. She would do anything for them.
Pray for your priests, deacons, and bishops. Their job is to help you to get to Heaven. And your job is to make sure they come too. Love your clergy. Pray for them like they are members of your family. Because they are.
Saint John Vianney prayer for priests
God, please give to your Church today many more priests after your own heart. May they be worthy representatives of Christ the Good Shepherd. May they wholeheartedly devote themselves to prayer and penance; be examples of humility and poverty; shining models of holiness; tireless and powerful preachers of the Word of God; zealous dispensers of your grace in the sacraments. May their loving devotion to your Son Jesus in the Eucharist and to Mary his Mother be the twin fountains of fruitfulness for their ministry.