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A priest fulfils the Will of Christ, and becomes joyful, when he has begun to accept the Cross, in being conformed to Christ in a sinful world. By his union with Christ, and His imitation of Christ, he can be freed to do what he is called to do, which is not primarily to help people with their earthly cares, but above all to bring them and himself towards holiness and salvation, and thereby to play his part in God's plan of salvation.
It is true that many priests deserve more rest; however, some priests are as if hiding away, uncommunicative, loathing ordinary life and interaction. Whether this is because of sin or hopelessness, there is no way to find change, and lasting joy, except through a renewal of their dedication to Christ, Who called them to the Priesthood. With sincere trust in Him, they can fulfil their basic duties and persevere in prayer.
It is dangerous to succumb to spiritual stagnation when a priest or other person goes on prolonged leave, or a lengthy sabbatical, but for far too long, with little relish for prayer, and becoming weighed down with discontent; then it is time for him to look carefully at his relationship to God. Just as a buoy, left under the surface of the sea, becomes encrusted with shellfish and festooned with seaweed, becoming almost unrecognisable, so there is a danger of losing interest in a vocation, or becoming graceless and hopeless, unless changes are made.
Just as a tiny model of a dancer or a Princess turns around on top of a musical jewel box, Our Blessed Lady, Queen of Heaven, looks around her in awe and wonder, as she gazes, first at the men who generously come forward to accept her son's call to the Priesthood, and then, as she gazes at the priests who have persevered for love of Christ and are about to enter Heaven. She admires them all, but rejoices to see the second group receive the reward they deserve.
There is no easy way of being a Christian. The Lord asks each of us to sacrifice whatever impedes our particular vocation. Traditionally, He has asked priests to sacrifice hopes of marriage and parenthood. Religious make sacrifices to live the evangelical counsels: poverty, chastity and obedience. Married people too must be chaste, and faithful to each other, open to life, and making sacrifices to care for their families.
This is what happens when the Faith is not preached in its fullness. A Bishop who has not preached about sin and repentance, Heaven and Hell, but more about self-esteem and trivial matters, will find himself in a Church which appears to be in decline, with fewer priests, fewer devotions, a faithless laity, few signs of hope, and bored school-children. The great drama of salvation, and the Real Presence of Jesus, should be preached with fervour.
Christ asked us to reflect upon which of several priests is the one most like Him. It is the one who teaches the truth about God and man, sin and salvation, Heaven and Hell, though also teaching about love for God and neighbour. A kind attitude in a priest is not enough. Boy Scouts can be kind. A priest must hand on the Truth as Christ did, to make Him known.
Christ died and rose again, to save sinners. He has called men, through the ages, to serve as priests in His Church, to save sinners. If, in their preaching, their celebration of the Sacraments, and their pastoral work, they are not saving sinners from the consequences of their sins, they are failing in their duty. It is not enough to be kind, yet to be off-hand about doctrine, feeble in efforts to draw people from sin to holiness.
God is so lavish in his creativity that there are thousands of creatures which He has designed, hidden in the depths of the ocean, or elsewhere, and so with us; it should not cause us sorrow if all our gifts or creative powers, given by God, are not used or recognised to the fullest degree. With God's guidance, we can be certain that He will use them in the best possible ways for His good purposes.
A call to the Sacred Priesthood is a call to a man, from the Most Blessed Trinity, to accept a way of life in a most exalted state, which no-one can deserve. This call is made in the presence of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Archangels; and loving service as another Christ, in this world, however arduous, will be followed by a glorious welcome in the next.
The Ministerial Priesthood is such an extraordinarily-privileged state that a man is foolish if he accepts that privilege, then neglects his duties. It is a cause for sadness, also, when a man believes that he cannot fulfil that vocation and asks to be laicized. Although he can be saved, if he continues to live as a faithful Catholic, he will not enjoy the sort of glorious entry into Heaven that a faithful priest enjoys, unless he has reached the height of holiness and humility before he dies.
We are not all chosen to be official 'Evangelisers'; yet those who experience the peace-of-soul, spiritual growth and intellectual delight of the true Faith, and who are grateful for life in Christ, are not acting kindly if they don't share the Faith at suitable opportunities, or if they even advise other people to keep on with their mistaken beliefs or superstitious practices. It's as if people on their way to a warm climate can choose whether to take pity on a family they see, huddled in a snowfield, or can ignore them whilst rejoicing in their own good fortune.
The Lord does not give great tasks to those unwilling to fulfil ordinary tasks. If people are not willing to look after their own relations - especially old parents, and young children - they are not going to be able to speak up with confidence, to other people, about the Christian life being a way of self-giving and charity.
We please Christ whenever we act to help and encourage priests in their vocation. We also please Him when we encourage those priests who love to celebrate the Mass in the Extraordinary Form. It is Christ Who has always loved the Mass He instituted, and also developed through His Spirit; and it is Christ Who has inspired Pope Benedict to allow priests the freedom to offer Mass in the Traditional manner.
We sometimes seem to arrive at a fork in the road, as we wonder what God is really asking of us, in life. One way of deciding is to act as the Saints have acted; we don't copy their vocations, but imitate their virtues. If one way ahead requires vanity, self-assertion, neglect of basic duties, and exaggeration of our gifts, it cannot be the way God points out to His friends.
Bishops are called to do more than show out niceness. The Bishops of the Church should act, in their faithfulness and preaching, like a 'wall' of truth and care, to prevent any of their flock from falling into the Abyss. When Bishops neglect to preach about sin, but are mainly concerned to be nice to everyone, they will have to account to God for the souls of those whom they let through the gap in the 'wall', without a word of warning.
As if looking through a colonnade at busy people, a person in the Church who has begun to doubt his vocation feels as if he is isolated, in a dimly-lit place: an outsider, looking inwards, and afraid of greater commitment. Prayer is essential, by him, and for him, if he is to look on his state through the eyes of Christ.
The person who is Baptised is able to receive Confirmation too, and the Holy Eucharist; and so, being fully initiated into the Church, and remaining in a state of grace - it is to be hoped - that person is on a sure road to Heaven as he or she fulfils everyday duties and tries to discern God's plan for his or her life.
Catholics ought to pray earnestly for their Bishops, who have so many people demanding their time or attention, or complaining, or flattering them; and it is easy for some to forget their main purpose: to teach, govern and sanctify those in their care. They will have to account to God for the souls in their care.
No-one forces anyone to water-ski; yet a special vocation requires special dedication. Just as a water-skier can grow careless, or decide to show off, or lose courage at great speed, and find himself humiliated, and reluctant to begin again, so a priest, or any disciple of Christ, can make foolish mistakes, in a freely-chosen vocation, if he is too proud to seek advice, or begins to doubt his gifts, or is afraid to begin again.
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