Want healthy spiritual leadership in the world today? Pray for it. That’s the ongoing work of Kathleen Beckman: to encourage the rest of us to pray for priests. She’s the author of the book Praying for Priests. We talk about the mission. — KJL
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Why is it so important to pray for priests?
Kathleen Beckman: In my book I quote Fr. John Hardon, S.J., who explains why we must pray for clergy: “We should pray for priests and bishops because this has been the practice of the Church from apostolic times. It’s a matter of revealed truth. It is a divine mandate.” When we know the gift of God and cherish the sacraments received through priests, we are moved to gratitude for their selfless service to God and to us. Praying for priests is a graced response to our gratitude and charity for them.
Lopez: You quote St. John Vianney: “When people want to destroy religion they begin by attacking the priest; for when there is not priest, there is no sacrifice: and when there is no sacrifice, there is no religion.” Is it really all that bad?
Beckman: The Eucharist is the “source and summit” of Catholicism. We can imagine the dire consequences of having no clergy, no sacrifice (Mass), no Eucharist, no absolution of our sins. Most practicing Catholics would shudder at the thought of the Church without ministerial priests who make Christ present sacramentally. St. John Vianney said, “Leave a parish 20 years without priests; they will worship beasts.”
Lopez: Whose “mission” is this praying for priests?
Beckman: Praying for priests is the spiritual responsibility and mission of every Catholic. Rome’s Congregation for the Clergy published a booklet in 2012 in which they implore the universal Church to engage in “Eucharistic adoration for the sanctification of priests and spiritual motherhood” (www.foundationforpriests.org). This mission is well suited to children, families, Religious, laity and clergy, young and old. People suffering in hospitals and nursing homes can participate not only by prayer but also by offering up their suffering. In living the mission of spiritual motherhood or fatherhood we contribute in a real way to the universal mission of the Church and engage in a spiritual work of mercy.
Lopez: How is “Falling in love with Christ” business you write about not nonsense? Not unhealthy? Not propping up unhealthy celibacy?
Praying for priests is the spiritual responsibility and mission of every Catholic.
Beckman: As mentioned in my book, a favorite quote penned by Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J. is a worthy response to your query: “Nothing is more practical than finding God, i.e., than falling in love in an absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”
Christ’s love for the Church is “spousal love” — Jesus is the Divine Bridegroom of the Church. The saints are perfect examples of authentic, heroic lovers of God and Church. There is nothing unhealthy about falling in love with God. It is a healing, holy reality since at baptism we are plunged into the love life of the Most Holy Trinity. Falling in love with God is our graced response to God loving us first.
Lopez: We’re all busy. How can a busy family make this a part of their lives?
Beckman: Family prayer should be primary, practical, and beautiful. On our website, www.foundationforpriests.org, there is a section on family prayer with many simple resources. I am aware of dioceses and parishes that are successfully promoting some of the following.
I map out eight ways to foster family prayer for priests and vocations:
- Create a sacred space in your home that will be warm, welcoming and conducive to family prayer. Simple settings that include a crucifix, a statue of Jesus, Mary or favorite saints and angels, candles, flowers, holy cards are ideal. Let this be considered holy ground where the family communes with God.
- Obtain from your diocesan directory (often available online) the names of the seminarians and/or priests in your diocese and pray for one or more by name. Children may also appreciate having a picture of a few priests whom the family spiritually adopts.
- Attend Mass together as often as possible and offer your Holy Communion for priests who need the most spiritual assistance that day.
- Pray a rosary or a chaplet of Divine Mercy together for seminarians and priests. Remind children that Jesus is the Eternal High Priest who loves them.
- The father and the mother should bless the children before going to bed; offer their children to God; and include a prayer for a vocation to the priesthood or religious life.
- Teach your family to offer up sacrifices and/or their sufferings for priests who are engaged in helping other families with difficulties such as unemployment.
- Keep a family prayer journal with a list of intentions including the seminarians and priests that you pray for by name.
- Invite a priest or seminarian over to your home for a simple visit, or to share a family meal, or to watch a good spiritual movie (perhaps the life of a saint). Try to provide a brief time when the family and the priest can offer a prayer together.
Lopez: What should we even think about priests? It often seems we only read about them if they are doing something wrong. Perhaps we only ever think about them on Sundays or when necessary for some function.
Beckman: Our opinion about priests often depends on what we think about Jesus Christ and His Church and our experience. From the time I was in grade school to the present, priests have been a part of our family as friends and counselors. We hosted a priest prayer group in our home for years.
We hope to encounter Jesus Christ in each priest. As mentioned in my book, some priests have caused grave scandal and deeply disappointed our expectations. But the vast majority of priests radiate the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Recently Pope Francis reassured Rome’s priests that “sanctity is stronger than scandal.” It is true. A holy priest is the healer of many wounds.
In my book I quote Cardinal Dolan: “In her human side, the church can be imperfect, sloppy and corrupt. We admit her flaws, but we love her all the more because she is Christ on the cross. For most of us Catholics, we are born into the church. Catholicism is in our DNA, our bones, our genes. We might drift from our spiritual family for a while, just as we do with our human family. At times we are scandalized or confused by it. But it is our family, our home.”
At times Catholics are more consumers of priests than grateful recipients and co-operators with their ministry. Not to excuse the serious sins of some priests, scandal is not exclusive to them. I have been scandalized by the lives of some prominent laity also. By praying for priests we build up their spiritual armor and aid their transformation into Christ. A priest is a human person but he is uniquely, ontologically configured to Christ, the Eternal High Priest.
Lopez: Why is reparation so important?
Beckman: In the book I wrote a scriptural rosary of reparation because the church has always taught the importance reparation for sin. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, n.2412, n.2487, n.2454, n. 2509, teaches that every offense committed entails the duty of reparation, even if its author has been forgiven. The greatest offering of reparation is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Whether we offer reparation for our sins, or the sins of priests or family members, we are participating in a spiritual work of mercy that is necessary for the salvation of souls and pleasing to God.
Lopez: How is Mary an “icon of spiritual motherhood”?
Beckman: An icon is a window into truth and beauty. We gaze at an icon to help us enter into a mystery of faith. Mary is the most perfect icon of spiritual motherhood because of her unique role in salvation history. Authentic spiritual motherhood is rooted in the Immaculate Heart so Mary can “mother us” in the mission of spiritual motherhood, especially of priests. Mary’s divine maternity began at the Annunciation with her “yes” to God. Her spiritual maternity of all souls, especially priests, was emphasized at the foot of the Cross when Jesus said to Mary, “Behold your son” referring to John the beloved disciple.
Lopez: Why would our prayer lives be incomplete without recourse to Mary?
Beckman: St. Louis De Montfort explains in his “Secret of Mary” book, “We must discover a simple means to obtain from God the grace needed to become holy. It is precisely this I wish to teach you. My contention is that you must first discover Mary if you would obtain this grace from God. As in the natural life a child must have a father and a mother, so in the supernatural life of grace a true child of the Church must have God for his Father and Mary for his mother.” Mary is the exemplary “prayer” because of her singular union with the Divine Will, the fruit of her Immaculate Conception. Mary’s Spouse, the Holy Spirit, is the One who prays within us (cf. Rom. 8:26).
Lopez: What is spiritual motherhood anyway?
Beckman: God created all women with a unique feminine dignity and the potential to bear life, both physically and spiritually. Spiritual mothers are women of the Church, women of grace, and women of Marian virtue — the greatest of which is charity. Love by its nature is self-giving, and spiritual mothers place themselves at the service of God’s plan for the salvation of souls. Spiritual motherhood includes birth pangs, but the offering of suffering in union with Jesus brings forth new life for priests, families, and the entire world. It is through the sacramental rivers of grace that a woman, as a daughter of the Church, receives her spiritual life. In turn, she, as a spiritual mother, becomes a vessel of life-giving grace. A spiritual mother encounters the Eternal High Priest in the Eucharist and then, like Mary, carries Christ to others, offering prayers and sacrifices along the way. To priests, she mirrors Mary.
Lopez: How do “the things of God tend to draw us up into beautiful mysteries worth pondering”?
Beckman: Scripture teaches, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things” (Phil.4:8). The things of God, of heaven, are true, good, and beautiful. They are mysteries not to be solved but to be entered. When I prayerfully ponder divine mysteries, I take my eyes off of me, and focus on God. This grounds me in Jesus Christ, and orients me to the things of Heaven.
Lopez: How are you certain of this: “When we perceive holiness, we not only respond with appreciation, but we also desire to have it for ourselves”?
Beckman: Holiness is attractive. Personal sanctity is palpable. People are drawn to the perceived beauty of a person striving to be holy. We see this in modern history in the immense popularity of St. John Paul II and Blessed Mother Teresa. Holy people inspire us to be the best version of ourselves. When I am with saintly people, I am uplifted in every way. I work beside some very holy priests who inspire me to become holier, more Christ-like.
Lopez: Why should any non-believer care if people are praying for priests?
Beckman: Whether or not people are praying for priests may not be on the radar screen of non-believers. That may be less offensive to God than if Catholics are indifferent to praying for priests. A priest is a witness in the public square and his presence often ignites emotions that vary from good to bad.
Lopez: “If the priest is to remain completely available to God and His people and willing to embrace suffering, he needs perennial renewal.” Is there anything more practical than prayer the faithful can do to help this?
Holiness is attractive. Personal sanctity is palpable. People are drawn to the perceived beauty of a person striving to be holy.
Beckman: On this subject, in the first chapter of the book, I quote Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s work, “The Priest is Not His Own”: “…other activities, of course, are not to be sneered at. Out of hundreds of possible ways of fostering vocations, prayer was the single one Our Lord specified.” In the second chapter I quote the Congregation for the Clergy, “In today’s world a great many things are necessary for the good of the Clergy and the fruitfulness of pastoral ministry. With a firm determination to face such challenges without disregarding the difficulties and struggles, and with an awareness that action follows being and that the soul of every apostolate is Divine intimacy, it is our intention for the departure point to be a spiritual endeavor: a movement of prayer, placing continuous Eucharistic adoration at the center.”
Lopez: Can the laity really “jump-start” a priest’s heart? How is that possible? Have you seen it happen? Where are people doing this?
Beckman: My spiritual father was a Trappist Monk for 17 years before he became a diocesan priest who was appointed the Director of the Cursillo Movement, a responsibility he fulfilled for 26 years. He was deeply moved by the personal testimonies of thousands of men and women on their Cursillo retreat. He often said, “Through the witness of the laity I experienced what true sanctity looks like amid ordinary life.” I work beside many priests in Magnificat and the Pope Leo XIII Institute (a ministry dedicated to training priests for the ministry of deliverance). Priests often share how the witness of the laity edifies their hearts. When we burn with zeal for God, we light the fire of charity in others also.
Lopez: What is Eucharistic amazement? Why does it matter?
Beckman: Eucharistic amazement is a term used by St. John Paul II in his encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia: “To contemplate the face of Christ, and to contemplate it with Mary, is the ‘program’ which I have set before the Church at the dawn of the third millennium summoning her to put out into the deep on the sea of history with the enthusiasm of the new evangelization.” It is the program by which we will recover our joy for evangelization. A lack of Eucharistic amazement and joyful witness contributes to people leaving the Church, especially the young. We might ask, when is the last time that I was truly amazed by Christ in the Eucharist? Eucharistic amazement matters because we are created to worship God in spirit and truth. Recent popes have taught that the Eucharist is at the heart of the New Evangelization.
Lopez: What has Pope Francis meant for the priesthood?
Beckman: In a word, challenge. Pope Francis has challenged believers and non-believers alike. He is the spiritual father of the universal Church. He challenges priests away from worldliness, complacency, diversion, and discouragement, to openness to the Holy Spirit, toward the surprising works of God. He has called priests back to basics. Unfortunately the secular media seems to only report what appear to be the Roman Pontiff’s scolding comments directed towards priests. One would do well to visit the Vatican website and read the Holy Father’s complete texts to better understand the mind of the Vicar of Christ on this (and other) topics of importance.
Lopez: How can we better prepare priests for the pope’s visit? Is that a backward question to ask?
Beckman: The papal visit of Pope Francis is very exciting for America. That priests encounter Jesus through His Vicar’s visitation in September, we can pray for all priests to receive the pope’s fatherly blessing, affirmation and inspiration. Such gatherings are opportunities for amazing grace.
Lopez: What worries you most when it comes to the priesthood?
Beckman: In today’s frenzied, secularized culture, my primary concern for clergy is the cessation of their prayer lives because of the myriad of demands on their time and talent. When the priest ceases to pray, his spiritual life can dry up. He cannot give to the people of God what He does not have. Priests need time to commune with God in the intimacy of personal prayer. I very often offer my daily holy hour for the priest who, because of too many duties, missed his time of prayer and personal intimacy with Christ.
Lopez: How did this become such an area of concern for you?
Beckman: Because I work with priests as an Ignatian spiritual director and retreat leader, I am aware of how difficult it can be for priests to balance countless duties in the care of souls with personal prayer. Priests are called to radiate the heart of Jesus for all people. Theirs is a privileged calling but it is not easy. By God’s design our prayers and sacrifices are necessary for priests. We must ask, “What type of priest do we desire, and how can I support them spiritually?”
Lopez: What are you most grateful for when it comes to priests?
Beckman: I am most grateful to priests for saying yes to God’s call to complete self-emptying love in service to the Church, for making Jesus present in the Eucharist, for absolving my sins in the sacrament of reconciliation, and for radiating the love of the heart of Jesus.