True Priesthood, a Love Story
Many years ago in the sun-drenched
The romance stayed true, despite the terrible sacrifice it
had exacted. Gonzalo and Catalina rejoiced at the birth of three sons.
Love’s joys do not protect the lovers from hard reality, though. Gonzalo,
raised in luxury, was worn down by the dire poverty he now lived in. When
the youngest son was only two, Gonzalo died a young man. The cruelty of de Yepes family did not relent with the death of their
son. It did not relent even with the death of their grandson a year
later. Catalina left
Juan, the youngest boy, possessed a sharp and observant character. His parents’ marriage had inscribed onto his heart an understanding of true charity. Gonzalo never crawled back to his parents in order to buy a few more comfortable years on this earth. Juan learned from his father that love is worth dying for. Juan would later write,
“O living flame of love! How soothingly you wound… The taste of heaven around! Death done, you lift us, living from the tomb” (1).
Catalina did not become embittered or despairing.
Devotion to her sons and the memory of her husband focused her thoughts on
survival, not regret. Because of hi
True love makes no compromises; it demands that the lover give everything.
Juan never grew to an average man’s height. His growth
was stunted due to malnutrition and periods of outright starvation. But
even as his physical stature was underdeveloped, his heart and soul
flourished. The soil of Juan’s heart was tilled and made fertile by a
powerful example of true love. It wa
“…when love burned bright with yearning, I arose…and how I left none knows – dead to the world my heart in deep repose;… no other light, no guide, except for my heart – the fire, the fire inside!…That led me on…to where there waited one, I knew – how well I knew –” (2).
He said yes to this One and became a priest. Juan joined the
Carmelites, and became one of its greatest reformers. He is recognized
today as a spiritual master, a uniquely talented poet, and a doctor of the
Church. Juan de Yepes is known to us as
No greater love hath man than this, that he should lay down his life for his friends (Jn 15:13). A priest’s love for the Church is truly a great unrecognized love story. Gonzalo de Yepes sacrificed all his wealth and even his family for the lower born Catalina. Similarly, a young man who marries the Church turns his back entirely on a lucrative career, often endures the misunderstanding of friends and family, and is even subjected to questions about his sexual orientation. Catalina endured constant temptations to despair and bitterness, but stayed true to her love of her husband and sons despite never receiving an earthly reward for her faithfulness.
A priest suffers temptations to discouragement and impurity from movies, advertisements, TV shows and even members of his own congregation. He is faithful to his life long priestly vows despite having no earthly confirmation that all he has sacrificed for is true. Gonzalo and Catalina were in effect martyrs for their marriage.
A priest also endures life long martyrdom for the sake of
his beloved. He dies to every possible enticement this world has to offer:
prestige, comfort, even authority over his own life for her sake. Just as
The priesthood is a love story on another level as well.
Jesus loves us, His Church, deeply and personally through His sacraments
dispensed by His priests. We can receive the precious Body and
Blood of Jesus and adore Him on the altars only if a priest has first consecrated the bread and wine.
St. Francis of
Jesus forgives our sins and renews a soul to its baptismal
innocence through a priest. St. Faustina
relates these words of Jesus in her diary, “When
you approach the confessional, know this, that I Myself
am waiting there for you. I am only hidden by the priest.”
A priest I know once had a miraculous confirmation of this teaching while
hearing a woman’s confession. When the time came to
For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins (Heb 5:1). Sometimes we take this sacramental love of Christ for granted. Imagine what your faith life would be like without priests: no Mass, no confessions, no priest present at the death bed of a loved one or your death bed, no sacramental marriages — a life empty of sacramental grace.
In countries where the faith has been persecuted, Catholics
don’t have to imagine this scenario, they have lived it. Sr. Mary
Grace Kelly, SRMSHJ. started her religious life in
Now, of course, in light of all the horrific scandals
involving priests of late, it is clear that not all complaints are petty.
Some are just. So we unfold the third part of this love story — our response to
“If the monks are excellent the priests will be good. If the monks are good the priests will be fair. If the monks are fair the priests will be an abomination.”
Having all the recent headlines in mind, want to take a guess at which of these three options describes the times we currently live in? We don’t have “fair monks and nuns” we scarcely have any monks and nuns at all! The consequence of few monks and nuns praying for priests is all around us. Now in actuality, the number of priests and Bishops who have perpetrated evil is a very small percentage of all priests. But the horror of the acts and the fact that the men doing them represent Christ has severely traumatized the victim, the Church and the world. The Cure D’Ars’ quote illustrates perfectly the “workings” of the body of Christ. Until our monasteries are full of excellent nuns and monks, and in fact even when they are, it is up to us lay people to pick up the slack and pray for our priests.
When my brother
Fast forward twenty years. I happened to catch a Mass
that this same priest was celebrating. When I learned that he was the
celebrant that day, I braced myself to encounter similar antics to what
I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou gavest me out of the world; …I am praying for them…I am
glorified in them (Jn17:6-10). At the Last
Supper Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist and the priesthood. Jesus
spent a good deal of time before His crucifixion praying for His newly ordained
priests. As in all
things, we do well to follow Our Lord’s example; we should also pray for
priests. We never need fear that in the case of a bad priest our prayers will
conceal or consent to the evil he does, or even take the place of action.
Scott Hahn reminds us that the worst form of God’s wrath is when He does
nothing. When an offending priest is defrocked, put in prison or never
ordained that is God’
We have only a couple of months left in the Year of the
Priest, let us show our gratitude to a generous God and to the generou
1 – The Living
Flame of Love, Songs of the soul in its intimate communion of union with God’s
2 – The Dark
Night, Songs of the soul, which rejoices at having reached that lofty state of
perfection: union with God by the way of spiritual negation.