I heard a story a long time ago. From a woman who escaped the Soviet Union and came to America.
She told us how lucky we are in America to have priests. She urged us to pray in thanksgiving every day that we have priests.
The communists in Russia outlawed religion. While some religions continued to operate, the government seemed to have a particular hatred of Catholics. Russian communists were familiar with the unique power of priests to consecrate the sacrifice and administer sacraments. So, they sent police to round up the priests. It was easier than rounding up all the Catholics, who were the majority of the country.
In this woman’s small village, the faithful gathered in a safe house on Sundays. They sang the mass. Men would take turns reading the Gospel and the readings.
But there was no communion. No sacrifice. No homily. The faithful went away empty.
On their makeshift altar, they placed an empty chalice and ciborium. They draped a priest’s vestments from the altar, too. But there was no priest to fill it.
At the end of their solemn services, the faithful would silently file to the altar and touch the lifeless vestments offering a silent prayer for the blessing of a priest.
With our justified anger at the abuses by a few priests, we must be careful to realize how great and vital priests are. Jesus gave us priests to confer His graces, to guide our spiritual direction, to absolve us of our sins, to counsel us when the world blocks our path to God. Most importantly, only a successor of the Apostles can turn ordinary bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ Jesus.
Even in this present crisis, the consoling words of priests give me the most hope and comfort.
I have been blessed to know so many great priests. Yes, I knew one who disgraced the church by abusing children. He went to jail.
For that one bad priest, I’ve known more than 100 fine priests. When my daughter died, two priests practically lived in our house. They prayed with us and for us. They rallied the parish to aid and comfort. They became our holy servants.
For the past week, we’ve all vented. Priests were the focus of our anger. It is time, now, to thank God for the priests, religious, and dedicated laity without whom our faith would wither in frustration.
Today, I dedicate my prayer and fasting in thanksgiving for our priests. May God bless them and comfort them. And may the Holy Spirit guide many young men to respond to His call to join that noble pantheon of great men whose vocation lets us nourish our souls with the body and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
What would we do without them?