Thoughts on the Priesthood


Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

Monsignor Ronald Knox

Father James M. Gillis, C.S.P.

compiled by

Father Rawley Myers

HTML Version formatting by Fr. Gary Coulter

Thoughts on the Priesthood

By Monsignor Ronald Knox

No man is a sufficient explanation of the life that beats in him.

Jesus spent thirty years of hidden life to show us the importance of prayer.

The unruly motions of our hearts are stilled before the Tabernacle. Here we can take refuge, as in a sudden harbor, from the buffetings of the world.

Religion cannot be divorced from life.

The houses of silent prayer where men and women serve God - there lies the heart of the Church. In the houses of contemplation you your will hear the beating of her heart.

Parish priests lives ought to be modeled on the pattern of Christ, with the double character of energy and repose.

The Sacred Heart says, "Come unto me, and I will give you rest." For every soul that has really learned to love our Blessed Lord and to abide in His love, there is a fortress of inner peace. That is how the saints contrived to undertake such vast labors.

Since He has given you the grace to be active in His service, ask one more grace of Him; ask that you may learn of Him how to rest quietly in His love.

There will always be excuses for not praying. But if we neglect prayer we become in our work fussy, impatient, irritable, despondent, jealous and critical. Our influence on others lessens and we live in an atmosphere of tension which we communicate to others.

As man looks after the animals, so God would have priests to look after His faithful, to guide them and feed them spiritually. It is part of God's courtesy, that He associates human agents with Himself.

The priest in the sacraments unseals the fountains of grace.

A priest at Mass should not be a distraction to the people.

A young candidate at ordination is prostrate on the floor, waiting like a dead thing for the Holy Spirit to come and quicken him into a new form of life.

A priest, as the years pass, will be tempted to settle down into a rut, satisfied with formal pieties.

It is a futile effort to hide oneself from the Divine pursuit.

How easy it is to neglect prayer and take refuge in our work or in our comfort.

God is looking for you, the tool that once glittered so bright with the oil of consecration.

The laity expects us to know Christ. That is our business. Familiarity with Him only comes from prayer.

Christ is waiting for you in the Blessed Sacrament. You have only to cast yourself on your knees.

Penance for the priest is the lash of the parish complainers and the hairshirt of the parish bores.

Don't let us be neglectful in our devotion to the Holy Spirit; the ambassador must keep in touch with headquarters.

We must never forget we as priests are special friends of Jesus Christ.

Pride comes out in us as ambition, as vanity, as obstinacy, as touchiness.

There is nothing like avarice for shutting up the sympathies of the human heart.

Nothing gives so much scandal, of a suppressed kind, as the perpetual suspicion that the clergy are out to make money.

It is pure penance to go to church and get a long harangue or scolding about money.

There is, at the moment, a distrust of organized religion - some of it has to do with the constantly clanking collection basket.

There is too much of the drill-sergeant about many of us; scolding in the confessional, I suppose, means six souls lost for one saved.

You go to the pulpit with nothing prepared, and all your grievances come out with a rush and a roar.

It is the want of trust in God that makes us worry about our defects.

Believe me, if the Catholic Church had depended on human prudence for her survival, she would have gone into liquidation centuries ago. Everything is in God's hands.

God means us to suffer; it is good for us.

Part of the reason why God put you in the world was to increase the patience of other people by your defects. You with your bad temper, your excessive cheerfulness, your tiresomeness in conversation - he chose the right person, didn't he?

Your peace of mind. That's the one thing you can't afford to lose. Lose your peace of mind, and you lose your concentration of purpose, your capacity for recollection, your attentiveness to God's call and inspiration. Without peace of mind, you are swept away by gusts of resentment and self-pity, and grievances prey on you and haunt you like a nightmare.

Constant criticizing makes a person bitter.

The thrill of novelty in the priesthood, as everywhere, does wear off. Without prayer, your priestly life becomes mechanical and flat. Prayer and spiritual reading help to get us out of our rut.

Having been ordained, you know that God meant you to be a priest, and He is faithful to His word. He promises you the graces you need to be a good priest.

When you feel blank in prayer, you can offer this up to God. You can reach out towards Him humbly, in the dark.

An old prayer: "Lord, if you wish me to be in the light, blessed be your name; if you wish me in the dark, blessed be your name. Light and darkness bless you the Lord."

We must constantly beware of merely external religion.

There is ecstasy in self-surrender.

Trust in God is what the Psalms are all about. "Throw back on Him the burden of all your anxiety; He is concerned greatly for you." God takes care of His own.

God is full of mercy and pardon.

Everything is out of focus until it is focused not in ourselves but in God. He is guidance in our difficulties.

In an age like ours, so full of questionings and false philosophies, the mind is exposed, as on a bare nerve, to the chilling airs of doubt.

"May our charity burst into flames, and set all around us on fire."

Sooner or later a man has got to grow up. A person must learn to possess his own soul before he really grows up.

As we grow older our passions are cooled, the demands we make on life are fewer, and we gain a calmness of view.

Some older men are touchy and jealous of their privileges, just when you would think these toys meant nothing to them.

Don't get your prayers cluttered up with a long litany of names.

It is wasting time to picture all the sacrifices God might call on us to make.

We must surely have a certain amount of time for relaxation if we are to keep fresh.

Prayer isn't self-torture; it is talking to God.

God does not need to be told we are sinners. He wants us only to throw ourselves at His feet, and He will take us by the hand.

We haven't nearly enough confidence in God's goodness.

In death we put away the toys we poor mortals make such a fuss over.

Just for once say sincerely, "This is the day which the Lord has made, rejoice and be glad," and do not waste the day in complaining.

Thoughts on the Priesthood

By Father James M. Gillis, C.S.P.

In His will is our peace.

We know God in the heart and mind before we reason Him out.

Few, if any of us, are big enough to suffer greatly.

Love rules the world.

God is in our room with us. "Be still and see that I am God." Silence and adoration.

Jesus loved solitude but He did not shrink for helping men in the bustling, busy world. He alternated between communing with God and helping people. Both are essential for the priest.

St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that it is best w h e n contemplation "flows over into action." Jesus did not find it impossible to combine the two.

The Scripture says: "The mercy of God is beyond all His works."

Being at peace with oneself is the characteristic of the Christian.

To be selfish is to be full of my own emptiness.

Pride is the never-failing vice of fools.

To the sinner, St. Augustine says: "You are seeking happiness. Seek what you seek but it is not where you seek it."

One test of common sense is the ability to laugh at yourself. False mystics are humorless.

The false "holy man" runs to absurdity, and alienates the people.

When man creates a god, he creates a demon.

The soul needs only to be prepared for the Lord with silence. "Speak, O Lord, for your servant listens."

Astounding phenomena and the unusual are in no way essential to sanctity.

Some professors cannot disentangle themselves from the mystic maze of learning. Today every man has become his own philosopher and theologian. "How many heads - so many opinions."

No one can make progress in religion if in his soul there is no awe, no respect for mystery, no sense of his own littleness. One must go to God with a humble and contrite spirit.

There is a higher kind of prayer than prayer with words. Some people run on too much with wordiness in prayer.

Aldous Huxley speaks of our times as "organized madness." Another observer writes of the nonsense that some of our educationists speak, the horrible jargon in which they express themselves, and the shabby mediocrity of their minds.

St. John said simply, "This is Eternal Life that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent."

The primary purpose of pain is purification. If it fails that then it is largely wasted.

If God were only just, then none of us would see salvation. We must depend on His mercy. Puritanism emphasizes pitiless justice; authentic Catholicism looks rather to the mercy of God.

The maddest ideas, the strangest theories always find some youthful minds to adopt them, for they are always in search of novelty.

Jesus said to the self-satisfied "thinkers" in Jerusalem: "The harlots shall enter heaven before you."

Too many times we are half-hearted, part-time followers of Christ.

God's gifts to us, such as intelligence, are not to be spurned or left unused. The parable of the talents tells us this. An unused intellect condemns one as an unprofitable servant. To spurn the use of the intellect is a sin.

The true scholar is humble. But there are those who have knowledge without wisdom. This is dangerous, for there is "no fool like a learned fool." The intelligentsia are those who have been educated beyond their intelligence.

Pompous "experts" wrangle over words - while the world starves for the message of Jesus.

"I have found Him, whom my soul loves; I have held Him and I will not let Him go."

Thomas A. Kempis says of prayer: "Beware of much talk: remain in secret and enjoy thy God."

St. Francis of Assisi prayed all night on the mountain but with only one phrase, "My God and my All." It could be partly our many words in prayer that keeps us chained here below; mere mechanical repetition. Fewer words with greater deliberation and intensity might do what torrents and oceans of words do not achieve.

In parishes there are always some elderly people whose example is better than the lectures of theologians and the preaching of pulpit orators.

In prayer it would be a pity if when the Lord is trying to say something to us we should miss hearing Him because we are talking too much; still more if while we think we are talking to Him we are really talking to ourselves.

Once after St. Teresa was deep in prayer, someone asked her what she said. She answered: "There are no words."

To grow kinder is always to grow wiser.

Our Savior did not return less a man after touching elbows with the crowds. But He often spent the whole night in prayer.

St. Teresa wrote "Let nothing disturb you, nothing frighten you. All things are passing. But God never changes. He who has God has everything."

Without God there is a dreadful loneliness in the soul.

It would have been better for the clergy down through the centuries if they had felt about kings and palaces and fine garments more as Jesus did.

A dreary hopeless pessimism has sunk like a thunder cloud on the minds of many modem writers: they deny their destiny. Theirs is a dismal miserable philosophy of nihilism which destroys human dignity and all faith and hope. They wallow in self-pity and curse their fate.

St. Teresa: "The Lord attaches no importance in prayer to our hurting our heads with a multiplicity of words."

"The Lord is compassionate and gracious, patient and plenteous in mercy. His mercy is from everlasting to everlasting."

Americans are often lacking in reflection. Of old, the philosophers would have considered a man irrational who did not daily sit down and contemplate.

In meditation, fire blazes forth.

Men today are frightened off from God by the hard work of prayer and meditation. After the first enthusiasm, they drop out.

Thomas Merton said: The most dangerous man in the world is the contemplative who is guided by nobody. He identifies the will of God with anything that makes him feel a big, warm interior glow. Such a man can wreck everything in a parish or community. He has wandered into a spiritual blind-alley and he rests in a snug little nest of private emotion. Nothing is more irritating than the pseudo-saint, one who has certain mannerisms that pass for sanctity but who manifestly lacks the essentials of holiness. Such persons are frequently inconsiderate, unkind, cantankerous and censorious.

Saints are a happy race - not sourpusses. St. Teresa wouldn't tolerate a novice with an unhappy or unpleasant disposition.

The first dogma of the worldly philosophy is that one must conform.

No one who catches and absorbs the spirit of the Gospel can be a pessimist.

The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.

God seems to take delight in making us work for what we get.

If you seek wisdom and counsel, you shall find it in quiet persons rather than in the talkative.

In our indictment of others, we often make a revelation of ourselves.

Too much penetrating self-analysis can be dangerous and lead to despondency.

Can it be that many of the writers of spiritual books are making too great demands upon us?

Many modern philosophers cancel each other out. Their ideas are "confusion confounded. The times are out of joint."

When Jesus looked upon Jerusalem and its worldly ways, He wept.

There is currently a lack of reverence for God, for life, for people and property, for country. At the same time there is the exploitation of the lowest and stupidest mass-emotions in people, in order to get their money away from them.

Sin crucified the soul of Jesus before His body was crucified.

"Beware of low ideals!" Cardinal Manning said: "Priests are lost by low ideals."

The essence of heaven is love.

The cruelest thing that could happen to us on the day of judgment would be to be treated ourselves as we treat others.

He who commits sin is the slave of sin. Nothing is so blinding and enslaving as lust.

Father Faber said: "Kindness has converted more sinners than either zeal, eloquence or learning."

Thoughts on the Priesthood

By Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

The more rich a soul is on the inside, the less need it has of luxuries on the outside.

The condition for incorporation into the Resurrection of Christ is incorporation into His death.

In Communion there is an exchange, we give self-denial and we receive life.

St. Augustine said that there is no need to look outside for a sheep to offer to God. Each person has within him that which he can crucify.

Could it be that one reason for the fewness of vocations is our failure to stress sacrifice?

Satan at the beginning of the public ministry tempted Christ to reject the way of suffering by offering Him three short cuts to His kingdom without the cross.

Spiritual prosperity in a parish is produced by self-sacrificing priests who separate themselves from the spirit of the world.

A worldly priest discourages people from coming to the Lord.

St. Paul: "Who can be our adversary, if God is on our side?"

The Eternal Lover lives on in heaven still making intercession for us; God's mercy never tires.

We as priests speak for the dumb, atone for the sinful, plead for the Judases and intercede for those "who do not know what they are doing."

We should give generously to every collection to which we ask the people to contribute.

The one who surrenders to the material and allows himself to be possessed by it is like a drowning man going down in the water.

When we surrender to God, we get ourselves back ennobled and enriched.

It is one thing to be popular, another to be influential. In the proportion in which we seek what the world can give, we become unable to give what the world needs.

God rejects all counterfeit. He abhors sterile priests.

We are only branches; He is the vine.

Union with Christ, thinking and acting like Christ, does not come simply from ordination. It demands mortification.

Chastity is fire, zeal for the Lord. If the priest is a father, then God may properly inquire: "Whom have you begotten in Christ?" Woe to those who are barren!

Has administration taken precedence in the life of many priests over evangelization? Has organization swallowed up shepherding? Are the sheep in the fold to be used for shearing? How many priests devote themselves seriously to the "other sheep who do not belong to this fold?"

The Holy Spirit has not called us to be mere bankers, real estate men, or blueprint experts. Such activities are at best incidental to our primary function of teaching Christ to the people- How much time does the priest spend in administration and maintenance, and how much time to Christ and proclaiming His message?

We cannot be sacristy priests, Christ tells us: "You must go out to the street-corners, and invite in all whom you find there."

Conversions are not more difficult in our times than before, but the approach must be different. Today people are looking for God because of the disorder they find in their hearts.

People will not turn to us if we do not appear to the unbeliever as different from anyone else. Priests willing to sacrifice and suffer for Christ always inspire.

What would Christ be without the cross? A sociologist spreading whipped cream on socially disapproved behavior; a psychologist reducing guilt to a complex and banishing sin as a "hangover" from savagery; a preacher too polite to mention hell or divorce; a reformer for whom all discipline is masochistic and who proclaims self-restraint and moderation as unnatural and in conflict with the biological urge to self-expression.

Christ without the cross would be a weak, effeminate Christ unable to save us from sin; just as the cross without Christ is tyranny.

One's spiritual exercises are noted by the youth of the parish who are felt drawn to Christ. To see a priest meditating does more for an altar boy's vocation than a thousand pieces of inspirational literature.

God does not shout; He whispers.

The Church is in danger when the laity are more spiritual than the clergy.

The priest's holiness helps to make the faithful holy. In a parish, spirituality begins at the top.

Every worldly priest hinders the growth of the Church; every saintly priest promotes it.

When the shepherd is lazy, the sheep are hungry: when he sleeps, they are lost; when he is corrupt, they grow sick.

The masses hunger for knowledge of heaven.

Unbelievers will not go to hear philosophers, but they will go to hear saints.

Priests may never be many, we may never be wise in the eyes of the world, but whatever we do must be done through the foolishness of the cross.

"Put yourself In God's hands. He will show you your work."

Pascal: "There are only two classes of men who can be called rational - those who serve God with all their hearts because they know Him, and those who seek Him wholeheartedly because they know Him not."

Each priest must first win the spiritual victory alone and within himself, before he can repeat that victory in the lives of others.

Evil is conquered by prayer, not by complaining and ranting.

Though we dispense holiness, we are not automatically holy.

Plato observed that there is a war in each of us against himself. And so did St. Paul. Anyone who does not take up the sword against that lower nature is destroyed by it.

The spiritually undeveloped priest has a protracted infancy of pettiness; he is ruled by the flesh and not the Spirit.

Sin which does not come out in confession to be washed away by contrition and absolution, often comes out abnormally in complexes, such as imputing evil motives to others, or hypercriticism, or even despair.

Before the sin, Satan assures us that it is of no consequence; after the sin, he persuades us that it is unforgivable.

To doubt forgiveness is the beginning of hell.

Do we organize soul-saving with the same zeal as we organize drives? Do we make a door-to-door canvas for converts?

Through pain God teaches us.

It is comfort that makes us shrink the work of conversion.

Instructing is not arguing.

To save souls we must be holy: God does not use dirty tools.

Our exhaustion is sometimes ennui due to the lack of prayer. Nothing is so fatiguing as boredom. And this turns us into moralistic naggers.

There are two kinds of knowledge about Christ, speculative and practical; the former comes from study, the latter from prayer.

The priest can convince an incredulous, perverse and luxurious generation only by the acts of virtue opposed to these vices.

The priest who has not kept near the fires of the Tabernacle can strike no sparks from the pulpit - only scoldings and harangues.

If a priest fails to feed his parishioners with the word of God, they may well be the first on the day of judgment to demand his punishment for having left them spiritually starved.

When the Holy Spirit guides us, prayer immediately rises above the level of petition.

How much beyond all our theology is that divine hunger by which God draws us heavenward.

Every trial enriches the soul. He best heals wounds who has felt a similar wound. Once we understand that all trials come from the Lord, they lose their bitterness and our hearts are at peace.

The constant giving out of self needs replenishing from above.

St. Teresa of Avila: "He who omits prayer needs no devil to cast him into hell."

The spiritual decline of a priest comes in the substitution of work for prayer. Immersed in endless meetings and goings on, he is too busy to be on his knees. Some lose themselves in a passion for building, others in organization, others in meetings and drives. "In time of prosperity the Church administers; in time of adversity the Church shepherds."

A million dollar church is no sign of a million dollar faith.

Often it is not zeal for Christ, but an empty soul that drives the priest to busyness; boredom can generate ceaseless unreflective activity. Labora but no ora. Aristotle said the vice of "doing too much" is the enemy of spirituality.

Pius XII: "We cannot refrain from expressing our worry to those who are all too often so caught up in a whirl of external activity that they neglect the primary duty of the priest, the sanctification of self."

When a priest gives up spiritual reading, his sermons become critical and complaining.

There are no plains in the spiritual life; we go up hill, or we go down.

To compensate for internal poverty of soul, one seeks to be rich on the outside.

God's special protection for His friends cannot be presumed upon when we have become indifferent to Him.

The Master chose Peter so that sinners and the weak might never have an excuse to despair.

No man understands wrong fully until he sees it in the light of the Face of Jesus.

One can know all the theology of the Lamb of God, and still not walk that "extra" mile to know where He "dwells."

The priest who fails does so because he failed to be a Eucharistic priest.

Our Lord makes many attempts to save those He has chosen.

Much devotional literature is infected with a Jansenistic emphasis on the vileness of the body and is wrong.

A dreary and sad look, peevishness and discontent, little befit a friend of Christ.

Mary is the special mother of priests. Every priest at death wants to be laid in Mary's arms as was Christ.

Why make a daily Holy Hour? Because it is time spent in the presence of Our Lord Himself. If faith is alive, no further reason is needed. Because in our busy life it takes considerable time to shake off the "noonday devils," the worldly cares which cling to our souls like dust. Because all our preaching, confessing, and other good works start with the Flame of Love in the Tabernacle.

The effectiveness of priests has little to do with their natural endowments. A Holy Hour will restore our lost spiritual vitality. Our sinful impulses are prevented from arising through the barrier erected each day by the Hour. How we miss the joys of the priesthood when our only meetings with the Lord are "public audiences" - whenever we have to be in church. The Lord wants "private audiences" with us, which we give Him freely.

The daily Holy Hour gives us wisdom. The mind of the priest who lives close to the Tabernacle gains a special illumination. But it should be daily - if you really love someone you want to see him every day. Daily trials, indeed, demand a daily Hour. It takes away our worries. Daily crosses will sour us and make us bitter, except by visiting Our Lord. Mercies are garnered and resources found hidden by the priest who daily knocks on the Tabernacle door.

How to make a Holy Hour? It surely must involve prayer of the heart. And also reading the Gospel. Read until a thought strikes you, then close the book and talk to Our Lord about it. And when you are fatigued and exhausted so that some days you cannot really pray, then offer this to the Lord. Does not a dog love to be near the master, even when the master gives him no evidence of affection?

It is not conceivable that a priest who has sanctified each day with a Holy Hour will ever be rejected by the Judge.

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