A Meditation for Priests
Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas, DD
8 April 2011
And the fire on the altar shall always burn, and the priest shall feed it, putting wood on it every day in the morning…This is the perpetual fire which shall never go out on the altar. (Lev 6:12-13)
When He was at the table with them, He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him … They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us …?” (Luke 24, 30-32)
Every now and then, a younger brother priest would come up to me with these words, “How can we keep the fire of our priesthood alive? After only a few months after ordination, I already feel bored. I feel dry. I am not excited anymore. I might not last.” A priest who is not at peace with himself will not be able to inspire peace in another soul. O priests, you bright candles enlightening human souls, let your brightness never be dimmed. (Divine Mercy in my Soul, Diary of St. Faustina, 75).
Every priest knows that feeling of the well drying up and the fire dying. The ordination honeymoon seems to end so quickly and monotony soon sets in. Burning out, running on empty —the feeling is all too familiar
The onslaught of all these feelings boils down to prayer, or more specifically, the lack or neglect of it. Indeed, pastoral action is attractive and so emotionally rewarding, and priests tend to be consumed by it. But when we sacrifice personal prayer for the sake of pastoral action, burn out, boredom and monotony will set in fast.
Unfortunately, the first victim in this boredom and burn out phenomenon is the Mass. We offer the Mass haphazardly without noticing it because we no longer examine our consciences anymore. We rush the prayers and omit the songs forgetting that the face of God is more important than the face of our wristwatch. We rehash old homilies ad nauseam. We put on the Mass vestments like we put on our ordinary shirts and pants and after we unvest, we just throw them on the table of the sacristy, in a rush to go to another appointment. The source and summit of our Christian life has become just a duty to do and a source of revenue. Sad! Why? How can we reverse the path?
In our desire to invigorate our seemingly humdrum life we begin to indulge in “other pursuits”. We explore hobbies and sports – photography, golf, tennis … We pursue further studies. We join more socials. Buy more gadgets. Take longer and farther vacations.
But the happiness continues to evade us. “In our age, as in every age, people are longing for happiness, not realizing that what they are looking for is holiness”. (Jerry Walls). The fire cannot be ignited again. We become mediocre and lukewarm and get accustomed to bland, tasteless water. We just submit to the reality that the wine of the Lord is no more.
It need not be so. You will find God where you lost Him. You lost Him at Mass? You will find Him again there. “… The whole Church draws life from the Eucharist, all the more then must the life of a priest be “shaped” by the Eucharist. So for us, the words of institution must be more than a formula of consecration: they must be a “formula of life“. (Letter of John Paul II to priests on Holy Thursday 2005, n.1).
Where in the Mass can we recover the Lord? As a brother to a brother, I encourage you to look at the silent prayers at Mass that we tend to gloss over or even totally ignore or forget because of haste or lack of concentration. “Even before the celebration itself, it is commendable that silence to be observed in the church, in the sacristy, in the vesting room, and in adjacent areas, so that all may dispose themselves to carry out the sacred action in a devout and fitting manner.”(GIRM, 45)
The priest’s silent prayers in various parts of the Mass are personal prayers that will help us to see ourselves not just as ministers for the validity of the sacraments but as fellow worshipers of the priestly people. The silent prayers prescribed for the priests during the Mass are not for the people but for us. These silent prayers remind us that we are not only there to bless; we also need to be blessed. We are not just at the ambo to teach; we are there to be taught also. We are not just there by the altar to minister; we also need to be ministered to. We are not just functionaries. We are not just tools. The Lord has calls us His friends.
The silent prayers of the priest at Mass, if properly prayed, will open for us that sense of awe and amazement as we perform our holy duty. “This amazement should always fill the Church assembled for the celebration of the Eucharist. But in a special way it should fill the minister of the Eucharist.” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 5).