Good priests have had it rough over the past couple of decades. Not only do they suffer for the scandals of their brother priests, they know that the anti-Catholic media is ready to pin these scandals on them as well, even if they’re completely innocent.
It’s also tough on laypeople. Our faith in the priesthood is being tested. Sometimes we wonder whether a “good” priest exists anymore.
The good news is that there are still lots of exceptional men sacrificing themselves in the shadows to lead their flocks to heaven.
These men share these three characteristics.
1. They love the Church with a spousal love.
There’s a common misconception that saying “yes” to a priestly or religious vocation means completely sacrificing spousal love.
But that’s not true! The priesthood is fundamentally a spousal vocation. Remember that Jesus is the bridegroom and the Church is His bride. The priest, who acts in the person of Christ, also acts in the person of Christ the bridegroom, tenderly loving the Church and sacrificing himself so that she may flourish and be protected from the powers of darkness.
Many people forget that married love is much more than just sexual love. Even on the spiritual plane, men and women love differently. Priests love as men and they share this masculine love with the Church as a husband would a wife.
A great way to cultivate this love is to foster a devotion to the Blessed Mother. Few people ignite such a strong, chaste spiritual love in the heart as Mary. This is why seminarians should make devotion to Mary a centerpiece of their formation.
2. They refuse to be reduced to functionaries.
This is correlative to our first point. We see way too many priests (and bishops) today who act as mere functionaries, rather than as bridegrooms of the Church and warriors for souls.
There’s a greater risk for this in the diocesan priesthood. A pastor of a large parish has to deal with finances, council meetings, and other secular tasks that can make the priesthood feel like just another career.
A good priest counters this attitude by nurturing a deep prayer life, engaging in spiritual reading, and regularly seeking the sacrament of confession for himself. He also tries to approach his day-to-day “secular” tasks with a spiritual mindset.
3. They are realists.
It’s easy to become an idealist when pursuing the priesthood. Many young men answer the call because they want to become like the great saints they read about. They want to become spiritual warriors who bravely defend their flocks against the forces of evil.
That’s all well and good, but this otherwise good idealism can easily mask the fact that we all still suffer from an inclination to sin. A truly wise priest recognizes that he can easily hit rock bottom and he uses this knowledge to work harder on conquering his personal sins.
For if you ignore your weaknesses, you’re setting yourself up for a massive fall. We are all called to sanctity, so priests and laymen alike need to recognize our weakness and strive for holiness.