This is the week that priests around the world renew their vows during their respective diocesan Chrism Mass. In light of this and that it is Holy Week, which is not coincidental, I decided to publish this as a reflection.--.ed
A recent article in the Catholic News Agency reports that a Philadelphia area monsignor embezzled over five hundred thousand dollars from a retirement home for wayward priests. It is truly an ironic situation. According to the report, his lawyer issued a statement that the monsignor is taking responsibility for his actions.
As priests, we need to ask the question how can this happen? The issue is not whether one priest or another would do this, rather the issue indicates a broken relationship with God. It might be a good idea to reflect on this situation on this Holy Week.
Let us go to basics for a second. In general, embezzling money, sexual activity with anyone outside of a sacramental marriage and other actions are mortal sins that put the person in a situation of cutting off his relationship with God. It is true, God is merciful, but God is also just and demanding of total loyalty. If we are turn away from loyalty through obstinate sin, then even though we are priests, we cut off our relationship with God. Our sacraments are valid, but our souls are lost.
There is another question that no one asks, especially reporters: What in the world can a priest preach to a congregation if he is lost in sin. It is possible he will preach comforting homilies in the interest of comforting himself. He will not preach hard hitting homilies that call people to holiness because he is not living a holy life, that is unless he is the worst of hypocrites. What is worse is those people who want to be enabled by their sin will welcome homilies of comfort. This priest will be their hero and when all falls apart, they will rally around him for all the support he gave them.
BUT, that is not the mission of the priest. People may feel comfortable with a priest who enables them, but they need a priest who will challenge them. They need a priest who will seek holiness in Christ and lead others to Him. I often compare the homily to the words of the coach. It should challenge and build-up.
How does a priest not walk down that road to physical and spiritual death? First understand that the saints were so aware of the struggle with temptation that they looked forward to their death for then they knew the struggle would end and glory would begin. So the temptation if you are truly seeking Christ does not go away. In fact, if the temptation does go away, beware. That is not a good sign. The devil is sufficiently satisfied in his success with you and now has others to fight.
St Paul calls us to pray not only daily but always. St. Alphonsus Liguori teaches that we need to speak to God about all things, even those things that we may not feel comfortable speaking to him about at any time. He teaches that a Catholic should speak to God as one one would speak on the most intimate level with a best friend. This is especially true when we are struggling with temptation. Speak to God about the temptation you are undergoing. God's grace will strengthen you and if you fall to temptation know that in time that temptation will be permanently overcome, if you still practice the habit of speaking to God about it.
Be aware that as priest you are in greater danger of falling away from God, because that is the devil's goal for you. God is stronger than the devil, but you must not cut yourself off from His strength. This is why your daily faithfulness in prayer is essential. I am not just talking about the breviary, here. I am talking about praying to God about everything in the way St. Alphonsus Liguori teaches. The devil, after all wants you in Hell, only God can defeat him, you cannot do it alone.
As a priest from Boston, I saw just how powerful the devil can be in trying to destroy the Church and in some secular places in metro Boston, he still works quite openly. I learned during the height of the crisis that just as Jesus gave all He can that we could be saved, the devil gives all he can that we will be lost. He cannot give his life, for he is not incarnate. If you are telling me that he does not exist, you already have one foot in hell.
Be aware of your vulnerabilities at all times and ask God to be with you. Pray to Him if you find yourself near a situation where your vulnerabilities make you most susceptible to sin. Ask your Divine Mother to protect you as well.
Some of this may seem to some to be hokey pokey, but in reality, it is important material to keep in mind. There is a lot at stake here and if you are not aware of it, then you will become susceptible to it. You will risk also having to take responsibility for scandalous actions that hurt lots of people and the Church’s work for the salvation of souls.
The monsignor may have taken responsibility for his alleged actions, that may help him on the day he is at the judgement seat of God, but it does not help anyone else. It is holiness that we must seek, that is our call and that is our fight. That is the door to salvation for ourselves and those whom we serve.