A Letter to Priests

by Cheryl Ann Smith

A Letter to Priests <p>by Cheryl Ann Smith<p>

Cheryl Ann, the director of MH England, was invited to speak to a group of young priests from all over the UK. But she was in Combermere at our local directors’ meetings at the time, so she wrote them this letter instead.

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My brothers, the heart of what I want to say to you is live in love with God. If you live from this place of union with God—his love coursing through your words and actions—your love for him filling everything you do—then your priesthood will be lasting, fruitful and joyous.

It takes a lifetime to truly discover and live from this union of love, but it’s only love that will keep you faithful, and give you the grace to emerge from the temptations in the desert.

Your people can sense authenticity, and it’s what will draw them. I love interesting homilies, but I’d take a few stumbling words from a priest who truly knows and loves God, over a slick or erudite homily that doesn’t engage me in the depths.

If I’m going to Mass with a desperate need to touch God, to find some word of hope and consolation in my suffering, I will find it from someone else who has come through a crucible of suffering, and has real faith to offer.

Let your words come from a deep, authentic relationship with God which includes times of questioning, doubt and searing seeking—times in which you cling to faith, not to “pat answers.”

I’ve listened to so many priests who’ve become disillusioned with the Church, who feel unsupported. Young priests who don’t have community from which to draw strength, encouragement and inspiration.

Priests who are dying of loneliness, who perhaps find a listening, sympathetic ear in someone who sees beneath the surface to the man struggling. Priests who then question their vocation. Priests who hear so many others saying the Church should and probably will change the rule on celibacy.

If these men don’t open up and trust a spiritual director, if they don’t return to their “first love,” Jesus, their priesthood can be in trouble.

My brothers, I don’t pass judgement on those who leave the priesthood or who discard their celibacy for human love. We need to be seen, known, loved.

But this is where I call on you to stand in a true, authentic union of love with the Lord. That’s the only relationship that will carry you through the times of temptation and disillusionment.

Only he touches the depths of your soul and brings the peace and grace to carry you through every challenge in your life.

Far from being something to be endured through gritted teeth, celibacy is an amazing gift that binds us to our Beloved Lord and keeps our whole being rivetted on this union.

If you don’t know that God is your everything, that you truly cannot live without him, then I beg you to ask him for that conviction. He wants that more than you do!

It may come in the form of a powerful experience of his love, or through a growing peace, or a burning thirst for more, or through a searing trial, where your only choice seems to be to leave the priesthood or somehow surrender in faith. He waits for you.

“Desperate times call for desperate measures.” You know the state of the Church and our need for new life, for the Spirit to draw people back into a living, breathing Body of Christ.

We need priests who love God and who allow God to be their all. Priests who lay down their lives for the Church—but with joy, because they are surrendering in love to Christ.

The Church needs faithful priests who are consumed by love for God, no matter what the price. And the price is high. But the peace and joy underlying all the suffering is his gift.

So, what kind of desperate measures will lead to this life? How about entering the poustinia, a place of uncompromising listening to God?

Do you have a spiritual director who truly knows and loves God and who is not afraid to challenge you when necessary? Do you go often to confession, keeping your heart always open before the Lord?

Do you pray every day—and I mean truly pray from the heart? Do you dare to desire that union of love with the Lord?

If you are one in love, then your priesthood will draw others into that union of love. May they all be one, Father, as you are in me and I am in you (Jn 17:21).

My brothers, I pray for you. May you know the supreme joy of utter surrender to the love of God, so that his own joy may be in you and your joy be complete (Jn 15:11).