An Open Letter to Priests at a Time of Scandal in the Church

Having spent a week in Rome, I’m moved over and over again by my encounters with holy priests. (Yes, they exist!) To all my priest friends whom I look up to as fathers and older brothers, please know there is someone who prays for you specially – little me. I have no words to tell you what an agonizing privilege it is for you to be alter Christus (another Christ), for you to have the power to call Jesus down from heaven during the Mass, to have Our Lady loving and caring for you with the same intensity of love she had for Jesus. You didn’t earn it, it’s just there – a gift. I’ve heard so much in the week I was there – about how the Holy See is grappling with the sexual abuse scandal in the Church through safeguarding measures, policies, and more inclusive communication and media work (among 100 other things). Is it crisis communication in full swing or a bunch of people running around trying to keep this 2,000-year old institution from keeling over?

If other people got to hear what I heard, they’d probably get the sense that the Catholic Church is like the Roman Empire during its “beginning of the end” phase: decades of moral decay and profligacy, leaving everything ripped at the seams. Rebelling citizens, “barbarians” breaching borders, fading glory. But this is precisely what convinces me that the Church is powered by something that is so much more than something merely human. I mean after all that, how could she still stand? It defies logic. And yet, the Church is teeming with life. She bleeds, but her wounds somehow make her more vital. She is ever young. I heard first-hand that the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communication is even making “little experiments” on artificial intelligence, that the whip smart yet funny Jesuit geeks up at the Vatican Observatory recently organized an international conference on meteorite curation, attended by institutions respected in the scientific community (think NASA). Where does the Church even get the energy to want to be involved in every aspect of human life as we know it?? She keeps on going and will not stop. I’m not even going to mention her work on issues that are at the heart of what she does, day in, day out in 3,000+ dioceses all over the world: human trafficking, refugees, social and economic renewal, HIV care and pastoral accompaniment, education, disaster risk management, peace-building, etc. Name an issue, there probably are Catholics there devoting 101% of themselves to it like it’s going out of style. I feel such pride to be a Catholic, yet funnily, humbled as well.

Dear priests, this Church is your Bride. On those days you feel you just want to throw in the towel, when you’re lonely, when no one “gets you,” when your diocesan/parish workers are throwing tantrums, when you’re tempted, when you forget why you even wanted to be a priest in the first place, when you feel that your life is in danger, know that every pain and every struggle is/will be worth it. And every prayer will be answered in time. I know you know this, but just like everyone else, you sometimes forget. When those days come, as they inevitably do, please know that many of the people you shepherd look up to you with admiration, respect, and utmost affection. We don’t tell you everyday, maybe because we’re shy or wonder if it’s even appropriate to do so, but it’s there. Our prayers and thoughts are with you. If we feel so strongly for you, our dear priests, imagine how much more the Father looks at you with so much mercy and love, rooting for you at every turn.

At a time when the Church is attacked on many fronts, I feel that her priests are assured even more of God’s mercy and unending love. This Year of the Clergy and Consecrated Persons is not a ho-hum, run-of-the-mill celebration to help fill in the 9-year celebration till 2021. It’s not a routine thing. It’s a re-initiation into a war that many of us have forgotten we are born into.

We war not against our media critics, the trolls, atheists or even Duterte, we battle against the unseen forces of evil that are very much alive in the world today. When you feel passion ebbing away, when you feel sin discouraging you, take a moment to reflect. Feel the weight of the privilege you have been given. You have received everything you need to persevere – and more. Why? Because now is a time of mercy. It seems illogical, but I feel a springtime for the priesthood coming. I believe that at a time when the Church is most attacked, more holy priests will rise up. Where the Church fell is also where she will rise.

There’s a new generation of priests who are going back to what the Church is all about. Timothies who have integrity, who “smell like the sheep,” who love the poor and the simple life, who are zealous, who are single-minded for God, pure of heart, and who are, most importantly, holy. Dear shepherds, the world awaits priests who love tradition and right doctrine and who are able to engage with a world that dangerously believes that all human progress and the fullness of life are possible without God. This mistaken belief is so pervasive that even those in the Church believe it’s true! I’m just one of many who long for this coming time. Rise up and take on the role of the prophet that is reserved for you. There is a vacuum in the world until you do. Until that time, our dear priests, know that we stand by you, we defend you, and we love you.

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