Cowards Need Not Apply: On the Virtue of Fortitude in Relation to the Priesthood

I tried to come up with some stylish or sophisticated introduction to this reflection, at least something witty or clever, but all I came up with was too overly theatrical or even approaching haughtiness so I’ll just say it straight (it would be harmful to sugarcoat these matters): the Catholic priesthood is in good need of courage. The fact of the matter is that everyone needs courage but in a particular way the priest needs courage on account of his particular role and duties (which are of supernatural profundity and liability). The priest is entrusted by God  with the care of souls and has a sacred duty to guard, protect, and nourish the Church. The priest however, is not only thus responsible for a great deal but also then specifically targeted by Satan who knows well to attack priests in order to harm the Church. Satan is the father of lies and fear. He tempts many men away from their true vocation and thus from glory and greatness with fear, whatever the specific fear might be. The harvest is ready but the laborers are few, that is to say, many men avoid seminary, in large part due to many men living in fear. Worse still, far too many priests are cowards when it comes to living their priesthood authentically and preaching fully the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Much fruit is left to rot on the vine because it is not harvested. And there will be a recompense for this. (C.f. Ezekiel 13; Mt. 23) This is reality, uncomfortable as it might be. Many will consider what I say here as dramatic or, ironically, fear mongering, but those with faith will see past the smoke of the devil and see I speak sincerely. (C.f. Lk 9:26) I see no point in pretending what is contrary to the gospel and would rather appear a drunken fool than stay quiet. (C.f. Acts 2:13, 4:19-20)

The priesthood is not for the faint of heart. Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Lk 9:26) Consider the sufferings of St. Paul. (C.f. 2 Cor 11:24-31). Yet the priesthood is awesome! It is indeed an amazing gift and grace of Christ given to the Church to manifest his presence and mercy and, as our good shepherd, to carry us back into perfect and everlasting communion with God. In his Catechism on the Priesthood, St. John Vianney, patron saint of parish priests, perhaps perfectly summarized the whole theology of the priesthood when he said: “The priesthood is the love of the Heart of Jesus. When you see the priest, think of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Emphasis added) Therefore, in this admittedly rambling blog post/essay, I want to reflect some of the virtues of fortitude and perseverance in relation to the priesthood and how even now a seminarians and discerners we can, by the grace of God, ready ourselves not only for the trials ahead but the trials which are already upon us.

Pope St. John Paul II with great providence and foresight challenged the contemporary church to be both watchmen at the dawn of the third millennium and moreover to be its saints. We should heed this great pontiff’s wisdom:


We must be prepared to undergo great trials in the not-too-distant future; trials that will require us to be ready to give up even our lives, and a total gift of self to Christ and for Christ. Through your prayers and mine, it is possible to alleviate this tribulation, but it is no longer possible to avert it, because it is only in this way that the Church can be effectively renewed. How many times, indeed, has the renewal of the Church been effected in blood? This time, again, it will not be otherwise. We must be strong, we must prepare ourselves, we must entrust ourselves to Christ and to His Mother, and we must be attentive, very attentive, to the prayer of the Rosary.”(Pope St. John Paul II, interview with Catholics at Fulda, Germany, Nov. 1980)



“God is not indifferent to good and evil; he enters the history of humanity mysteriously with his judgment that sooner or later unmasks evil, defends its victims and points out the way of justice. However, the goal of God’s action is never the ruin, the pure and simple condemnation or elimination, of the sinner… After purification through trial and suffering, the dawn of a new era is about to break.” (Pope St. John Paul II, General Audience, September 10, 2003)


In every age God raises up saints to witness to the truth and participate in his salvific work of redeeming the whole world. In order for us to take up this prophetic mantle we must seek to imitate Christ Jesus and conform our will to his. (C.f. 2 Kings 2:8-14) The priest in a most special and powerful way imitates Christ and acts a conduit of grace and mercy into the world, most especially through the sacraments. The priest is to be an apostle of mercy. A true apostle has been consumed by zeal for the Lord and his house. (C.f. Ps 69:10) He is no coward.




Let us therefore consider in more detail what the (cardinal) virtue of fortitude entails. In order to do so, I want to approach the question through the intellectual genius of St. Thomas Aquinas before considering a few exemplars from history to see the lex vivendi in action. (For those who wish to review the virtue of fortitude in greater theological detail read questions 123-140 of the Secunda Secundae of the Summa Theologiae.) Thomas defines fortitude as the virtue which rectifies man’s will whenever it is declined to follow/seek the good on account of some difficulty: in other words, fear. (C.f. ST II-II Q.123. A. 1 C.) The courageous man is one who neither bows unduly to fear and difficulties but neither imprudently dares when he ought not. Now fear is not inherently sinful but can become so and even mortal sin in some cases so it is indeed of the upmost importance to pay attention to. (C.f. ST II-II Q.125 A.3 SC)

Fortitude consists then of a number of daughter virtues including magnanimity, magnificence, patience, and perseverance. To briefly define these terms, magnanimity, which means greatness of soul, deals with the rising or stretching of the mind toward great and holy things and so deals with honor. It is opposed by excess by the vices of presumption, ambition, vainglory as well as by deficiency by pusillanimity. A magnanimous man thinks, dreams, and desires of noble things: “I think of you upon my bed, I remember you through the watches of the night.” (Ps 63:7)

And from magnanimity pours forth the virtue of magnificence which deals with the doing of great things. The magnificent man does his work well and indeed excellently. Now, while some of the ancients, such as Aristotle, considered magnificence as a virtue limited to the wealthy who could afford to perform great acts for their cities such as sponsoring some public building we who benefit from divine revelation can see that magnificence can be achieved by all even the lowliest and poorest members of society. St. Teresa of Calcutta and St. Therese of Lisieux stand as powerful exemplars of this truth in the modern age. These two saints taught by example that holiness is wrought by doing all things well and with love. St. Vincent de Paul, our diocesan patron, also taught to do all things with charity. Indeed it is only by doing the little things in life well that we will be able to do the big things well. Conversely, magnificence is opposed by meanness wherein one spends less in one’s labors than what is proportionate. One can also spend disproportionately more too when one seeks to do more in his works than is just or prudent.

Next, we ought to note well the virtue of patience, which is closely related to the virtue of humility and also prepares the way for the virtue of perseverance. Patience chiefly safeguards one’s reason against sorrow. (C.f ST II-II Q. 136) Perhaps one could say it is to perseverance as magnanimity is to magnificence. It is opposed by deficiency by impatience and inconsistency and by excess by what is essentially a form of prideful stubbornness wherein one endures difficulties not for the right reason but for vainglory.

Lastly then let us consider the virtue of perseverance which crown the courageous man. Thomas says “therefore the principal act of fortitude is endurance, that is to stand immovable in the midst of dangers rather than to attack them.” (ST II Q.123. A6. C.) The courageous man perseveres through adversity despite fear for the sake of the greater good at sake even should it cost him comfort or even worse. He rejects worldly comforts for the greater glory of virtue but even here losses nothing but gains even greater delights:

“Hence the brave man, on one side, has something that affords him delight, namely as regards spiritual pleasure, in the act itself of virtue and the end thereof: while, on the other hand, he has cause for both spiritual sorrow, in the thought of losing his life, and for bodily pain. Hence we read (2 Macc 6:30) that Eleazar said: I suffer grievous pains in body: but in soul am well content to suffer these things because I fear Thee. (ST. II-II Q.123 A.8 C.)


Even in the face of supreme peril the truly courageous man would rather suffer than commit evil. Consider the heroic witness of Socrates who, having been falsely arrested and sentenced to death, taught his disciples that the unhappiest men are wicked and moreover that it was always better to suffer evil than to inflict it. (C.f. Gorgias 466d-481b) Socrates persevered unto death for virtue and has long been held by the church fathers as righteous among the pagans.

Now the vices opposed to perseverance are, by deficiency, effeminacy, and by excess, pertinacity. The latter is a form of stubbornness when one goes beyond the demands of the right reason. For example, a soldier who refused to retreat to better cover when under fire. He ought by right reason not unduly expose himself to enemy fire and indeed is not courageous but rather foolish. The former vice, effeminacy is more common in the regular world. It is understood as  “one who withdraws from good account of sorrow caused by lack of pleasure, yielding as it were to a weak motion.” (ST Q.138 A.1 C.) Such a person is enslaved to worldly comforts and so surrenders without a fight whenever difficulties arise. He is timid and lukewarm.\

I am thus reminded of what Christ warned about in regard to such lukewarm persons: “So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev 3:16; for context read Rev 3:14-22 and then consider your life.) This is a stark warning but one that comes directly out of the infinite mercy of Jesus Christ who wills not our damnation but our salvation and eternal glory. Therefore let us eagerly and intently seek to grow through concrete and deliberate actions in these virtues of fortitude. And wherever we might slide into any of these opposing vices let us pray for the grace of conversion and cooperating with that grace root sin out of our lives. Thus consider these words of Thomas: “Yet is it possible for a person even without the habit of fortitude, to prepare his mind against danger by long forethought: in the same way as a brave man prepares himself when necessary.” (ST II-II Q.123 A.9 C.) Follow the Little Way striving to do all things well for the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls.  Pick up your cross and follow Jesus. (C.f. Matt 16:24).

All men are called to fortitude as all men are indeed called to all virtue and moreover to holiness but each man is called to live out this calling according to the unique circumstances of his life and according to his talents and abilities. There is a great moment in The Lord of the Rings when Frodo laments to Gandalf about what has occurred and what he must do saying, “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” to which Gandalf replies, “And so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” One could exegete this dialogue to show that Frodo, if ever so briefly, was tempted to despair and so give up his quest- a temptation against fortitude.  He almost certainly has the warm hearth of his homeland in mind and with it all his friends and family. Before him lay peril and probably death. Yet the fate of the world rested on the unlikely courage of this unexpected hero. He is succored by the wisdom of Gandalf whose mission it was to enkindle hope in the free people of Middle-Earth. Frodo was wise to turn to Gandalf who offered him the spiritual comfort he needed. To comfort means to give strength and this is exactly what Gandalf does and why he is such a great hero. He always pointed others towards the greater good and aided them in achieving it.

While Frodo is often read by fans as being a sort of priest figure- a theory of analogy which Tolkien never fully endorsed, though never fully denied- I think one could just as well consider Gandalf as a priestly figure on account of his very role of comforter to the good people. Tolkien fans might remember from The Similarian when the moment when Gandalf arrives in Middle-Earth. Cirdan the Shipwright, an ancient and very wise Elf, with great foresight secretly gifts the great ring Narya to aid him in his mission. Cirdan tells Gandalf: “Take now this Ring,’ he said; ‘for thy labours and thy cares will be heavy, but in all it will support thee and defend thee from weariness. For this is the Ring of Fire, and herewith, maybe, thou shalt rekindle hearts to the valour of old in a world that grows chill.” Truly, our world has grown hellishly cold with such insidious laxity and sloth that many do not realize the vices and sins that they sedately sink into. But Jesus comes today to set the world on fire! “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” (Lk 12:49) His divine mercy burns with unquenchable passion to restore the world and redeem mankind to himself. He has already begun to enkindle the world with his fire but has yet manifested only a portion of his divinity. Soon enough he will demonstrate his glory much more fully and no power will be able to oppose him. (Rev 5:12-13) He already sets this fire ablaze within the hearts of those who love him as Pope Benedict XVI taught: “The fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Saviour. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgment. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves.” (Spe Salvi, 47)

As Jesus is the high priest and the true priest who offers right worship and sacrifice for the people of God so he calls certain men to serve him as priests and minister to him in his people, his Church, through the sacraments and pastoral care of souls. The priest, in imitation of Christ, becomes an apostle of divine mercy, a spark of divine love, entering into a world grown chill so as to set it on fire once again. To restore what was lost and make all things new. (C.f. Rev 21:5) To give to men the valor once held and just as Gandalf did for Frodo, to give hope and courage when despair and despondency loom.


So then, what place does cowardice have in the priesthood of Jesus Christ?


None whatsoever.




Since the beginning of man’s exile in this valley of tears, God has raised up saints to witness to the truth, that is, the love and mercy of God, and to guide and lead the faithful remnant through whatever challenges faced them. Even so in these last days, God raises up in our own midst saints to do the very same. Over the centuries many good and holy priests have served with true love and devotion- in parishes, in missionary fields, in universities and hospitals, in royal courts and in wayward backwaters- following the Lamb wherever he goes. (Rev 14:4) The first generation were the Apostles who received their priesthood and commission from Christ himself and flowing in unbroken succession unnumbered generations of priests have followed. Some are known to us as canonized saints or at least as notable figures of heroic virtue and sanctity yet many, indeed the vast majority of them, are lost to history. In his final witness to his disciples, St. John the Baptist said, “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens to him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease.” (Jn 3:29-30) The Apostles and the holy priests who followed them lived these very words.   They decreased and he increased. (This is why it is quite beautiful that we know so little about the Apostles!)And so they grew in holiness and persevered through all hardship:

“For I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.” (2 Tim 4:6-8)

No coward could have written these words truefully much less actually done these things. Every priest should desire to be able to say these words when his death approaches.


So many saintly priests come to mind as examples to follow. I of course think of the Apostles, and my namesake St. Andrew!, but also of those great men who were the first to bring the Faith to new lands, who faced persecutions and suffered martyrdoms, who lead the people when leaders fled, who taught virtue and wisdom to all who would hear, who preserved knowledge in dark ages, who rallied armies in defense of liberty and justice, who built the first hospitals, universities, and cathedral; those great men who lifted souls out of the muck of sin, and defended human dignity against all perversions, who rebuked the unjust; those great priests of God who never ceased to preach the Gospel. I think of martyrs like St. Ignatius of Antioch, my patron, and St. Polycarp. I think of the mighty titans like St. Ambrose and St. Athanasius who defied imperial might to defend the Gospel. I think of St. Lawrence and St. Maximilian Kolbe who poured out their lives as a libation of charity in service to the poor. I think of St. Bernard and St. Damien of Molokai who succored pilgrims and the sick. I think of great missionaries such as St. Boniface and St. Francis Xavier. I think of great scholars such as St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. I think of the courageous priests who rebuked heresy like St. Nicholas and St. Dominic. I think of priests who risked their lives and underwent great difficulties to visit the faithful in difficult circumstances like St. Edmund Campion and St. Josaphat. I think of mystics and prophets like St. Pio of  Pietrelcina and St. Charbel Makhlouf. I think of reformers such as St. Charles Boromeo and St. Vincent de Paul. I think of priests who served as pastors and bishops like workhorses like St. John Vianney and St. Martin of Tours. And even in recent years God has raised up holy priests like St. John Paul II and Bld. Stanley Rother.

For the sake of highlighting one saint in greater detail, consider the life of Pope St. Leo the Great (Feast on Nov 10th) who left one of the most impactful legacies in church history. Raised to the Petrine throne in 440 AD, Pope Leo shepherded the Church through some extremely difficult times with prayerful diligence, constant perseverance and lion like fortitude- aptly living up to his name. Students of history will know that the 5th Century brought great turmoil for the Roman Empire and indeed the Western Empire would disintegrate not too long after the death of Leo. Great political and economic crises divided the Empire as civil wars and barbarian invasions depleted Imperial strength. And all the meanwhile, within the Church, great divisions arose over various issues particularly over the nature of Christ. Leo responded to all of these with fortitude. The document known as Leo’s Tome would play an instrumental role in solving the Christological debates tearing the Church apart. To combat the rise of civil disorder and strife, Leo utilized his diplomatic skills with both government and church leaders and preached fiercely in the defense of human dignity and justice. He also preached aggressively against heretics so as to call them to repentance and reunite them with the Church. But above all these things Leo is most famous for defending the city of Rome from barbarian attack. First and more famously in 452 during the brutal Hunnic invasion of Italy, after previous attempts at diplomacy failed, Leo personally rode out to meet Attila the Hun and having so impressed the barbarian king not to attack the city, exit Italy, and even to enter peace negotiations with the Emperor. Three years later, Leo’s personal intervention saved Rome’s population from slaughter when the Vandals sacked the city. Much wealth was looted but the people and churches were largely left untouched. Imagine what these barbarian kings, who had some of the best armies of their day behind them, saw as Leo rode out to meet them: no legions nor even any semblance of an army but rather a procession of clergy led by an unassuming old man! No battle cries and trumpets but the quiet hum of chants! No banners and sigils but the cross! To these warlord kings the sight must have been surely strange if not shockingly absurd. If they so willed, either of them could have easily killed or taken hostage the Pope and so ransom him for a fortune but yet neither did any of the such. Instead both bowed to the greater power of the supreme pontiff if not out of respect of his position than at the very least out of respect of his fortitude.

Our generation faces very similar challenges. Inside the Church we face divisions, lukewarmness, heresy, laxity in preaching and pastoral care and outside the Church we face political, social and economic unrest, to say nothing of the ongoing and potential wars around the world. The more things change the more things seem to stay the same. How can we imitate Leo the Great? Can we not also hold fast to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and preach it fully without fear? Can we not also rally a broken society that disparages human dignity and commits fratricide left and right? Can we not also stand steadfast under the banner of the Cross and make prayer our battle cry? Can we not also reject the unjust powers of the world who act in rebellion against our true august king, Jesus Christ? What should stop us from doing just this? Who could have authority over the one who made heaven and the earth? Therefore brothers, “Put no trust in princes, in children of Adam powerless to save, who breathing his last, returns to the earth; that day all his planning comes to nothing. Blessed the one whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD, his God…” (Ps 146:3-5)





Prudence is the chariot driver of the virtues. It gives direction to them and spurs them onward. Right reason is necessary for any virtue to truly succeed and bear good fruit. Without prudence no other virtue is truly possible. One would most likely err into vice. Moreover, prudence, which seeks knowledge and ultimately understanding and wisdom cannot be perfect without Christ who is wisdom itself. Jesus is the logos that holds creation in existence and directs all things according to his divine will. This is part of what is meant when Jesus is acclaimed as the alpha and the omega. He is the efficient cause of creation, the organizing principle, and the end to which all creation moves. If we seek true virtue and holiness then we must seek to live in accord to this principle.

In the case of the virtue of fortitude, we must acknowledge then what Christ does and teaches. Christ is the perfect model of fortitude because he endured through the greatest possible adversity when he took on flesh and suffered death for our salvation. In every moment Christ persevered- and keep in mind that Christ was like us in all things but sin so he did indeed experience fear and actual suffering- with perfect fortitude because he was obedient to his Father’s will. (C.f. Matt 26)


“All creation,” said St. Paul, “groans and labors up till now,” awaiting Christ’s redemptive efforts to restore the proper relationship between God and his creation. But Christ’s redemptive act did not of itself restore all things, it simply made the work of redemption possible, it began our redemption. Just as all men share in the disobedience of Adam, so all men must share in the obedience of Christ to the Father’s will. Redemption will be complete only when all men share his obedience…” (Servant of God Fr. Walter Ciszek, He Leadeth Me (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995), pp. 116-117)

A holy person once said:

“The manual for the way is love.

The signpost marked so that you would not go astray is obedience.

The meeting point is fraternal love.”


We too then must eagerly embrace our Father’s will, which is charity, with all obedience. Let us be like little children in this regard. If we do this then we will be imbued with the right reason and holy desires necessary to be truly courageous and demonstrate fortitude in every affair. We will be given the power to reject the tyranny of sin, cast off the shackles of fear, and live as we ought to always have as citizens of the heavenly kingdom and coheirs with Christ.




“Blessed martyrs, with what praise shall I extol you? Most valiant warriors, how shall I find words to proclaim the strength of your courage?” (St. Cyprian, Ep. ad Mart. et Conf. i)

There is perhaps no greater example of Christian fortitude than martyrdom. Christ himself said, “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:10) The martyrs witness to the faith and the truth of Jesus through the testimony of their suffering and death. They stand against not only the fear of persecution and suffering but even death itself. But yet even here they are obedient to God and so imitating Christ gain great merit. (C.f. Phil 2:8) Consider Thomas’ exposition on martyrdom:


“Now, of all virtuous acts martyrdom is the greatest proof of the perfection of charity: since a man’s love for a thing is proved to be so much the greater, according as that which he despises for its sake is more dear to him, or that which he chooses to suffer for its sake is more odious. But it is evident that of all the goods of the present life man loves life itself most, and on the other hand he hates death more than anything, especially when it is accompanied by the pains of bodily torment, from fear of which even dumb animals refrain from the greatest pleasures, as Augustine observes (QQ. 83, qu. 36). And from this point of view it is clear that martyrdom is the most perfect of human acts in respect of its genus, as being the sign of the greatest charity, according to John 15:13: Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (ST II-II Q.124 A.3 C)

Now martyrdom is a special grace and a vocation to which not all Christians are called to in the literal and full sense but indeed all are called to it in practice and preparation. Each day as the Christian takes up his cross and follows Christ he partakes of a little martyrdom. Each decision to reject the temptations of the comforts of the world is a little martyrdom. Day by day we train like athletes to compete. It is for the sake of this analogy that I called martyrdom a gym instead of a school. Like a school we learn much from it but unlike a school it goes beyond merely learning about but doing. If the world is a stage then the Christian’s role is akin to that of the gladiator. He must fight to survive and so trains his arms for battle with Christ as his coach. (C.f. Ps 18) To win here is the point of Christian fortitude.

(On a slight tangent, note well that martyrdom is not a relic of antiquity but a present reality. Likewise, dozens of priests in just the last few decades have on account of their martyrdoms won for themselves imperishable crowns of life (C.f. Rev 2:10) and glory (C.f. 1 Pt. 5:4). Some, like Bld. Stanley Rother, have already been formally recognized by the Church but most have not yet. Priests are still being martyred in every corner of the world from the Americas to East Asia and back again. Even in the West, as seen in the martyrdom of Father Jacques Hamel.)

The priest plays an important and unique role in the Church in regard to martyrdom. He has a twofold duty here. The first is that he himself is to live a life of martyrdom and the second is that he is to help train others.

A good priest must strive in a particular way to grow in all virtues in order that he might carry out his holy commission of saving souls. Much will be expected of him because much has been given to him. Moreover, Satan maliciously hates priests and so targets them with intense hatred. A priest must therefore must be acutely aware of these things and so through prayer, fasting, and apostolic fraternity, train each day with discipline and vigor.

Furthermore, a priest by virtue of his ordination is uniquely conformed to the person of Christ who is both the high priest sacrificing and the victim offered by whom mankind is saved. In other words, the priest, like all Christians but even more so, must be conformed to Christ crucified. Yes, Christ has truly risen (alleluia) and we as the people of Easter must rejoice but the Church cannot rejoice fully until the bridegroom is with her again. Jesus said, “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” (Matt 9:15) These are those days and while we wait in expectation so must we fast and work. The day will come when the Church will live fully in the Resurrection but for now the church militant lives in the Crucifixion. This is not to be despised because it is only through the cross that paradise may be achieved. So therefore, Christ calls his priests to be apostles of mercy who run after souls like lovers driven mad. Indeed, some of the Fathers compared Christ to David when he was a fugitive feigning madness: “So, he feigned insanity in front of them and acted like a madman in their custody, drumming on the doors of the gate and drooling onto his beard.” (1 Sam 21:14) This is admittedly a strange exegesis: it can only be understood with the love of Christ.

Moreover, good priests imitate Christ by living Eucharistical for the people of God. Jesus shows us the pattern: “he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross,” (Phil. 2:8) as so became for us the bread of life. (Jn 6:35) And taking into account the famous adage,  “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” (Tertullian, Apologeticus, L.13) we see demonstrably then that when a priest of Christ lives his vocation well, offering the sacraments with sincerity and true devotion, and with real pastoral care of souls, he becomes a sort of eucharistic offering for the benefit of his people. To call back to that most beautiful Pauline quote, the priest becomes a libation poured out.

Perhaps it is paradoxical or even seemingly oxymoronic (absurd?) to suggest one so eagerly throw oneself at the cross. But Jesus says, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it,” (Matt 16:25) and elsewhere, “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (Jn 15:12-14) St. Ignatius of Antioch, my father and friend, could not have better described this desire then here in his Letter to the Romans:


“I write to the Churches, and impress on them all, that I shall willingly die for God, unless you hinder me. I beseech of you not to show an unseasonable good-will towards me. Allow me to become food for the wild beasts, through whose instrumentality it will be granted me to attain to God. I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ. Rather entice the wild beasts, that they may become my tomb, and may leave nothing of my body; so that when I have fallen asleep [in death], I may be no trouble to any one. Then shall I truly be a disciple of Christ, when the world shall not see so much as my body. ”


Such a holy priest does not replace Christ. That is impossible because Christ is the only priest and his sacrifice the only sacrifice that saves. Such a holy priest instead conforms to Christ and decreases so that by God’s grace only Christ stands in him and the priest becomes a holy temple, a pure instrument, and a profitable servant. Such a priest can be found in St. John Vianney, whom Satan feared and himself admitted that if there were just three priests like John Vianney then his kingdom would be ruined!

Let any of us pursuing priesthood do so to the fullest! Let us desire to be great and holy priests like Leo or Iganitus or Vianney. Let us live out the prayer attributed to St. Andrew as he approached his own martyrdom upon a cross:

“O good Cross, made beautiful by the body of the Lord: long have I desired you, ardently have I loved you, unceasingly have I sought you out and now you are ready for my eager soul. Receive me from among men and restore me to my Master, so that he who, by means of You, in dying redeemed me, may now receive me. Amen.”




I must reiterate with conviction that no priest can be without Mary who is the mother and queen of priests. A priest without Mary is called Judas Iscariot. Priests must always turn to their mother and take her into their houses as St. John did after the death of Christ. (C.f. Jn 25:19-29) Mary and St. John at Ephesus must be the icon of every priest’s life, interior and exterior. So too then, let us who pursue the priesthood as seminarians and discerners live with Mary. What joys and wonders will we be given in that familial intimacy with our Lady! She will love us like her own son because he gave us to her. She will teach us how to be true disciples of her son and succor us in all our trials and toils.

Mary is the lioness of Judah, a mighty warrior of God even greater than Judith, a magnificent queen even more resplendent than Esther, a wise judge even more sapient than Deborah. She is an amazing model of fortitude because she persevered despite her fears through great difficulties, embraced a life of radical humility and poverty, and risked persecution and even death all for love for her son. She bore this cross from the moment of her Fiat until her Assumption into heaven. And because of her unique maternal relationship to Jesus she experienced, at least in partial degree, all the sufferings of Christ because it pains her if her son suffers. Even now she shares her son’s suffering caused by sin. She is rightfully thus hailed as queen of confessors and even queen of martyrs.

Mary has her foot over Satan’s head and already tramples him. (C.f. Gen 3:15) He hates her bitterly but fears her so much that he will flee immediately. Mary will teach us fortitude:

“Fears, doubt and apprehensions are that which dominate you — all miserable rags of your human will. And do you know why? Because the complete life of the Divine Will is not established within you — the life which, putting to flight all the evils of the human will, makes you happy and fills you with all the blessings it possesses. Oh, if with a firm resolution you decide no longer to give life to your human will, you will feel all evils die within you and all goods come back to life. (Our Lady to Servant of God Luisa Piccarreta, The Virgin Mary in the Kingdom of the Divine Will, Day 3)


Mary, immaculate and full of grace, our mother and queen, pray for your priests.





God wills that you be a saint! But do you? “For he is our God, we are the people he shepherds, the sheep in his hands. Oh, that today you would hear his voice: Do not harden your hearts as at Meribah, as on the day of Massah in the desert.” (Ps 95: 7-8) If today the Lord calls you then listen, do not harden your heart! If he calls you, say,“Speak, for your servant is listening.” (1 Sam 3:10) Then, “Do whatever he tells you.” (Jn 2:5)

The Israelites wandering in the wilderness when at Meribah and Massah fell complacent to laxity and sloth. They desired the comforts of the world and not the comforts of the Lord. This was their sin that caused them to wander unnecessarily for so long in the wilderness. Essentially, they became cowards. Even though they left physical shackles behind in Egypt they now willfully enslaved themselves to worldly pleasures and put on shackles of fear which are far worse and deadly than the physical ones. It is pitiful but we too tend to do the same all the time so we should humble ourselves before the Lord. (C.f. Matt 7:5) Why live enslaved to fear and death when Christ has conquered these and offers liberty and life? Brothers, be the saints you are meant to be.

If we do so, if we become those saints then crazy amazing and wonderful things will start to happen in our lives. We will pass from our old lives into new ones of greatness. The Lord will heal us of our infirmities and teach us to walk in his ways. Then we will be fully alive and work mighty deeds. And even more so should the Lord call us to the priesthood. A multitude of spiritual gifts will be given so that we might preach the Gospel, lift up the lowly, heal the sick, and set captives free! (C.f. Lk 4:18) As priests, we will have the power to forgive sins and heal souls! We will wash sins away through baptism and reconciliation. By anointing the sick we will heal body and soul and prepare the faithful for their final pilgrimage. By confirmation we will seal souls with the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit setting their hearts on fire. In witnessing marriages we will lead the lay faithful in living holy lives in imitation of the Holy Family and aid them in their own apostolates. And most amazingly, in the celebration of the Eucharist we will make present the very body, blood, soul, and divinity of our savior Jesus Christ! At the altar we will climb Golgotha and make present the very same sacrifice of our Lord to his people today. All these wonders and more should we be courageous and follow the Lamb!

I hope that if you are discerning the priesthood, you are just excited about these things as I am if not more. Brothers, let us dare to dream of great and holy things. Let us let our minds be fascinated with being saints and serving the Lord as good and holy priests. The Lord desires to give his priests his own most sacred heart so that they might have his unquenchable love. Let us let the Lord take away our hearts of stone and replace them with hearts of flesh. (C.f Ezek. 36:26)  O, that we would love him as he loves us!

Brothers, never despair nor grow despondent. Fear nothing but separation from your Lord, sweet Jesus. Be for him mighty warriors and should he be calling you to do such, be for him holy priests. Pick up your cross in the sure hope of the Resurrection. (C.f. Heb 6:19) Always choose the narrow door.

Would you join St. Louis de Montfort and me in praying with for an increase in vocations to the priesthood and that all priest live and minster in the perfection of the ways of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus:


“When will it happen, this fiery deluge of pure love with which you are to set the whole world ablaze and which is to come, so gently yet so forcefully, that all nations…. will be caught up in its flames and be converted? …When you breathe your Spirit into them, they are restored and the face of the earth is renewed. Send this all-consuming Spirit upon the earth to create priests who burn with this same fire and whose ministry will renew the face of the earth and reform your Church.” (God Alone: The Collected Writings of St. Louis Marie de Montfort; April 2014, Magnificat, p. 331)


Andrew Clark

About the Author: Andrew Clark

Seminarian Andrew Clark is in his Pastoral Year at Saint Matthew's in Virginia Beach. Read more about him on our website at "Answering the Call" - "Meet Our Seminarians".