Spiritual symbiosis: what it takes to be a good priest

By Dr Jeff Mirus (bio – articles – email) | Sep 24, 2021

i just finished reading Revive the gift of God by Fr. Roch A. Kereszty, O. Cist. Ignatius Press recently published this “manual of priestly life” to help priests who for whatever reason need to refocus on the source of their priesthood and on the basic elements that can make their priesthood both effective and efficient. fulfilling. Now, I was a layman before I entered seminary at 19, and I was still a layman when I left seminary at 20. And while my wife and I (married 50 next May, if we’re successful) still sometimes “admit” that we’ve missed our vocations, it’s just a little marital humor.

So why did I read this book? The answer is surprisingly simple: we lay people need good priests. We cannot afford to let a single one slip off the harness before God calls it home. And we cannot afford to have even one being convinced that he is a failure unless and until he hears it from Jesus Christ after his death. Being a good priest is a matter of symbiosis with those of us who have not received the sacrament of Holy Orders. You are not sure about this? Read on.

In a sense, of course, the key to being a good priest is exactly the same as to being a good lay Catholic or a good deacon or a good religious: to conform to Jesus Christ, who suffered willingly and joyfully in life. effort to help those entrusted to his care to recognize and embrace the love of his Father. But each particular vocation has its own intrinsic parameters, its own clear channels of prayer and action, its own kinds of grace, its own triumphs of love and responsibility, its own particular forms of loss and failure, and its own particular forms of loss and failure. own temptations to inaction. and even despair. This means that each vocation can experience its own slump – periods of slow, aimless drift, with no sense of progress or accomplishment.

At such times, in any vocation, we can be like the bruised reed that (says Isaiah) Christ will not break or, more precisely in this case, like the smoking wick, than Christ will extinguish. not. Indeed, Christ will not do it, but we can allow it to happen in ourselves, and in fact it cannot happen without our inner consent. This is exactly what makes Fr. Kereszty’s title so very appropriate. Each vocation has its own special character and its own special trials. How then does the priest who sees himself brooding “rekindle the gift of God”?


Certain vocations transform our being even along lines similar to baptism, but with their own specificity. The man and woman who, before the witness of the Church, have conferred the sacrament of marriage on one another appear as people endowed with new and more specialized capacities rooted for new and more specialized purposes. They have been restored, so to speak, for the purposes of marriage, to be fruitful for God, for one another and for the community of which they are a part, by the particular power of the matrimonial form of the sacramental life, lived as fully. and as faithfully as possible. They are now called to make sacramentally focused use of all the natural and supernatural gifts that Our Lord has given them.

It is obviously the same for priests. By the sacramental power of Christ conferred in Holy Orders, every priest is transformed into a man who acts in persona Christi capitis, “In the person of Christ the head”, that is to say the head of his mystical body, which is the Church. A whole book could also be written on the resonance of marriage with Holy Orders, since Saint Paul teaches in his Letter to the Ephesians that the husband-wife relationship in marriage is a sign of the relationship between Christ and the Church: the mystery is profound, and I say it relates to Christ and to the Church ”(Eph 5:32). This means, among so many other things that deserve to be said, that each time a man fails in his marital engagement, this failure teaches us, at the ecclesial level, something about the bruised reed and the smoking wick (or worse) of a priest or tempted.

This bruising and brooding in both vocations comes from corresponding types of weariness, or slip of the tongue, or betrayal of the infinite but divinely focused fruitfulness of Christ. It can help a priest “in the doldrums” of his vocation to recognize this parallel, just as it can help a man or a woman, “in the doldrums” of their conjugal vocation, to recognize the parallel in reverse. It is often easier to spot a problem in a form somewhat removed from our daily personal anxiety or dissatisfaction. Holy Orders and Marriage are undergoing a transformation. It is the task of priests, as of married couples, to constantly emphasize it: to pray, reflect and enrich their daily mission with the particular counting necessary so that each vocation bears its sure fruit.


Indeed, Father Kereszty’s beautiful book has three important characteristics which make it useful not only to priests but to all Catholics. The first feature is that the book (oddly enough) begins with a section titled “Discerning a Vocation” (which, after all, the targeted priestly audience has already done). In reviewing the characteristics that are generally essential to an authentic priestly vocation, however, we explore the personality traits that apply in different ways to any Christian vocation. Likewise, in terms of vocational growth and liveliness, the section “Prayer and the Priest” cannot fail to be useful to all the priestly people of God.

The second characteristic is the emphasis on the essential sacramental ministry of the priest. Lay people too can baptize according to need, and they are ministers of marriage, but as a general rule the life of the laity is marked by, and depends strongly in the order of grace, on the sacramental ministry of the priest. This is very often true in baptism and preparation for marriage, and always true in the Eucharist, Confession, Confirmation and Anointing of the Sick, not to mention the supreme worship rendered to the Father and the supreme graces received by all. through the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ at each Mass. To the extent that priests need to increase their sense of the astonishing vitality of their sacramental ministry, it is because their people, including mainly the laity, receive the mysteriously magnificent and surprisingly effective connection of each priest with the Christ. .

Bro. Kereszty does not focus on this secular side of things; it is not a layman who reads this book that he wrote for priests. But the third feature of the text which makes this connection with the laity is that about thirty percent of the book is devoted to the ministry of the priest’s confessional and to the centrality of questions relating to marriage and sexuality. Under these headings, the author’s advice on how priests can be most helpful is the same good advice that somehow and at one time or another every layman needs to hear.

As one might expect, of course, the book gives pride of place to the “Mystery of the Priest”, his personification of both Christ Head and the suffering Christ Servant. Thus Fr. Kereszty describes the fullness of the ordained identity as priest, prophet and king (or, as he lists them backwards: shepherd, prophet and teacher, and sacramental minister). There is also a chapter on priestly life, which deals with celibacy, community life and the need for a certain poverty – a real worldly detachment – which must be associated, in different ways, with diocesan priests and priests. of a religious community. First of all, I would add, priests have a particular reason for living in a way which proves to all the truth of Christ’s words: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of God is theirs”. Not that the kingdom of God will be theirs, but that he is already.

Finally, in the chapter on prayer and the priest, we find a section on “humility and boldness” and another on “prayer, mission and reform”, both of which have special significance in the Church. priestly life. The explorations of all these topics are clearly calculated to “rekindle the gift of God” in the priest.


But again, precisely as a layman, I found this book important and spiritually engaging enough to read to the end. I was motivated in part, of course, by the importance of knowing whether the book is worth recommending to priests (it is). But a paradoxically more interested truth is that I continued to learn how being a priest is all on me. I say this with irony, of course, but in the deepest sense, it is quite faithful to God’s plan. We must obviously pray for our priests, and support them as we can. But lay people just don’t exist for priests in the same way that priests exist for lay people. Priests serve as direct, personal, grounded and transformed representatives of Jesus Christ to us at every stage of life. We have to pray for them as if our lives depended on it, because they do.

The priest who grasps this vital reality, and who succeeds in conforming to the love of Christ in the exercise of Christ’s authority, will bear enormous fruit even if he cannot see the fruit he bears. After all, in this inability to see he is simply reflecting his Lord and Savior in the garden and on the cross, who has accepted for himself the loss of this consolation in his sacred passion: “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” “ This cry fulfilled a prophecy, but it expressed a feeling of abandonment no less real. Likewise, every priest can become an indestructible union with Christ, even in times of desolation. So let us all strive to rekindle the gift of God, not only in ourselves, but in our priests.

Besides, I thought that in my own response to God’s call to marriage and the lay apostolate, I would soon set the world on fire. Some new priests may think the same. But then I did not understand the difference between “my results” and the gifts of God. Truly, unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain, and he pours out gifts on his beloved while they sleep (Ps 127: 1-2). Yet my title asks what it takes to be a good priest. Fortunately, our own prayers and sacrifices can serve as the ignition for such a gift, such a conflagration of love.

Bro. Roch A. Kereszty, O. Cist., Revive the gift of God. Ignatius Press, 2021. 247 pp. Paper $ 15.26; EBook $ 11.67. Bulk discounts available

Jeffrey Mirus holds a doctorate. in Intellectual History from Princeton University. Co-founder of Christendom College, he was also the pioneer of Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See the full biography.

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