Priests Must Live a Martyr’s Life
Transcription of a conference given by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
The Catholic priest in the modern world can he be martyred for his faith in the priesthood?
No words of mine, nothing I could say, if I spoke for fifty years, would be too clear, that we are living in the age of martyrs. Only one mistake we can make is to think this is exaggeration or some kind of pious fancy. I wish to concentrate, for the reasons we already have said, on the priesthood – it is a living martyrdom today – and on the fact that we have lost so many thousands of priests. The Vatican, as I have said before, may not reveal the exact figures. It’s close to one hundred thousand priests who have left the priesthood throughout the world in the past half-century. Nothing, nothing like it ever before!
What are some of the forces at work? And now, the two buttons as we call them. The rampant secularism seeing our bodily life as ending with bodily death. Doctor Kervorkian – you know, the doctor of death. Richard Thompson, whom I received into the Church, prosecuted Kervorkian. When Thompson asked Kervorkian what happens when men die, his answer was, “They stink.” On these terms there is no need for the priesthood whose function it is to prepare people for a heavenly destiny. If there is no life after death then the priesthood is worse than a sham. Then again the preoccupation with material possessions in what we call developed countries, like the United States which is three trillion dollars in debt. And the whole preoccupation is with material prosperity. Consequently, in a society like ours which becomes secularized and preoccupied, there will be a corresponding lack of interest in the priesthood. In the United States, vocations to the priesthood have dropped ninety percent since Vatican II.
And how well I know, our media is not, not only unfriendly, but is positively hostile to the priesthood. In two dioceses Santa Fe in New Mexico and Dallas in Texas are both bankrupt because of lawsuits against priests. Of course, there have been and there are unfaithful priests, but nothing, nothing like this against the ministry of a, let’s say, Presbyterian or Lutheran or Methodist minister.
Our government, beginning with the president, is out to destroy the priesthood, period! I hope I’m being taped. And in the United States, hear it: in 1930 there were some six hundred declarations of nullity. Six hundred in 1930, but in 1997 there were sixty thousand.
For a priest to still talk about a lifetime commitment in marriage, he is well, out of tune with the times. However, in my judgment, the main grounds for claiming that a Catholic priest must expect to live a martyr’s life in the modern world, the main reason, is the spread of strange ideas in, not only Catholic circles, as to what exactly is a priest. My Vatican superiors have more than once told me, (I’m sure I’ve said this before) most of your priests in America who have been ordained since Vatican II need to be reeducated!
Articles have been in popular magazines, studies in scholarly journals, lectures and seminars, whole volumes are being published disclaiming that Christ instituted the sacrament of Holy Orders. I’ll never forget, and I know Fr. Richard McBrien, then head of the department of theology at Notre Dame University. He has written many books. He spoke for one hour to one hundred priests and Protestant ministers. In his whole one hour lecture he was saying that Jesus never instituted the priesthood. “The Catholic priesthood came into existence about 300 A.D.” (according to McBrien). That’s what our priests (shall I still call them priests?) that’s what they are being taught in the seminaries. Let me quote at length from a standard book on the subject by a priest.
“Ordination as a rite and ceremony that confers power or office does not exist in the New Testament. Ministry does not need to be empowered by a mandate or delegation or superior possessing power. The forms of ‘ordination’ are subject to the dispositions of the churches in a given period of history. Priesthood, as a specific type of ministry, does not exist in the New Testament. ‘Ministry’, or diakonia, is a nonsacral word. The early church leaned heavily on this secular term to describe its main ministering activity. Ministry in the New Testament is primarily functional. It is concerned with doing, like teaching, preaching, governing. The historical Jesus was not a priest.”
Once you deny that Christ himself was a priest, you have to provide for some one person who is to “preside” at the liturgy of the Eucharist. Let’s see, where did I speak most recently? O yes were you there? There were no kneelers. No, no kneelers, St. Edmunds in Detroit. And by now, how clever the devil is! All kinds of reasons have been given except the real reason, the denial of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. There are those who deny that Christ ever ordained the Apostles as bishops or priests.
Bishops who are also priests and can ordain other men to the priesthood. Here is his, (McBrien’s) following explanation of what happened in the early church. Underlying this explanation you have got to give the idea of the distinction between the laity and the clergy. In other words the claim is that there should not be any real distinction between the laity and the clergy. It is so, as it is claimed again, to be a later invention and not found in the New Testament.
And would you believe it, one whole page is devoted to this?
In the early Church there existed a plurality of church organizations. Some churches were ruled by a committee or council of lay elders, others were ruled by prophets and teachers. Still other, were ruled by a committee or council of lay elders, others were ruled by prophets and teachers. Still others, were ruled by traveling apostles, depending on who was ruling a given church, so we are told. Different persons would be “Eucharistic Presiders.”
Is that ever going on now!
Once the leader of the early community presides over the community, and also presides over the Eucharist, one would assume that the person presiding over the community has arrived at his leadership position, called by leadership qualities discerned by the community. The said “Eucharistic Presider” would be ordained to pull together the community, also to continue building community and then to celebrate it. This presider would be the public embodiment, the living symbol of the community’s goals and values. As such, the presider would be a sacrament of God’s presence in the community. “At the same time”, I am quoting, “he or she would be a unifying symbol to reconcile the members of the community to God and to each other.” He or she would bring order and harmony in the community so that all its ministries would build up the Church. In the immediate future this “Eucharistic Presider” will probably be a diocesan or religious priest, already ordained. However, as these priests die the future presiders will have to come from the communities. Leaders, male and female, married or single presiding over the Eucharist, will always remain one among many shared ministries to the community.
And that is widely, widely taught! These books, I repeat, are used in seminaries. I would like to say a little more before we go on to our conclusion.
It would be serious enough if this kind of thinking was only among, say, certain theologians and especially feminist theologians. This thinking is among bishops. Without identifying the bishop, I faxed a list of twenty bishops requested by a bishop friend of mine. “Can you send me the names of twenty bishops in the United States whom you are sure believe in the priesthood?” Do you hear me?
As I celebrate my 51st (now 53rd) year of ordination to the priesthood, please pray and sacrifice for the bishops and priests in one so-called developed country after another.
Now you hear these statements widely circulated by priests. You say to yourself, “Am I dreaming or is it real?” It is real. That is why I have said what I have said so far. We Catholics must be ready to live a martyr’s life for our faith in the priesthood. We priests must live a martyr’s life for our faith in our own priesthood and the religious and the laity for faith in the priesthood. What is this faith? It is the Faith professed now for twenty centuries except for the apostates. What do we believe when we believe in the priesthood? We believe that Jesus Christ did institute the sacrament of Holy Orders on Holy Thursday night when he ordained the Apostles bishops with full power of the priesthood.
And even the English translation of the consecration, “Do this in memory of Me” (at the raising of the chalice ) “When supper was ended, He took the cup”. In English it is “He took the cup” in Latin it is chalice. We don’t say take grape juice or water in a chalice. A chalice is sacred, not for profane use. However I especially want to note, the words in the consecration of the chalice “Do this in memory of Me.” It is not memory, the word is “commemoration.” And that is why, (and I am sure) I have said this at some time. Pope Paul VI published a formal document for the whole Church. For the meaning of the word in the Liturgy, is never that of the vernacular. Never! It is always that of the original Latin. This Sacramentary has been deeply tampered with. We believe as Catholics that bishops are ordained and ordain other bishops. We believe that from the very dawn of Christianity it was only given to the priests.
What was given the priesthood? Only priests could offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
I was giving a lecture to a group of people. After the lecture about five seminarians came to me and asked if I could help one of their seminarians, who had just been dismissed from the seminary just before ordination. So I asked what happened. What happened was that one of the priest professors told about a half dozen seminarians to attend a special Mass he was saying, con-celebrating with a woman. They were told never to tell anyone. He could not keep it to himself, it was too serious. So he told the rector, the rector told the bishop, and the seminarian was evicted from the seminary. So they asked me to help him get back into the seminary. I asked the seminarian to come see me in New York. We talked. He was genuine. So I called up the bishop president of Saint Joseph’s Seminary of the New York Archdiocese. He was accepted and ordained. I have never seen anyone so grateful!
And consequently, only priests from the beginning could offer the Sacrifice of the Mass. Only priests could change bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. Only priests could absolve sins in the sacrament of Confession and reconcile people with an offended God. Only priests could administer the sacrament of Anointing,
Once you believe this, you have no choice as a priest, you can not deny your faith. All the learned jargon about the lay ministry is just that, jargon, it’s a lie.
However those priests who believe that they have been empowered by Christ to do what no one else can do like change bread and wine into the living Body and Blood of Christ and reconcile sinners with God – such priests will have to pay dearly for their faith convictions.
And, as in the literal transcription of my talk.
I know ! I know!
And I can say this on the fifty-first , now (fifty- third) anniversary of my ordination, I’ve paid dearly. And I am still paying and the miracle is I’m still alive and I’m sane.
And now the closing two sentences or maybe three – the Church is going through the worst crisis in her Catholic history. She will not only survive she will thrive only on one condition that we priests be not only willing to live but are willing to die for faith in the priesthood given to us by Jesus Christ on the night before He died.
And it is great to live like this. I work with priests, exiled priests, priests removed from their diocese, priests removed from their communities because they believed what the Catholic Church has taught for two thousand years.
(I am speaking to all women religious and Marian Catechists).
Women have a very great influence over men, a very great influence. I think I should spend a little time explaining what I have learned in these (fifty-one) now fifty-three years in the priesthood. Women have very deep influence first of all over men.
In giving retreats I think I have said this before to men. I ask who has the stronger will, and I ask men or women? Some women are not so sure and some men are not so sure, but no husband I have ever talked to has any doubt they find out in six days after marriage. This applies not just, nor does it apply mainly, to say wives. It applies to all women, to all women. I cannot tell you how much priests need to be supported by dedicated believing and shall I say it out-spoken women.
Over the years dealing with so many priests I can’t tell you how many saintly women have helped priests to be faithful to their priesthood. Let me tell you, there are women – I think I should say this – whose profession is to seduce priests. They are specialists. And priests like numb sculls, don’t realize what this woman is after.
And this is really what is behind the plague of wanting women to be ordained priests. In other words the priesthood as instituted by Christ provides the priest with power and authority and influence, and this is being envied, envied by many women
The breakdown of religious communities of women in the United States (I don’t think I have ever said this publicly) – the breakdown of communities of religious women in our country is religious women envying priests. They will not take orders through priests including the Bishop of Rome. I know, how well I know!
Our focus is however, on the priesthood instituted by Jesus Christ.
Do you Sisters have a custom in your community of praying for the priest? Is there any single prayer for the priest?
This is good.
God, we recommend to your fatherly care of the Pope, Cardinals, Bishops and all priests and all religious for all those who have asked for prayers and for whom we should pray.
What I would like to propose before we end this conference is the need for prayers and sacrifice for priests. The need is gigantic.
Never before in the history of the Church has the priesthood been so opposed as it is now. And sadly, from the inside, from apostate bishops and apostate priests. But the need for prayer and sacrifice for priests and bishops, I believe this should be an apostolate.
In one diocese after another in the United States, (it’s worse still in Canada) there are parishes without priests. Do you know that? We need priests so that those who are priests remain faithful and I must say they pay a heavy, very heavy price!
And I think I told you, for twenty-five years I have been teaching the Handmaids of the Precious Blood. They are in the diocese of Santa Fe. The diocese in Santa Fe is bankrupt, completely bankrupt. Millions, millions have been given out because of lawsuits involving unfaithful priests and priests who have been calumniated and were innocent. So now you know and they have first of all their own community but they also have associations. The first association is for the priesthood. Some sixteen thousand are praying for priests. The Holy Father is deeply, and I mean deeply, concerned about the future of the priesthood in countries like our own and in South America. There is another problem, as you know.
The United States and South America are controlled by the Freemasons.
In one country after another and as a result, in our country, so many dioceses are, if not priestless, at least parishes with thirty or forty thousand people which can extend two or three thousand miles,
What ever you can do especially with your prayers there must be an apostolate for priests.