Holiness of Priests | Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J. | Homiletic & Pastoral Review | June/July 2010
Recently I was re-reading Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen’s book Those Mysterious Priests (1974), published five years before his death on December 9, 1979. In Chapter 7 he talks about how the priest continues the Incarnation of God by sharing in the three offices of Christ—to teach, to sanctify and to lead. He makes the same point that Pope Benedict XVI made last March when he announced the current “Year for Priests.” He says, and offers reasons to prove, that the effectiveness of the Catholic priest is directly related to and depends on his personal holiness.
The Pope said that the first reason for the special year for priests is to encourage them to strive for holiness and spiritual perfection because the effectiveness of their ministry depends on that. It should be quite obvious that the holier the priest is, the more he will be able to help others to grow in the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ. This follows logically from the simple and profound fundamental principle that “No one can give what he does not have” (Latin: Nemo dat quod non habet). We learned that in first-year philosophy. It was true then and it is true now and always will be true. If a priest is not burning with love for Christ, he may be a good administrator or teacher but he will not inspire others to strive for holiness.
Sheen says that the priest
as an ambassador for Christ, as an instrument of Christ, is sent into
the world to convert it to faith in him and the living God. But the
priest cannot preach Christ and give him to others if he is not dwelling
already in the heart of the priest. Saints and martyrs in the history
of the Church are good examples of this. A few who come to mind are St.
Pius X, Pope Pius XII, Blessed Pope John XXIII, John Paul II, Fr.
Patrick Peyton (the “Rosary priest”) and Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, to
mention just a few. They were effective because they were burning with
love of Jesus Christ and, like St. Paul, they preached Christ crucified.
They also preached that we worship Jesus in the liturgy and in our
prayers because he is God incarnate.