I read a comment from a Priest, saying that his parish Church, late at night, was such a beautiful and peaceful place to pray. I don’t doubt that he was absolutely right.
But as I read his words, something else struck me – the power of actually seeing a Priest at prayer in his Church, outwith the celebration of Mass. For a parishioner, this is an incredibly powerful thing to see and it tells us several things.
Firstly, it says very clearly that this Priest actually believes what he preaches – that he has the gift of faith and he practices that faith, seeking to perfect it; he is not simply going through the motions.
Secondly, it says very clearly that he is a man of prayer – and for this to be so, he needs to believe in the power of prayer, and to actually pray.
Thirdly, it comments on his humility – while a Priest, he is also like all the rest of us in the sense that he needs to cultivate and maintain a relationship with God. That relationship is always a work in progress – as it is for us all – and prayer is the tool used to hone it.
Sadly, the converse is true when we fail to see our Priests praying in Church.
Such Priests are not really able to set us that example of clear witness, and the three criteria listed above are absent, at least in our perception even if not necessarily in reality. Now, that is not to say those Priests are not good and holy, men of faith and prayer, humble and prayerful – but if we do not see it, the message is simply not there for us.
As an example of this, I recall once seeing a Bishop praying his Rosary alone in Church, some time before a service was due to begin and at which he was to preside. It was very powerful to me as a witness of what kind of man and shepherd he was, such that any time after that when I heard him criticised, I always remembered that evening, and knew he was a good man.
As a futher example, I can also recall certain other Priests I have known and whom I have never once seen praying except at Mass; this, too, sent out a very clear message to me, but not a positive one. And I would be very reluctant to go to Confession to such a Priest nor to approach them with a problem. I would always choose one I knew to be a man of prayer.
As for all those Priests with whom we are personally familiar – every one of them, regardless of which of the two categories we might think they fall into, are in need of our prayers. The life of a Priest is one of sacrifice on our behalf, and so we owe them a debt.