Praying for Priests
(Biography: Father Gerald Fitzgerald)
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Father Gerald was too familiar with the Scriptures not to know how important is prayer in the apostolate to priests. What he read in the New Testament convinced him that priests must personally be men of prayer, but others must -- imperatively must -- pray for them.
St. Luke tells the story of King Herod's persecution of the early Church; how after he beheaded James the brother of John and saw that this pleased the Jews he decided to arrest Peter as well. "He put Peter in prison, assigning four squads of four soldiers each to guard him in turn. Herod meant to try Peter in public after the end of Passover week. All the time Peter was under guard the Church of God prayed for him unremittingly."(Acts 12:2-5).
In like manner, St. Paul, in what is considered his first inspired letter, closed the epistle to the Thessalonians with the earnest plea, "Pray for us, my brothers" (I Thessalonians 5:25).
Here we have the revealed teaching of the Holy Spirit, as a practice (for Peter) and a petition (by Paul) that among the duties of a Christian is to pray for priests. Surely if Peter, the first Pope, and Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, needed prayers, how much more their successors in the papacy, episcopate and the priesthood.
And most recently, when Pope John Paul II was elevated to the papacy, the day after his election he preached at the Mass he concelebrated with the College of Cardinals. The highpoint of his homily was an urgent request for prayers. "After praying to the Lord," he said, "we feel the need of your prayers to gain that indispensable heavenly strength that will make it possible for us to take up the work of our predecessors from the point where they left off." (Homily of Pope John Paul II, October 17, 1978).
All of this and more is part of the Church's unbroken tradition, since the earliest Christian times. The faithful pray for their priests, from the Bishop of Rome to the least known curate in some mapless village on the other side of the world. They are all "the anointed of the Lord".
We have already seen how plainly the founder of the Paracletes and Handmaids saw this need. In fact we might say this was the main reason he established the two religious institutes; that their members might pray for priests and they, in turn, might inspire other thousands of the faithful everywhere to do the same. On a personal note, this was also the main reason why the present author wrote this book on Father Gerald: to motivate people to pray, as they have never done before, for priests. In my estimation here is the principal neglect in Catholic Christianity today; even as praying to God for priests unremittingly, offers the greatest hope for the Catholic Church of tomorrow.
As we begin to ask ourselves, "Why should the faithful pray for priests?", the first response is also the fundamental one. Since all the faithful, priests included, are members of the same Mystical Body, all should cooperate with one another for the upbuilding of this Body and the greater glory of God.
Each of us has a different task to perform in the Church of Christ, and each has his or her own responsibility, according to their state of life. We should pray that fathers and mothers be good parents; wives and husbands good spouses; that children be good children; that the unmarried and widows serve God in their respective positions; that religious be good religious and faithful to their vocation.
So, too, priests deserve to be prayed for, just because they are priests and therefore part of the visible society, which is the Church. She is made up of many, and different members, each needing the other and each depending on the others for prayerful support.
But priests have been chosen to serve a unique and specially exalted role in the Mystical Body. They are to perpetuate the sacrifice of Calvary in the Mass, make present the living Christ on earth in our day and, in the power given them by Christ, they are to...