Sunday, January 31, 2010

Marked and Sealed and Signed

Dietrich von Hildebrand, the great 20th-century Catholic philosopher, lamented, as far back as the 1920s, the loss among Catholics of the sense of the supernatural.  He became aware of this loss when, as a professor in Catholic Bavaria, he was criticized for giving precedence to his priest students, because the students were not Ph.D.s.  Today, many priests themselves seem either unaware or ashamed of their incomprehensible dignity, as though they had gone through all those years of seminary training and received the indelible imprint of the priesthood on their souls all so that they could go back to being just like everybody else.

Introducing a bracing tonic in the shape of an opposing point of view from one who dedicated his life to reparation, especially for other priests.
“BUT, mother, is Jesus really there behind that little golden door? Does He never go away? Does He ever get tired? Is He never hungry, or sleepy, and how did He get in there?”

Two big eyes, full of eager questioning, looked up into mother‟s face, as if fearful that the story of Jesus, dwelling in the Tabernacle, might not be really true.

“Mother, how did He get in there?”
The lady smiled with pleasure as she saw how deeply her words had sunk into the heart of her little son, five years of age; and lifting him up in her arms, as she sat before the altar in her castle chapel, she explained to him the mysteries of the Holy Sacrifice and the wonders Of the Real Presence.

The child listened eagerly while she told him of those whom God had chosen to be His priests, and of the power given to them alone of bringing the great God down from Heaven to live with us on earth. She told him what a priest could do; how he could wash away every sin and raise the dead soul to life; bring back peace and happiness to the broken-hearted; change the bread and wine at Mass into the living Body of Christ, and bear Him in his hands to be the food of others.

“The holy priest does all that, René, and it is he who puts dear Jesus in the Tabernacle, that you may go to Him and ask Him all you want. He is always glad to see you come to visit Him, He will never grow tired of your company, and, perhaps, if you asked Him, René, He might some day make you also one of His priests, and let you hold Him in your consecrated hands.”

With a throbbing heart the mother stood rooted to the spot, as she watched her little René bring a chair and climb upon the altar.

“He must be asleep,” he murmured, “I‟ll wake Him up.”

Tap, tap, tap, upon the Tabernacle door. The child paused, bending forward to hear an answer.

Tap, tap— “O Jesus,” he cried, with a sob of disappointment in his voice, “I am so sorry You are asleep, for I wanted to ask You to make me a holy priest. I want so much to be a priest that I might hold You in my arms and kiss Your little face as often as I like. Good night, now, dear Jesus; but when You are awake tomorrow I‟ll come back to you again, for I do want, Oh! so much, to be one day a holy priest.”
From Shall I Be a Priest? by Rev. William J. Doyle, S.J.
Read the entire pamphlet here.

Lest you be tempted to dismiss this as sentimental tripe, here is another extract from Fr. Doyle, written during the Battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest battles in human history, on October 11, 1916. 

By cutting a piece out of the side of the trench, I was just able to stand in front of my tiny altar, a biscuit tin supported by two German bayonets. God's angels, no doubt, were hovering overhead, but so were the shells, hundreds of them, and I was a little afraid that when the earth shook with the crash of the guns, the chalice might be overturned. Round about me on every side was the biggest congregation I ever had: behind the altar, on either side, and in front, row after row, sometimes crowding one upon the other, but all quiet and silent, as if they were straining their ears to catch every syllable of that tremendous act of Sacrifice - but every man was dead! Some had lain there for a week and were foul and horrible to look at, with faces black and green. Others had only just fallen, and seemed rather sleeping than dead, but there they lay, for none had time to bury them, brave fellows, every one, friend and foe alike, while I held in my unworthy hands the God of Battles, their Creator and their Judge, and prayed to Him to give rest to their souls. Surely that Mass for the Dead, in the midst of, and surrounded by the dead, was an experience not easily to be forgotten.

Fr. William Doyle, chaplain to the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, 16th Irish Division in World War I,  was killed by a shell while ministering to the dying at the Battle of Ypres on August 16, 1917.

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