Fr Michael Murphy takes a look at the development of the Intercession for Priests, and the work of Sr Briege McKenna
AT THIS time of year the priests of this country make headlines as their representatives meet in the National Council of Priests to discuss matters relating to the lives of priests, and to draw the attention of bishops and of the people they serve to the views of priests on subjects of mutual interest.
So this is an appropriate time to bring to the notice of Herald readers another enterprise which addresses the problems that priests face in their personal and working lives, but from a different angle. Its title is Intercession for Priests. Yes, for priests; and by priests.
Most people, including many priests, would say, "but surely priests are meant to intercede for the people, isn't that their job?". True. But who intercedes for the priest?
At the Council meetings priests openly tell of some of the weaknesses they experience when trying to cope with the problems of the people they serve, weaknesses due to the system they have to operate, or due to the inadequacy of the training they received, or some other external factor.
But they are not unaware that the basic weakness may be in the priest himself, though they may not be able to identify its cause. And that can make the priest lonely. He may then put the blame for his sense of isolation on overwork.
Graham Greene in his autobiography, A Sort of Life tells of the counsel of his psychiatrist, "he would implore me to take care of my health and not to overwork. I smiled a little . . . It was only later I realized that overwork is not a matter of hours." No, perhaps it is more a matter of meaning.
All one can say is that through the Intercession for Priests, in its 12 years of existence, the lives of priests who have come to it in need of more faith, more hope, and more love, have been transformed.
This happens because the practical problems of a priest's life, the "how" of doing his work, of living as a priest, can only be tackled if the priest has a deep sense of "what" is involved in being a priest. And that comes not just from study, nor just from "going on retreat", but through the power, the mystery of intercession.
What is intercession by priests, for priests, with priests? It means becoming aware of the prayer which the Holy Spirit prays within the priest; the prayer of Christ who "when he was in the flesh . . offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to God" (Hebrews 5,7) and who "forever lives to make intercession for us" (Hebrews 7,25). is also an essential element of a priest's ministry. Intercession for Priests exists to make sure that prayers are offered by the intercessors for themselves There is only one Priesthood, that of Christ. All of God's people share in it through baptism in a spiritual and mysterious way representing the Church the Body of Christ. Ordained priests share in it uniquely because they represent Christ the Head of the Church.
The priest is "father" because through his ministry many are brought to new life and holiness. Acting "in persona Christi" calls for more than the laying on of hands by the bishop at ordination. The Vatican Council made it clear that the first requirement for the priest is holiness of life, (Lumen Gentium, par 41).
And so the priests come together to pray for holiness for themselves, and for bishops, priests and deacons everywhere. While praying in thanksgiving for the great number of faithful priests, prayer goes up for priests who are persecuted and imprisoned, for those who are rejected and poor, for those who are captives of materialism, sensuality, or who are discouraged, indifferent or cynical.
Throughout the month of August some 500 priests will have attended the Intercession for Priests at All Hallows College, Dublin. Before that it was at Damascus House, London, in July.
The idea is that of Father Kevin Scallon, who was Spiritual Director at All Hallows College, Dublin. Kevin believes that the Lord will bring the growth in the Intercession if that is what He wants.
Fr Kevin is supported in his work by Sister Briege McKenna, of the Sisters of St Clare. I know that I can speak for all the priests who have attended the Intercession when I say that Sister Briege's ministry to priests is unique. She tells of her ministry in her recently published book Miracles Do Happen' (Veritas).
In his forward to that book Fr Francis J Sullivan SJ, who lectures in Rome, writes, "I have no hesitation in asserting that no woman has ever touched and changed the lives of so many priests as she has done. And I am grateful to be able to say that I am one of them."
In the Epilogue to the book Henry Libersat, Deacon, and co-author, writes, "We divide history into BC (before Christ) and AD (the year of our Lord). I divide my life BB and AB-Before Briege and After Briege."
Well, I divide my life BI and AI-Before Intercession for Priests and After. I just hope that many more priests will come to know its power to draw one close to God and His love.