A few times I have had the opportunity to give counsel to young men desiring to be priests. After some practical advice, I eventually like to come to the nitty gritty. “Would you be willing to be falsely accused for abuse?” I invite them to embrace the possibility with courage. (Today, under present circumstances, it is not difficult for the priest to be presumed guilty unless proven innocent. Our ecclesiastical tribunals are ill equipped to handle these cases).
The priesthood is for those Our Lord has personally called with a special attraction to be closer to him. Just like he invited Peter to follow him and be willing to die for him, so must we be willing to suffer the same fate that Our Lord suffered: that of being accused while being innocent.
I have known priests who dread this possibility. Some would not even get close to minors in order to avoid the possibility of a false accusation. There are priests who would avoid visiting the parochial school for that matter. They are playing it safe. I do not believe the priesthood is for playing it safe.
I still remember one of my favorite TV shows when I was five years old. It was a Western called “Branded” starring Chuck Connors. It was about a soldier who was falsely accused of running away while being innocent all along. He was dismissed from the army in shame. The lyrics of the theme song went like this:
Branded. Marked with a coward’s shame. What do you do when you are branded and you fight for your name… He was innocent, not a charge was true. But the world would never know… Wherever you go for the rest of your life you must prove you are a man.
The young man that God calls today should be brave enough to give the Lord his love and loyalty to the point of sacrificing his own name. God continues calling boys and young men to follow him. A little voice in their heart desires God. I felt that voice when I was seventeen years old and remember it as the most beautiful experience in my life.
These are the men that God entrusts his people to. He separates them from the rest of people and brands them with a seal (character) in their souls, a seal that will distinguish them as priests forever. They are entrusted to lead the people of God on the way to heaven. They are given the power to forgive sins and to feed the people of God with the Eucharist. So they are not of the world and yet they work in the world.
Priests are not the smartest of people, not do they have the best leadership capacities. At times they can lose their first love. However, it is my experience that they are some of the finest human beings I have known.
Let us pray for more vocations and for holy priests, young men willing to be branded as priests and “branded” if God allows them to be falsely accused.
Questions for pondering:
1. Do I pray for holy vocations?
2. Have I ever encouraged a teenager to be a priest? Why not?
3. Would I be open to have a child of mine become a priest?
Fr Lino Otero, LC: Originally from Nicaragua, my family moved to Miami, Florida when I was a teenager. Soon afterwards I experienced the call to serve God without reservations. Since then, I have had experience in hospital ministry, working as a middle school teacher, leading a parish school, organizing soccer tournaments for kids, starting a radio station, training priests in leadership formation, organizing a parish community from maintenance to mission, and much more. I love spiritual direction and preaching. Years of philosophy, psychology and theological training have enriched my personal life and have shaped my message of hope. For more go to linootero.me