Recently I was at home in Ireland on vacation, but I was greatly saddened to see the atmosphere in the country with regards to the Church. It has become very anti-Catholic. Much of this is understandable because of scandals that have happened in the past, but much of it is also grossly unfair. A few days ago I read that in the last 10 years, 8 priests in Ireland committed suicide, which is really shocking. I knew two of them. I don’t know exactly what happened to them, but it seems that they couldn’t take what was going on any more. I also know many who have left. One friend who left the priesthood recently wrote in an email to me that the priesthood had become so joyless and such a burden to him. He had little or no support where he was working and that is not how it is meant to be. Priests are meant to be the shepherds of the people and the people are meant to take care of their shepherds. Thankfully that has not been my experience here. People are wonderful in looking after their priests in this country and I am very grateful for that.
One of the politicians at home recently said that if you see a priest you should probably throw a stone at him and that the Catholic Church should be in the trash, where it belongs. That is religious persecution and inciting hatred, but the problem is that it is subtle. It would be much easier to deal with bloody persecution, because then you would know who is with you and who is not.
Why is this happening, apart from the scandals that have outraged people? The reason is because Satan knows what God has given us in the Eucharist and he wants to do everything possible to take that away from us, or to make us turn against it and there is no Eucharist without the priesthood. So the easiest way to do it is to turn people against the priesthood. Jesus ordained that we would have the gift of his Body and Blood through the priesthood. Priests are ordinary, weak, human beings, just like everyone else, but for whatever reason Jesus made it so that priests would be his messengers and the instruments through which we would have the gift of the Eucharist, the gift of his Body and Blood.
Ireland is not the only place where this is happening. It happens continually in different countries, but it is usually more public and bloody. In China most of the Catholic Church has to operate underground, because the government doesn’t want it. In the Middle East at the moment great numbers of Christians have been executed because they are Christian. A good friend of mine, called Ragheed Ghanni, was shot dead in Iraq because he was a priest and refused to close the church.
Why am I painting such a bleak picture of what is going on? I think it is good that we are reminded of the gift that we have in the Eucharist and the lengths people are willing to go to, in order to make sure that we continue to have it. Thank God we do not have open persecution here, but it could happen. The Eucharist is the gift of Jesus himself, his Body and Blood and without our priests we will not have that gift.
Sometimes I get frustrated when I meet hostility because I am a priest, but then I am reminded that Jesus said it would be like this. ‘You will be hated by everyone on account of my name, but the one who perseveres will be saved’ (Mt 10:22). The other side of this is that we continually turn to Jesus to receive the strength we need to persevere. I don’t just mean priests, but all of us. Satan will continue to try and convince us that we don’t need the Eucharist, or the Church, and especially not the priests, but the reason he does that is because he knows that this is one of the greatest gifts that Jesus has given us, because it is the gift of Jesus himself.
So let us remember to pray for our priests, especially those who are being persecuted and let us also remember where our strength lies when we are getting frustrated or find it hard to keep going. Our strength is in Jesus, in the Eucharist which is really and truly the Body and blood of Jesus.
“Come to me all who labor and are overburdened and I will give you rest.”