When life is difficult and when one is mourning the passing of a loved one,…
Thanking God for the gift of the priesthood
“St. Dominic knew what he was doing.” Atop the Blue Mountain, in the chapel of the Dominican nuns of St. Dominic Monastery in Linden, Virginia, Father Romanus Cessario, OP, celebrated Mass in thanksgiving for 50 years as a priest on May 28. I’ve seen Father Romanus in many settings over the years, and nowhere does he seem more at home as with Dominican nuns.
There’s something unmistakably of the Dominican charism about that. St. Dominic, the founder of the Dominicans, actually started an order of cloistered Dominican nuns before the friars. It’s as if the friars couldn’t be — or shouldn’t be — without cloistered women living in contemplation of the Word of God.
As Father Romanus put it in his jubilee homily: “By his pairing of nuns and priests, our holy father established a spiritual bond that combined the geographic stability of the older monastic orders with the itinerant mendicancy of his friar preachers. Very few Christians can sustain a life of perpetual pilgrimage. … Every preacher needs a home, a dwelling place.”
And that’s what the nuns do when priests come to celebrate Mass for them and get a few days of respite among their lovely singing and warm hospitality.
“What are the signs of home?” he asked. “One should not pass over prayer, which united nun and priest, whether he is present physically in the monastery or joins the nuns from afar. Food is another sign of homecoming, one that should not be separated from the nuns’ spiritual mission.”
He added one more: flowers. “St. Thomas explains the diversity in creation by appeal to the divine wisdom. What exhibits more manifestly this diversity than the species of flowers that brighten the universe? So, flowers especially become Dominicans whose lives are centered around the ordinations of a wise and loving providence.”
Father Romanus quoted a saying from St. John Vianney: “Only in heaven will we know what is a priest, for otherwise, the joy would be too much for earthlings to bear. After five decades of priesthood, I can attest that the saintly patron of priests was onto something.” His wisdom “appears especially when the priest considers what he fears may be his failures and what he hopes will become his successes.”
He said that a monastery is a place of retreat, where “the priest blends into the hidden life of the contemplative nun and, like the sacrament that he daily confects, produces wise and loving fruits known only to God and Our Lady, mediatrix of all graces.”
In “The Grace to Be a Priest” (Cluny Media, $17.95), Father Romanus writes of the reality of the priesthood in the world: “Because he remains an instrument of salvation for the world, the priest inescapably takes on the character of a sacred person, a public sacred person. He should never present himself to others as a mere private witness to religion in public life, a promoter of ethical culture, or the poor man’s psychologist.” It’s no breaking news that “the established place of the priest within the human community today suffers a certain ambiguity among the general public.” And that may actually be the best-case scenario with many.
“When the priesthood suffers,” Father Romanus writes, “the Church suffers. When the Church suffers, the divine meditations that people require for salvation become scarce. In this scenario, a kind of practical apostasy becomes likely.”
In this time of re-openings, post-COVID-19, we must cherish the priesthood as living instruments of grace. In any sufferings that Father Romanus has endured — that is inevitable in a life dedicated to God — I suspect there have been tremendous seeds planted for renewal in the life of our aching Church and world. Thanks be to God for the priesthood of Father Romanus, and for all the priests he has inspired along the way. And not just priests, as I can humbly testify. Let’s pray for all priests and the protection of priests, so that they may be holy and faithful. Let them know we need them and thank them — and God for them.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review.