Means of Ascetical Training for Priests

Priests must walk in the ways of the spiritual life, in which he leads his flock, and therefore he should earnestly strive in obtaining his own sanctification.

The principal means for this end are:

PRAYER. The duty of prayer is greater for the priest than for the layman because of the greater holiness of his state, its greater duties, and its more numerous and serious dangers. Prayer is the proper element of the spiritual life, and love of prayer is a prominent characteristic of a good priest. Without the spirit of prayer the priest is like salt that has lost its savour, a bird without wings, a fish out of its element, a flame without fuel, or, as St. Jude says (v. 12), “They are like clouds blown about by winds without giving rain.”

Principally, there are two types of prayer, one of which is a duty the other a necessity for the priest: viz., the Breviary and meditation. The Breviary is enjoined upon the priest not only for his own benefit, but for that of the entire Church, and of his flock in particular. The priest is the mediator between God and the people, and the prayer of the Breviary is a channel through which the grace of God flows out upon the faithful. He that omits this prayer closes this channel, and deprives the faithful of many graces they would otherwise receive. 

Meditation may be called, according to the unanimous testimony of all spiritual writers, a conditio sine qua non for all priestly and pastoral life. St. Francis of Sales says it is an indispensable necessity for every priest to devote each day some time to meditation. It is the soul of the sacred ministry, and so essential that without it priests will never be able to fulfil all their duties towards God and towards their charges. The daily practice of meditation will continually nourish the zeal of the priest, will introduce him ever more and more into the spirit of his vocation, will prevent him from remaining in sin, will fill him with consolation, joy, and peace. 

A practice intimately allied to prayer is spiritual reading. “In prayer,” says St. Augustine, “we speak to God; in spiritual reading God speaks to us.” Spiritual reading is necessary to no one so much as to the director of souls. He watches over others, he instructs, he admonishes; but no one instructs him, no one corrects him. If then the living conceal truth from him, let him apply to the dead by reading edifying authors, especially those that treat of the duties of the ministry. 

Another exercise closely connected with the foregoing is the daily examination of conscience. It leads to a knowledge of one’s own heart, and hence, also, to the knowledge of men, which is so necessary to the priest. This knowledge is a protection against vain self-esteem, the most dangerous of all evils. No wonder, then, that this practice is pointed out by spiritual writers as one of the most efficacious means for the acquisition and preservation of virtue. A consequence of daily meditation and examen of conscience will be frequent confession, which is of greater necessity to the priest than to the layman. For the daily offering of the Holy Sacrifice requires purity of conscience, and the faithful performance of his duties requires great light and strength. Another motive that should induce him to go to confession once a week is the gaining of so many indulgences dependent upon this condition. 

The daily visit of the Blessed Sacrament (Live Stream here) is especially becoming to the priest. In daily communion with the Supreme Pastor, the priest of souls will obtain that light, strength, grace, and charity so essential if he would “gain all for Christ.” 

Another effectual means of sanctification of one’s self and others is devotion to the ever Blessed Virgin Mary. As she took a special part in the redemption of mankind, so she does likewise in the communication of this redemption to every individual. She, the “Queen of the apostles,” is found in the midst of the apostles, praying with and for them for the descent of the Holy Ghost. 

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All these exercises are practicable only when the priest observes a daily rule of life. Occasionally it may be impossible to observe the rule, but ordinarily it must regulate the interior and exterior life of the priest, and when from necessity he deviates from it in one instance or for a short while, he should resume it as soon as possible.

Finally, the spiritual retreat, annual, or at least, biennial, is a great means of sanctification. Pope Pius IX, in his encyclical Qui Pluribus of the 9th of Nov. 1846, earnestly recommends the retreat as an excellent means for upholding the dignity and sanctity of the sacerdotal state. The Third Plenary Council of Baltimore quotes this encyclical, and adds: “We therefore decree that the bishops institute every year, or at least every second year, such a retreat for the clergy of their diocese, that, renovated in mind and heart, and receiving more abundant graces from God, they return to a more fruitful discharge of the sacred ministry.”