The CAPG's Blog
Towards the Altar
Is it a small thing unto you that the God of Israel hath separated you from all the people, and joined you to himself, that you should serve Him in the service of the tabernacle, and should stand before the congregation of the people, and should minister to Him? Numbers XVI, 9
Blessed is he whom Thou hast chosen and taken to Thee: he shall dwell in Thy courts. We shall be filled with the good things of Thy house; holy is Thy temple. Psalm LXIV, 5.
One of the works that craves the sympathetic cooperation of all Catholics, especially our Catholic parents, is the recruiting of young men for the service of the altar. The very existence of religion and its advancement in the world depend upon the constant supply of those ambassadors to whom God has delegated His mission and His power. The priest is the propagator of Christ's doctrines, the dispenser of His graces, the lieutenant of the Holy Ghost in the work of man's sanctification. The Holy Ghost is continually operating in individual souls, striving to keep them in a state of grace, or striving to restore it to them when it is lost, but in this sublime effort His instrument is the priest. The Holy Ghost floods the intellect with the light of faith, but it is the words of the priest that set the rays in vibration. The charity of the Holy Ghost warms men's cold hearts and moves their wills, but this is done through the Sacraments conferred by the hands of the priest. It is God's
desire to remain with us, to be the nourishment of our souls, but He depends on His priests to utter the words that keep Him in our tabernacles. "Where there is no priest there is no sacrifice says the (..) Cure d'Ars; "where there is no sacrifice there is no religion; where there is no religion there are no reasonable men, only brutes destroying each other."
True, the Christian faith might subsist for a time, even though Christ's ambassadors had disappeared, but once the souls of men were deprived of the benefits of absolution and of that heavenly manna which is Christ's own Body and Blood, they would soon pine away and die a spiritual death. Without the priesthood the light of faith would soon dwindle and disappear altogether. This has been the result in every land where persecution has succeeded in banishing the clergy. We have only to mention the instance of England under the Tudors, or of Japan under Tiacosama. A vital affair, then, in the life of the Church, is the filling up of the priestly ranks to continue the work of those whom death claims, or whom age and fatigue oblige to lay down the burdens of the ministry.
Before the Council of Trent, the old monastic and cathedral schools educated youth in preparation for the service of the altar. The universities crowned these preliminary studies with courses of philosophy and theology, and the young Levites then started out to labor for souls. But the upheaval of the sixteenth century caused such disruption in this order of things, the leaven of heresy tainted the wells of knowledge to such an extent, that the Fathers of the Council of Trent had to initiate other methods and provide other means for the rearing of the future servants of the sanctuary. It was then that they resolved that every country, every diocese even, should provide its own pastors and carefully train them to meet the spiritual needs of the faithful. They decreed that institutions should be established where young men showing signs of a vocation to the priesthood should be trained in science and virtue. These institutions they called seminaries. The name was well chosen. In its etymological sense, "seminary" means a nursery where saplings are planted and carefully tended until they are strong enough to resist the action of the elements, when they may be transferred to other soil. In the minds of the Fathers of Trent, the saplings were to be the young men destined for the priesthood, who, after they had been strengthened morally and intellectually, should go out into the world to spread the Faith by their teaching and uphold it by their example.
This wise legislation of the Council of Trent has been the salvation of the Catholic religion ever since the sixteenth century. For the past four hundred years, our seminaries have supplied the Church with her ministers, and the prospects are that for centuries to come the Church must look to the same sources for them. Such being the case, the question of the recruiting of the priesthood should concern every Catholic, layman and cleric; it should, in fact, appeal to all who have the interests of our holy religion at heart; for we are all responsible to God in some way or other for the soul of our neighbor.
In recent years the number of young men who enter our diocesan seminaries has diminished in a marked degree, and yet the needs of the Church have grown with the spread of the Faith, not merely at home but in foreign lands. Our bishops everywhere are deploring the scarcity of priests to cater to the religious wants of Catholics; the foreign missions are clamoring for workmen; everywhere, at home and abroad, the harvest is ripe, and there are not reapers enough to gather it in.
The glamor of the world naturally at tracts inexperienced young men, and it is sad to think that Catholic parents will not turn a hand to influence their decisions. There was a time when the prospect of seeing a son at the altar was a father's or mother's highest ambition on earth, but that time has evidently gone. Wealth and honors and the pleasures of life have too strong an attraction; abnegation and poverty and suffering in the footsteps of the Crucified seem too great a sacrifice to ask from the sons of worldly minded Catholic parents. And yet the claims of religion are just as cogent as they ever were. The need of holy and learned priests is greater than ever before; for in these strenuous times, souls not merely must be fed with the Bread of Life, but they must also be fortified against the pernicious doctrines and influences that are rife on every side.
A heavy responsibility shall rest on the shoulders of some one, and if it is parents who discourage their sons from entering the ranks of the priesthood, they should be warned while there is yet time. God's designs are never thwarted with impunity. To parents, preferably to all others, He has confided the eternal interests of young souls. Their duty is to try to discern early His providential designs and to second their execution. Parents should be the first to foster in a child the germ of vocation to the priesthood, when it begins to show itself; above all, they should be watchful, lest the frail germ be stifled amid worldliness and the temptations of life. When the moment comes for its final blossoming in the seminary or in the novitiate, they should not hesitate to give their son willingly to God, in order that in the course of time he may not only honor them in the dignity of his priesthood, but also and this should be of much greater moment for them that they may have their in direct share in their son's labors in the Master's vineyard and their own reward for eternity.
So much for the candidate to the priesthood; a word now about his training in the novitiate or the seminary. How may lay-Catholics help in this work? By contributing to the support of those institutions wherein priests are educated. The precept obliging us to support our pastors has a wider range that is generally supposed, nor is it restricted to the needs of the moment. The young seminarian of today will be the pastor of tomorrow, the novice of today will be the missionary of tomorrow; and if we understand our obligations aright, the future as well as the present has its claim upon the generosity of all who are able to help.
From those who are favored by fortune more generous sacrifices may be asked. The Spirit of God breathes where It willeth. We know too well that the whispering Voice calling a child to the sanctuary is often heard in homes where worldly wealth is a stranger, and it often happens that no matter how pressing his desires, how lofty his hopes, how urgent his call, the young man sees the priestly career closed against him unless some generous benefactor steps in and provides the wherewithal to enable him to carry out his wishes. One of the most Godlike of charities, when a family is in a position to do so, is to provide for the education of a young priest either in a diocesan seminary or in a religious community. God promises His blessing to the generous giver, even when an alms is doled out for the mere welfare of the body; how much more readily will He bless those who give of their substance to save immortal souls! Wealthy Catholics should seize this opportunity of showing their generosity. They may not be called by God directly to save souls, but it is their privilege, if they will only use it, to help those who are called by God directly to save souls.
To sum up. There is a great scarcity of priests to carry out the work of the Church. Let young men who feel the call to the priesthood not hesitate to follow it. Let Catholic parents be generous in giving their sons to God when His holy will is made known to them. Let the Catholic laity, the well-to-do especially, be generous in helping on the work of training in our seminaries. All may not be able to give of their worldly substance, but all may help by their prayers. Let us ask God to supply His Church with holy and learned men who will carry on the work which He Himself began during His earthly career.