Photo: Felix Carroll
When I was a kid, my friends and I would fish a lot. We'd pack our tackle boxes, our Wonder Bread (for bait), our rods, and snacks, and disappear down to the river beneath the train trestle or to one of our various still-water hideaways.
We were boys on the loose. A little wild. And a little careless when it came to the things we loved, whether people or possessions.
One day, during some horseplay, I accidentally bent one of the steel guides on my rod (I was probably using it as a samurai sword or a machete or a javelin). In trying to bend the guide back into place, it snapped off. I was distraught. When one of my older brothers found out what had happened, he said, "Oh, we'll just take it to Mr. Cook. He'll fix it."
The only thing I knew about Mr. Cook was that he was a quiet, old man with thick glasses who lived in a small house on Main Street. Turns out he had a little repair shop in his basement. For a nominal fee, he would fix anything — mechanical or otherwise — including fishing equipment.
Up till that point in my life, my experience had been that when something was in need of repair, you left it to the experts, and they took care of it in some mysterious, specialized way. Mr. Cook didn't prefer to do things that way. Under his system, you were invited to repair things with him — to be an active participant in the repair. I suspect there were three reasons for this.
The first was personal: He probably wanted the company. The second was practical: He probably needed another set of hands to help. The third was merciful: He probably wished to impart his old-world wisdom regarding the way things are built and the way they should be cared for.
So for the next 20 or so minutes, there I was, trying to be helpful. I stood in the circular glow of his vise light. Like a surgeon's assistant, I handed him tools he needed. I steadied the rod as he cut off the old guide string, re-tied the new guide into place, and coated the new string with lacquer. He explained everything as he did it.
In that 20 or so minutes, I was given what probably amounted to the first great lesson of my life. The lesson boils down to this: We have the power to fix things through our loving care; that much delight and fulfillment can come through fixing things; but in the meantime, we must take care of the things we cherish; and, finally, keeping things from breaking in the first place is preferable.
On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception last Dec. 8, the Congregation for Clergy made an announcement that made me think of Mr. Cook. It announced a call to all people to take on the spiritual work of mercy of praying for priests.
All priests need "spiritual help in order to live their own vocation and mission in today's world," said Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, in an interview with L'Osservatore Romano in December.
This initiative makes me think of Mr. Cook because, again, it is the "expert" — that is, Church officials themselves — who, with humility, are asking for assistance. We are being invited to take an active role in the repair and upkeep of the Church through our prayers.
Specifically, the initiative calls for people willing to offer Eucharistic adoration for the priesthood and to pray for specific priests in order to help them live their vocation and mission. It recommends entrusting "all priests to Mary, the mother of the high and eternal Priest, bringing about in the Church a movement of prayer."
"We all need to answer this call," said Maria Pirrone of Ottawa, Canada. Inspired by the Vatican's initiative, her prayer cenacle, Mother of Mercy Cenacle Group, has begun adopting priests as "spiritual sons."
"I love them dearly," she says. "Praying for them is one of the most important things we can do for the Church."
Saint Faustina herself prayed fervantly for priests. She wrote in her Diary:
Lord, give us holy Priests; You yourself maintain them in holiness. O Divine and Great High Priest, may the power of Your mercy accompany them everywhere and protect them from the devil's traps and snares which are continually being set for the soul of priests. May the power of Your mercy, O Lord, shatter and bring to naught all that might tarnish the sanctity of priests, for You can do all things" (1052).
Today, such prayers are ever more crucial. A combination of neglect and misuse has caused the Church to fall into disrepair in many parts of the world. You can blame it on the shameful clergy sexual abuse scandal. Or you can blame it on the ignorance or indifference of our secularized society. Either way, the Church is one thing in our throwaway society that cannot be hastily replaced. It must be lovingly repaired. But it cannot be repaired without holy priests, and these priests need our prayers.
For our Church today, Mr. Cook's "repair guide" — a counter to all manner of impassivity — can be a useful for three reasons.
The first, too, is personal: Our priests need to know we love them and care for them.
The second reason, too, is practical. Priests are men whom Christ has chosen to assist Him in building up and leading His Church. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, it is the priest whom "the Holy Spirit enables ... to act in the person of Christ the head, for the service of all the members of the Church" (1142). "The ministerial priesthood is a means by which Christ unceasingly builds up and leads the Church" (1547). With all that responsibility, it is only natural they need our hands — in the form of prayer.
The third reason, too, is merciful. By praying for priests, we not only help them follow their vocation, but we help our neighbors. Indeed, through priests, the Gospel message may be proclaimed to the world. Through them, Christ's gift of the Holy Eucharist may be received.
Marie Pirrone says her cenacle has received heartening feedback for their efforts.
"The priests tell us that they're relieved to know that they are supported — that they need us," she said. "We know that the prayers are working. We'd like to see every single priest know that he is being prayed for."
The Church's annual World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests will be celebrated on the Feast of the Sacred Heart on May 30. Consider using that day as a launch pad for a spiritual work of mercy. Consider it an opportunity to step into the circle of light and lend a hand for Christ and His Church.