“No one will touch it with a 10-foot pole,” best-selling Catholic author, speaker and convert Elizabeth Ficocelli said to me when presenting the manuscript for the children’s book Where Do Priests Come From? “At one point a New York publisher was interested but then the abuse scandals began to break and they dropped it like a hot potato.”
“Yeah, I can imagine,” was my uneasy response. The secular headlines calling for Pope Benedict’s arrest, and/or demanding that he “step down” from the Chair of Peter, were all over the media. As the mother of 3 sons, my own heart was restless in regards to the on-going, ever-unfolding priest scandals that rocked the Catholic Church. Although no such scandal had touched my own life, I often thought of, and prayed for, the families who had experienced abuse.
How would I manage to publish a book about the priesthood as a noble and dignified calling? How could I, with limited reach and resources, consider a book that other Catholic publishers wouldn’t "touch with a 10-foot pole"?
I suppose that if the priesthood were simply a “made up” practice of the Catholic Church I, too, would have walked away from Elizabeth’s book. After all, my own company is just a “David” in an industry of “Goliaths” and it would seem that instead of boldly going where others wouldn’t, it would be more fitting—it would certainly seem wiser and show more business acumen—that I take my cue from the big guys and walk away. But my heart wouldn’t allow me.
Somehow I knew that if I walked away from this little gem of a book, the good Lord was going to ask me some tough questions when I stood before Him. Maybe it was because of all the research I have done over the years from my "Jewish roots" book. Or because my small company could much more quickly and easily round up an illustrator and bring this necessary book to print, amidst the scandal and contention surrounding the Church.
Whatever the reason, my heart knew the answer before my head could process it. I hoped the book might bring even one boy to the priesthood in the future, or that it might allow others --whatever their vocation-- to understand and revere the sacred priesthood, in spite of the current climate. And now-- I am filled with joy when I look through the beautifully illustrated pages and read the words that shed light on the question, "Where do priests come from?"
Part of the joy I take from this book --despite the pain that some cases of abuse have brought to so many-- comes from the knowledge that the holy priesthood was instituted directly by Jesus Christ. It is not an institution that the Catholic Church “made up.” It is, rather, an institution established by God.
The Protestant teaching is one of a “universal” priesthood in which the special, “set-aside” priesthood is no longer relevant or necessary. However, in denying that the priesthood still exists as a position essential to the Church, we would be required to deny the fullness of our faith which includes the Sacrifice of the Mass and the power to forgive sins—the binding and loosing in Matthew 16:19; 18:8 and John 20:23.
We have no right to deny the fullness of our faith. To walk away from the sacred priesthood, as instituted by Christ, is to walk away from Him in the Eucharist. We can continue to empathize with wounded families, in overwhelming situations, and still embrace the truth and sacred traditions of the priesthood.
Without a doubt, we must remain passionate about upholding the holy priesthood as a linchpin of our faith—without it, we will be completely lost. Make no mistake about it.
I’ve been reading Father Benedict Groeschel’s book “Arise from Darkness,” in which he writes:
“When we are … betrayed by those we thought we could rely on…we can pick up the Cross and wave it … To boast in the Cross, it seems to me, is an almost fierce gesture when we confront all that would defeat us and say: 'Look at the Cross, all of you, and know that I shall not be overcome, because the Lord of Life is with me and in me, and he will go with me even through the valley of the shadow of death'.”
We will rely on those whose responsibility it is to right these horrible wrongs and to punish wrongdoers. But we must also retain complete confidence that the agonizing Cross of the sex-abuse scandals cannot possibly destroy Christ's Church.
Instead of shying away from the truth about the sacred priesthood as a Divine institution, Elizabeth’s book celebrates the priestly calling. “Where Do Priests Come From?” relies on research, surveys and a passion to uplift those called to the Sacrament of Holy Orders. It is a beautifully illustrated book that is able to teach young and old alike about this God-given institution and why we are called to build it up, honor it, and cherish it.
This wonderful book inspires us to pick up the Cross, and announce to all powers and principalities: We shall not be overcome!
Note: Where Do Priests Come From? is the first in a series of vocation-awareness books by Elizabeth Ficocelli. The second book Where Do Sisters Come From? is due out in December, 2010 with Where Do Deacons Come From? due out in spring 2011. Catholic schools or religious education programs interested in bulk purchases should contact [email protected] for information.