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A priest’s first prayer: “You have to break my heart, always…”

Jeffrey Bruno
Recent acquisitions have forced me to go through my bookshelves and select items for donation elsewhere ,and in the process I came upon a little Magnificat Prayer Companion for the Year of the Priest — ‘way back in 2009. It is a little book of novenas, litanies, essays and meditations on the value and meaning of the priesthood.

Being a Magnificat product, it is as excellently put-together as you would expect, and as I skimmed through it a few nights ago, I remembered why I had kept it: the illustrations are gorgeous and invite contemplation. The prayers are thoughtful and comprehensive. The meditations are little gems, especially this one, from Father Vincent Nagel. He writes about a prayer he uttered at the moment of his ordination. It’s one of those dangerous prayers of blessing that we instinctively realize will bring great gifts, if only we dared breathe it. Here is a little excerpt:

A Priest’s Utter Dependence on God

They say that at ordination -and it’s not doctrine, but it makes sense to me- when you’re lying on the floor prostrate on the pavement, and the whole congregation and the bishop and the priests are all calling down the Holy Spirit on you, whatever you ask God in the name of his Son our Lord Jesus Christ for the sake of your vocation, he will grant. . . .

I had no doubt about what to ask. I was sick, and it was killing me, but I specifically didn’t ask to get better. I said, “Lord you know that I will forget to follow you and depend on you . You know that I will not turn to you anymore as your child if I feel I can make it on my own. So you have to break my heart always, you have to keep me poor and humble, you have to keep me incapable of anything without you. You have to make it clear to me that I can do nothing without your grace, and that will never be clear to me if I think things are going well. You have to break my heart.”

I understood that my sickness was a part of that. I didn’t want more sickness; what I wanted was utter dependence on God so that I would be true to my priesthood, true to him.

That is some prayer to make — downright saintly. And one we all probably need to reconcile ourselves to and utter in faith.

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