When I was young, I watched a really awesome wildlife program on television. It was all about, of all things, the tsetse fly. The bloodsucking tsetse fly, if I remember correctly, was a real nuisance in Africa. It caused diseases in both livestock and humans, including African sleeping sickness. Scientists naturally wanted to eradicate the pest, and this is the ingenious way in which they did it.
Rather than killing individual flies, a procedure that had proven to be utterly futile, the entomologists used a pheromone from the female tsetse fly to attract and capture thousands of male tsetse flies. What did they do to these male tsetse flies? Did they kill them? No! They used radiation to sterilize them, and then they released them. Every time a fertile female tsetse fly mated with one of the sterilized male flies, there were absolutely no offspring. The result? The tsetse fly population was cut down to almost nothing.
All of this, believe it or not, can serve as a timely reflection as we ponder the importance of the priesthood. Here is what I mean.
Good priests are, of course, a great nuisance to the Devil. Only priests and bishops are able to celebrate Mass, hear confessions, and anoint the sick. So what does Satan do in order to neutralize the influence of priests in the world? Does the Evil One kill us outright? No! I think the Devil tries to do to us priests exactly what the scientists did to the tsetse fly population of Africa. Satan sterilizes us priests, so to speak, by ensnaring us in sin and making us the cause of scandal, by tempting us to become worldly and distracting us from Christ’s work of saving souls, and, worst of all, by robbing us of courage and thus rendering much of our preaching vapid. In her book Way of Perfection, Saint Teresa of Avila laments over cowardly priests:
“Even preachers are composing their sermons so as not to displease. They may have good intentions, and good deeds may follow, but the result is that few repent. Why don’t sermons influence many to give up vice? Do you know my opinion? I think those who preach are very cautious. They don’t have the great fire of love of God that the Apostles did, and so the flame has little power to enkindle. I don’t say the fire should be as intense as that of the Apostles. But would that it were greater than what I see!”
Pray for your priests. We are the targets of attack from all quarters. The Devil is like a roaring lion looking for priests to devour. Why? As Satan himself told Saint John Vianney, the patron of parish priests: “If there were even a few more priests just like you, my kingdom would be at an end.”
May God bless us all!