Called to Be Other Saint Josephs

by Gabriel Ferrucci, K.C*H.S.

Though I never considered myself a spiritual father of priests, bishops, priests and laity have often referred to me as such. I do know that I esteem the priesthood with the greatest charity and respect and desire to help priests in any way possible.

In my very small town in southern Italy, where I was born and lived from the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s, there were many vocations to priestly and religious life, just as there were many ordained diocesan and religious priests (whom, by the way, I never saw wearing non-clerical attire.) Year after year young men entered the seminary after the local preaching team of Passionist Fathers concluded their two-week Lenten mission at our parish church. Their exemplary and unselfish lives, their fervent preaching from the heart, and their compassionate and tireless care for all people in need inspired many who wished to be just like them.  They were well-grounded in the Catholic Faith and effective in conveying it.  They were humble, happy, and proud to be vowed religious, always available to serve and not seeking to be served.

As economic conditions in the relatively peaceful Western world improved and globalization expanded along with technological advances, long-standing values were widely challenged.  The “euphoria of prosperity,” combined with the seductive mindset that identifies advancement with purely material growth, gradually led many, even among the People of God, to shift their interest and attention away from spiritual reflection and religious activities and towards an increasing number of opportunities in higher-paying professions, resulting in a more materialistic lifestyle.  It also appears that along with this rapid material and economic development, another phenomenon arose in many seminaries and religious institutions. Precisely when greater discernment and wise leaders were needed to deal with the mounting challenges of proclaiming the Gospel to a rapidly evolving culture, education was emptied of its depth and rigor. The quality of religious and seminary formation also suffered. This produced a vacuum in which the values of the kingdom of man threatened to displace the values of the Kingdom of God, with virtually no resistance.   It should be no surprise then that priestly life in general came to be regarded by younger generations as a something not worth emulating, and that the abundance of opportunities for enjoyment in contemporary life resulted in fewer vocations to religious life. This in turn seems to have influenced Church leaders to accept less-qualified candidates for religious studies and to be less demanding in their spiritual formation.  The notion of praying for good and holy vocations to priestly and religious life became passé. 

Addressing the need to pray and sacrifice for priestly holiness and vocations to the priesthood is of utmost importance for the fruitfulness of the New Evangelization, for the good of souls and the glory of God’s Kingdom. Let us also do everything we can to strengthen our love for God, our care for our Church, and our zeal for our brothers and sisters in need, and our mindfulness of our own salvation. If we pause and reflect on our priorities in life, we will become more appreciative and supportive of our priests and have a greater concern for vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

Without priests who are courageous in our Catholic Faith and who are supported for their tireless task of providing the Sacraments, the Church will be incapable of evangelizing the world and powerless to continue the hard work begun in the first century by the apostles under the impulse of the Holy Spirit.

Praying for priests is important at all times and there is a critical need at the present time to address two closely related issues within our Roman Catholic Church: vocations to her priesthood and the sanctity of her priests. Our family feels it is a privilege for us to support in every way possible the seminarians that have answered the call to the ministerial priesthood.

Like me, many men may not think of themselves as spiritual fathers of priests, but by God’s grace they are called to be other Saint Josephs for the men called to priesthood. Saint Joseph was certainly an important spiritual father for Jesus who is the Eternal High Priest. Our priests today need and deserve to count on men like Saint Joseph. I may not be entirely comfortable being referred to as a spiritual father of priests, but I definitely see them as sons of God who need paternal charity and fatherly strength to walk beside them on their exalted path of priestly sanctity. May the Lord bring forth a new impetus of spiritual fatherhood both within the priesthood and among all men for the urgent needs of the Catholic Church and the world. 

(Gabriel Ferrucci is a devout Catholic businessman and benefactor, with a long career spanning executive and board positions at various financial, educational, cultural, community, and Catholic institutions. In 2009, he received the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal. Gabriel resides with his wife Maria in Laguna Beach, California.)