St Joseph Cafasso

I only found out about Saint Joseph Cafasso the other day. He was a neighbour of St John Bosco and later became his advisor. He received a dispensation to be ordained priest at the age of 22, became a highly regarded Professor and Pastor, combining sound teaching with tireless works of mercy among the poor, those in prison and especially those condemned to death.

An eight day retreat that he gave for priests comprised 16 conferences. These are collected in the book "The Priest, the Man of God: his dignity and duties". Having read two of these, I am eager to read the remainder.

In the first conference, he speaks of the nature and office of the priesthood. The idea of the "dignity" of the priesthood is sometimes found confusing today but St Joseph Cafasso analyses the matter sensibly, with practical advice for the priest. He looks at the nature of the priest, the person of the priest and the habits of the priest.

In his nature, the priest is as other men - he is a man, afflicted by original sin, with human needs and weaknesses. The world draws the conclusion that the priest need not be listened to any more than anyone else. The tepid priest draws the conclusion that since he has not ceased to be a man, he is entitled to carry on just as any other man of the world. The good priest draws the conclusion that he must be on his guard, restrain his senses, moderate his appetites, shun dangerous company and use prayer and penance as his weapons for the fight.

In his person, the priest has been raised to a sublime dignity. He should first of all know this in order to avoid degrading the dignity of the priesthood. Then he must uphold this dignity by a virtuous life which is all that matters to him: honours and titles count for nothing.

In his habits, the priest is called to be different from others: this is his calling and he should strive to live up to it. He should abstain from evil and practise virtue more than others - the Fathers of the Church are copiously cited in support of this thesis. If he fails in this, he will become a source of confusion for himself and scandal for the laity.

These are very good counsels for priests and the distinctions he makes are most helpful. The priest is the same as other men, yes - he has his fallen human nature. He is different from other men - he has the character of holy orders. Therefore he ought to live a better, more holy life. He has a duty to do this and people have a right to expect it. It struck me that the words of St Joseph Cafasso are very much in accord with the thesis of the book that I mentioned in May: After Asceticism.

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