Priests benefit from 'spiritual mothers'

Fr. Scott McCaig

Fr. Scott McCaig

June 15, 2015

Though a recent study shows most Catholic priests are happy in their vocations, they face many challenges that could lead some to become disillusioned.

"The demands on priests have grown exponentially in the last century," said Father Scott McCaig, general superior of the Companions of the Cross and chaplain to the Ottawa-based apostolate, the Spiritual Motherhood of Priests.

McCaig was speaking to women in formation to become spiritual mothers of a priest. He outlined the challenges priests face to guide the women in their intercessory prayers.

McCaig spoke to 10 women in formation, but the five-year-old spiritual motherhood apostolate now has nearly 150 women praying for priests.

Priests feel "pulled in thousands of directions" because "everyone has needs" and there is an "urgency to meet those needs right now," McCaig said.

Prayer and the pursuit of holiness, which are supposed to be priorities, then become secondary and suffer. Jesus' first call to the disciples was not to mission but to "be with him," he added.

Without the commitment to prayer, penance and a deeper relationship with the Lord, the priest risks ending up in "maintenance mode," not "mission mode," McCaig said.

Another challenge is "cultural Catholicism," a massive group of people who are not well-evangelized, but who come to Church for Christmas and Easter and for sacraments such as Baptism, Confirmation and marriage, McCaig said. The priest can pour out his heart preparing people for a sacrament, and then never see them again.

Priests can experience frustration in pouring energies into a "black hole" where there is no response, he said. This can make them feel like "religious functionaries" who merely "hatch, match and dispatch" and not much else.

Priests also face challenges from Catholics who demand service from the Church "but resist any initiative to deeper orthodoxy, catechesis or outreach," McCaig said.

The worst case is the priest says, "Who cares?" and becomes discouraged.


Because of the priest shortage, many become pastors too soon, he said. Previously there used to be a long period of apprenticeship, where associates would serve under an experienced pastor. Now a priest is lucky to get two years as an associate.

Another challenge is the stain on the priestly identity from the sexual abuse crisis which has "wounded priestly morale," McCaig said. "It has tarred us all.

"The suspicion concerning our orientation and our intentions is very painful."

Loneliness is also a problem for priests, he said. Celibacy can be difficult to live, and difficult for others to understand.

If you look at a country church, you will see a rectory nearby with five bedrooms intended for five priests, he said. Now one priest has that parish and four others to serve by himself, so "the old models for priestly fraternity are gone."


"Priests need priests" and they should "be willing to sacrifice" to ensure they meet with other priests for fellowship, he said. They also need holy, life-giving, warm friendships with families where they "go and take the collar off and be in life-giving relationships."

On a natural level, priests are still attracted to women and would like to have children, but somehow the "universal love of Jesus breaks in" and we are called to "a universal love and not a particular love," he said.

However, when a priest is "disillusioned, tired or lonely, the natural call starts to re-assert itself," he said. "Living the supernatural call can only be lived by supernatural means. We have got to be in touch with Jesus and lead a deep spiritual life."

McCaig urged the spiritual mothers to pray for their priest's holiness, so he makes Jesus a priority and celebrates the sacraments with attention and devotion.

He asked them to pray their priest has a devotion to Our Lady, because those who "immerse themselves in the maternal embrace of the Blessed Mother" tend to be happier and healthier.