Today priests seem to only make the headlines for being cancelled or for causing scandal. But what about the heroic priests who pass unnoticed? Priests who willingly choose to be alone, so that they can be there for others. Priests who become victims like our Saving Victim in the Holy Eucharist. Priests who become martyrs in the confessional as they willingly hear confessions for hours each week.
Ven. Fulton Sheen once wrote in The Priest Is Not His Own:
“We who have received the Sacrament of Orders, call ourselves “priests.” The author does not recall any priest ever having said that, “I was ordained a victim,” nor did he ever say, “I am studying to be a victim.” That seemed almost alien to being a priest. The seminary always told us to be “good” priests; never were we told to be willing victims. And yet, was not Christ the Priest, a Victim? Did He not come to die? He did not offer a lamb, a bullock, or doves; He never offered anything except Himself.”
Although I have met several priests who have witnessed to me by their self-donation, I want to highlight two priests who literally became “Eucharistic Victims.” The first was Fr. Phil Tighe, a priest from the Diocese of Raleigh. As the fifty-seven-year-old Fr. Tighe was dying of stage 4 esophageal cancer, I nervously ventured to his rectory. He welcomed me. He told me to go to his private chapel as he fetched a gift for me, an image of Our Lady. I immediately noticed his small bed in the corner of his chapel. I thought to myself, Here is a priest who lived for and now was going to die for the Holy Eucharist.
As I knelt in the chapel praying for Fr. Tighe, I could hear him slowly walk my way. He then genuflected for a few seconds in great pain before our Eucharistic Lord. And then I saw how difficult it was for the less than one-hundred pound priest to get back up on his own. It took all of his strength. After giving me his blessing, I left with tears in my eyes knowing this was the last time I would see Fr. Tighe on earth. And then I realized something, which I later texted him after leaving. “You witnessed more to me just now by embracing your cross than any homily I have ever heard.”
The second Eucharistic Victim was Fr. James Brooks, a priest from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. He died at the age of thirty-nine from cancer. Fr. Brooks’ sister once recalled the amazing true story of her brother’s last Mass:
“His faith was confirmed and strengthened by a profound grace he received at the last Mass he was able to offer, July 30, 2016. Exhausted from his cancer treatments, he had not been able to prepare a homily ahead of time. The homily he mustered up strength enough to give was one of his best, a reflection on the Gospel about the man building extra towers in order to have an easy life and God calling him a fool as he’d die that night. During the consecration, God prepared his young priest for the last ordeal leading up to the death that would come not that night but soon. As Fr. James held up the host, he froze and started to weep. After a long pause, he continued with the consecration and the same occurred when he held up the chalice. At the end of the Mass, he apologized to the congregation for the delay during the consecration. He explained that gazing upon the Eucharist during these moments of the elevation, he had seen Christ Crucified. And he realized that his sufferings were nothing compared to Christ’s.”
Make no mistake, Holy Mass and Calvary are one and the same sacrifice. The sacred images that depict our Crucified Lord directly above the priest during the consecration convey this most profound reality. And furthermore, the priest and Christ must no longer be two victims, but one Eucharistic Victim.
I believe God chose Fr. Tighe and Fr. Brooks as Eucharistic Victims, and they offered their lives to Him for the salvation of souls, but especially to make reparation for sins committed against the Holy Eucharist. In a special way, we remember Pope Benedict XVI, who also poured himself out like Ven. Fulton Sheen, Fr. Tighe, and Fr. Brooks. And we must also give ourselves entirely to Christ and others if we desire to become saints.