HOW DID THE PRIEST CHALKBOARD START?
People sometimes wonder how the Handmaids came to start writing specific priests’ names on our chalkboard in our refectory. They want to know if these are special priests, or priests in trouble, or particularly great priests. They want to know why certain names appear and when.
Well, we do one Diocese at a time. Their appearance on our board simply means we are praying for them and has no reflection on their “status”.
The Importance of a Name
But the answer to how we began doing this actually goes farther back into our past history as a community dedicated to the sanctification of priests through prayer and sacrifice. Our Founder knew that being mindful of priests and their situations would be a springboard to prayer and, in the early days of our foundation, he would personally apprise the Handmaids of circumstances and priests in particular need. The community joke is that whenever he came and said, “Oh dear Sisters! Please pray for Father So-and-So, he’s in great danger or difficulty” immediately, or so it would seem, Sister Elizabeth (our first Sister and one paralyzed from polio), or another Sister, would break a leg so she would have something to offer for that priest. But, joking aside, it was important in the formation of our Handmaid life to concretely realize we were contributing to the well being, the eternal well being, of real men, flesh and blood humans subject to all our common weaknesses, but bearing the added burdens and joys of the ordained priesthood.
A later development of this concept of keeping someone in prayer by name was when Our Lord sent us an anonymous priest who was so taken with our apostolate that he took upon himself a private mission to pray for us. He requested special permission of the Mother Prioress to obtain the names of each Handmaid and then made it part of his daily horarium to pray for one specific Sister throughout each day of the month. His Mass would be offered for that Sister and a slip of paper with her name would remain before the monstrance during his many hours of adoration in solitude. Through this ineffably generous offering by this priest, we were given a taste, just a taste, of what we ourselves were doing for priests in general. As many a Sister can still testify, she could really tell when it was “her day”. The concreteness of knowing that her name and a date were solidified into a holy priest’s prayer routine was nothing less than humbling, yet inspirational. We are still greatly indebted to his faithful prayers from afar and only wish we could return such powerful beauty in kind.
What About That Chalkboard?
When we purchased the property in New Market, we asked some furnishings to be included with the buildings and, among these, was the chalkboard in the refectory. For months, it held a Scripture quote from Proverbs 24 about Wisdom building a house. It seemed perfect for all the construction so we didn’t change it. But as our needs for multiple chaplains continued, exposing us to more priests within the Diocese, we realized anew and more deeply the blessings of the priesthood and the gifts they are to us. The idea came to write a few names per week on the board, one from each deanery, until all the priests had had “their week”. We knew the spiritual boost it was to us to think, “Today, I am being prayed for by name.” Now we could have various priests thinking, “This week, they are praying for me by name.” Yes, we pray for all priests, all the time: 24/7/365. But this more tangible way of sharing that could be another small way of encouraging them in their ministry.
When we got out the chalk and listed the first four priest’s names, a Sister standing on a stool to do so, we finally got a hard look at the chalk board itself, chosen by the previous owners years previously to accompany the rustic decor. Usually the themes of their decorations were things like hunting and fishing. But what was the design in the metal engraving at the top of the board? Grapes and grape leaves! A symbol of the fruit of the vine that becomes the Precious Blood during the Mass! And the wine can only become the Precious Blood at the hands of a priest! It was a small assurance from the Holy Spirit that embarking on the weekly priest list was a good idea. Join us as we continue to pray for all priests and, in a special way, those on the board each week.
We Pray For Priests…Do You?