Season 6 Clerical Conversations, Ep. 27: Father Eldracher on His First Year of Priesthood
In this episode of Clerical Conversations, our host Stephen Heiner is joined by Fr. Philip Eldracher, pastor of Mary Help of Christians Chapel in Melbourne Australia, to share his experience of his first months as a priest after having completed his seminary training at the Most Holy Trinity Seminary in Brooksville, Florida and been ordained a priest on June 29th, 2016.
Bp. Sanborn’s initial plans for Fr. Eldracher included a teaching post at the parish school and managing the seminary, as well as occasional visits to various chapels and mission centres. Little did Father suspect that he was soon to leave his native United States and settle down in a country he had never set foot in before.
As of 2017 there were about one hundred faithful Catholics in total living in the Melbourne and Brisbane areas and only one travelling sedevacantist priest to take care of their spiritual needs by offering Mass and administering the sacraments once a month in parishioners’ homes. In January of 2017, Bp. Sanborn had an opportunity to learn first-hand of both the fervour and sacrifice of the faithful in Australia who, while deprived of a steady sacramental life, would cling to their Catholic faith all the more. This experience prompted His Lordship to make a decision of sending one of his seminary staff to live in Australia as a resident priest. The priest charged with the task of establishing a permanent Catholic chapel in the land of the kangaroo was none other than the newly-ordained Fr. Eldracher.
You always expect as a priest that you will be stationed in a place where you will be of some use to the faithful, and I expected to be stationed somewhere eventually, but the actual location of Australia would be the one thing so far I had not expected.
Fr. Eldracher admits that he was quite eager to embark on the 10,000-mile journey across the Pacific not only out of natural curiosity but rather to be able to come to the aid of Catholics who had been living without the stability of having a resident priest for no less than twenty years.
Having been just ordained, a young priest is inevitably faced with a change of perspective: instead of being the subject of religious instruction, he is now charged with the solemn duty to instruct others in matters of faith and morals. Fr. Eldracher has found the pulpit to be a place where he is the one to whom the words of instruction are being addressed.
The sermons that I preach are for the most part the result of experience, in the sense that I see many things that are not perhaps as they should, but more than giving the sermons to particular people, [they] are almost always directed at myself.
One of the first things that I realised in the seminary was just how caught up in the worldly culture I was and my hope is that by giving these sermons, parents or young people might not be exposed to [the worldly culture] at all and might not make any of the decisions that I made which were really set up by a modern spirit.
Father Eldracher argues that it is not enough for a priest to merely lay out in a sermon the obligation to reject the evils of modern culture but rather instill in the faithful – particularly parents – a firm conviction and eagerness to do so out of their own will. If the parents are not personally willing to cut off from all the wicked influences found in the modern world and inculcate this desire in their offspring, the children are likely to fall prey to the allurements of the world as soon as they come of age and leave the family nest, usually abandoning the faith of their childhood altogether.
Father goes on to explain how a kind of emotional attachment to one′s former non-Catholic lifestyle may become an obstacle for them as they convert from the Novus Ordo religion and how these sentimental vestiges of modernity in family life will impact the growing minds of their children.
Anytime someone has a conversion from the Novus Ordo, they will find that there are things that they were used to doing that suddenly are not quite so appropriate.
Oftentimes parents will inadvertently teach their children, through their own behaviour, that they observe basic religious dos and don’ts out of sheer obligation but deep down in their minds they do not really believe in the utmost importance of rejecting what the world has to offer. A family life imbued with such an approach towards religion is likely to take its sad toll as the child grows up and ventures out into the world.
Growing up, children see what other children are doing, their Catholic friends, and the more modern family life is, the more appealing it is to children because it′s a lot easier. Unless the parents start from a very, very young age in inspiring their children more with a love of God and a hatred for sin than anything else, the children will very quickly become influenced by what is easier, so when they grow up they are governed more by the love of ease and comfort than anything else.
Father Eldracher notices that, regrettably, many Catholics today will adopt the mentality of doing the absolute bare minimum with regards to religion, feeling they are free to compromise with the world as long as no mortal sin is committed. The peril they place themselves in is at least twofold. Firstly, there is but a thin dividing line between a venial sin and a mortal one. Secondly, by frequently committing deliberate venial sins one gradually deprives himself of the necessary actual graces, falls into tepidity, and becomes highly susceptible to sinning mortally. Is this a deal with God or rather a deal with the devil?
Obviously, the burden of resisting worldly temptations rests not only on the lay faithful. Father Eldracher stresses the fact that a priest must necessarily live the words that he preaches from the pulpit in order not to become “as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.” Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard O.C.S.O quotes the following traditional Catholic saying in his work The Soul of the Apostolate:
If the priest is a saint, the people will be fervent; if the priest is fervent, the people will be pious; if the priest is pious, the people will at least be decent. But if the priest is only decent, the people will be godless. The spiritual generation is always one degree less intense in its life than those who beget it in Christ.
Preparing sermons comprises but a fraction of priestly duties – the more predictable ones. There are also those for which a priest is able to make provision in a limited way only – these are Confessions and sick calls. Father Eldracher explains in what ways going on sick calls and hearing Confessions has inspired his young vocation and enriched his spiritual life.
It is much easier to think of death and the end of your own life when you have just gone to visit someone who could die within the next hour. That is a very sobering influence on a priest.
I think a lot of people don’t realise that just confessing the sin makes it easier to avoid the sin in the future. That is one of the many benefits of frequent Confession and for that purpose I think, as a priest, there’s no such thing as hearing too many Confessions – there’s no evil that can come out of going to Confession.
On a lighter note, if you are eager to find out just what it is that makes Bishop Sanborn’s hair fall out and would like to hear Father Eldracher’s golden advice for your spiritual life, be sure to tune in to Restoration Radio and gain access to this episode as well as much more edifying content produced by True Restoration Media by becoming an Annual Member. We need your support to continue our work and assist our Catholic clergy.