Father Clarence Wiederholt believes there’s a right way and a wrong way to do battle with the devil.
“You really realize when you get old, you’ve got to fight him,” said Fr. Wiederholt, a retired priest of the Jefferson City diocese. “He works on your mind. He puts a mask on you.
“You’re not going to give in to him,” the priest continued. “You just stay calm, rebuke him and then ignore him.”
Fr. Wiederholt turned 90 this January and looks forward to noting his 65th priestly anniversary in December.
Retired from parish ministry, he now lives in a duplex apartment in Jefferson City.
Macular degeneration has claimed much of his eyesight.
He offers Mass and prays the Divine Office each day with help from a powerful magnifying glass and a computer that pulls up the daily readings in large type.
The COVID-19 pandemic has cut way down on his time away from home and on the number of visitors he receives.
“The life of a hermit is basically a good life,” he said. “I have lots of time to pray.”
He offered special daily prayers throughout May for all the mothers he could think of, then for all fathers in June, then for all military and public safety personnel in July.
He knows that those prayers are powerful and that the devil doesn’t want him to pray.
The wicked one throws obstacles and limitations.
“Sometimes, you get distracted and your mind goes south on vacation,” Fr. Wiederholt noted. “Sometimes, you’re not thinking straight. He has that ability to do those things.
“He makes you regret,” the priest continued. “He brings up everything you ever did that’s not quite perfect, over and over.”
Fr. Wiederholt has learned to take all of that as assurance that his prayers are being heard in heaven, which makes the devil angry.
“You’ve just got to take it in stride and keep concentrating on your prayers,” he said.
In the footsteps of saints
A man reaching six and a half decades of priestly ministry in this diocese would traditionally have the opportunity to address his fellow priests at their annual day of recollection.
That event was cancelled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fr. Wiederholt regrets not having gotten to share his thoughts about Priesthood, the Church and the future.
“What we need right now are more vocations, especially to the Priesthood and religious life,” he said. “We’ve got to be praying for vocations and encouraging our young people to pray and ask, ‘Why not me?’”
He suggested that every Catholic high school student begin the school year by studying the lives of two saintly role models, and then calling for those saints’ intercession at the beginning of every class throughout the year.
He said that for boys, the saints should be St. John Vianney, patron saint of parish priests, and Venerable Father Augustus Tolton, a Missouri slave who became the Roman Catholic Church’s first recognized Black priest in the United States.
For girls, Fr. Wiederholt suggested, the saints should be St. Bernadette, the visionary to whom the Blessed Mother entrusted important revelations for the Church, and St. Thérèse of Lisieux, whose insights into doing small things with great love have inspired generations of Catholics.
Fr. Wiederholt pointed out that St. John Vianney and Fr. Tolton recognized their own priestly calling, even when others didn’t, and pursued it with singular energy and holiness.
Likewise, St. Bernadette and St. Thérèse overcame great hardships in pursuing a relationship with Christ, even as others doubted and ridiculed them.
All four saints kept their eye on the prize of salvation not just for themselves but for all people, especially those in most need of God’s mercy.
“God is perfectly just,” Fr. Wiederholt noted, “But Jesus says, ‘I prefer My mercy!’”
“That’s why we need to really focus on the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,” the priest insisted.
“And that’s why we need to focus on the importance of cultivating vocations of service in the Church.”