Summary: We must all pray for vocations to the priesthood and ministry, but we must also invite young persons to consider that vocation, and create an environment that reaches toward the transcendent in our worship.
24th Sunday in Course
Supporting the Priestly Vocation
What is the most important day of my life, or of yours? The most important day to each of us is the one that will determine the rest of our unending existence. It is the last day of our life. The key question we must answer at that moment is also the most important one. Are we alive in charity. Are we in love–effective love–with God and our neighbor.
Fortunately, God, in his merciful treatment of us sinners, has given us the means of living in charity or of regaining that charity when we have by our own wilful disobedience lost it. Christ, by His passion, death and resurrection, won us all the grace we need to live in love. And He has given us the Church, the Catholic Church, and the sacraments of the Church. In baptism, we become sons and daughters of God, and are enabled to live as His children and to grow in Christ. In confirmation, we are strengthened for the daily battle with evil, given a mission as prophet, priest and leader, just as Christ was, to spread His Word, apply His love, to our world. In the Eucharist we are nourished with the Bread of Life and brought together in unity. We who were under a curse of slavery to sin celebrate our freedom and are made to be like Christ. And, being close to Christ, we become close to each other, no matter our race or background or economic status or political affiliation. We become one as Jesus and the Father are one.
Then there are the two sacraments of healing: reconciliation and anointing of the sick. When we are sick in soul, mind or body, Christ has given us His healing touch. The Father embraces us who are truly repentant for our sins. What wonderful words we hear as we confess all our mortal sins and return: I absolve you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
This wonderful, miraculous system of mediating grace is possible because of two sacraments of service. The first, of course, is the sacrament of marriage. We who are married in Christ show to the world the love of Christ for the Church, and the Church for Christ. We show it in the unity and indissolubility of the sacrament. As Christ is one with us, and as Christ never leaves us, we become one in body, soul and spirit and vow never to leave each other. We show it in the fruitfulness of the sacrament. As Christ and the Church have acted together to bring millions to spiritual life, so we, through our loving bond, bring new human life into this confused and aging world. We bring hope where there has been despair.
The second sacrament of service is the one that makes almost all the others possible. Only marriage and baptism are even possible without a priest. Without the sacred priesthood, the pinnacle of our prayer life is absent. We cannot celebrate Eucharist without priests. That which makes us Church would be gone from our life. Impossible, you say? There are many areas of the world where there are Catholics, but no priests. They may be able to celebrate Eucharist once a month, or even once a year.
The last day of our life may be one in which we desperately need the ministry of the priesthood, to hear our last confession and anoint us, giving us that wonderful special indulgence that remits all the temporal punishment for sins. If there is no priest with us at the hour of our death, we may have to hope that our sins are all venial, or that our contrition for sins is perfect. God is all mercy, but part of that mercy is the ministry that repeats the words of Christ to the adulterous woman: “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”
I think we can all see that we need to pray for priestly vocations. But we need to do more than that. Let me suggest two things to do, actions we can all take no matter what our age or situation.
First, unless we are completely out of touch with young people, we should be aware of those men who have grown in their capacity as prophet, priest and leader beyond their peers. These men are priestly material. Tell them so. A simple phrase: you know, I think you’d make a fine priest can make all the difference. Men need to be told what to do. I think every woman instinctively knows that. So tell them. Parents, tell your sons. Grandparents, tell your grandsons.
But second, we must look at the religious environment we have created for our young men, and be willing to make changes that will encourage them to see a priestly vocation as one that is fulfilling and uniquely helpful. We have not been very good at this during the past forty years. Fr. Ed told me before he left that in Rome he met a Holy Spirit man who was studying for the priesthood. I would like to know his name so we can pray for him at our biweekly vocations morning prayer. There are two priests connected with our parish, Fr. Wilhelm and Fr. McMasters, both of whom serve in the diocese of Austin. We should have more priests from a parish where at one time we had over five thousand attending Mass at Easter.