When did you last suggest to someone that God might be calling them to serve as a priest?
This Sunday (“Good Shepherd Sunday”, Fourth Sunday of Easter) is celebrated throughout the Church as Vocations Sunday.
In a real sense, every Sunday of the year is a day of focus on the Christian vocation to live every moment in relationship with Jesus.
There are as many vocational calls as there are human people. The call of God to you is renewed every day.
The call of God is not only given to the young as they discern how they will spend their lives. A vocational call is the call of God given to every person every day. If I am nearing retirement and old age is imminent, I am being called to hear anew (or perhaps for the first time) the call of God.
Whatever age or stage of life I am in, God is calling me to live in response to the divine call: God is gifting me anew a life-purpose that is my vocation.
A vocation is not simply a job or even a career to which I am committed. To work in such a way may be a useful contribution to society. I may find this occupation to be satisfying and earn a salary enabling me to lovingly provide for my family. I may even be aware of God using me in this work to assist others or even to spread the Gospel. None of this makes a vocation.
A starting point for a life of vocation is, as Cardinal Newman prayed, a unique call that God gives to me personally. I am created by God for some specific service.
The heart of this life is personal intimacy with Jesus. It is this ultimate relationship that give meaning to all human life. In this personal and lived relationship I am freed from all superficial compulsions. I am able to see beyond worldly successes and rewards.
In seeking to live in response to God’s Vocational call to me I experience “life, and have it in abundance.” John 10:10
I will give you shepherds
Today, Good Shepherd Sunday, there is a particular focus for our vocational reflection. We know that human people cannot live without the Eucharist, and the Eucharist cannot be a reality among us without priests. Today we pray especially for vocations to the priesthood.
We hear much talk about a shortage of priests. While there may be fewer priests in parishes in our diocese than there were forty years ago, there are many more priests today than there were eighty years ago when there was a much greater number of Catholics at Mass every Sunday in the Christchurch diocese.
This awareness has prompted pastoral planning to ensure that the Mass and sacraments are available for all the people of the diocese. This process has been a difficult adjustment for both people and priests.
Many people argue that the ‘shortage’ of priests is a sign that the Church needs to change the criteria for ordination to the priesthood. But many other denominations have made these changes and they still face the difficulty of attracting people who are willing to give their lives in ministry. These communities also still struggle with attracting worshippers on Sunday.
Practical solutions are never an adequate response to crises of faith.
The reason that our pastoral plans and practical response cannot resolve the problem of a ‘shortage of priests’, is that we are being invited to consider the deeper issues.
Thirty years ago when I was considering a vocation to priesthood, the family, parish and school environments saw priesthood as a worthwhile vocation worthy of an entire human life. I am not sure that this environment is still present in our families, parishes and schools.
When did you last encourage a young (or not so young) man, to consider giving his life to God as a priest?
Have you encouraged your sons, grandsons, godsons or nephews to consider priesthood? Have you spoken to single men (even strangers) whom you see at Mass each Sunday suggesting that God might be calling them to priesthood?
When your children and grandchildren and workmates hear you speaking about priests, do they hear you valuing the priestly ministry that God carries out through these men who remain his imperfect but willing servants?
building environments of faith
Today, on this vocations Sunday, let us pray for all priests; that they may be faithful servants of Christ the priest. That they may be loving shepherds. Let us also pray for those discerning a call to priesthood in the seminary. We pray especially for the seminarians of our own Christchurch diocese. We also remember those of our diocese who are in seminaries of religious communities around the world.
Let us also pray that our own families, schools, parishes and our diocese will be environments of encouragement and support for any parishioner who is being called by God to serve as a priest.