a life of value

When did you last encourage someone to consider 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 even 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 gives 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 Catholic at Mass every Sunday in the Catholic Diocese of Christchurch.

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. However as we have celebrated this Anzac weekend with the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing, people today have a growing sense of our real heroes being those who are prepared to give their lives in the cause of freedom and peace. This is the life of a priest, a life given that people may know the peace of God both here on earth and eternally.

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 whom you see at Mass each Sunday suggesting that God might be calling them to priesthood? Are you aware that many of those who will be ordained priests in the next twenty years are currently children and teenagers who have little to do with the church today? The life-giving transformation of adult experience of Christ is ahead of them.

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.

Today is also my first Vocations Sunday as the Vocations Director for the Catholic Diocese of Christchurch, an appointment I took up at the request of Bishop Barry Jones a couple of months ago.  You might know of a young(ish) man whom you suspect might have a vocation to serve God as a diocesan priest. Don’t worry too much about whether or not he is regular at Mass these days – the Holy Spirit can work with that!  But perhaps you can help him to discern simply by sending him a link to this www.foodforfaith.or.nz post.

If you are a young(ish) man and sense that God might be nudging you to consider life as a diocesan priest I invite you to email me. I look forward to hearing from you.

Fr. John O’Connor     vocations.chch@gmail.com

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2 Responses to "a life of value"
  1. Thank you for sharing your reflection this evening. Some of your thoughts triggered a need for me to respond to you in writing …….

    Recently, I reflected on an ‘inclusive’ interpretation of
    Vocation Sunday – perhaps Pope Francis gifted me with the ‘light of faith’ when he spoke about the complimentarity of male and female and the necessity for equality of the sexes.
    Understandably, we all require spiritual sustenance irrespective of our vocation in life, hence our individual necessity for regular prayer and understanding so as to in depth our spiritual capacity and expression of life and love.
    St John portrays for me the ‘light’ of the sacred reality of vocations in his narrative regarding the Holy Family … marriage, single life and priesthood.
    My prayer is that on Vocation Sunday all parishioners will truly appreciate the fundamental importance of the three sacred vocations and
    that the Holy Spirit will continue to enlighten the minds of the faithful about the necessity to care and support each other in our respective way of life.

    Blessings
    Virginia

    • Thanks Virginia for your insightful response. I sometimes think that the most helpful way to think about Vocations is that there are as many Vocations as there are people since God’s call is uniquely designed for and communicated to each person. Therefore EVERY Sunday is Vocations Sunday in this sense. My prayer is (like your prayer) that EVERY SUNDAY “all parishioners will truly appreciate the fundamental importance of their vocations and that the Holy Spirit will continue to enlighten the minds of the faithful about the necessity to care and support each other in our respective way of life” This should be the focus of every Sunday homily.
      We are in the heart of the Year of Consecrated Life (finishing in Feb of 2016) and widespread discussion of and survey around the vocation of marriage and family life in preparation for the October Synod. Our ChCh diocese has an office of Marriage & Family Life with a bishop’s Vicar appointed to building up this vocation. Each Religious Order promotes their own charism and vocations. A growing number of communities are building up the Vocation of Single Life instead of / before and after exclusive relationship. My role (while related to each of the above) is to encourage vocations to the diocesan priesthood.
      I appreciate your insight about the inclusive interpretation of Vocations Sunday and I support this fully. I know that in an environment where Marriage is seen as both sacrament and Vocation, then all other forms of vocational living are encouraged
      Have a blessed Vocations Sunday Virginia.
      John

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