Sunday, October 25, 2015

Vocations to the priesthood

30th Sunday of OT year B 2015:
            The readings this week focus powerfully on following the call of Christ.  In a way, all of us are the blind man in the gospel.  Bartimaeus is like an icon of every human being.  We were all born blind.  Maybe not physical blindness, but we all inherited the blindness of sin and selfishness.  We know that without Christ in our lives we are like Bartimaeus, sitting by the roadside and calling out to God: have pity on me.  Whether we realize it or not, we were made for a deep and lasting union with God.  Our hearts are restless without God.  We might even be blind to the fact that we need God.  How many people in our world are looking for the secret to happiness?  So many people offer an illusory path to fulfillment, but it won’t be found in money, power, pleasure, or success.  Fulfillment is found in Christ.  Once we realize that we are blind and helpless without God, then we need to call out to him like the blind man.  When we encounter Christ, the only viable option is to follow him. 
            As the Second Vatican Council stated so clearly, the vocation of all the baptized is holiness.  We are all called to follow Christ.  The vocation to holiness is lived in the concrete experience of our daily lives.  Each of us will live this call differently depending on our station in life.  If you are married, your call to holiness is lived by loving service to your spouse.  If you are parents, your call to holiness is lived by laying your life down in service of your children, your family.  If you are single, your call to holiness is lived by following Christ and sharing his Good News with others.  And, as we read in our Second Reading from the letter to the Hebrews, some are called to the priesthood.
            I would like to speak a little about the call to the priesthood.  Perhaps it has always been an issue in the Church, but we need more priests.  We need young men of good quality to hear the call from God and to have the courage to follow Christ like Bartimaeus.  I certainly believe that God continues to call men to serve as priests, but it can be quite difficult to hear his call in our world.  There are many distractions and false voices out there.  How can we help foster the call to the priesthood?
            First, we have to understand the vocation.  The letter to the Hebrews gives a great job description of the vocation to priesthood: every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God to offer gifts and sacrifices before God.  What a perfect description of the priesthood.  Priests are called to be the representatives of the human race to offer sacrifice of God, to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the salvation of the world.  There is no better description of what is at the heart of the priestly life.  My call to the priesthood was born out of a powerful attraction to the Mass.  I started attending Mass daily, usually here at St. Jude.  I felt that the Eucharist was drawing me ever closer to the priesthood.  In the power of the Eucharist, I discovered that the center of the priestly vocation was the sacrifice of Christ.  Jesus laid down his life because of his love for all of us.  In a similar way, the Priest is called to lay down his life for Christ by serving his Church and by ministering to the people, especially through the sacraments.  It’s amazing to be a minister of God’s grace.  It’s unbelievable to celebrate the Eucharist, to forgive sins in the sacrament of Confession, to welcome new members in baptism, to comfort the sick with anointing.  The priest is a bridge connecting God and human beings, that’s the job description.  But, how did I know it was my vocation?
            I recently visited a classroom and the kids asked me questions.  One of the questions was: how did I know I wanted to be a priest?  I said, easy: God called me on my cell phone and told me to be a priest…  Wouldn’t that be nice?  Like I said, I found a powerful attraction to the Eucharist.  I wanted the Mass to be an important part of my life.  But, that is not why I became a priest.  Like the letter to the Hebrews states, no one takes this honor, this vocation, upon himself, but only when called by God.  Through my life of prayer I felt this calling that wouldn’t go away.  I felt God was inviting me to follow this pathway to vocation.  I felt the courage to explore this vocation because of the supportive environment in which I lived.  My family was extremely supportive.  No one thought I was crazy for exploring the call.  My friends said things like: I can see you doing that.  My employer told me to go for it, and if it didn’t work out I could get my job back.  I always tell people that the only reason I became a priest is that I thought God wanted me to be a priest.  But, I never could have responded to the call if I didn’t have the support and blessing of my family, my parish, my friends, and my community.
            This is what we need to do as a parish if we are going to help foster more vocations to the priesthood.  Men from our parish are being called to the priesthood right now.  Look around, it might be your son or nephew, it might be the young man sitting next to you in Church.  We are not the ones who call people to the priesthood, that is what God does.  But, our job, if we want more priests, is to be helpful and supportive.  Do your sons know that you would support them if they followed the call?  Do you pray for the young men in our diocese that are studying for the priesthood?   

            All of us are called to holiness, all of us are called to encounter Jesus and follow him.  This is the only pathway to happiness and fulfillment.  But, let’s pray today for those that God is calling to the priesthood.  Let’s support them with prayer, with encouragement.  Let’s make St. Jude a place that welcomes and supports the call of Christ.  Come follow me.