Sunday, 13 April 2008

4th Sunday of Easter, Vocations and Shepherd, Shaftesbury

We had our parish meeting of Sunday, which I’m happy to say seemed to go very well –a positive and constructive spirit seemed to characterise the whole event. The immediate follow-on from that is the survey form you’ve each been given –please fill it in and return it, it will enable us to know where our parishioners come from, why you come here, and where in N. Dorset we should have and not have our future churches.
One point I indicated at the parish meeting was that our diocese faces a huge crisis in priestly vocations and thus in the huge of available priests. At present we have 65 priests. We know who they are, their ages, and when they will reach 75 to retire. We know that in 10 years time 33 of them will have retired. That means our number of priests will drop in half. That’s going to be a big problem. That brings me on, very urgently, to today’s sermon.

Today, across the world, its vocations Sunday, the day when the church calls on us to pray for vocations to the priesthood especially.

If we think where priestly vocations come from, we might think of many natural factors, like family. But ultimately a vocation, a calling, is supernatural, it is the result of a call form God. And God tells us that those callings come as a result of our prayers.
Jesus said, ‘Ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into his harvest’. .
This time last year I was in my home parish of Paignton, and I was very aware that prayers of people there are a major reason why I received my vocation.
How often do we pray for vocations? How often do YOU pray? You want a priest in this parish. Do you say a rosary every week for the specific intention that one be called?
And if you don’t pray, are you still going to complain if you don’t get a priest? If in 10 years or 5 years or 2 years there is no priest here –will you complain if you didn’t pray?

I’d like to make a point of comparison: in the USA they used to be in the same situation as us, it seemed that numbers of priestly vocations were in terminal decline. But NOW, numbers are up, and the average age of vocations is down, i.e. more YOUNG men are coming forward.
But this statistic is not uniform, it varies from diocese to diocese. And when people compare the difference between the successful diocese and the ones that are failing is frequently attributed to Eucharistic adoration for vocations. Some dioceses promote it heavily, and their vocations have returned. Other dioceses are dying instead.
A priest friend of mine is in Kansas, and his diocese is about the same size as ours, it has 65 priests, and it used to be like ours, without vocations. But now, while we have 2 seminarians they have 36. I.e. Your PRAYER can make a difference.
If the heart and soul of a parish and diocese is turned to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament then priests will come.

Encouraging Vocations. Sometimes people are reluctant to encourage vocations because they think young men today will not be happy as priests. They envisage loneliness, or lack of money. Or, they see a young man and think: He could be something BETTER than a priest.
Sometimes these thoughts are well-intentioned, but they are misguided. There are lonely marriages, there are poor people who are not priests –these are not reasons to be embarrassed about the priesthood. But most fundamentally, they are reasons that, to some extent, are based on a lack of faith.

If I have faith, then I know that my own priesthood is one of the greatest gifts I’ve been given. But I can only see that if I have faith. If I seek to follow the Lord but am looking backwards over my shoulder at the glamour of the world, then of course I will not be happy. But the glamour of the world will pass, the beauties of flesh fade, power and money are not things worth sacrificing a vocation for. They do not last. Only love of the Lord lasts.
God calls most people to love Him by means of loving their spouse (cf JPII teaching).
There are others he calls to cleave to Him directly, with what Scripture calls “an undivided heart”. And for a priest, that means that I must love the Church His spouse as MY wife too, because I am configured to Him. I don’t love perfectly, but I know that I will find happiness nowhere else.

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