Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, when we think of the Lord Jesus as the Good Shepherd. With this, we think of how the Lord shepherds us with priests, and we pray for new priestly vocations.
Priestly vocations don’t spring up in vacuum. For a vocation to be heard it usually requires a healthy spiritual environment. A consequence of this is that vocations often appear in CLUSTERS: a spiritually healthy parish will often produce a GROUP of priests. So, for example, near us, Ensbury Park parish was renowned for the way that, some decades ago, it produced half a dozen priestly vocations in quite a short period of time. Similarly, my home parish of Paignton produced 4 vocations about the time I came forward. As Pope John Paul II put it, the number of vocations arising in a parish is a significant sign of the spiritual health of that church. I’m very grateful that I was raised in such a parish.
In a healthy parish the people love the Lord.
In a healthy parish people value the sacraments as the means by which they can encounter the Lord:
they prepare themselves for Holy Communion; they go to Confession frequently.
They love the Lord, they love the sacraments of the Lord, and they value priests as the ones who (1) teach them of the Lord, (2) teach how to live following Him, and (3) make the sacraments possible.
In such a parish it’s hardly surprising that a young man might recognise the priesthood as something worthy of giving his life to.
There is one thing, especially, that needs to be primary in such a healthy parish:
Prayer, and, in particular, pray to the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.
We have a church that is open for prayer, unlocked all day.
Most days we have weekday Mass available.
A vocation is a supernatural reality, a call from God. The Lord tells us that if we want such calls to be made we need to ask for them, He said, ‘Ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into his harvest’(Mt 9:38). I have no doubt that the reason I received my call was that there were people in my home parish praying for vocations; and I’m equally sure that the reason I recognised my call was the value that that parish placed on prayer, the sacraments, and the priesthood.
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 next year 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 in England, it seemed that the number of priestly vocations was 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 dioceses and the ones that are failing it 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, almost 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.
One specific recommendation: We will shortly, as last year, have an all-night 24 hour adoration of the Lord. I would invite you to come, and to pray especially for vocations in that time.
To pray that the Lord will call a young man to the priesthood is pray that he will be given a great path to happiness.
Many in our world our focused on achieving the perfect middle class lifestyle.
But the glamour of the world will pass, the beauties of flesh fade, power and money are not worth dedicating your life to. Only love of the Lord lasts.
God calls most men to love Him by means of loving their wife (c.f. Pope John Paul II L’Osservatore RomanoEnglish edition Nov 30, 1994, p.19, n.4.)
There are others He calls to cleave to Him directly, with what Scripture calls “an undivided heart”(I Cor 7:25-38). And for a priest, that means that I must love the Church His bride as MY wife too, because I am configured to Him(Pastores Dabo Vobisn. 22c).
I don’t love perfectly, but I know that I WILL FIND MY HAPPINESS NOWHERE ELSE.
The REAL thing that will make a young man happy is not what our modern society offers: its intimacy with the Lord.
Are we the sort of parish that raises up vocations?
The choice is up to us