Peter and Andrew, James and John hear the call of the Lord, drop everything and follow him. They were not the sort of people who anyone would suspect of being religious. They were common, everyday people, fishermen. They were not the sort of people anyone would suspect could convince others to change their lives. They were common, everyday people, fishermen. They were not the sort of people that anyone would suspect could take the position of leadership in the conversion of the world. They were common, everyday people, fishermen. But they were called. They responded. And God worked his wonders through them.
They and their companions were not an easy bunch to train in the Lord’s way. They just couldn’t seem to get the message straight. They wanted Jesus to call down fire and brimstone on the Samaritans. They fought with each other over who would have the greatest authority in the Kingdom of Heaven. They ran in fear when Jesus was arrested. There must have been times that Mary just rolled her eyes when she heard about the antics of these characters. They were difficult to teach in the ways of the Lord, but they did learn and as a result we are here, members of the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
Of course, the disciples had a secret teacher, a mystical teacher. They had the Holy Spirit. Filled with the Holy Spirit they were able to transform their lives and convey the joy of serving Christ to their companions.
This Sunday’s readings have led me to a reflection on the vocation to the priesthood and religious life. I wish I could find a way to communicate to you and particularly to our young people my feelings about the priesthood. For me, the priesthood is the greatest life possible. I certainly that our married and our single can also say, “For me, this is the greatest life possible.” Back to the priesthood, though. Sometimes I’m called upon in emergency situations to bring the sacraments to a person I have never met. If I only did that once in my life, my life would be have meaning and purpose, but this is an everyday event for a priest.
The ancient Hebrews of the psalms and wisdom literature spoke about their longing to sit at the gates of the city and meditate on Scripture. The priest is obliged to do this every day and every week. We pray the Liturgy of the Hours, which is basically psalms and readings from scripture. We prepare homilies. Sometimes we need a break from preaching. Sometimes you need a break from our preaching. But it is a wonderful life to be obligated to spend so much time with the Word of God.
Then there is the Mass. The Mass! One of my main motivation to become a priest was to be able to celebrate Mass. It is beyond my imaging that God would allow human beings to act in his person and recreate the offering of his Son at the Last Supper and on the Cross, but that is what happens every time the priest celebrates Mass.
I remember way back when I was first ordained and was helping as a chaplain at Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. I took a class at Ohio State University for new priests, lawyers, doctors, nurses and social workers. The purpose of the class was to develop a professional inter-disciplinary approach for people in critical situations. The social worker objected to my presence. “What does he have to offer? Just a lot of mumble jumble. He shouldn’t be here?” Everyone looked at me for a response. Having spent the last two years working with on the oncology floor, it was easy for me to answer her question. I just stated what I had experienced: “When the doctor says, ‘We’ll do our best to keep the patient comfortable until the end comes,’ and the nurse is happy to be able to be busy with other patients, and the lawyer waits for death to complete his responsibilities, and the social worker has no programs for the comatose, the family looks to the priest for hope and consolation. That’s what I’m doing here.”
A couple of years ago I was speaking to a seminarian who was helping out at the International Institute for the Clergy. I told him that he was entering the greatest life in the world. He responded, “Yeah, I guess priests really do have it easy. They have everything that they could desire. They routinely go on vacations that most people would long to go on once in their lives.” I told him that he completely misunderstood me. I certainly hope that he was not becoming a priest for the sake of the temporal benefits of the priesthood. If he was, I’m afraid that he wouldn’t last very long. God takes care of his priests, true, but he also expects more from them than anyone other than a priest could imagine. What I tried to express to the seminarian was that the priesthood was the greatest life in the world because it was thoroughly about Jesus. The priest acts in the person of Jesus, Personna Christi, by virtue of the call of Christ and the action of the Holy Spirit. No action of a person’s life can be greater than acting in the person of the Lord.
At the same time, when I am at priests’ meetings I have to admit that, “God, we’re a strange looking lot.” Priests have more idiosyncrasies, more foibles than the average male. Maybe that’s because we don’t have wives to keep us in line. Sometimes I think that individuals are chosen to be priests who themselves can best demonstrate that God can work through anyone. And that is what makes being a priest so very exciting. The priest realizes that somehow or other God does his work despite the human being he uses.
No one should feel discouraged from being a priest or a sister for that matter because he or she does not feel worthy enough. Who is? And no one should be deprived of the opportunity to become a priest, or a sister for that matter, because relatives want something else for them. To discourage a vocation is to discourage a person from entering into the greatest life in the world.
There was a day, not all that long ago, when the people felt obliged to provide priests and sisters from their family for the future of the Church. “Who is going to be the priest in our family?” they would ask. I don’t believe that we need to go back to the methodology of the past, but we do need to embrace the Christian, Catholic attitudes that motivated the people to seek among themselves those who would be open to the call of the Lord and encourage them to follow him.
This Sunday we pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. May more and more of our young men and women receive the call. May they listen to the call. May they follow, and, may they allow the Spirit to work through them.