A Unique Calling
As the suntan lotion and volleyball nets are put away until next year and the days shorten and the weather cools, the month of September arrives, calling students back to school. This year many of my friends are returning to their colleges and grad schools and many of my cousins are going back to another year of grammar school or high school. But for me, this year will be my first in the school whose goal is not graduation, but ordination. This fall I will be heading off to the seminary.
I still remember very vividly my first appointment with the Vocation Director of the Diocese of Bridgeport. I sat in one corner of the parlor, Msgr. Di Giovanni sat in the other. The first thing he said to me was, "So! Why do you want to throw your life away as a priest?"
He was asking that question rhetorically, but I know that many people ask themselves that same question. Why would any young man want to throw his life away to be a priest?
Let me start by looking at the call of one of the first priests, Saint Peter, as recorded in the Gospel of Saint John:
"Jesus said to Simon Peter, 'Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?' 'Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.' At which Jesus said, 'Feed my lambs.' A second time he put his question, 'Simon, son of John, do you love me?' 'Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.' Jesus replied, 'Feed my lambs.' A third time Jesus asked him, 'Simon, son of John, do you love me?' Peter was hurt because he had asked him a third time, 'Do you love me.' So he said to him, 'Lord you know all things. You know that I love you.' Jesus said to him, 'Feed my sheep.'
What was Christ talking about when he called Peter to feed his sheep? What would be the food which Peter and all priests would feed to the flock of Christ?
The answer to that question is nothing less than the most important in the entire world. Peter and all priests would feed us, the flock of the Lord, with the Holy Eucharist. Simply put, the Eucharist is the most important thing in the world and there is no higher calling for a young Catholic man than the calling, from Jesus Christ himself, to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
As unbelievable and incredible as it seems, God himself, the creator and redeemer of the Universe, during every Mass becomes really, truly, actually, physically present on the altar through the words of the priest and the action of the Holy Spirit.
It is also true that right now, as you are reading this, Jesus Christ himself is physically present in the tabernacle of every Catholic Church in the world, just as really and truly as he was present to his disciples in the streets and countryside of Nazareth and Jerusalem 2,000 years ago.
Since there is nothing in this world more important than Jesus Christ's real presence in the Eucharist, there can be mo work more consequential to the salvation of souls and even to the course of the world than the work of celebrating the Holy Mass and of bringing the message of Christ's Eucharist presence to a world that needs it now more than ever.
Because of the importance of their call to celebrate the Mass and to bring us the Eucharist, priests have a duty to participate fully in the liturgical and intellectual life of the Church. Some 2,000 years have passed since the birth, death, and resurrection of Our Lord and since that time the Catholic Church has produced much of the greatest art, music and literature that the world has ever seen. The tremendous cultural patrimony of the Church is something to which every Catholic has a right. Thus, priests are to be men of learning and of culture, so that they, along with the people they serve, can participate in, lead others to, and be enriched by the liturgical and intellectual life of the Church. The simple reason is that everything that is good and true and beautiful leads ultimately back to God himself.
One of the messages we receive from our popular culture is that true happiness is found only in money, sex and power. These things aren't bad. In fact, they can be very good if they are seen in the context of God's plan for each of us. But the priests of the Catholic Church stand as signs of contradiction to this world, proving that lasting joy and total fulfillment are not only possible, but readily attainable through a life of simplicity, of celibate chastity and of obedience to one's bishop, all undertaken with joy for the love of Christ himself.
The Church calls her priests "Father" for a reason and the reason is this: priests must be men who love unselfishly and give totally of themselves. Loving unselfishly and giving totally is what fathers do. I've seen it in my own father. Simply put, the only men who would make good priests are the ones who would also make good husbands and fathers.
In marriage, the self-giving love of a husband for his wife is such a powerful thing that when he gives himself exclusively to her, their love, if it is allowed to, will produce many beautiful children for this world. Just as in marriage, when the priest gives himself exclusively to Christ and his Church, that love, if it is allowed to, will bring many of us one day to the happiness of heaven.
The Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, has often said that every Catholic man has a duty to consider the priesthood. Saint John Bosco once said that one Catholic man in ten is called to be a priest. And so I will unashamedly ask you, if you are an unmarried Catholic man to prayerfully consider, perhaps in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, whether Christ is calling you to be a priest. Not just to shrug it off now and say "probably not", but to really, prayerfully consider whether Christ is calling you to be a priest.
To all the married people who are perhaps parents or grandparents, aunts and uncles, and to everyone else who happens upon this article please pray for more vocations to the priesthood and the religious life, even among your own children and grandchildren. There's an old Italian saying that the priesthood is the best thing that could happen to your best friend's son. But the priesthood is a call from Christ himself and is a sign and source of great blessings for any family.
So if you know of a young man whom you think would make a good priest, please do not hesitate to suggest the thought of the priesthood to him. Who knows how many young men are out there thinking that they might have a call from God to the priesthood, but are not doing anything about it simply because no body ever asked them to.
Let me end with a prayer by a Dominican priest who lived in the 19th century, a man named Fr. Henri Dominique Lacordaire. He wrote this prayer about what it means to be a priest, and this is what it says:
To live in the midst of the world,
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