Homilies written and presented by Monsignor Peter Magee
Homily 5-2-2004 Easter 4 (C)
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Sunday 4 of Easter (C): Vocations Sunday. Read Jn, 10, 27-30

 

                “My sheep hear my voice”: but how are they to hear it if no-one relays it? “I know them and they follow me”: but how can they follow Him if no-one makes Him known to them and leads them to Him? “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish”: but how are they to receive that life if no-one administers it to them? “No-one takes them out of my hand”: but how are they to know, believe and feel this security if there is no-one to protect them, to stop them from wandering and to reassure those who do not wander?

                Jesus Himself answered all of these questions in the following words: “Do this in memory of me.” For in the moment He gave us the most holy sacrament of His Body and Blood, He also gave us those who would continue to give it to us in memory of Him until He returned at the end of time. The gift of the Eucharist is inseparable from the gift of the priesthood. But also the gift of the Gospel is inseparable from the priesthood. Since the Gospel and the Eucharist are not “things”, but the living Word and the living Body of the Lord given for us, their power and availability to us comes through those Christ has chosen to be the living signs and the living instruments of His presence, as the great High Priest of God’s religion. A priest’s own words should be seasoned with the Word of Christ; a priest’s own body should radiate and reflect the Body of the Lord who has consecrated him unto Himself for the sake of his brethren.

                No matter how secular society and the media may perceive and speak of the Church, She is not by nature a multi-national corporation. A sociologist or businessman might say that; but he is no more correct than a scientist who describes a human being as an interesting ensemble of chemicals. The Church has a sociological dimension, but Her true nature is theological, that is, of God. Her doctrines are not just instructions and laws, but the voice of Jesus, the living Truth. Her rituals are not the customs of a club, but the sacraments of eternal life. Her certainty about the meaning of existence, history, the cosmos and death is not arrogant rhetoric, but the expression of Christ’s own certainty when He says: “No-one can take them out of my hand.”

                A priest is not therefore a mere bureaucrat, a social facilitator, an executive officer, a pawn of the establishment or an opportunist. By the mercy of the loving will of Jesus, and for no other reason, a priest is in the Church the servant and the mediator of the Truth and of the Life of the Son of God. Before he does anything in the person of Christ, he is in the person of Christ. The priesthood is itself a sacrament, a gift of divine grace living and present in the whole being of the priest, even should he be unable actually to do anything. The priesthood is not just a function, however holy, which can be justly claimed on the basis of one’s gender or humanity. It is a sacrament, whose sign Christ has sovereignly and freely established to be the male human being, and whose grace is the risen Christ Himself, fully human and fully divine. One can surely understand the debate about the admission of women to holy orders, but the nature of the sacraments is not a matter of debate: it is a matter of the will of the Lord, to be loved and to be understood with gratitude and humility. The priesthood is, therefore, not a right, a career, a job, a hobby, an achievement, a dream or an ambition; the priest is not a social worker, a guru, a psychologist, a yuppy or a politically correct professional. The priest does not just mirror Christ the Priest, as if from the outside; the priest is in his very concrete humanity the living sacrament, the efficacious sign, of the presence of Christ Himself in the midst of his Bride the Church, and in the midst of human history.

                With a brother’s love, Christ calls men to share His sacred ministry, to renew the sacrifice of our redemption in the Mass, to lead his holy people in love, to nourish them by His Word, and to strengthen them in the sacraments. Priests more than anyone else are called to give their lives in the service of Christ and for the salvation of His people. They are to strive to grow in the likeness of Christ and honor the Father by their courageous witness of faith and love.

                On this vocations Sunday, some might ask with what nerve the Church can expect young men, and not so young men, to accept realistically Her call to come forward and present themselves for the priesthood. Priestly failures litter this country; their deeds sicken the heart; crime, tragedy and shame have brought some to prison, some to disgrace and one or two, alas, to suicide. God alone is our judge. Those grievous failures, however, cannot become the measure of all priests in this country. When encouraging a youngster to become a sportsman or a soldier or anything else, we present the heroes, not those who have fallen short. In anything in life, it is irresponsible to focus only on what has gone wrong, and not more on what goes wonderfully well. Lessons must be learnt from mistakes; people need to be picked up or to pick themselves up, although sometimes that may be extremely difficult, if not impossible. Nevertheless, hope is a virtue, a grace, a duty; we must pray for that grace and muster that courage, not to ignore what has been or is wrong, but to prevent the wrong from side-lining the right and from scuttling our deeper need and desire to move forward with humility and confidence in God. Would that the preoccupation with evil would end and hearts be healed!


                Christ is with us, and it is Christ who calls us all to arise and to follow Him. It is Christ who today calls men to abandon all things to serve Him in the priestly ministry. To all men who are here today, and are not already committed to Christ in other ways, I dare to call you in Christ’s name to listen to Him and to discern with faith and sincerity of heart whether or not Christ invites you to be a priest. In discerning, however, be sure not to give primary importance to your sins. Sin is love gone wrong, and with Christ it can be righted. Do not give exclusive concern either to your natural inclinations: while they are clearly important they can be drawn by Christ’s powerful love to be integrated into the priestly way of being. Celibate chastity is part of the priestly calling in the Latin Church. It is just another way of speaking of the burning love of total surrender to Christ and to His Kingdom: the ability to give such love is itself the effect of Christ’s love for the one He calls. We cannot do it on our own. Before being a law, celibacy is a relationship, a covenant of love; it is not a denial of sexuality, but a way of living sexuality for Christ in corporal, psychological and spiritual integrity. Celibacy is a call to a special freedom of heart, in unspeakable intimacy with Jesus and with His Bride, the Church. The true celibate does not despise his own or anyone’s sexuality, but rather affirms its ultimate meaning and value by surrendering its goodness and beauty to Christ, for the sake of the Church. Rather than perpetuate false notions of celibacy, it would be better to unmask false notions of so-called active sexuality. Those false notions do not include conjugal love in the marriage of one man and one woman, for here we are also speaking of a sacred bond. By false notions, I mean sexuality when it is de-meaned and de-valued by failure to honor its truth and its true beauty. Do not, then, hesitate to step forward because of the challenges of celibacy, but rather try and perceive its greatness and its power. Let yourself be “seduced” - by Christ.


                At the same time, it has to be repeated that becoming a priest is not something decided by the individual alone. Again, it is not a career. Rather, it is the Church, through those in charge of priestly formation, and above all through the Bishop or the religious superior, who makes the final determination as to a man’s suitability for holy orders. When you step forward, it is hopefully in response to a prayerful self-examination, and on the advice of your pastor. Once you present yourself to the Church authorities, a two-way discernment process begins: you and the Church. Every Diocese and religious congregation will have its own procedure. However, it should be remembered that the simple fact of going to the seminary does not mean that you are “sure to be a priest”. Much work has to be done before that day comes, and you may discover that, indeed, the Lord is not calling you to the priesthood. But you will not have wasted your time or your precious money! You have used your time well in responding to the Lord; your time in seminary will be of great use to you in your later life, and will hopefully become a great resource for your future especially if you are married. When we try to seek out the will of the Lord, we never waste time, energy or even money. It is only when we fail to seek His will for us that we waste ourselves and our resources, no matter how well spent they may seem from a worldly point of view. God’s will is the very meaning of our lives: how can it be a waste to know it?

                Our world seeks to rubbish the Catholic priesthood. That is a sign of just how much it needs Catholic priests. Christ is not lacking in the will to give priests. We are lacking in our faith and constancy to pray the Lord of the harvest, to speak to one another positively about the priesthood, to encourage our young people to zeal and generosity to make this great sacrifice of love. Many young are doubtful about themselves, their own worth, their own abilities to have strong and holy desires; they need encouragement, leadership and eternal perspectives. Much of their doubts are due in turn to weak family life, weak witness by parents, especially fathers, to their faith and to the importance of Christ in their lives. Indeed, some Catholic parents today deliberately discourage their sons from even considering the priesthood. While I can understand the worries, I repeat the words of Jesus: “do not let your hearts be worried; trust in God and in me.” The power of evil subtly influences us to hold back, to be overly careful, to be distrusting. Sure, there are many bad examples among us priests ourselves, and I do not preclude myself from among them. But! Remember the heroes, remember the holy ones, the saints and the martyrs; remember the priests who for as much as 60 years, daily and faithfully carry out their ministry of tending the Lord’s sheep, of echoing His voice, of administering His life.


                We are not going to improve our Church or our world just by standing on the sidelines and complaining. Complaints only embitter the complainer and those who hear him, and alienate the one complained about. We need to be more positive in our approach; look for the good, speak to it, point it out! We need above all to do the good, to be generous of heart, to build up, to prompt to the better and higher values. The loving hearts of a mother and father, rooted in the love of Christ and his Church, are surely among the most fertile soil for a son to perceive and to respond to the call of Christ. Good marriages are the best guarantee of good and plentiful vocations. The covenant of sacramental marriage will bring forth priests to celebrate the mysteries of the new and everlasting covenant.

                Future priests, whoever you are, wherever you are and whatever you are doing: Holy Mother Church needs you; the Savior calls you; the suffering and lost sheep long for you. Be of good courage! Come forward gladly with a brother’s love so that people may call and know you as father, and so rejoice in the certainty of the eternal life they receive through your mouth and hands, and exult in the glorious liberty of the sons and daughters of God!

 

Msgr. Peter Magee, Sunday, May 2nd, 2004 – St. Matthew’s Cathedral, DC, 10.00 am