Tuesday, July 5, 2011

911-Tuesday  Rich Harvest Awaits

Today's gospel, Mt 9:32-38, easily could be spoken today, were Jesus travelling in the USA.  In particular I  have in mind the last verse of the "pericope." ( Biblical research word for an incident or scene)  "The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest." 

The reality in the seminary/priesthood membership numbers is dramatically different today.  All of us know that there is a "shortage" of seminarians preparing for the priesthood and that there is a "shortage" of priests to serve the people of God.

Unfortunately there are many who bemoan this reality and ask what is the Church going to do about it.  For us and our Church we are fortunate that dollars will not buy vocations!  Unfortunately within the priesthood today there is not the "spirit" that existed when I was in high grammar and high school (1946-1959).  Today the joy and enthusiasm that I experienced in the witness of priests like Fr. Al Hughes, now deceased, at my home parish as well as the Discalced Carmelites and a Fr. John Madden PhD, a professor at Catholic University, who came to our parish to celebrate Masses on the weekends is sadly lacking.  The excitement that I witnessed in the enthusiasm and dedication of the Jesuit Scholastics (seminarians) and priests who taught me at Gonzaga High School is not so evident today.  This is the problem:  many priests just do not have the excitement and the pride that made these men, at least in my life, men whose lives I wanted to live in my own life.

So, is the priesthood destined to grow smaller and smaller in the years ahead.  Realistically, I suspect, it will until priests and their helpers begin to take on this problem in our Church.  There are two ways we can increase vocations:  (1) do what Jesus says in the gospel:  "ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest"; and, (2) priests and laity alike have to come alive once again with excitement for the priestly vocation.

As a priest of 39 years with 13 years of seminary training, I know that we live in difficult times in our Church.  As a priest, however, no one can convince me that the priesthood should die.  I know there will be challenging moments -- no priest will say that the life is easy, especially in our culture.  However, sometime, when you are with a priest, ask him to tell you about the great moments in his life.  After a while, you may have to tell that priest to take a break, to let you absorb all that I believe most priests can share with you about the blessings in the life of their priesthood.

Can you imagine how you would feel after sitting in a confessional for an hour each week, being truly what the priest can be: the healer, the comforter, the guide?  It is exciting, it is satisfying, it is the fulfillment of a sacrament that brings so much peace to a troubled soul.

Can you imagine what it is like to be at the bedside of a person who is dying and to know that you are in a way taking that person's hand and placing it in the hands of our loving God?  Can you imagine what it would be like to be present to comfort the loved ones who are being asked to give back to God the gift of the person He wants to be with Him in heaven?

Can you imagine how rewarding it is almost every day to help someone who is at sea with his/her life, who comes to "Father" for the embrace of the father in the gospel story of the Prodigal Son?

Were I a parent today and wanted to very best for my son, I would pray as long and as hard as I could to God that my son would seriously consider priesthood if it is in his thoughts for the future.  I do believe parents have to help the priests of today in their efforts to encourage vocations.

Indeed we priests today encounter so many who are "troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd."  Pray for us as well as for the men that God is calling to the priestly ministry.