THE CALL TO BE A PRIEST
A little boy named Samuel, living in the Temple with Eli, the High Priest, is awakened by the voice of the Lord calling him to a special service. Two of John the Baptists followers are encouraged by their Master, John, to leave him and join Jesus. After spending a day with the Lord, one of these followers, Andrew, finds his brother, Simon, and brings him also to Jesus. Jesus expected Simon to come. He had a special mission for this fisherman. He would be the one who would lead the Church. He would be the rock. Jesus called him Cephas or Peter, or Rocky.
Today's readings speak to us about the call of the Lord to individuals. Each of us is a unique reflection of the God. Each of us has a unique call, a unique way that we are told to make him present to the world. We receive our mission when we are born. Our mission is complete when we return to the Lord. We may be married or single, we may be young or elderly, we still have mission to reflect God in our own unique way. That is why we exist.
Among the many calls the Lord issues is the call to be an ordained priest. All Christians are called to be priests, to make God present in the world, but some of us are also called to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders. This is the call to make God present for his people in Word and Sacrament. Baptism establishes the life of God within us. Confirmation refines this relationship so we can bring others to God. Holy Orders further refines this relationship so that the ordained can make Christ present in the real way, in the theological sense of real presence, by word and sacrament. We need good Christian lay people, as we have. We also need good priests to serve these lay people and to serve people throughout the world.
I don't know exactly when I first wanted to become a priest. I know that in grade school I wanted to be able to make God present for people by saying Mass. I know I wanted to be able to bring the sacrament of the sick to people. I was a pretty hard worker. I got good grades. Then I was faced with the main reason why vocations are low today. This was not celibacy, although that is definitely a struggle. The main reason why vocations are low is that people with intellectual acumen are encouraged to use this for material profit. "You want to be a priest," people would say, " but you could become a...." and then a number of professions would be mentioned. It is as though a person would be happy in a profession just because it can be financially profitable. I doubt this. The lawyer who does not enjoy learning and applying the law to help people could not be a very happy lawyer. Nor would a doctor or dentist be happy if he or she was in it for the money, not for people. Still, this was the objection that I and most people receive when the concept of priesthood is mentioned. Thank God, my parents never felt that way and I received the home support I needed to be able to get through the seminary.
After spending time in a religious order, I realized that the particular type of priest I wanted to be was a general practitioner, a parish priest. I love making God present for others. I also like the multiplicity of ministries I am called upon to perform. On any day of the week I may be doing the hospital rounds, counseling those about to get married, talking to parishioners with personal difficulties, writing a homily or bulletin article, getting bogged down in administration technicalities. And then there is the most important right and responsibility of the priest: Celebrating the Eucharist, the center prayer of the Church, the center prayer of the priest's day.
I enjoy all the different hats I am called to wear. I enjoy going from one thing to another. I enjoy being able to help people even though most of the time I have no idea how I could be any help at all. I enjoy knowing that in ways beyond my understanding, and even though I am continually tempted to sin, and even though I very often fail God, still God uses me to give the world his real presence.
I have a good life. Yes, there are things I wish I could change. It is hard dealing with human beings, particularly when you are human yourself. It is hard being celibate. But I wouldn't be a very good priest if I wouldn't also make a good husband and father. It is a consolation for me to know that I am just another normal human being, not some sort of special freak of nature, but a normal human being called to serve the Lord as a priest.
We need priests. We need people to answer the call. We don't need holier-than-thou. We don't need people who cannot associate with other people, men, women or both. We need people who are willing to do anything and everything they can to make God present in the real, sacramental way to others.
We need people to support our young people inclined to test their vocations. We need you to pray for vocations to the priesthood. We need you to encourage young people to refine the talent God gives them to service as a priest.
Samuel, Andrew, Peter, all heard a call and answered. God is not calling less than before. There are just less people answering his call. Today we pray that those who are called may have the courage to say to the Lord with their lives the words of Samuel, "Here I am, Lord. Speak, your servant is listening."