January 22, 2017
I was torn this week between two options. Should I write on Christian unity (The week of prayer of Christian unity Jan 18-25) or religious vocations? I chose the latter, since it’s easier. The gospel this Sunday said that Peter and Andrew, James and John dropped everything and followed Jesus. 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.
Their story has led me to a reflection on vocation to the priesthood and religious life. I wish I could find a better way to communicate to you and particularly to our young people how much I appreciate the priestly and religious vocations. For me, the priesthood is the greatest life possible. I’m sure that our married and our single people can also say the same about their life vocations. Here is one of my experiences. Just after midnight, my cell phone rang and the lady at the other end asked, “Are you Fr. Francis?” Fr. Francis is the chaplain at the hospital. I answered: “No, do you want to talk to Fr. Francis, I have his phone number.” The lady replied, “No, I don’t want to talk to him, but a patient at the palliative ward does.” I got up and went to the hospital. Here was a person I have never met. He said that he was away from God more than 40 years and would like to be reconciled to God and receive the sacraments. The next day he died. The grace of God was with him but I was an instrument God used to bring him home. If I only did it once in my life, my life would have meaning and purpose, and my priesthood is worth of living, but this is almost an everyday event for a priest. The end of life is sacred and nobody should die without the hope of life eternal. When the doctor says, ‘We’ll do our best to keep the patient comfortable until the end comes,’ and the nurse is happily 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, and the dying person wishes to be at peace with God and with the church community through the presence of a priest. That is one of many justifications of my ministry.
A few months ago, I was speaking to group of young people. I told them that the priesthood is the greatest choice of life and one of them responded: “Yeah, I guess priests have to work only one hour a week. They have everything that they could desire. They routinely go on vacations, maybe to an exclusive resort in the Caribbean 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 and God’s people take care of priests, true, but God and his people also expect more from them than anyone else. What I tried to express to the young people was that the priesthood was the greatest life in the world because it was totally about Jesus. The priest acts in the person of Jesus, Persona 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.
If you observe what priests are doing every day, you may wonder where they can find the time and energy to fulfil their routine job descriptions. For me I put in at least 12 hours a day and 6 ½ days a week. The Lord Jesus never stopped doing his ministry, why should the priest!
At the same time, when I am at a priests’ meeting I have to admit that, we’re a strange looking group. Priests have more idiosyncrasies, more foibles than the average male. Maybe that’s because we don’t have wives to keep us in line. Besides, priests are not free from illness, temptations, and any other struggle in life. 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 exciting. We realize that somehow or other God does his work despite human weaknesses and human frailties!
No one should feel discouraged from becoming a priest or a sister for that matter because he or she does not feel worthy enough. Who is? 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 a priest or a sister in our family?” they would ask. But nowadays not many parents would talk to their children about the priesthood or religious vocation as a choice in life. Every Sunday in our parish we pray for vocations to the priesthood, religious life and other vocations. May more and more of our young men and women receive the call from the Master! May they respond to his call with eagerness and generosity! May they follow, and, may they allow the Spirit to work through them.