Sunday of the Fourth Week of Easter
Fr. Joseph Eddy, O. de M.
I know a priest, whom we will call Fr Michael, from a diocese with a large retiree population. Fr Michael is good priest who is very prayerful and gifted with finances. He spent his first few years as a pastor in a stable parish with a balanced budget and many active retired parishioners.
Then things changed quite a bit for Fr Michael. He was asked… or even told by the bishop to take a parish in the middle of a large state university. Fr Michael was not happy about this new assignment. The campus church had a serious debt. Fr Michael is foreign-born with a strong accent. He also knew that his personality was low-key. Fr Michael thought the parish needed a dynamic priest that could animate the youth. How could this ever be a good match?
A new perspective
Well, after a few months, Fr Michael started to get to know the students. He spent time with them and had conversations at the Newman Center. Fr Michael listened to them and had compassion for the many struggles they experienced as young Catholics living in a secular environment. Now after several years of service to the parish, Fr Michael has grown to love his flock. They also appreciate him for his prayerfulness, humble manner, and fatherly care. The parish is finally out of debt and many vocations are coming from this community.
This is not an unusual story. In fact, despite the dwindling number of priests, many parishes recognize their pastor as a true shepherd and father. In God’s loving care for us, we are blessed with the priesthood. Priests are in Persona Christi Capitis or in the person of Christ the head. They are normal, weak men who are chosen to stand in the place of Christ, especially in regards to the Sacraments. At their ordination, the priest receives an indelible mark on the soul. We call them “father” since they are by ordination called to be servant leaders of the parish. This means that they are first to serve or lay down their lives for their congregation or flock.
To give their whole life
This is why the priests of the Roman Rite have the discipline of celibacy. They are to give their whole life as pastors to their people. The shepherd spends every waking hour with his sheep. He walks with them leading them to water and food. The shepherd sleeps next to them with an eye open for the wolf or any kind of danger.
What a beautiful gift it is to sacrifice family, time, and a career to “lay down their lives for the flock”. The bar has indeed been set high for the priest; to live as Jesus did. Our culture today does not support such commitments as it did in the past. Yet God is always faithful. He does not change with fads or cultural norms.
Jesus knows the best way to care for his sheep. He also knows how to inspire those called to become spiritual fathers of hundreds of people. Despite their weaknesses, God continues to give the same supernatural grace to those called to shepherd His flock.
Where are the future shepherds and fathers?
On this World Day of Prayer for Vocations let us give thanks for the witness of so many priests and religious who have influenced our lives. God is still calling. Do you know someone who appears to have the Grace and qualities to be a religious or priest?
As a religious priest, I can tell you that there is no greater joy than to be known as “father” to so many. Wherever I go people call me “father.” I am challenged to serve and love them all as God’s children. What a life!!
We are living in a world that has been wounded by infidelity. This leads many to become cynical. But, we must believe that God is bigger than our woundedness. He does not stop trusting us and working on our behalf through others.
There are many good priests today. Many who silently, but heroically go about their daily work of being spiritual fathers. Let us pray for more vocations to the priesthood and religious life. May God continue to send shepherds into his field to care for all of us!