4 Sunday Easter B 2012
Jesus says, ‘I am the Good Shepherd.’ We hear this phrase so often; we frequently see images of Jesus with a sheep on his shoulders. But do we know what it means. Is Jesus simply the good shepherd? What do we mean by good? Do we mean sinless? Do we mean kind? He is the model shepherd. A shepherd, in order to know his sheep and care for them, has to live among them. He has to be close to them.
And he lays down his life for his sheep—for us. He is, in one of those marvelous paradoxes of the Gospel, at the same time both the lamb and the shepherd—the victim and the priest.
We call today Good Shepherd Sunday and we traditionally use this commemoration to speak particularly about vocations to the priesthood. We ought to consider the problem of vocations as urgent. The shortage of priests is now beginning to bite. Just look at our own Order, the Oblates, here in Canada for an example; we are very glad to have three men in our formation process for our Lacombe Province but realistically we are giving up many commitments through attrition.
If it were not for the very many elderly priests soldiering on long after retirement age then a lot more parishes would have to merge and masses would be drastically reduced in number.
There are several different responses to this crisis in vocations. One is to recognize the many other vocations in the Church. And this we have done through the revival of the permanent diaconate and the development of many different lay ministries.
Our Diocese is just beginning a training program for about twenty men, all married I believe, preparing for their ordination as deacons in a few years time.
Also laity has assumed many roles previously embraced by religious priests, brothers and sisters. But no matter how we alleviate the many tasks that used to fall on the parish clergy and no matter how thinly they are spread among the parishes we have to acknowledge that we still really need priests. The ministry of priests is an essential element in the life of the present sacramental structure of the Church. Many foreign priests are now invited to serve in
Many argue that good shepherds could be invited forward if only priests were given permission to marry or if women were free to be ordained. There is an article on our website written by the Theologian John Shea regarding the persistent stand of the Catholic Church authority regarding exclusion of women from ordination. It is a very reasoned argument seeking clearer arguments to justify historical practice.
Yet even if these positions were re-examined, not from the crisis in celibate male vocations but from a position of reflecting on the will of God in this new age, we must look at mainline Protestant Churches. In spite of married and women clergy they are still short of clergy and some of them are now in very serious decline.
Yet we believe that God does call particular people to the ordained ministry. He calls but do individuals concerned hear and respond to that call.
I don’t think that our young people today are any less courageous than people of earlier generations. Perhaps they fail to see the vocation of priest, brother or sister as engaging as other ways they can make a difference in the world. Perhaps we fail to portray the life as purposeful as we might. Perhaps parents and other adults fail to point to the life of a shepherd as essential to their own spiritual life. That does not mean false elitism or holding someone high because of status, but because they are a light that has guided the way. They have been present to share the joys and sorrows of your life as Christians.
I must say as an Oblate and as a Priest that my life has been blessed. This year I celebrate 40 years of ordination and 48 years of professing vows. My life is blessed not because I have gained material things, lived in health (which I have), but because I have been standing at the crossroads of life where the journey of many lives pass in different directions. Often they have discovered me along their journey and invited me to walk with them; perhaps in entering their joy in the welcoming of a newborn, sharing their pride in the accomplishments of their children, celebrating the marriage of their young adults, celebrating the fidelity of their parents and witnessing the sterner lessons of life that uncover the heart and the soul of good people/ there in carrying the cross of suffering, I have been privileged to witness courage and deep faith.
I have worked with many development projects that have brought people together in community generously given of their talents, time and material blessings for the common good. I have experienced God working through my life when I have been preaching and something that I had not even prepared to say, came to my mind and it was exactly “the good things that people need to hear”, as scripture says: to comfort them, to challenge them, to encourage them.
I remember the words that my mother said some years ago. She occasionally would visit the various parishes or missions where I was ministering. She said that she was very blessed that I was a priest, because she got to meet so many beautiful people. It is very true. We in the church are not perfect; we are pilgrims, but we know we are on a journey and we want to be led by God and we want to help one another to become true disciples of Jesus.
Sure there are times of frustration and being luke warm, but there is not a place where I have been sent, whether Fort St. James or
It has been a great life. Not quite over yet! If any young man feels a pull from God to accept this kind of leadership in the Church come forward. We have been blessed to have Bradley Clark with all his enthusiasm and youth to be with us this year. He will be leaving the parish on May 14th, going to share some time with Oblates in
To everyone: live your vocation to the full as single, as married, as religious, as priests. “Glorify God by your life!”