The Church has chosen this Sunday, also known as ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’ because the readings are about God as the Good Shepherd, to pray for vocations to the priesthood. And so it is also ‘Vocations Sunday’. Christ called Himself the Good Shepherd (John 10:14) because He wants to take care of us all personally. “The sheep that belong to Me listen to My voice: I know them and they follow Me. I give them eternal life” (John 10:27-28). The priest is an ‘alter Christus’ or ‘another Christ’ whose task it is to bring those entrusted to his care to eternal salvation, to save their souls. Today, as we all know, there is a dire lack of priests, so this affects all of us, whether we like it or not.
St Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941) was a Polish Franciscan priest imprisoned in Auschwitz Concentration Camp during the Second World War, where in spite of the appalling living conditions, he tried to set an example of faith for the other prisoners. He was always concerned for their eternal salvation. On July 31st, 1941, following a prisoner’s escape, ten men were randomly selected to die by starvation as a reprisal. Father Kolbe offered himself in place of a young husband and father whom he had befriended. The German officer was shocked by his offer and asked him who he was, and his answer was simple, yet profound, “I am a Catholic Priest”. Fr Kolbe was no longer able to offer the Sacrifice of the Mass, and so he offered his own life as the sacrifice. The officer agreed and Fr Kolbe and the nine others were taken away to die. And Fr Kolbe was the last to die, having endured two weeks of starvation, thirst, and neglect, but along the way he had helped all the others prepare for death. All you heard in that cell while they were being starved were prayers and hymns. Interestingly, there is no known instance of any prisoner in Auschwitz dying in despair while Fr Kolbe was there. He himself died on the Vigil of the Assumption, 14th August 1941 by being injected with carbolic acid. A true priest who gave his life for his flock in imitation of the Master.
Today we complain about the seminaries being empty, and people even wonder if God has stopped calling men to the priesthood because He wants the laity to take over. No! The Catholic Church needs priests to function otherwise it would not be the Church Christ founded. A Church without priests would be Protestant. Our Lord founded a hierarchical Church with bishops and priests to offer the Sacrifice of the Mass, to administer the Sacraments and to teach and to govern. God keeps calling people to this life, but do people hear Him? There needs to be a fervent Catholic environment in families, and the young must be taught not to deny God whatever He asks for. We must pray continuously for vocations from our own homes and families and that those God is calling will hear that call.
St John Vianney (1786-1859) the Patron Saint of Parish Priests wrote, “Without the Sacrament of Holy Orders, we would not have the Lord. Who put Him there in that tabernacle? The priest. Who welcomed your soul at the beginning of your life? The priest. Who feeds your soul and gives it strength for its journey? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God, bathing it one last time in the blood of JESUS Christ? The priest, always the priest. And if this soul should happen to die (as a result of sin) who will raise it up, who will restore its calm and peace? Again, the priest … After God, the priest is everything! Only in Heaven will he fully realise what he is.”
The Church and the world needs priests! Pray for your priests that we live up to our calling. The Rosminian Order are having a Vocations Weekend at the Rosmini Centre on Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd May. You will find the details elsewhere in this newsletter. Could God be calling someone reading this to the priesthood or religious life? Do you know somebody who might make a good priest? Pray for them. Perhaps even suggest it to them. We can all be vocation promoters by helping those around us to live a Christian life. A priestly vocation could be depending on you!
Fr Paul Gillham, IC