Dear Friends in Christ,
I came across a book in our sacristy recently. It looks like the other ritual books we use for Mass and the other sacraments. But this one is a bit different. It is called “Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest.”
I’m not sure how it ended up in our sacristy, as I’m quite sure (thanks be to God) that a Sunday has never gone by at de Sales without a priest to celebrate Mass. And yet, we must recognize that there are hundreds of parishes in the United States right now that do not have a resident priest. Such communities have to use that ritual book, in which a deacon or lay person leads prayers for the gathered community, but of course without Mass.
In the next ten years, 100 priests will retire in our Archdiocese. These are priests who were ordained during the final years of the last vocation boom (mid 1960s – mid 1970s). An optimistic projection is that we will ordain half that number during that time. Yet such trends are not inevitable. On this World Day of Prayer for Vocations, we can remember to pray. And we can gently invite others to consider it.
Here in our parish, I think there are several young men who would make excellent priests. If you think that about a young man too, please let him know! There is no greater compliment than to receive such encouragement from family, friends, and fellow parishioners. A simple remark like that is one of the greatest ways to promote vocations. Trust me, I know this from my own life. The first person to tell me I was going to be a priest was a Franciscan sister named Sister Francine. I was in second grade. And after several bouts of cancer, she’s still very much with us and proclaimed the first reading at my first Mass a few years ago!
On this Good Shepherd Sunday, Jesus tells us in the Gospel of John, “I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep” (Jn 10:11). To be a priest today means simply – but profoundly! – to enter into this mystery of the Good Shepherd. It means responding to his voice, recognizing that in a world which often seems to have forgotten God, his presence is needed more than ever. As those who share in his ministerial priesthood, priests are called to lay down their lives in imitation of Christ.
Even if it seems that fewer men answer this call today, I am quite sure that Christ is still speaking to the depths of many hearts, issuing that same enigmatic invitation he made long ago: “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Mt 4:19). Would you or someone you know like to set out on such an adventure? I promise you will not be disappointed.
May God be Blessed!
-Father Eric Banecker