Every year on the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus I try to send a letter to all the priests of our Diocese thanking them for the good work they do in our parishes, schools and hospitals. At the same time it give me a chance to share some thoughts on the priesthood with them, remind them of our need for annual retreat and make sure they take some time for vacation to relax, refresh and renew over the summer. Msgr. Pflomm, the Vicar for Clergy is my right hand working with our priests and me on a day-to-day basis. This year, for example, he organized a Day of Appreciation for the more than 125 secular and religious priests from other countries who have volunteered to come and work with us in priestly ministry in our Diocese. At the same time I had the privilege of ordaining four men to the priesthood on June 14 and we have about forty men studying in the seminary to become priests. The number of priests we have has increased slightly this year over previous years and the quality and the commitment of all our priests are beyond compare.
At my last Ad Limina visit with Saint John Paul shortly before he died, he asked me if I had sufficient priests. I answered by asking him if it was permissible for a bishop to quote the Pope to the Pope which gave him a laugh. But I did quote his letter to the priests of the world that Holy Thursday. In that letter he said “there will never be sufficient priests for preaching of the Gospel and for the pastoral care of the People of God.” I think that sums it up nicely. It leads to two conclusions. First anyone talking about a “priest shortage” is talking nonsense. Numbers are not the criterion. I have never used the term and never will. Anyone who does simply does not understand the Church or, worse, is seeking to sensationalize or cast aspersions on the Church which, in our diocese, is healthy, vibrant and alive. There never will be sufficient priests but it is irresponsible and insulting to talk about “priest shortage.” Second we must always pray for vocations in our private prayers, in our homes and at Mass. Vocations to priesthood are a gift of God because they are a call from God. We have to help by prayer and by assuring that, in our homes and in our churches, we preserve an attitude that encourages young men to think and pray about the possibility of having a vocation to priesthood.
On this Feast of the Sacred Heart I want to invite all of you to say an extra prayer and repeat it daily, if possible. You can make it simple but from your heart: O Sacred Heart of Jesus give us priests after your own heart! Amen.
Photo: Bishop Murphy and the newly ordained priests of the diocese earlier this month. Gregory A. Shemitz photo.