“I am the Good Shepherd. A Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He laid down His life for us. This fourth Sunday of Easter is called: “Good Shepherd Sunday” and we are encouraged to preach about vocations and tell our own vocation story.
I hear a lot of people today say that we need more priests. We are well served by priests from other countries but there are challenges about culture and language. People are quick to criticize an international priest if they cannot understand him on Sundays. People in parishes will say we need a young priest to meet the needs of young people.
Yes, our people want more priests but, by and large they don’t want to encourage their sons and grandsons to be priests. This has to change. The responsibility to encourage vocations is not simply my responsibility as a pastor. It is the responsibility of all Catholics to encourage vocations and so I ask you to be part of this effort.
Think about young men you know who might be good priests. Often, it is something that a relative or a parent, a teacher or a friend sees in someone that they do not see in themselves. Why not say something? “Have you ever considered being a priest? You would make a good priest.” The young man may react with incredulity but you have planted a seed and thus are participating in the work of God.
In recent years we have all been scandalized by the sexual abuse of minors by priests. This is a true tragedy and I suspect it has made people fearful of encouraging someone to be a priest. But these failings do not mean that the celibate priesthood is an unhealthy or unhappy way of life. Celibacy lived in love and service of others is a generative love and a meaningful way of life. Celibacy involves more hellos and goodbyes but is no less a way of loving. It has its challenges as does any state of life. It means being grounded in Jesus Christ through prayer and a spiritual life, lively in the pursuit of solitude and inner peace.
I cannot tell you how blessed I have been to be a priest these 44 years. I wanted to be a priest when I was 12 and an altar server at St. Ignatius in Hicksville. I admired the priests who served there throughout my childhood. They seemed happy. They helped other people. They had the privilege to say Mass and administer the Sacraments.
A good priest is a good shepherd. Everyone is important. But the priority for Jesus was the lost sheep. One of the recurring concerns I have is to win people over to Sunday Mass. When people say they go to Mass on Sundays, many do not mean every Sunday. But I think Mass every Sunday is very important and this concern is a real burden for me when I do not see parishioners at Mass.
A priority for me as a shepherd is for those who are ill, dying, disabled, or homebound. Sometimes people want me to be the president of every detail and I need to fight for my priesthood so that my time and energy is spend on those who need the mercy of God and the compassion of the Church at a given moment.
I admit it: I do not like to micromanage. But this is because I have a passion for being a priest and, while there are details that I must attend to as pastor, there are more important concerns: visiting the sick, preaching at Mass, celebrating the Eucharist prayerfully, being there when someone needs to talk. I believe that listening is one of the most important qualities of priesthood. I believe that being a man of prayer is essential to being a good priest. I believe that I must decrease so that Christ can increase. I know that a good pastor is important to having a vibrant community of faith. But I do not think that I am all that important. I think Christ is important and my job is to get out of the way so that Christ may touch hearts and save souls.
I am thoroughly convinced that God called me to be a priest and that gives me an inner peace that pervades the difficulties of living. Why not go out and plant a seed today: “Have you ever considered being a priest? God may be calling you. You will never find peace until you respond.”
Father Jim McNamara