Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Priesthood and Good Shepherd Sunday

Last Sunday's homily by the Rev. Robert Marczewski was particularly engaging, I thought. It was the Second Sunday after Easter, traditionally known as Good Shepherd Sunday, and Fr. Marczewski chose to relate the theme of the Good Shepherd to the shepherding or pastoring provided by our ministerial priests.

I wish I had taken notes, but just off the top of my head (with due apology for occasional license and interpolation), one contrast he drew was between the comparatively poor reputation the Catholic priesthood now suffers in the public image and the venerable dignity embodied in the priesthood through the sacrament of Holy Orders.

On the one hand, with all the bad press in the world today, who would wish to become a priest? Nobody. At least, not without the grace of a supernatural vocation. This is driven home to me every time I teach a class full of discerning seminarians. I repeatedly catch myself in amazement at how young men still respond with open and willing hearts, swimming upstream, as it were, against the current of the times.

On the other hand, it is the ordained priest alone who is singularly graced to confect the Body of Christ upon the altar and can properly say in persona Christi, "For this is my body ..." (Hoc est enim corpus meum). It is he alone who is empowered to declare in persona Christi, "I absolve you" (te absolvo).

Hence it is that parishioners used to revere their priest, bowing as he passed them in procession to the altar of the church, and even piously kissing his hand in a gesture of veneration and gratitude, according to the customs of years gone by. Priests were not treated simply as avuncular chums but as consecrated men embodying Christ with us, for that is what they are and should be.

We hear these days about a "vocations crisis," said Fr. Marczewski, but in fact there is no crisis in "vocations." God's vocation -- His "calling" -- of men to priestly ministery has never ceased or diminished. If anything, it is a crisis of deafness in a world gone mad; and the divine vocations have thus fallen on deaf ears today, likely because of the deafening din of distractions from the secular society about us. Where our liege Lord, the Holy Mighty One, the Holy Immortal One, the King and future Judge of the World has been reduced too often to a "Buddy Christ," it is small wonder that we have trouble hearing.

The future of the priesthood, said Fr. Marczewski, indicating the parishioners, "depends upon you." It is "out of you" that future priests will arise, and so you must pray. Pray for young men today, that they would hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and respond to His call, His vocation, to become good shepherds of the sheep.

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