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Homily for Sunday, April 21, 2024

Fourth Sunday of Easter |

 


Today is the World Day of Prayer for Vocations and Good Shepherd Sunday. I thought I would share a little about what it is like to be a priest or a pastor. 


For one thing, I’m not sure why young people aren’t beating down the door to become priests; it is an amazing vocation. Just think of the variety of experiences a priest manages. Just on Friday, I led a prayer service for the annual conference of the Catholic Principals Council of Ontario, followed immediately by a cemetery burial and a funeral Mass at St. Alexander’s church at 12:30. Friday is usually my day off. It’s not uncommon to do a baptism and drive to the funeral home for prayers at the funeral home, to see life from the beginning to the end and everything in between. This is significant work. We don’t always need clergy all the time, but when we are needed, it’s a beautiful experience to walk part way along that journey. 


But being a priest also gives me a very special feeling of being called. Years ago, I visited the 10000 Buddhist temple in Niagara Falls quite often. We became friends after 9-11 back in 2001. One day, after a visit, the head monk asked me, “Can you do me a favour and lock the outside gate on the way out?” Having a little job and being trusted with it was such a nice feeling. They asked me at one point to give tours, but I thought I’d draw the line at locking the gate. I might have difficulty explaining that to the bishop if he showed up with his friends as part of the Niagara Falls tourist experience. 


In any case, with the priesthood, God who calls, the creator of the universe and the saviour of all humanity, is asking the priest to play a very special role in making Him manifest in the world is a singular privilege. 


I felt my call in a special way as well. I had been in the seminary for four years before I decided to leave to pursue other interests. And I’m glad I did. I travelled a lot during those years. One year, I was in Calcutta working with the Missionaries of Charity serving the poor. I intended to use Calcutta as a starting point for further trekking in Kashmir. But I stayed for several weeks, and then one day, one of the Missionaries of Charity brothers came to me and said, “Mother wants to see you.” “Mother” is the name we called (now saint) Mother Teresa. 


“Are you kidding me?” “No, I’m not.” “Wow,” I thought to myself. I wasn’t big on this whole “cult of personality,” and her fame did not impress me. Her work did, of course, and as I learned more about her faith, she made an impression on me (understatement of the year). But here I was, waiting for her on a little bench outside her room at the Mother House. She was late, and I felt increasingly intimidated as I was waiting for her. Hegel might call her a “World Historic Individual,” and I was about to meet her face to face. Winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace, known worldwide for her kindness, grace and, most importantly, love. 


And what did she say to me when she saw me? We had an actual conversation. She said, “When are you going into the seminary?” “I was already in the seminary years ago and left.” (I think I might have said I hated it.) 


“A vocation is a beautiful gift from God; don’t throw it away that easily.” 

It took a few years, but I stand here before you as a living example of her prophetic insight!


And she’s right; it is a beautiful vocation.


To live in the midst of the world without wishing its pleasures;

To be a member of each family, yet belonging to none;

To share all suffering;

To penetrate all secrets;

To heal all wounds;

To go from men to God and offer Him their prayers;

To return from God to men to bring pardon and hope;

To have a heart of fire for charity, and a heart of bronze for chastity;

To teach and to pardon, console and bless always.

My God, what a life;

And it is yours,

O priest of Jesus Christ.*


I could easily end this homily on the World Day of Prayer for Vocations with this quote from Lacordaire, but I won’t. If I may make an observation, we have become far too priest-dependent. So, the church becomes like a vending machine where we put money in the basket and out pops sacramental grace like communion and baptism. Let’s not forget that as beautiful as these sacraments are to us as individuals, even the priesthood, it’s not for us. It’s for the world. God’s grace is to be given away to a world that is desperately in need of it.


I love this passage from Gaudium et Spes, one of the documents of Vatican II: I


The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of human being. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for every man. That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with mankind and its history by the deepest of bonds.


Allow me to rewrite Lacordaire’s touching passage about the priesthood to reflect this broader concern: the vocation of all of us as one church to make disciples: 


To live in the midst of the world without accommodating its pleasures;

To accept each family, encouraging them to grow

To share all suffering;

To penetrate all secrets;

To heal all wounds;

To go from humanity to God and offer Him their prayers;

To return from God to humanity to bring pardon and hope;

To have a heart of fire for charity, and a heart of bronze for chastity;

To teach and to pardon, console and bless always.

My God, what a life And it is yours,

O church of Jesus Christ.*


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