Posted by: frroberts | October 13, 2015

Sermon Notes: With Saint Jude, let us confidently approach the throne of grace

So let us confidently approach the throne of grace
to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.

Last week we introduced a three-week series of homilies on Saint Jude and the priesthood.  As we know, Saint Jude is the patron saint of hopeless causes and the impossible.  Perhaps at the end of last week’s homily, we felt that we faced something of a hopeless or impossible case.  The thing that is wonderful about the traditional devotion to Saint Jude is that such an experience teaches us that in God’s power there is no such thing as an impossible case.  This should give us hope.  The odd thing is that very often God only comes through for us when we come to Him desperate and on our knees because our plans have utterly failed.

Such was the case about 20 years ago when it came to vocations to the priesthood in the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana.  We had two seminarians, one of which was in his late seventies.  We faced the real possibility that parishes would be closed for lack of priestly vocations.  After years of ignoring the problem, we were getting to the point where we could not do so anymore.  At first, hang-wringing was a common response.  A frequent refrain was that with so many declining towns, we would have to learn to live with many fewer priests and fewer parishes.  Then there was the series of articles that ran in the Indianapolis Star that gave the Diocese some very bad publicity.  Things looked hopeless.

It would have been easy for us to throw in the towel and resign ourselves to a new normal wherein we would have half the number of priests we had in the late nineties.  It would have been easy to play the victim and say if only the Pope would allow married men or women to be ordained, then all of our problems magically be solved.

But then someone got the idea that if we turned to God in faith, willing to do His will even if that made us uncomfortable, things could turn around.  I have no idea who the person, or people were, but thanks be to God they were able to convince the bishop that there was something positive that we  could do.  The strategy employed did not involve any gimmicks or shortcuts, it simply involved recognizing that what the diocese had been doing for at least a decade or more  to promote vocations was not working and that we had to change in order to expect different results.

What happened?

In communion with the bishop, a group of priests and laypeople confidently approached the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.  Instead of looking at a difficult situation and being paralyzed by the difficulties, they moved forward in faith.  They clung fiercely to “the faith once delivered to the saints” for which Saint Jude urges us to fight in his epistle.  I was there near the beginning and I remember all of the naysayers who said that it could not be done, that we who were trying to go from almost zero seminarians to over twenty would never get close to double digits.  Some people said that we were trying the impossible.  God proved them wrong.

In the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana have had twenty or more seminarians for the last ten years running.  Our ratio of parishioners to seminarians is one of the best of all of the dioceses in the United States.  Perhaps more to the point, how did this resurgence in vocations happen and what lessons can we apply to our parish cluster?

One of the things central to the the resurgence of priestly vocations in the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana was a rediscovery of the importance of the sacraments by all of the faithful.  We Catholics believe something very particular about our sacraments.  We believe that they are unique and personal encounters with Jesus Christ.  When a priest baptizes, we believe that a person becomes a member of the Body of Christ and that those who are not baptized are really missing out on something in their relationship with God.  We believe that when a priest celebrates Mass, Jesus becomes present on the altar in the Eucharist, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity and that those who receive Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament have a much better chance of getting to heaven than those who do not.  We believe that Jesus Christ Himself gave the apostles and their successors the power to forgive sins in the sacrament of confession and that those who fail to use this sacrament through their own fault place their souls in serious spiritual danger.

A group of Catholics in the diocese decided that it was time for us to try to live our Catholic faith as if the whole the thing were true.  We realized that if the Catholic faith is true, then priests are very important.  In fact, we recognized that if the Catholic faith is really true, those who know it to be true cannot make it to heaven without a priest.  Once we realized that fewer priests meant more people going to hell, some young men started asking themselves if they were up for the adventure of priestly life.

In the first parish where I served as a priest I think that they have had at least one ordination every year for the past nine years. And this streak shows no sign of stopping.  In Saint Alphonsus in Zionsville, even after James’ departure, they have four men in seminary from that parish alone.  Earlier this week, I was contacted by a former parishioner who is thinking about coming out to Randolph County to work in our parish cluster and discern the possibility of entering the seminary.

I have noticed an interesting correlation in the past twenty years in the more than a dozen parishes in which I have been.  Where there are lines for the confessional, when parishioners place the highest priority on going to Mass on Sunday and if there many people who come to the church building to pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament, there are vocations to the priesthood from that parish.  In parishes where these things do not happen, there are no vocations to the priesthood.

So let us confidently approach the throne of grace
to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.

The two parishes where I had been assigned before coming to Randolph County were not always vocation factories. I can attest that they even now have their share of problems.   I know firsthand that changing a parish culture from one that consumes vocations to produces vocations is not easy.  I grew up in a parish that was pretty rough on its priests.  In the case of my home parish, that change is finally taking place.  All Saints in Logansport just celebrated another young man beginning seminary in this fall!  Just because we have not had a great past in this parish cluster when it comes to priestly vocations, it does not mean that we cannot change for the better.  The devotion to Saint Jude teaches us an important lesson: while something might seem impossible to us, nothing is impossible for God.  But God won’t help us unless we ask Him to help us sincerely and fervently.

There are three simple things that we can do that will start to change things:

  1. Go to Mass more frequently.  If we have not yet committed to going every Sunday without fail, doing that is a good place to start.  If we are in the habit of going every week, it would be a wonderful thing to commit to going to Mass on a weekday.
  2. Celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation regularly.  While the Church commands us to go to confession once a year, once a month would be a great goal for all of us.
  3. Come to Church to pray before Jesus present in the tabernacle.  The chapel at Saint Vincent Randolph is open almost around the clock.  The church at Saint Mary is open during office hours and an hour before Mass.  It would be wonderful if we could commit to spending one hour a week in silent prayer in church outside of Mass time,  When you come, pray for priests, seminarians and for more young men to say yes to God’s call.

Next week we will get really practical about how to promote vocations.  We conclude today asking Saint Jude for his intercession:

O most holy apostle, Saint Jude, faithful servant and friend of Jesus, the Church honoureth and invoketh thee universally, as the patron of hopeless cases, and of things almost despaired of.
Pray for us, who are so miserable. Make use, we implore thee, of that particular privilege accorded to thee, to bring visible and speedy help where help was almost despaired of.
Come to our assistance in this great need, that we may receive the consolation and succor of Heaven in all our necessities, tribulations, and sufferings, particularly by making these parishes places where vocations to the priesthood are loved and honored.

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