Posted by: frroberts | October 21, 2015

Sermon Notes: A priest forever

Today we conclude with part three of a three-part series of homilies on Saint Jude and vocations to the priesthood.  Two weeks ago, we started by recognizing some of the shadows in the history of our parish cluster when it comes to vocations in order to establish the urgency to adopt a new approach.  Last week we talked about how the best way to promote vocations is to come to Mass, go to confession and spend long periods of time praying in the front of the Blessed Sacrament.  This week we get really practical when it comes to promoting vocations to the priesthood.

But before we can get specific, we need to be clear on what a priest is.  What does it mean to be a priest of the New Testament?

The second reading gives us an answer.  Being a priest of the New Testament means having a special participation in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, a priest according to the order of Melchizedek.  At this point, you are probably asking who Melchizedek is.  Melchizedek is a mysterious figure from the book of Genesis who comes to bless Abraham after he won a battle against the kings of Sodom.  He is both a priest and king.  Unlike almost every other character in the book of Genesis, there is no family tree given for him.  Here is one last thing about this guy with the strange name. Instead of sacrificing an animal to God in thanksgiving for Abraham’s victory, he offered bread and wine.

Jesus Christ is a priest according to the order of Melchizedek because He is the Son of God, born not through human relations, but conceived by the Holy Spirit in the incorrupt womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Our Lord institutes a new sacrifice of His own flesh and blood under the form of bread and wine.  What is more, the priesthood of Jesus Christ does not continue through father passing the priesthood on to his son as it did in the Old Testament, but through a special call of Almighty God.

For the apostles, who were the first Christian priests, this participation in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ was sealed in their own blood.  All of the apostles died for Christ except for Saint John.  In the case of Saint John, he suffered exile and imprisonment, but died of old age.  Significantly, Saint John is the only one of the twelve apostles that we know certainly to have been a celibate.  Over the years, the Church has associated three promises to ordination to sacred ministry in order make more clear the linkage between Jesus and the particular priest: prayer, obedience and celibacy.  Let’s look at them:

Obedience: At his ordination, a priest puts his hands in the hands of his bishop and promises to obey and respect him and his successors.  This means for the rest of a priest’s life, he will not be able to decide where he lives and works.  It also means that he has to  implement the policies of the bishop.

Celibacy.  Celibacy refers to the priest’s promise not to marry.  Celibacy forces a priest to learn to cling to God alone and not depend on a spouse or family for support.

Prayer: At his ordination, a priest promises to cultivate a life of prayer.  A priest typically spends between two and three hours a day praying.

Why do priests to make these sacrifices?  We make these sacrifices because we believe that Jesus has called us personally to follow Him and that these sacrifices are to God’s greater glory and help us serve our people.

Let’s be honest, we priests can seem like weird dudes.  We pray more in a week than many people do in a year.  We don’t look for happiness primarily through relationships with other people. And we renounce our freedom of movement in order to serve the needs of our diocese.  For a normal young man who has a normal amount of ambition and enough talent to pursue it, the sacrifices that a priest make will seem pretty distasteful.

From a very young age, the nuns who taught me in school told me that I might have a vocation to the priesthood.  When I got to be in high school, the priests told me that same thing.  By the time I was fourteen, I had perfected the “thanks, but no thanks” move when I heard, “You would make a wonderful priest.”  Then a strange thing happened one Sunday at when I was sixteen.

My parish’s priest had preached about the importance of vocations to the priesthood.  My Protestant debate coach, who was married to a Catholic, was in the congregation that day.  After Mass, he came over to me to say hello.  What he said shocked me.  “You know, I think you would make an excellent priest.”  I had no clue what to say, which by that time in my life, had become a rare experience.   When he and his wife decided soon after that to go to a Protestant congregation in town and I realized that my priest had not put him up to saying what he said, I was scared.

I started to take the idea of being a priest more seriously whilst in college, but this definitely did not stop me from dating.  When several of the young women I dated in college who really liked me told me I should think about being a priest, I realized that God was probably calling me.

My experience, which is not limited to my vocation, is that the most effective promoters of vocations to priesthood are married men and single women.    When a happily married man or a single female peer is able to tell a gifted young man that he would be a good priest and really means it, these are very powerful words.  They are powerful words because they teach a young man that, as good as married life is, there remains a hunger that only God can fill.  Saint Augustine described this hunger by saying, “O Lord, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

The traditional devotion to Saint Jude reminds us that with God all things are possible.   Let’s turn to him one last time asking for 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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: