“Faith of Our Fathers and Mothers”
Living in a country which celebrates Corpus Christi on the Thursday as a civil holiday and a Holy Day of Obligation, I find myself today (different from many folks elsewhere) on the 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time, looking forward to the Feast of the Sacred Heart, which marks the close of the Year of the Priest.
“The Good News I preached is not a human message that I was given by men, it is something I learnt only through a revelation of Jesus Christ… Then God, who had specially chosen me while I was still in my mother’s womb, called me through his grace and chose to reveal his Son in me, so that I might preach the Good News about him to the pagans.” (2nd Reading, 10th Sunday, Year C – Galatians 1:11ff.)
There can be no question that profound differences in quality and scope exist between my vocation and St. Paul’s vocation. No doubt if I were more cooperative with God’s grace it might be harder to distinguish us, but it goes without saying that St. Paul is an Apostle, and one of the foundation stones of the Jerusalem on High, whereas at best I hope someday to shine like a star reflecting the light flowing from the One upon the Throne and from the Lamb.
I think, however, at this juncture we should pose the question once again: Where do vocations to the priesthood come from? Is the clergy abuse scandal the principal impediment to full seminaries and a new flowering of Church life in our day and time?
Answer: God does indeed call us as He did St. Paul from our mother’s womb. If by “the clergy abuse scandal” you mean the static to be picked up on the media, then how could it be the “principal impediment”? No, selfishness and a lack of faith, two of the components involved in the makeup of any priest who takes advantage of adolescents or young men, are deficiencies not limited to certain priests, but quite widespread in the Church. It might be more accurate to say that selfishness and a lack of faith have “taken the fizz out” of family life and militate against God’s Will being done in the lives of many of the baptized. The scarcity of faith or a faith environment at home has more to do with the scarcity of vocations today than any other factor except maybe zero population growth (and is that not a selfish refusal of life as well?).
Why did God make me? To know, love and serve Him in this life, so as to be happy with Him in the next… It’s not happening as it should: the “know, love and serve” part! Even before the economic crisis, which is slowing most economies, causing others to shrink or contract, increasing unemployment and leaving lots of highly qualified people just graduating without a window of opportunity for gainful employ, as I say, even before these hardships there were parents keeping their child to home and fighting off major commitment (read: a religious vocation) in the life of a child, as if it were living death or a recipe for heartbreak as opposed to being buried in a network TV “reality show”, amidst the desolation of a modeling career, or hip-hopping your way into a “Crib” to be rated on MTV, with fridges full of pre-wrapped food platters for consumption in front of a giant flat, flat, flat screen. Think of the parents who have fed an adult child at home beyond obesity to the point where they have to come through the wall with a forklift to carry them off to the coronary care unit and the grave. Where is generosity and where is faith in the equation of more than you think which passes as family life in our day and age? Do parents really want their children to live?
My Sunday Missal subtitles or themes this 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time as follows: Christ Who Restores Us to Life.
The 1st Reading from I Kings 17: 17ff. was in this sense and in terms of my question about vocations, especially to the priesthood, enlightening for me:
“And the woman said to Elijah, ‘What quarrel have you with me, man of God? Have you come here to bring my sins home to me and to kill my son?’ ‘Give me your son,’ he said, and taking him from her lap, carried him to the upper room where he was staying and laid him on his own bed. He cried out to the Lord, ‘Lord my God, do you mean to bring grief to the widow… Lord my God, may the soul of this child, I beg you, com into him again!’ The Lord heard the prayer of Elijah and the soul of the child returned to him again and he revived. Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper room into the house, and gave him to his mother. ‘Look,’ Elijah said ‘your son is alive.’ And the woman replied, ‘Now I know you are a man of God and the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth itself.’”
During this Year of the Priest lots of crying out in intercession to God on behalf of our priests and for vocations has taken place. St. John Vianney and his example of how to shepherd a parish and save souls have become much better known. Today in Poland in Warsaw's Pilsudski Square that young firebrand of a priest, Father Jerzy Popieluszko (1947-1984), was beatified as a martyr. For these two very different and great priests, and for countless witnesses with less profile, I am ready to say with full confidence that the lamp is lit and shining for all to see; nothing really clouds our view of the city on the mountain top.
A priest friend of mine recounted his disappointment when, as the last of the seeming obstacles fell away, the young man he had hoped would opt for the seminary inexplicably turned away. I thought of Jesus’ sadness over the rich young man who turned down the invitation to leave all and follow Him (selfishness).
Personally, more even than lacking generosity, I think that the hurdle blocking the path for too many, the barrier turning too many aside is a lack of faith. Sigrid Undset analyzes the formula which brought so many talented and formerly worldly young men into the entourage of St. Catherine of Siena and who after her death all followed her individual counsel to join monasteries, cloisters, hospital apostolates or to become hermits. Most certainly her otherworldliness, her mysticism captivated them, but undoubtedly it was the power of God shining through our human weakness in the person of Catherine which caused their faith in the Person of Jesus Christ, perhaps only yet the seed planted at baptism, to sprout and grow at their first encounter with this woman. This all happened against the backdrop of corruption in all quarters of the Church and amidst the heartrending discouragement which even a person like Catherine had to face because of the Great Western Schism.
I read part of an interview with the Bishop of St. Pölten in Austria the other day, where he was asked his view on all the controversy that the Church is facing. He spoke of the history of his diocese, of the utter devastation there and elsewhere in Austria on the eve of the Counter-Reformation and of the wonder worked by young men, properly formed as Catholic priests, who went out and won back to Catholic Faith and practice one parish after another.
The distraught widow of the Book of Kings accosted Elijah and gained his intercession on behalf of a boy that maybe she had been smothering with attention and investing too much hope in. In giving up her child to the prophet she not only had him back full of life but she found herself living truly in God’s presence:
“And the woman replied, ‘Now I know you are a man of God and the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth itself.’”
St. Catherine of Siena drew some of the young men she called to sainthood in the service of the Church of her day despite the selfishness and lack of faith of their parents. She did it with patience and love, and with no amount of prayer on her own part for those parents. Join me in prolonging this Year of the Priest in an insistent prayer on behalf of mothers and fathers: Lord, that they would let go of their sons, that You might give the men life in Your service, and that their parents might have these sons back in faith in this life and truly share happiness with them together with You in Your Kingdom! Not cribs, not abs, not curves, not red carpets or trophies, Lord, but to know You, to love You, to serve You, and really be happy!