On the Fourth Sunday of Easter, the Church celebrates Good Shepherd Sunday and the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. Writing about the vocation to the priesthood, Bishop John Sherrington gives thanks for the gift of priesthood and Fr Richard Nesbitt reflects on the joy of the priesthood.
The Gift of Priesthood
By Bishop John Sherrington
Good Shepherd Sunday provides an opportunity to thank God for the gift of priesthood. Many priests will be celebrating their anniversaries of ordination in the coming weeks and so it is an opportunity to look back and thank God for the gifts which have been received. It is a day when it is good to thank God for the many priests that have been witnesses to the death and resurrection of Christ in our lives and handed on the Catholic faith. Some have done this in spite of, or maybe even because of, their idiosyncrasies and eccentricities. They are reminders that God’s plan is beyond our human reasoning and his ways are not our ways.
On the World Day of Prayer for Vocations we pray for the priests of our diocese who are servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Cor 4:1). Stewarding the mysteries of God means preaching the word of God, celebrating the sacraments and being Christ’s sacramental presence in the world. Through his prayer, the priest offers the people and the intractable situations of life to God the loving Father, knowing that only His Spirit can bring true healing and peace. In this way the priest deepens his own relationship with Christ, his shepherd and friend, so that he may be more available to Him and to his flock. May the priest always pray, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Sam 3:9).
St. Paul reminds all priests that they are very human and rely on his grace, “But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” (2 Cor 4:7). This fragility is a reminder that priests need to be enfolded by the mercy of God and so become ambassadors of Christ who know their need of God’s mercy and so can be merciful stewards of the sacrament of reconciliation to others. How humbling it is to hear confessions and hear of the human struggle as people entrust themselves once again to the mercy of God and set out with an intention for conversion and greater love of others.
Through life in the parish, the priest is present to people at different moments in the journey of faith: the joy of baptism and marriage, the high points of first Holy Communion and Confirmation, the sadness of sickness and suffering, the shock of tragedy, the grief of death and in the daily routine of everyday life when prayers are led and many pastoral needs are to be completed. Pope Francis describes the parish as “a community of communities, a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey, and a centre of constant missionary outreach.” [The Joy of the Gospel 28] The people of God as community of disciples gather to drink and be nourished by Christ so that they can be strengthened to be His presence in the world. The Good Shepherd invites the priest to carry the wounded lamb on his shoulder and to model his life on Christ’s own life, especially by carrying the cross. The priest nurtures his flock to become ‘missionary disciples’ who live the creativity of love and who are like a leaven in the world helping the reign of God to break in.
Humble witness and generous service will ensure that the person of the priest shows an authenticity of life to others so that they may believe. We thank God for priests and their priestly ministry.
The Joy of the Priesthood
By Father Richard Nesbitt
Pope Francis’ favourite image of the priest is of one who is anointed so as to anoint others with the oil of gladness. The anointing which a priest receives at his ordination is not meant just for himself: it is to flow through him to those he serves. So at the heart of the priesthood is joy, a humbling joy received from God and a joy to be shared with others. This was confirmed earlier this year by an unlikely source: a Government survey published in March which had asked people in a wide range of jobs and with very different salaries how happy they were. Top of the list, earning one of the lowest salaries but highest in terms of satisfaction and fulfilment, were the clergy. Yes, according to the report, clergy are the happiest group in the country! This is not to say that a priest’s daily life is a bed of roses, but that there is a fundamental gratitude and joy in priests that the work that we do is a gift from God and the greatest honour to be a servant to His people in imitation of Christ himself.
As Vocations Director for our diocese I see this joy in those called to the priesthood. I see it in my brother priests from the newly ordained starting out in their first parish to the retired priests of our diocese who have a deep sense of gratitude to God and his people for the lives of service they have been honoured to live. I see this joy in the 32 seminarians training for the priesthood in our diocese: a diverse group of men of different backgrounds and ages but united by this deep gladness at being able to give themselves fully to answering God’s call in their lives.
And I feel and experience this joy in my own daily life as a priest, recently appointed a parish priest to the truly wonderful community of Our Lady of Fatima in White City and also through the continuing adventure of my role as Vocations Director with all of the conversations and encounters this leads me into. This weekend 15 men are coming for a retreat at Allen Hall seminary entitled “The Joy of the Priesthood”, each one of them exploring the idea that they are being called to give their lives to God and the Church as priests. On this Good Shepherd Sunday please pray for them and all those whom God is calling to the priesthood. To respond to the voice of the Good Shepherd is to come close to the heart of God. There is nothing more fulfilling in life than that, life close to the heart of God. May this be our prayer for each other and, on this Good Shepherd Sunday, in a particular way for those men whom God is calling to the joy of the priesthood.