Homily – Fr Damien Lynch, Assistant Vocations Director, Diocese of Cloyne
Given during a Holy Hour for Priests, Seminarians and Priestly Vocations
St Mary’s Church, Mallow
Sunday, 14th May 2017
In his homily during a recent ordination to the Priesthood, Archbishop Martin, the Archbishop of Dublin, spoke about the challenges that ordinary Catholics are facing in Ireland today and said that good, devout Catholics, including priests and faithful parishioners, are “unfairly under attack as they live out their faith and their ministry generously and with dedication.” He was referring mostly, I think, to the constant reminders we get in the media of the well-known sins of the past and to how anything good that Catholics now do or try to do, is deliberately undermined by these reminders. The other Archbishop Martin, the Archbishop of Armagh, meanwhile, has also added that all the good that the Church has done in the past is slowly being erased from our memories for similar reasons, so that soon the word Catholic will bring to mind nothing more than ‘abuse,’ ‘mother-and-baby homes’ and the supposedly oppressive Ireland of the past. With all of this in mind, it might be hard to see how vocations to the Priesthood could possibly emerge at this time and where the use is in praying for them in such a context as ours.
But if this is the case and if we do genuinely feel somewhat weary from the current religious climate around us, then maybe its not actually such a bad thing, because the harassed and the dejected and the ‘fed up’ are precisely the people for whom the Lord showed concern in the Gospel reading we have just heard. It was at a low point, when the weary and deflated were most in need of leaders to shepherd them that the Lord used those words that are so familiar to us: ‘ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest.’ And because we know that the Lord never advises or encourages anything that will not work, we can have the greatest of confidence that, despite all the challenges that there are, our prayer today and the prayers we may make each day for vocations are heard by Him, and that the Lord, for His part, is doing all He can to make it happen!
I say he’s doing all He can, because as strange as it may sound, there is only so much that the Lord can do about vocations! It’s an important part of our Christian faith that God does not force any of us to do anything, let alone forcing a man into the Priesthood. He calls, He encourages and He gives all the grace needed for a positive response, but He does not and will not force. And so, I believe at least, that there are many young men in Ireland today and in Cloyne today who are a bit like the figure Samuel in our first reading. Samuel, heard a voice calling him over and over again, but he couldn’t recognise whose voice it was or what it wanted. Interestingly, the reading says that at that time revelation from the Lord was uncommon and vision infrequent. So while faith in the Lord was there, His voice was not really known; people didn’t know what to listen out for and couldn’t recognise the signs that were there.
Can the young people, the young men of our country today identify with that? I think they probably can. The Lord is always there, calling them, inspiring them to do great things of every kind and very often they do them; but most of the time they do not know or do not acknowledge the source of that call and of that inspiration. And so they take off in all sorts of directions: they get involved in charity work, in overseas aid, voluntary work of one kind or another; they go to help in places like Lourdes, as over sixty young people from our diocese will early next month. I see it all the time in the school where I work. Loads of young people doing the work of the Lord, after a fashion, but not recognising the Lord who calls them to the work. And maybe, then, that is where our prayer and our efforts need to be focused. Along with asking the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest and for shepherds to guide us, we must pray hard that the hearts of the young men whom the Lord is already calling may somehow be opened to Him and made able to see that it is He who calls them, and that the work to which He calls them is very great indeed.
Our Gospel passage today also gives us some bit of insight into what this great work is. Because while the examples I gave previously of volunteering and of doing charitable work are naturally very good and ultimately come from God, the work of the priest is quite singular. The heart of a priest’s life and ministry is, as we know, the celebration of the Sacraments, particularly the Eucharist. And the Gospel points in the direction of the Sacraments when it says that the Lord gave his disciples authority over unclean spirits with power to cast them out and to cure all kinds of diseases and sickness. It is in the Sacraments that priests give the people of God what they need to help them persevere on the road to salvation and to pick them up when they are flagging, just like the crowd in the Gospel. What is probably my favourite description of a priest’s work comes from the Patron Saint of Priests, St John Vianney, and it indicates to us that when we pray for vocations, what we are really praying for is that the work of Christ might continue in the world by means of the direct contact God makes with us in the Sacraments. He says this:
Go to confession to the Blessed Virgin or to an angel; will they absolve you? No. Will they give you the Body and Blood of Our Lord? No. The Holy Virgin cannot make her Divine Son descend into the Host. You might have two hundred angels there, but they could not absolve you. A priest, however simple he may be, can do it; […] What would be the use of a house full of gold, if you had nobody to open the door! The priest has the key of the heavenly treasures; it is he who opens the door; he is the steward of the good God, the distributor of his wealth. […] The priest is not a priest for himself; he does not give himself absolution; he does not administer the Sacraments to himself. He is not for himself, he is for you.
Through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin and of St John Vianney and with the help of our unflagging prayer, may the men whom the Lord is calling to labour in the harvest of our Diocese today be given the perception to recognise and answer His call. May they have the courage at least to take the first step of contacting a vocations director or their local priest, who themselves know well what it was like to take the first step. And in due course, may they take on the life of selfless love and service to which priests are called, bringing the touch of the God into the lives of the strong and the weary alike. Amen.
The Diocese of Cloyne continues to fervently pray for priests, seminarians, and priestly vocations.
If you think that you may be called to the priesthood, and wish to know how you might respond to this call, please make contact with the Vocations Director for the Diocese of Cloyne (or the Assistant Vocations Director) at the telephone number, or email address, below. All communication will be held in strict confidence.
Vocations Director: Rev. Brian Boyle (Tel: 029 50061).
Assistant Vocations Director: Rev. Damien Lynch