On this Good Shepherd Sunday I would like to reflect on “The Call” to the priesthood. Last night we celebrated the Year for the Priest and we invited back all of our former active priests who have served St. Barnabas. It was really a memorable moment to stand here in the sanctuary and celebrate the Eucharist with my brother priests that have served you over the year. Afterwards there was a dinner which was put on by the parishioners and they prayed over us, roasted us, and shared some of their memories of our time here. One of the most touching moments was a video that the parishioners made. In it they asked each priest to reflect on their priesthood. It was very moving to hear each of the priests share their love for their priesthood as well as how they were called to the priesthood. So after reflecting on all of our different experiences of the priesthood I’d like to use today’s gospel to help us understand the call.
“My sheep hear my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.
My Sheep hear my voice.
Fr. Steve Vellenga who served our parish from 1995-1997 said that the call comes in many different ways and from many different people. And I do believe this. I first heard God calling through a friend of the family. After my first communion she came up to me and spoke these words I will never forget “Michael, you look like you would be a great priest one day.” I’ve heard his voice when the prayers were said during the general intercessions and whenever I heard the phrase “We pray for an increase of vocations to the priesthood and religious life.” I heard his voice calling me. Whenever someone asked me what do you want to do with the rest of your life? I heard his voice ever so softly… “You’re supposed to be a priest.” When my older brother told my parents he was thinking about it… I heard “Michael, this is it, this is the moment, don’t deny my call any longer.” When I sat with my Spiritual Director and reflected on my life I heard over and over… “I’m calling you to this life, it is right.” As I prayed in the church looking through the stained glass windows. I asked God for a sign, and the sun glowed through the glass so brightly that I could feel it in my body. I heard his voice once more calling out to me. This was in the depths of my being a voice so familiar and so beautiful. He does speak to us. Bob Chase, who is a parishioner, a police officer and a member of the SWAT team says all the time holding up his fist… “God works in many ways.” And there is some truth to His humor. God does speak to us through people (even their fists) and in the depths of our heart. He is calling out to you right now. You can hear his voice.
I know them,
He speaks to us in a way that know one else can. When we hear his voice, there is no questioning. We do know it. And He knows us, better than we know ourselves. Better than our parents know us, or friends, or your spouses. He knows what brings us joy and what makes us sad. He knows our fears and our sins, our faults and failures. But he also knows our love and our desires and our hopes and our dreams. He made us and we belong to Him. He knows us and he knows what is best for us.
God knows that there are young men in this parish that He is calling to the priesthood. He knows that this is a difficult time to be a priest. He knows there have been scandals, and humiliations. But He also knows what He can do with your “Yes.”
A Georgetown Survey of the 440 men to be ordained this year reveals that 53% say that they were discouraged to be a priest by a friend or classmate and over half of them were discouraged to be a priest by a parent or member of their family. How sad is that?
Jesus knows us better than friends who discourage us even family members or parents can mistake this call. He knows our hearts better than anyone else and loves us even more than anyone else can. So listen to His voice.
And they follow me.
When I finally admitted, accepted, and trusted the call. I followed him. There were friends of mine that did discourage me and I know that some of my family was upset about it. But I trusted his voice and followed. One of my friends said to me if you do this things will never be the same. And from that day they never have been and I love my life and am happier than I have ever been. Those who have remained close to me see this in me. He’s calling out to all of you to follow him. He’s calling some of you young men specifically to follow him to the priesthood. A vocation is a choice unlike any other. It begins with God’s initiating and our responding. He calls us to a particular vocation: Married, Single, Priesthood, or Religious. In our hearts we can hear his voice and know what he is calling us to. Believe me I have seen many people married that are miserable and probably didn’t listen to the call of God. I’ve had men tell me in their 80’s with sadness you know Father I think I was called to be a priest and I didn’t listen. Whatever way of life God is calling you to, if you truly listen to HIS voice, the voice of the Good Shepherd who knows you, it will be a life filled with joy beyond imagining. You can hear his voice; He does know you and you can trust him enough to follow Him wherever He is calling you.