Priest Shortage? What Shortage? There May Be a Priest Right Beside You

May 12, 2014: Pope Francis greets priests during a special audience with members of religious colleges in Paul VI hall at the Vatican.

The Good Shepherd is calling his servant priests, but he might need you to nudge them forward

Last week, I received an email from a friend, a woman in Philadelphia.

She wrote: “This morning we received devastating news at Mass. Our beloved Augustinian pastor has been diagnosed with liver cancer that has spread to his lungs. The priest who told us said that he was visiting him yesterday when a cousin came into the hospital room and told him that they are all praying for a miracle. His response was, ‘I have already received a miracle. I am a priest.’”

Those words were on my mind and in my heart this week. Today, “Good Shepherd Sunday,” is also the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. The Church asks us to pray for young people to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd mentioned in this Gospel, and to answer his call.

It is a call inviting us, as that priest knew, to be a part of a miracle.

Every Sunday, we gather in these pews and witness the greatest ongoing miracle in human history: God giving himself to us in the appearance of bread and wine.

Even now, after almost nine years as a deacon, I can’t believe I have the privilege of being at this altar every Sunday. And I can’t believe anyone would not want to be here.

A great poet once said that the “world is charged with the grandeur of God.” Well, at every Mass, the electricity begins right here.

But that’s just the beginning. Every day, the world is being recharged, reenergized, redeemed by prayer and service, sacrifice and sacraments. We are uplifted and fed by the Eucharist.

And it happens, whether we realize it or not, for one singular reason.

It happens because there is a priest.

Surveys tell us again and again that clergy and religious report among the greatest job satisfaction in the world.

That’s because it’s not a job. It’s a vocation.

As that priest in Philadelphia knew: it is, in fact, a miracle.

The challenge facing us as a Church: How can we get more young people to want to be a part of that miracle? Let me suggest three things.

First, make them aware of wonder. If kids think of church as something they have to do, it will never be something they want to do. We are a rich repository of history, inspiration and art. We are the faith of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas and Ignatius, of soldiers and saints, of martyrs and missionaries. We gave the world Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Calcutta, Oscar Romero and Pierre Toussaint—along with countless models for living who transformed how we think, how we study, how we pray.

Beyond that: we are one, holy, Catholic and apostolic church. We seek to live the Gospel—to love as Christ loved, to serve as he served.

And, we are people who dwell in grace. We have been marked. Our heads were drenched with the waters of baptism and our brows were emblazoned with the oils of confirmation. We are continually renewed by Reconciliation and Communion.

And this happens, again and again, not by accident. It happens because there is a priest.

Pope Francis speaks often of the church “accompanying” people on their journey. At so many moments in life, in times of joy and sorrow and searching, the one who accompanies us is the priest. He’s there at the baptismal font when life begins, and in the ER when it ends, and in the confessional when our own human weaknesses have become too much. He helps us start anew. He celebrates with us, grieves with us, walks with us.

Ask any priest and he will tell you that is a great privilege—and, yes, a miracle.

Secondly, add God’s name to your mailbox. What I mean is: make him the unseen guest in your home—at the dinner table, in the garage, in the rec room, in the car on the way to soccer practice.
My parents were hardly the holiest of people—they’d be the first to admit they weren’t saints—but my mother, a New Jersey Methodist who became a Catholic when she married my father, never failed to make faith a priority.

Every Sunday meant going to Mass. No meal began without grace. No long trip began without a prayer to St. Christopher. No month went by without us going to confession. Those things mattered. And they stayed with us.

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