With all the changes in the way that the Church accomplishes Her divine mission, priests remain essential. Christ chose to gift the Church with the priesthood as the means to continue his presence and action among us. He took great care in preparing the very first priests of the Church.The second from Archbishop Chaput
When Jesus began his public ministry, he already signaled the need he had for intimate collaborators in the work of redemption. When he met Peter and Andrew, and James and John along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, he conquered them with his look of love and spoke to them of his intention: “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men!” (Mk 1:17; cf. Mt 4:19). These were the ones he made his first priests at the Last Supper.
Jesus was able to change the direction of these men’s lives because they heard his voice and listened when he called them. Herein lies both the mystery of vocation and the way for all of us to cooperate in the work of vocations. For someone to respond to the call of God, the individual first needs to be “educated” to listen to the voice of God. This is what Eli did, when he helped the young Samuel to understand what God was asking of him (cf 1 Sam 3:9). There are a few ways that each of us can contribute to this education of young people to hear the call of God to the special vocation of the priesthood.
First, we need to create an atmosphere where faithful listening to God’s voice can take place. This happens when each of us lives in such a way that our young people can see that God is real, that God matters. A community that is materialistic and not spiritual, this worldly and not otherworldly, will yield a poor harvest of vocations. But a community that lives the gospel of Jesus who draws us from the prison of our own self into the adventure of a divine love will see vocations multiply like the loaves and fishes. Where the Church is holy, where we are holy, vocations flourish.
Secondly, according to the explicit command of the Lord, we must implore the gift of vocations. We are to pray untiringly and together. After preaching and healing in the towns and villages of the Galilee, Jesus saw the crowds that followed him. He looked with compassion on those who were hungering for physical and spiritual healing. “Then he said to his disciples, ‘Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest’” (Mt 9:38). The invitation is in the plural: it is to all of us to pray earnestly. Vocations are gifts that only God can give. He gives them readily to communities that long to have them and sincerely pray for them.
Third, at the center of every Christian community is the Eucharist, the source and summit of the life of the Church. “Eucharistic love” is the source and motivation for the vocational activity of the whole Church. Vocations to the priesthood flourish wherever Christ’s presence in the Eucharist is a treasure, a daily bread, a gift to be received and shared with others. Mass every day and Eucharistic adoration foster vocations more than we can imagine.
Fourth, in a recent survey of men scheduled to be ordained to the priesthood, 78% of them said that a priest invited them to consider the priesthood. In a poll of young adult Catholics, only 15% indicated that they had been encouraged to think about a vocation to the religious life or priesthood. All of us, and most especially priests, must be unafraid to invite young people to think of the priesthood.
There is one last way to foster vocations beyond the four already mentioned. It is a simple way, an easy way. Respect, honor and love your priests. At a time when it is all too easy for the media to tear down the great work that the priests are doing for the common good, we need to build up our priests. They work hard and long and faithfully. Tell them you appreciate them. Pass on stories of their goodness to others. Create the climate where priesthood is valued and priests are loved. A positive appreciation of priests will encourage the young to follow Jesus who calls them.
Since God has established the Church as the sign and sacrament of salvation (cf Lumen Gentium, l), the Good Shepherd never abandons the Church. He constantly calls certain individuals to continue his work as priests. He also expects us to do our part in helping those whom He calls to hear his voice. Creating a climate for vocations is the work of the whole Church.
FORMING TOMORROW’S PRIESTS
11. How best can we prepare men for this marriage to the Church? The great Eastern Father, Gregory Nazianzus, wrote that, “We must begin by purifying ourselves before purifying others; we must be instructed to be able to instruct, become light to illuminate, draw close to God to bring him close to others, be sanctified to sanctify, lead by the hand and counsel prudently.” John Paul II has
echoed Nazianzus’s insight in his division of priestly formation into four main areas of focus mentioned above. (PDV, Chapter 5).
Human formation: “. . . purifying ourselves before purifying others.”
12. Every priest is called to be the “living image” of Jesus, and therefore “should seek to reflect in himself, as far as possible, the human perfection which shines forth in the incarnate Son of God . . .the priest should mold his human personality in such a way that it becomes a bridge and not anobstacle for others in their meeting with Jesus Christ” (43).
13. The human perfection of Christ does not make Him less fully human but precisely more so. He is what God wills all of us to become. The priest becomes more human, not less, by striving for the full human maturity which shows itself in the natural virtues. Thus the Holy Father writes that, “Future priests should therefore cultivate a series of human qualities, not only out of proper and due growth and realization of self, but also with a view to the ministry. These qualities are needed for them to be balanced people, strong and free, capable of bearing the weight of pastoral responsibilities. They need to be educated to love the truth, to be loyal, to respect every person, to have a sense of justice, to be true to their word, to be genuinely compassionate, to be men of integrity and, especially, to be balanced in judgment and behavior” (43).
14. As is the case for any believer, priests should not simply excuse or underestimate the common human failings against which they struggle, in the way some modern psychologies suggest. Especially when such weaknesses may give scandal, real humility requires that we not merely recognize our failings but call on the grace of God to strengthen us where we are humanly weak. This is what St.
Paul means when he declares, “I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor 12:9).
15. John Paul II particularly stresses the importance of an affective maturity which lays the foundation for the priest’s whole gift of himself in all the relationships to which his ministry calls him. Without the capacity to express and receive a mature, brotherly love which embraces all the “physical, psychic and spiritual” aspects of the human person, the obligations of the priesthood become a
burden. This is particularly true of the charism of celibacy, which must be built upon an “affective maturity which is prudent, able to renounce anything that is a threat to it, vigilant over both body and spirit, and capable of esteem and respect in interpersonal relationships between men and women” (44).
16. For the celibate priest, the “nuptial meaning of the body” is expressed by reserving physical sexual expression in the same way that Jesus did. Just as Christ offered Himself on the cross as a consummation of the marriage between Himself and the Church, it is by making of their bodies a spiritual sacrifice (Rm 12:1) that priests wed themselves to the Bride of Christ. “The Church, as the Spouse of Jesus Christ, wishes to be loved by the priest in the total and exclusive manner in which Jesus Christ her head and Spouse loved her” (29).
...19. A proper human formation leads to an openness to the possibility of sanctity. That possibility is realized through intimacy with God in the Trinity. “Spiritual formation,” declares John Paul, “should be conducted in such a way that the students may learn to live in intimate and unceasing union with God the Father through His Son Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit.” (PDV, 45, quoting the Second
Vatican Council’s Decree on the Training of Priests [Optatam Totius; OT], 8.)
20. As the Holy Father teaches, Christ is the key to entry into that divine communion of love. “Those who take on the likeness of Christ the priest by sacred ordination should form the habit of drawing close to him as friends in every detail of their lives” (ibid., emphasis added). In his apostolic letter As the Third Millennium Draws Near (Tertio Millennio Adveniente; TMA) John Paul II adds, “It is therefore necessary to inspire in all the faithful a true longing for holiness, a deep desire for conversion and personal renewal in a context of ever more intense prayer and of solidarity with one’s neighbor” (42). Without daily prayer a priest cannot meet the responsibilities of his vocation. This is true for Christians in every vocation — but how much more so for the priest, who must serve as a kind of scout, guide and agent of hope for those who choose to tread the spiritual path cut by Christ, the pioneer and perfector of our faith (Heb 12:2).