Homily by Father Lawrence Lynch, Carmelite, Kilkenny Ireland
May 7, 2010, in Medjugorje
There is only one thing I wish to tell you today, only one thing I want to leave you with. I think it is so important, and it simply is this…pray for priests!
The rest of my homily will be spelling out why I think it is so important for people like yourselves to pray for us priests. I’m sure many of you would be very surprised to hear that a priest who has been ordained for almost50 years, thank God, would find it difficult to prepare a homily for patrons like yourselves. Perhaps the reason why I find it difficult is because I spent most of my life as a priest in Zimbabwe in central Africa. I was ministering to people who come from a very different background than ours, a totally different culture than ours, and speak a completely different language than ours. They were first generation Christians, emerging from, and still surrounded by pagan customs. So, you see, I spent most of my life proclaiming to people with that type of background, in that kind of situation.
Before coming here to Medjugorje, I spent quite a lot of time trying to prepare a really special homily for Medjugorje. The other night, as I went back over it, it almost sounded too ponderous, so I put all of those neat, nicely typed pages to one side and I said, “Look, I will speak to the people not from my head, but from my heart.” So, when I say pray for priests, that’s a request that comes from my heart.
It’s not easy to be a priest nowadays; in fact, it has never been easy to be a good priest. It’s an awesome calling, an awesome vocation …the priesthood. This year has been dedicated as a year for priests by the Holy Father. In his address on the opening of the year of priests on the feast of the Sacred Heart last June, he said that, “…a priest should grow in intimacy with Jesus, who depends so much on us; a priest should radiate Christ’s love and be totally won over by prayer.” He continues, “Let us ask the Lord to set the heart of every priest on fire with pastoral charity, so that he may be able to imitate Jesus in total self-giving.” These are high ideals. So, pray for us, pray for priests, so we may be able to live up to such high ideals. Remember us in your prayer groups as well as in your personal prayer. Ask the Lord to empower priests to radiate the compassion and love of Christ through our modern and often materialistic world.
I should mention too that this year is the 150th anniversary of the death of Saint John Vianney, also known as the Cure of Ars, who is the patron saint of parish priests. In his life he was overwhelmed by the wonder of the priesthood. He gives us something worth thinking about, “If a priest realized what he is, he would die. God obeys him, he offers a few words at Holy Mass and the Lord descends from Heaven, at his voice, to be contained within a small host…” He continues, “We would not have the Lord. Who puts the Lord there in the Tabernacles? The priest. Who welcomed your soul at the beginning of your life? The priest. Who feeds your soul and gives it strength for your life journey? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God, bathing it one last time with the blood of Jesus Christ? The priest. Always the priest! If a soul should sin, who will raise it up, who will restore its calm and peace? Again, the priest.” After God, the priest is in everything. Saint John Vianney concludes, “A priest is not a priest for himself, he is a priest for you.” So, the vocation to the priesthood carries huge responsibilities and is indeed awesome. But, yet, in a moment of weakness, a priest could cause untold harm to the most vulnerable in society.
So, again I say, pray for your priests. Every priest is called to be another Christ. Every priest should be able to say, as Saint Paul, “I live now, not I, but Christ lives in me.” There is a beautiful summary of what exactly the priesthood is in the preface of priesthood said every year in the Mass of Chrism celebrated by the bishop, and in that preface for priests are some of these sentiments. It speaks of priests that have been ordained to renew the sacrifice of Calvary. That is exactly what happens at every Mass, the priest renews the sacrifice of Calvary; Christ’s oblation of Himself and the Risen Lord comes among us. It goes on, “The priest is called to lead God’s people in love, nourish them with God’s word, and strengthen them through the Sacraments. Priests are to give their lives in God’s service, and grow in the likeness of Christ.” Priests need your prayers to help them live up to such ideals. You might think of the many times you have been absolved of your sins through the ministry of a priest, of all the Masses you have attended where you have received comfort and the strength to keep going. You might think of the many times you’ve been offered a word of encouragement and support, the times he’s administered the Sacrament of the sick to a loved one, and the times he’s resided at a funeral, as you said a fine farewell to a family member or a friend. Consider everything that flows to you through the ministry of priests, and you will agree with Saint John Vianney, who said, “A good priest is the greatest treasure the good Lord can grant to a parish, and one of the precious gifts of Divine Mercy.” So, pray for priests.
Pray also for vocations. I often say, if there are no vocations today, there will be no priests tomorrow. Ask the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into His vineyard. Make your prayer for vocations personal. Pray for a vocation from your own parish. Pray for a vocation from your own family. Pray, too, that those who have been called to the priesthood at this time may have the faith and the courage to say yes to God’s plan for them. Challenge people. If there is someone you feel might be a suitable candidate for the priesthood, pop the question, “Have you ever thought of the priesthood?”
Just a personal story that happened a number of years ago here in Medjugorje. I bumped into a taxi driver from Dublin, I had never seen before, so I popped the question, “Have you ever thought of becoming a priest?” I’ll never forget his answer. He said, “I have been asked that question once before and I needn’t be asked it again.” The good news, on Saturday of next week he will be ordained a deacon and will be ordained to the priesthood next year, thank God. Don’t be afraid to pop that kind of question to a young man or even an older man. A number of years ago a man who had been a solicitor all his life, a married man, and then his wife died and his family was reared. He was ordained to the priesthood at the age of seventy. A nephew of mine had brought his child to the clinic and happened to sit beside an elderly priest and not knowing his background, he was amazed that such an elderly priest had such a gentle way with my nephew’s little son. He passed on a remark to this priest, “You have a great way with children.” He said, “Well, I’m a grandfather (laughing).” Grandfathers can be called to priesthood, and those who are younger obviously are called as well. So, please pray for vocations in a very personal way, and remember no vocations today, no priests tomorrow. I would like to end with a very short prayer.
Heavenly Father, through the ministry of your priests, may we all be melded, fashioned into the image of Jesus, Your Son. Amen.