Our bishops are asking us to pray that more men and women will respond positively to the invitation of The Good Shepherd to a dedicated life of service through ministry.
The call to discipleship in whatever walk of life, be it the priesthood or any other, must be, first of all HEARD …secondly RECOGNIZED …then ACCEPTED …and finally SUPPORTED by others within the community.
At this moment conditions are hardly ideal for any of these pre-requisites.
Furthermore, here in Canada, talented, well balanced candidates for the priesthood are both a valuable and a scarce resource. The same can be said for the United States, Great Britain, Ireland, Australia and a host of other countries with large Catholic populations.
Why are there so few who are prepared to replace the many who have now grown old?
I believe this to be a complex question but one that we must prayerfully, openly and candidly discuss at every level of Church society. We must share and insist upon the implementation of valid though controversial insights and solutions.
This is an urgent matter.
Communities are in distress. Once thriving parishes are without a pastor. Masses are not being celebrated. The Gospel is not being preached.
No matter where we live …if not in the midst of actual crisis, at least the writing is surely on the wall.
Yes ...Jesus has promised to be with us until the end of time and He will not change His mind. But without our cooperation His will is not being done, “on earth as it is in heaven.”
The voice of The Good Shepherd is lost in an unprecedented volume of interference.
To be more specific: We are the Church …We are The Body of Christ. It is of the nature of a body to grow …Growth implies evolutionary change.
The way we recruited, trained and generally equipped priests in past centuries does not work any more.
Yet, clearly, we the priests and bishops of the Church have tried to preserve our traditional clerical culture at all costs.
The time has come for everything about this celibate, male culture to be re-examined in the light of the basic Gospel message wherein its true roots are to be found.
For example, I am referring to where and with whom we live, the expectations of our superiors and parishioners in terms of performance and availability. I am referring to our titles, our dress, our social privileges, our professionalism, our transparency, our accountability and the range, spirit and grinding slowness of many of our canonical procedures.
We have a rich and a proud past. Much should be retained but the time has come to relegate to history that which has become, at the very least, anachronistic.
But our vocation structure, if I may call it that, should not be considered in isolation. It shares many common elements with the broader picture that is characterized by the drowning out, distortion and trivialization of the Good Shepherd’s voice.
The fact of the matter is that most of the voices reaching you and me today are, one way or another, inimical to the voice of Jesus. Furthermore they are insidiously effective, in that, over time, like water dripping incessantly on wood, our judgement becomes warped and our conscience becomes confused.
I suggest that every last one of us should be more conscious of his or her role, of our potential in contributing to the common wisdom of the day. We can speak up. We can share our point of view with family and community in order to help create a better atmosphere in which the unadulterated voice of the Good Shepherd is given a fighting chance to be heard, recognized and supported.
And one final thought, the answer to our problem does not lie in drawing the wagons into a circle and turning our beloved Church over to a minor league Taliban.
Jesus does not demand rigidity. He offers us life …motion and growth. He offers us freedom to ask questions and to make honest choices. He offers us open windows and open doors, mutual respect and level playing fields, balance and absolute equality between men and women. He calls us to joyful loyalty, to respect for authority and respect from authorities.
He calls us to service ...to marriage as well as to priesthood and some He calls to both ...and yes He calls some to celibacy. But above all, He calls us to Himself and this for all eternity.