Every year on the 4th Sunday of Easter, we read the gospel of the Good Shepherd … and as such call this day “Good Shepherd Sunday”. It also marks the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. As priests are, by virtue of their ordination, conformed to the likeness of Good Shepherd, often many priests today will speak about their priesthood, tell their story – in fact most of the young men I have met with so far have all asked me – “what’s your story Father?” But, today, I’m not going to tell you my “vocation story”. I will say that I love being a priest … and like the Good Shepherd who knows His flock, protects them from harm, nourishes them … lays down His life – so the priest must do the same.
Over the last year, I have thought more and more about this with regard to my own life as a priest. The good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. I asked myself: how is it possible to do just that? Is it enough that I offer the sacraments, teach the Scriptures, visit the sick, etc.? Is it enough to fix buildings, manage finances, orchestrate needed repairs? What more is needed, how can I give more? How can I lay down my life and make it less about me? How could I begin to lead to an interior renovation? That is when I decided to make the transition to offering the Mass facing the tabernacle. If it is my role to lead you to God, I asked myself, why am I facing you? The shift really is off of me and towards God, to a greater intentional worship of Him. The focus then becomes less on me and more on God – and mine too, less on you and more on leading you. I can honestly say to you, this has enhanced my own sense of identity as priest. This shift allows us to tap more into an authentic worship of God which elevates our interior dispositions… it elevates our hearts with great love and reverence for God.
Another “change” has been the use of the altar rails – which as I mentioned are an extension of the main altar. Included with that is the posture of kneeling while receiving. The use of the kneelers or the step of the sanctuary to kneel and receive lends just another way to enhance and elevate our inner dispositions with regard to a true reverence at Mass and an authentic worship of God. The use of the rails, kneeling to receive lends to a greater awe in the face of the mystery of our God who is made present to us under the form of bread and wine …
I realize that these “changes” may not be all that popular. Yet, these are not really changes at all. In this, we are reclaiming an authentic worship of our God, we are moving toward a deeper reverence for Him who is present to us in the Eucharist. It is my duty to lead you to Him in the most authentic way possible. It is my duty to divert attention off of myself and onto the Lord … it is my duty to lay down my life in order the Life of the Risen Lord may penetrate your heart. I did not make these “changes” just because … I made them for love you, His flock, my flock … in order that I may properly feed you. I did them, because this is what the priesthood is meant for… this is what it means to be priest for His people – a shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.