St. Catherine of Siena Parish
had the opportunity recently to attend the Installation of Acolyte at St. John XXIII National Seminary for our seminarian John Williams. Acolyte is one of the ministries that a man must receive in his steps toward ordination. Essentially this ministry is one of service at the Altar of the Lord. Cardinal Wilton Gregory, who was the celebrant of the Mass, commented on this service. He noted that in the ancient Church, the altar in house churches – in the homes of the faithful – would have been ordinary kitchen tables. Imagine having the Mass offered on your kitchen table – the place where you have family meals, play games, do work … the kitchen table is where the family gathers. It is the place of communion – sort of making it the perfect place to offer Mass because the Altar of the Lord is just that – the place where the family of God gathers, the place of Communion with Him … it is also the place of fulfilment, the place where Jesus satisfies the hungry soul, brings joy to the weary, fills us with His consolation, makes the poor rich with His love… in a phrase, the altar of the Lord is the place of blessing – where He makes us holy.
Notice the contrasting ideas in St. Luke’s Gospel today – blessing vs. woes; happiness vs. sorrow; harmony vs. chaos … The beatitudes as presented by St. Luke call us to a way of life… the life of the blessed. God promises to bless – to make holy – those who follow His way, His counsel … vs the trouble that comes to those who live solely for themselves – my values, my choice, etc.. It is a call to turn to the Lord in all circumstances of life … to serve Him.
Friends, today the Diocese of Springfield is in a vocation crisis. I mentioned that we have just one seminarian – who is still 3+ years away from ordination … think of the number of priests who might retire in that time … or worse, those who might die. Furthermore, after the pew count that was conducted back in the fall – across the diocese we are down roughly 50% of the faithful in our pews. This is not just a vocation crisis; this is a faith crisis … we have forgotten the place where we receive the Blessings of God, we have abandoned the source of our blessing in order to serve ourselves. The Church needs good men to rescue the lost and forgotten, to save souls, to recover the art of Blessing… This is why it was such a joy to see John and his classmates installed as acolytes because it shows that there are men out there who want to serve, who desire to serve at the table of the Lord in order to bring the faithful into greater communion with our God. There is hope… I have found that young people still want something more out of life, they are drawn to that which is “other-worldly” … The next generation of priests for our diocese is out there and it is up to us, the faithful, to show them the blessings of God, to show them where true happiness is found … here at the Lord’s table.
So … what can we do as the faithful of our diocese to promote vocations? First, this may seem obvious, pray … everyday ask the Lord to send us the future shepherds of our Church. Second, speak to a young man that you think might make a good priest – if you think he’d make a good husband and father that means he might also be a good priest! Don’t be afraid to lend your voice because you never know who is listening. Just because we have a shortage of vocations it doesn’t mean that God isn’t calling men to the priesthood … maybe He is trusting you and I to speak up. Finally, I want to encourage all the young men of this parish – and our diocese – to not be afraid to follow God’s call … to serve at the table of the Lord is nothing to be afraid of … it is the place where He brings us to life … it is the place of Blessing.