XXXI Sunday in Ordinary Time
3 November 2019
Vocation Awareness Week
In 2004, when I entered the seminary, I had the distinct opportunity and blessing to meet Pope John Paul II – now a saint. I was invited to a private audience with members of the Board of Trustees from the John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, DC on their annual pilgrimage. The Holy Father was rather infirmed at the time. The Swiss Guards had to wheel him in to the audience hall where he met with our group and, although sickly, spoke clearly in English to the group. Now, when I say that I met him I mean really I took his hand, kissed his ring and he gave me a blessing. Yet, this simple encounter has left a lasting impression on my memory and on my priesthood.
A friend of mine who spent 3 years in service to the Holy See as a Swiss Guard in the 1990’s once heard him speaking to a group of Polish priests … In a slip of the tongue, the Holy Father moved from speaking Polish to Italian and called on these priests saying a priest is “un uomo per gli uomini” … “a man for other men” … it is not a statement that he made without setting the standard himself… John Paul II was a man for others … He was a man of the Church … and as such he brought Jesus Christ to people – literally by traveling the world but also simply by being Christ for others … He inspired people to have God in their lives, to have faith … He moved people not to love of himself but to the love of God simply by being himself, by being faithful to his vocation … by being the man God destined him to be – a priest. He sacrificed so much for the salvation of all … and he made a lasting impact not just on me but on so many throughout the entire world …
Pope St. John Paul II exemplifies what it truly means to be a priest … a man for other men … a man for others … a man who brings the love of God to others, that shows people who God truly is – that He is love. Sadly, in the world today we dwell too much on those who do not know what it means to be a priest … scandals makes us quickly forget what the priesthood is really all about … Priests like Pope St. John Paul II remind of the reality, the gift and the need for priests to be who they were called to be … a man for other men … a man who shows others who God is, that is able to be the face of Jesus Christ for others … that awakens people to a deeper faith and points them in the direction of eternal life … This is why I became a priest … to be with people preparing for death, to counsel a person struggling with faith, to aide those marginalized by society to make them feel loved … to show God to others … to be a man for other others – the priest, while being himself, is truly a man for others, for in him is the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ. This is what it means to be a priest … and there is a dire need for priests in our Church …
Today marks the beginning of National Vocation Awareness week … It is a week in which we intensify our prayers for the priests that we have – asking our Lord to give them the strength to carryout their mission … but also asking the “Lord of the harvest” to raise up for us men who are willing to sacrifice their lives for others … men who are willing to answer this call to show others the face of Jesus Christ … men who will perpetuate the ministry of Christ Himself… and right now we are in full-on crisis mode. The Diocese of Springfield has no seminarians … not one! It falls then to all of us to help young men see Christ, to know Him, to teach them how to listen to God’s voice – we have the responsibility of speaking up to our young people to help them find their place, their calling … who God has destined them to be … Pope St. John Paul II inspired young men, like myself at the time, because he was faithful, because he engaged young people, because he spoke openly about the need for priests… we have this duty as well.