Every business, every enterprise requires training, especially on the job training. My training as a school chaplain was all on the job. There’s your class go in and teach them. Here the Lord is training His disciples, particularly the non-Apostles and it’s on the job training, sending them out to proclaim the Good News, to experience the highs and lows of ministry. They are learning to cast their cares upon Him and how to trust in His power. It is a long time since there were wolves in Donegal or anywhere else in Ireland. Christ sends these disciples to the wolves, that is to sinners, to those who are beasts of prey to their neighbours that through the Good News they might become sheep and walk in the way of peace. They go empowered by Him who is peace itself, by the Lord of the harvest.
Here the Lord points out to us the importance of prayer and commands that we call on God for an increase in the number of those working for the harvest of souls. All that we do in His name is done by His power, in fact nothing good can come about but by His power. The Good News of peace is not merely absence of conflict, still less an absence of effort and labour. It is the peace that comes from the reconciliation between God and man in Christ. From this follows His instruction that they should greet no one. He doesn’t mean they should be rude but that the Good News of this Peace with God is more important than any social nicety.
What an honour to speak in His name! What a responsibility. He urges us that if we rejoice in anything it is that our names are written in heaven. They are written first by Baptism and Confirmation but they are affirmed whenever we proclaim His name and do His will above all in our actions.
All of this is addressed to us, priests, friars, nuns and laity, male and female. We are all disciples of Christ, therefore we are all, in a sense, apostles and so sent to others with the Good News. Each of us according to our state of life, gender, age and intelligence is commissioned by the Lord to proclaim the Good News of God’s peace. Therefore we are all called to make sacrifices, to lay aside even some of the good things of this world in order to serve the Lord.
I have noticed over the years that lay people greatly exaggerate the difficulties of the priesthood and religious life. Yes there can be loneliness especially for the priest of a diocese. Life in a marriage that has broken down is lonelier still with many added sorrows. The single life carries its fair share of loneliness. As a priest or friar one hands a lot of power over ones life to a superior or bishop. There are restrictions and there are sacrifices. The same could easily be said of marriage. But just as marriage has its joys so do the priesthood and religious life. Again and again priests score the highest in job satisfaction ratings. The work is varied, and no two days are the same. I have baptised many babies. The youngest was only sixteen weeks in the womb. In the Confessional I get to talk to people about some of their most painful, darkest moments and hopefully direct them on the way to wholeness. Many times have I stood by a couple as they said ‘I do’ to one another. No one else gets as close to that wonderful moment. Yes I have no wife, no children. I taught in a school for twelve years and at times I thanked God I had no children, especially teenagers. Teenagers could make a saint of you. During my time there I had the awful honour of burying four of them: Roisin, Stefan, Kayleigh and Nicole. Of all the simply natural roles we can take on none is higher than that of being a parent, being a mother or a father. The Priest, who represents Christ who represents the Father, is called ‘Father’ because of his spiritual ‘fatherhood.’ For it is through his ministry that our Mother the Church brings us to supernatural life in the Sacraments.
The priest stands at the heart of life. He gets to bring people into the Kingdom of God through baptism, walk with them through life in his ministry, teaching and consoling them, feeding them with Holy Communion, cleansing them in Confession; uniting in Marriage, healing in anointing, praying with and for them as they go to the Lord and then laying their bodies to rest. I have offered many Masses for my parents since their deaths. There aren’t too many of the dead that can claim that. I believe with the Church that the Lord will replace all I have sacrificed for Christ a hundred times over – all I have to do is remain faithful to my vocation. The priesthood is part of all the important parts of life and it leads to eternal life. It is a shame and a loss that so few will even consider it.
As a Capuchin friar I have the support of my brothers in the Order. Yes we fight. As you may or may not know we had our Provincial Assembly recently and there will be changes here in Ards. One of the men coming to Ards gave me such stick about my transfer here that I roared out laughing when I saw he was to come here. Then I thought of his knees and felt sorry for him. Of course when I saw they were leaving me here that wiped the smile off my face. As brothers we each have our own room, our own space and our own stuff (sometimes too much stuff) but we eat together, pray together and often work together for the Lord. Why do so few want to work for Him today?
The Capuchins have been here since the 1930s but we have not had a vocation from Donegal in over 40 years. As I said last Sunday I am the only vocation from my home parish, that I know of, since it was founded nearly 50 years ago. The Lord commands us to pray for vocations, for labourers for the harvest, but is anyone actually praying? Is anyone listening to the Lord? Is anyone encouraging or nurturing the call to serve Him?
My Parents had only one grandchild, my niece. My vocation to the Capuchins and to the priesthood was a sacrifice for them more than for me. Why should they have to sacrifice so that the people of Cork or Donegal can have Confession and Mass? Why are so many today afraid of commitment even to the Sacrament of Marriage? There is a want of faith God’s providence and care.
All across the Western world there is a huge problem. It is behind many economic and social programs and policies. There are simply not enough babies. It affects Ireland too though not as obviously as in other countries. Ask yourself why this is. Such a situation in a Catholic country naturally affects vocations. There are simply not enough children being born to sustain the country let alone the priesthood. There are fewer young men for the Lord to call to be priests and religious. That means fewer Masses and a greater difficulty in finding a priest when you need one. If you want to be able to attend Mass or get Confession here or in your local parish in twenty, or fifteen or even ten years time, someone will have to make sacrifices. Some young men will have to answer the call and be supported in that call by their family and friends.
The answer to our present difficulties is a return to the teaching of Christ and His Church. The answer means sacrifices and a huge act of faith in God’s power to care for us and meet all our needs. It means generosity and courage to face the wolves in our society, our community and in our lives. It means encouraging and nurturing those who express an interest in the priesthood and religious life. Above all it means each of us taking seriously our obligation to spread the Good News of Christ, firstly by how we live but also by what we say. If you wish to have your name written in heaven you need to stand up, speak up and work for Christ.