To be read in all churches and chapels of the Archdiocese of Liverpool onSunday, 15 May 2011, the Fourth Sunday of Easter. World Day of Prayer for Vocations.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
You have just heard a Gospel story of Jesus telling a parable, and that his listeners, the Apostles or first Bishops, failed to understand him; he therefore had to carefully explain in greater detail.
We know, from the Acts of the Apostles that His disciples continued to have problems in understanding not just the message of Jesus, but what it meant to them as individuals. This situation is repeated in the Resurrection narratives. They were continually trying to make sense of Christ’s message.
Faith has never been and never will be an easy journey. Like the disciples in the story of the Road to Emmaus, they only showed any glimmer of enthusiasm at the end of their journey not at the start when they had struggled. The Message of Christ only made sense to them when they ‘broke bread’, which triggered their memories, and suddenly, from being frightened and confused, they were full of enthusiasm. They had to run back to tell everyone: maybe that was the first Sermon.
Today, is the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, and Archbishop Patrick has kindly asked me to pen today’s pastoral letter about the recruitment and training of men for the Priesthood. Men, like the ones on the Road to Emmaus, or maybe, like those who wanted to listen to the words of the Lord, but needed more explanation. Being a priest, is not the end of a journey, but the beginning of another and often is into a great unknown. I love being a Priest, or rather, I have a great love of Priesthood, even after 39 years of my journey. It has allowed me to walk with many thousands of people as they have faced and often struggled with the situations that life has brought. For many of them, I was the representative of the Church, our Church; and the tools of my trade have been, not just a listening ear and the wanting to be with them, but the Sacraments, especially of Baptism and Reconciliation, which has enabled many to find the presence of The Risen Christ.
This great privilege is about being a servant to others, to be a minister of the Sacraments. Then, as now, the harvest is great, but the labourers are few. The training for Priesthood is the Road to Emmaus to study the Scriptures, which involves historical context, and being familiar with each and every text, as we would a well loved book and more importantly, as the disciples to Emmaus discovered, how they all relate to the Death and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus and its implications in our everyday lives: that’s called Theology.
There are many skills which a priest should have, but I believe that the greatest of these is the enthusiasm of the first disciples, the joy that made them run to tell the others. Potential priests should not only want to strengthen their faith and understanding, they should also have the skills to communicate this love and message to all they meet, especially in times of drama and crisis like the disciples themselves experienced when they were huddled together in the room before Pentecost.
I should like to finish with a quote from a recent Songs of Praise programme from Northern Ireland. They interviewed a lady, Dr Helen Rooseveare who had spent her entire adult life as a doctor in the Belgian Congo, and through all the wars and troubles. I quote it because it sums up what I have always wanted to do as a priest and I hope it also inspires others to want to do the same. She began her witness by saying, ‘It was New Year’s Day 1945 that I really fell in love with Jesus and suddenly everything in my life turned around and I had a reason, a purpose. I knew immediately the same night, I just knew that I’m training to be a doctor in order to use this service to other people, so that I can share with them this wonderful truth that God loves us.’
She finished by saying, ‘I never lost the consciousness of God and that he was in charge and that he was much bigger than the rebel soldiers and that he did have a purpose in what he was doing, which has been proved in the many years since, how graciously the Lord has allowed me to help others and be used in his service because of what I suffered, which I wouldn’t be able to do in the ministries I have had, if I hadn’t been through this path of suffering. You should give the whole of your life to serve the Lord, there is nothing else worth doing and when you get to the end, nothing else will count except what has been done for him.’
We want good priests and we need good priests. On this Sunday we pray for our Church and for her priests who serve it, but most of all, for the young men of our own communities who are called to the Priesthood, that they may answer that call with a Yes, and that they may have an enthusiasm based on solid and good teaching.
Please be generous in today’s Collection for the Fund supporting the formation of future priests and where appropriate, please use the Gift Aid envelopes.
Yours devotedly in Christ,
Auxiliary Bishop of Liverpool