Dear Friends in Christ,
“I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” The Fourth Sunday of Easter is also known as Good Shepherd Sunday because of the Scripture readings and Mass prayers appointed for this day in the sacred liturgy. The Latin word for shepherd is pastor, and this reveals why the Church also asks us to pray for more priests on Good Shepherd Sunday. The call to the priesthood comes from God, and the Lord has promised always to provide shepherds for his people. Through the Prophet Jeremiah, the Lord promised Israel: “I will give you shepherds after my own heart.” (Jeremiah 3.15) But he also asks us to seek the gift of pastors in prayer: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9.37-38)
In the “developing” world – Africa, South America, and Oceania – the number of young men offering themselves for priestly formation is on the rise, in some cases a dramatic rise, but in the “developed” world – Europe and North America – this is not the case. It is strange but true that peace and prosperity seem to make it more difficult to hear the voice of God than do poverty and strife, and one reason for the difference, I think, is that those who live in peace and prosperity also live under the illusion of self-sufficiency. Young men are surely being called to the priesthood in sufficient numbers even in the First World, but too many of those called are afraid to hear and heed the voice of God. Why? A basic failure of Christian discipleship.
The priesthood is not an extraordinary life for extraordinary men; it is an ordinary Christian way of life for ordinary Christian men. But the key to hearing and heeding the voice of God is that the man called must first understand what it means to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus. The radical thing is not giving up marriage to give one’s life to the Church; the radical thing is being baptized and giving one’s life to Jesus Christ. When young men grow up in a vibrant Christian community in which the truth of the Gospel and the beauty of the Catholic Faith are the foundation of their lives, then those who are called to marriage will be equipped to be good husbands and those who are called to the priesthood will have the courage to answer the summons of the Good Shepherd to lay down their lives for his sheep.