The month of May, dedicated as it is to the Blessed Virgin Mary, presents us with an opportunity to reflect upon the readiness of Our Lady to say yes to God. In the annunciation of the Lord’s will by the message of an angel, the young Mary freely and completely gave herself to God. This act we call her fiat, taken from the Latin phrase of scripture: Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum; let it be done unto me according to thy word (Lk. 1:38). Mary’s yes to the Lord made possible the great act of the incarnation—the coming amongst us of the Word made Flesh; the person of Jesus Christ. Mary’s selfless act of obedience undid the selfish act of disobedience of Eve, and it is for this reason that the Fathers of the Church often call Mary the new or second Eve.
In fact that yes to the call of the Lord reveals to us a pattern for the life of every Christian. We are each called to submit ourselves to the will of God, not out of some blind obedience to an unseen master, but out of love for the one who through love has offered us eternal life. The sacrificial action of Christ on the Cross, which we celebrated in those sacred days of Holy Week, is first of all an act of love. Authentic sacrifice, and in this case the sacrifice of one’s own life, is always an act of love for another; the setting aside of one’s own devices and desires in order to serve. Sacrifice is, we might say, the ultimate act of Christian service or charity: Love one another as I have loved you (Jn 13:34).
This sacrificial living—the free offering of oneself for the other—is demonstrated in all sorts of ways in the life of the Church. We see it in the sacrament of baptism, where death to self is a prerequisite to the new life we are given. We see it also in the sacrament of the Most Holy Eucharist. We see it in the love of one man for one woman in marriage; in the sacrificial love of parents for children; in the choices we make on a daily basis to live the moral life; in the vows taken by men and women who consecrate themselves to Christ and the service of the Church in the Religious life. In a very particular way, however, the life of sacrifice is to be found in the life of the Priest. It is the Priest who, standing in the very person of Christ, is most closely conformed to the life of Christ and thus also to the sacrifice enacted by Christ on the altar of the Cross. The Priest is the one who offers sacrifice not simply in the offering of the bread and wine of the Eucharist, but also by his life; offering himself through celibate living with what the Church describes as “an undivided heart” in the service of God and the Church. The Priest is, to take the image of the Gospel given us this Sunday, the one who models his life on that of Christ the Good Shepherd; the one who lays down his life for his sheep (cf. Jn 10:11).
We are, in this country and in the West as a whole, experiencing something of a crisis in terms of priestly identity and of vocations to the Sacred Priesthood. That is not to say that God is not calling men to serve as priests—to give themselves in sacrificial service in this way—but rather that our society and culture (even, sadly, within the Church) has gradually learned to block out and ignore that call. It is an injustice that many young men are no longer even presented with the opportunity truly to discern if this is the life to which they are called by God. Many families—even good Christian families—pray for an increase in vocations to the Sacred Priesthood, but deep-down wish for a Priest to come from another family, another home.
The decision to offer oneself for the Priesthood is not an easy one, but it is easier than living a life other than the one to which one has been called. We owe it to God, to ourselves, and to the wider Church, to truly pray for and encourage the boys and men of our parishes to offer themselves for this life: a life that is marked by sacrifice, but through that also marked by a joy and peace that comes from doing the Lord’s will.
For this reason from this Sunday, at the conclusion of the Bidding Prayers, we will introduce a short prayer for vocations to the Sacred Priesthood. In a parish dedicated to the Holy Family it is particularly fitting that we seek to serve the family of the Church in this way, and at the same time encourage within the families of our parish a truly Christian culture of vocations; one that desires priests to be raised up and sent out from our own homes. We will pray: Lord, send us priests. Lord, send us holy priests. Lord, send us many holy priests. I encourage you to say this with true fervour, and to remember and pray it regularly; perhaps especially when you see one of our young men or boys and think “He’d make a fine priest.” Pray also that all priests might be renewed in the spirit of Christ the Good Shepherd, to serve more freely and willingly the flock entrusted to them.
It may be that you, your son, or grandson, has a vocation to the Sacred Priesthood, or at least a niggling sense that the Lord is calling you or them to serve him in a particular way. If you hear the voice of God calling, do not silence it. Be open to the way of life to which the Lord is calling each of us, and “ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest” so that the life of Christ might be better known and more faithfully lived in the Church and in the world (Mt. 9:38).