“The priesthood is the heart of the love of Jesus” (St. John Vianney, 1786-1859, otherwise known as the Cure of Ars).
This weekend, the Church celebrates World Day of Prayer for Vocations. While all baptized Catholics have a vocation to live Jesus’ call to serve Him as faithfully as they can in their own state of life, the common understanding of “vocation” within the Church is reserved principally to the clergy and consecrated men and women who dedicate themselves in a special way for God and His Church. The term, “vocation,” comes from the Latin, “to call,” and this is indeed what a man experiences at his ordination. He literally stands before his bishop while his name is called forth from the midst of the Church, and he responds, “Present.” No one knows that he has a call from God unless that call is confirmed by the Church first. It is within the Body of the Church where the deacon, priest, bishop, or consecrated persons serve, and therefore, it is legitimate since Apostolic times that the Church confirm God’s call (see 2 Timothy 1:6 and Titus 1:5). In speaking of the priesthood, for example, the Cure of Ars wrote in his catechism that “the priest is not a priest for himself; he does not give himself absolution; he does not administer the sacraments to himself. He is not for himself, he is for you!”
Why did Christ establish the definitive priesthood in Himself? As St. John Vianney stated so succinctly, “The priest continues the work of redemption on earth” (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1589). Christ’s ministers are a continuing sign to the world of hope. When people lose faith in God, they lose hope. They no longer see the connection between sacrifice and love. Instead, love becomes purely self-serving. However, Jesus stands in stark contrast to such a narrow, selfish understanding.
Jesus wanted all of His work to continue until He comes again at His Second Coming. Until that time, we who are Catholics have a special dignity to cooperate with Him in living and standing as an example of what Jesus’ redemption means in a very disordered world today that in so many ways prefers the darkness to Jesus’ true light (see John 1: 1-18). As the Catechism states, “The redemptive sacrifice of Christ is unique, accomplished once for all; yet it is made present in the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Church. The same is true of the one priesthood of Christ; it is made present through the ministerial priesthood without diminishing the uniqueness of Christ’s priesthood: ‘Only Christ is the true priest, the others being only His ministers’” (par. 1545).
Only in Jesus Christ can one experience the fact that our sacrifices offered to God for love of Him and our neighbor always generates great fruitfulness. Jesus’ call, “Follow Me,” resonates still with many men and women who desire to serve Christ and His Catholic Church authentically by divesting themselves of themselves and putting on the armor of Christ instead (see John 21: 19 Ephesians 6: 10-18). It is only in the seeming contradiction with God that the more we lose ourselves the more we discover who we are meant to be.
The age in which the Cure of Ars lived was a very secular, pagan time quite like our own day. He lived directly in the aftermath of the French Revolution which was a complete repudiation of the Catholic Church; the current state of faith within France has not changed in large part since St. John Vianney lived. In our own day, we see a post-Christian West, and in fact, there are many quarters within the Catholic Church herself operating among her rebellious ministers who advance a post-Christian mentality within the Church. These fraudulent ministers want constant change and a “new theology” that often mimics evangelical Protestant ideas in an effort to make the true faith contemporary, appealing, and attractive using the standards set by the world in a vain, tired effort to make Catholicism relevant to younger people.
The Cure of Ars words are just as appropriate for today’s Church even as he wrote in the nineteenth century: “When people wish to destroy religion, they begin by attacking the priests because where there is no longer any priest there is no sacrifice, and where there is no longer any sacrifice there is no religion” (as quoted by Archbishop Paul S. Coakley, 1 May 2016). The priesthood continues to be a sign that is counter-cultural to the world, but it is also counter-cultural to many within the Church. How often have we seen that the entire reason for the priesthood—the holy Sacrifice of the Mass—is downplayed in favor of constant social action that is supposed to give meaning to priests and people? How often have the corporal and spiritual works of mercy been reduced to simple works that could just as easily be done by an atheistic social worker with only a thin veneer of Catholicism painted over them to make them appear holy? Today’s social justice crowd loves constant action, activity, and change, but one never hears from them about the interior conversion to God daily found in silence and in learning more about who Jesus is within His Catholic Church.
Today’s faithful deacons, priests, bishops, and consecrated men and women speak about our holy obligations to serve God and be transformed by Him to a world that largely sees no obligation owed to anyone beyond oneself. Our age is dominated by the idea that sacrifice is not worth anything because there is no immediate beneficial result that makes one comfortable. This idea is prevalent not only among the worldly, but also among many poorly formed Catholics—clergy and laity alike. Today’s men and women responding to Jesus’ call need the prayers and support of the faithful so that they can authentically serve Christ and His Kingdom found in the Church and not the illusory kingdom of man that demands immediate attention but ultimately passes away. Rather, the Standard of Christ is enduring and found in the quiet of the heart and soul readily available in the Church’s authentic traditions, sacraments, and prayers over two millennia. May we pray for vocations, but not simply for greater numbers. The Church needs holy and properly formed men and women who are willing to sacrifice and suffer for love of Jesus Christ and who wholeheartedly respond to His perennial invitation in every generation, “You follow Me” (John 21: 22). Only by following the true Master and Shepherd of our souls, will we then find eternity.
May you have a most blessed and holy week!
Fr. Shawn William Cutler
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