Homily of Bishop Denis Brennan at Mass for Vocations Sunday

22 Apr 2018

· Mass broadcast on RTÉ One television at 11.00am

In the Gospel we have just listened to Jesus who says: ‘I am the Good Shepherd.’ For this reason today is often known as Good Shepherd Sunday, a day when the Church asks us to reflect and pray about vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life.

As we do so, I think it is important to appreciate and thank the labourers He has already sent, the men and women who have heard the call, and responded to it in love and service.

Some years ago a little book came out called Letters to a Young Priest. It was written by a German priest who some years earlier had left the ministry.

Looking back now he could see clearly what he could not see at the time. He could see that he had an inferiority complex about his priesthood.

He was ministering in an affluent, largely secular society. All his contemporaries were making their mark in business and the professions and he seemed to be going nowhere.

He wrote, “our society differs from Saint Paul’s time in that external persecution is rare. Yet the priest of today can still suffer deeply … for some … his particular office and service are regarded as superfluous; there are those who look upon him as a species of pious fool … I hope, he says, ‘you are prepared for this’.”

Looking back now he can see that he was allowing the world to define his vocation. He wrote the book to help those in ministry now who might feel as he felt then.

Addressing priests he wrote, “we greatly need you to live your particular form of life; it accompanies the Word you preach and, indeed prepares the way for it. We need that Word for it has the power to change us, to change the world.”

He references what he calls “the anguished loss of meaning” that many people experience today. “By living as you do,” he says to priests “you sustain a world of meaning for many people.”

A few years ago a French painter called Dubuffet died. He described his approach to his work in this way, “in my paintings”, he said, “I try to reveal the beauty of that which convention regards as negative. I try ardently to celebrate scorned values.”

I believe these words could well be applied to priesthood and religious life today, many of the values we celebrate and represent are looked upon by the conventional wisdom of our time as scorned values.

This realisation is difficult for priests and religious to accept. This is where our vocational choice becomes very personal, perhaps even painful. This is where the Gospel engages with the world. This is in Bonhoeffer’s phrase “the cost of discipleship.”

On this, Good Shepherd Sunday, I salute and thank priests and religious everywhere for what you do, and for what you are, and I pray that you will continue to joyfully celebrate the values which you love and represent in your life and ministry.

I finish with a prayer attributed to the late Archbishop Oscar Romero who was murdered while saying Mass in El Salvador in 1980, I think it captures the lure and the challenge of all religious vocations:
This is what we are about,
we plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realising that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

Notes for Editors

· Bishop Denis Brennan is Bishop of Ferns and a member of the Bishops’ Council for Vocations.

· Each year on Vocations Sunday, the Church throughout the world prays for vocations. Catholics are asked to make a special effort to ask the Lord for more vocations to the priesthood and religious life. The faithful are also asked to:
– Pray for those priests who have ministered to you throughout your life, both living and dead.
– Keep your parish priests in your prayers throughout the week.
– Encourage your children, grandchildren, or other young people to consider a vocation as a priest, religious brother or sister.
– Pray a Rosary for more young men and women in your diocese to respond to God’s call.

· Pope Francis, in his letter for Vocations Sunday 2018, points out that when Jesus returned after his time of prayer and struggle in the desert, He did three things before he began his mission. He listened to the word, He discerned the content of the mission entrusted to Him by the Father and proclaimed that He came to accomplish it today (Luke 4:16-21). This model – listening, discerning and praying – can be followed by all of us as we each try to live out our vocation.

· A special online feature for Vocations Sunday is available on www.catholicbishops.ie. It includes the full message of Pope Francis for World Day of Prayer for Vocations 2018, an article ‘Vocation is today; the Christian mission is now’ by Father Willie Purcell, and suggested ‘Prayer of the Faithful’ texts for use during the Mass.

For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long 00353 (0) 86 172 7678 and Katie Crosby 00353 (0) 86 862 3298