Fr. Roger J. Landry
Pontifical North American College
Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
January 16, 2000
1Sam3:3-10,19; Ps 40; 1 Cor 6:13-15;17-20;Jn1:35-42
Throughout our years in formation for the priesthood, we have probably heard proclaimed or preached countless times in vocational reflections Samuel’s discernment prayer, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening,” and the invitation of the Lord to “Come and see.” Probably all of us have spent hours meditating on the experiences of Samuel and the first disciples in these passages and, frankly, such identifications with them have probably become rather routine by now. What I would like to do this afternoon, however, is to change the focus, from a meditation on us as the recipients of God’s call — those in discernment — to one on the three “vocational directors” of the Lord we see in these passages — Eli, John the Baptist and Andrew. I’m convinced that their example, coupled with St. Paul’s message in the second reading, provides the means for us, both now and over the course of our priesthood, to be not just fishers of men, but fishers of priests.
We have been bombarded lately with the reality of a growing shortage of priests in America, which is provoking a regrettable downsizing in the Church’s pastoral outreach as well as the much more lamentable fact that far too many Catholics in America now experience Mass-less Sundays and a great dimunition in their access to the sacraments Christ instituted for their salvation. There are many causes for this — too many to be examined in a homily. I’d like to focus on just one: the role of priests in helping foster and recruit others to carry on Jesus’ saving work. Why is it that some parishes and priests have fostered enormous numbers of vocations over the past few decades — despite the shortage — while many others haven’t fostered any? Presumably the young men in a thriving parish and those in the dead parish down the street are both watching the same television programs, listening to the same music, are both attracted to members of the opposite sex, etc. And presumably God is not calling only young men from one parish and not the other. The reason why some parishes thrive in terms of vocations and others fail is is generally reducible, above all I think, to the example of the priests in the respective parishes. Generally speaking, good, happy, prayerful, virtuous, zealous caring priests attract other men to consider a call, whereas excessively managerial, presbyterial businessmen; or sexually or alcoholically self-indulgent men; or rectory couch potatoes who spend more time in front of the tube than in front of the Lord; or bitter, envious, ambitious or externally-oriented priests, generally don’t attract men toward the priesthood. Ultimately the homily that the priest preaches by how he lives out his priestly life is his most powerful vocational message. This determines how authentic and credible his priestly pitch for vocations will be. And hence each of us stands in front of a choice. To spend our priesthood fortifying our own vocations and those around us and thereby attracting others to this divine work of salvation we’re so privileged to play a part in; or, for whatever excuse, to fail to live up to our vocations and fail to bear fruit.
The readings presented us today give us some clear criteria on which to judge which of the two paths we ultimately choose. The effective priest is like John the Baptist, who proclaims to others, “Look, there is the Lamb of God!” John’s whole vocation was to be this signpost, to point to the Lord, to decrease so that Christ can increase. Likewise with the priest. His whole life should be lived as a monstrance showing Christ. Like Andrew, everything we say and do should proclaim that “we have found the Messiah!” and joyously invite others to come to him, to rejoice that the long-awaited savior has come. This includes our bodies and the actions we do, which are the monstrance of our soul and ultimately of our relationship with the Lord. If we, following Paul’s exhortation, treat our bodies like the temple of the Holy Spirit whom we treasure within — rather than merely a toy to do with what we want, or an insatiable beast to be satisfied at all costs, or an enemy to be beaten into submission — our priestly lives will shine and attract people, more than even the radiance of an external temple like St. Peter’s.
Finally, the priest should try to emulate Eli, whose example is so rich. First he was the type of guy who regularly would call and interact with Samuel; hence Samuel was not at all surprised that Eli might be calling him at night. How many parishioners would immediately think something catastrophic had happened if the priest came to visited them personally or called them on the phone! Secondly, he was obviously a man Samuel trusted to come to and follow his advice. Priests have lost this status in much of society — as people now turn to shrinks, to horoscopes, to various gurus, to the pseudoheroes on television or on the sports field instead of to us. We have to regain their credibility by showing ourselves to be trustworthy, wise, prayerful, God-like men. Lastly like Eli, priests are called to encourage people to pray to the Lord at all times. The Lord is always speaking to us and we are called to encourage everyone to listen to him at all times as well. The best encouragement we can give in this regard is to be obvious men of prayer ourselves.
The most reliable index about how fruitful we will be later as “priestly vocation directors,” I think, is how we act here in this seminary with the vocations around us, particularly those of our younger men. Is the Gospel we’re preaching here in action one that points to the Lord, one that evinces that joy of definitively having found the Messiah? Do we act as if we’re really the tabernacle or temple of the Lord we receive each morning in Holy Communion? Do we reach out to encourage the vocations of others, particularly those who are struggling, or do we say “that’s the faculty’s job!” (as so many priests excuse vocational work to the work of the titular vocational director)? Are we trustworthy men that others would come to? Do we generally encourage others to pray by our prayerfulness and example? Each of us has confided in this workshop ways in which we recognize we’ve fallen short of one or more of these challenges and hence now is the opportune time and this workshop the opportune place to begin again.
The whole point of this authentic preaching workshop is not merely to preach what we really believe (rather than present theology tracts or generic feel-good stories) but to practice what we preach. As priests we will act in persona Christi in the sacraments — ex opere operato — no matter how hypocritical we are. The real challenge for us is to imitate what we celebrate, to act in persona Christi outside of the sacraments as well. Today, with the example of Eli, John the Baptist and Andrew to guide us, let us ask the Lord to give us the grace one more time to glorify God in our bodies, so that others may be attracted by that glory to behold the Lamb of God and thereby come to salvation and so that young men, in seeing our joyful and faithful participation in this work of salvation, may respond to a call from the Lord to join us in the vineyard.