On these Sundays our Sunday Liturgies have centred around the themes of vocation and ministry. Last Sunday we celebrated as ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’ taking our cue from the words of Jesus himself who styles himself as “The Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep.” (John 10:11) His ministry of shepherding goes on through the life and work of the church, and we are all called to share in that ministry as people who exemplify care and compassion for one another. In the past we perhaps thought of the term vocation as the preserve of those called to priesthood and religious life; one of the great rediscoveries of Vatican II was the renewed emphasis on the vocation of all the baptised. Every member of the church has been called by God and is invited to be part of the work of building a caring, inclusive and compassionate community of faith.
There are those who are called to a full-time committed ministry within the church and the Sacrament of ordination sets them apart for the service of God’s people. I will be thirty-eight years ordained this year and looking back on those years I have a profound sense of gratitude to God for the wonderful privilege of touching people’s lives at key moments of their human journey. Some of these moments are profoundly joyful, others tinged with deep sadness each life event calling for a different response. Would I do it all again? Without a shadow of a doubt I would, it has been, and continues to be, a graced way of life. Have there been difficult moments? Well given what has been ventilated in the past twenty-five years or so about the hidden filth of child abuse by clergy it has of course been difficult at times. It has been difficult to keep faith in a church where leadership was so lacking and the protection of the institution took precedence over the safety and welfare of children and there were moments of wanting to walk away from it all. I do however feel that we have gone through a purgation, a kind of journey which to borrow Pieta Houses slogan has taken us from ‘darkness into light.’ We must never go back to those dark days.
The negative publicity generated by the scandals have created a climate in which it is extremely difficult for any young person to consider becoming part of the priesthood or religious life, there is a sense in which we have been labelled a toxic brand by those with their own agendas. It will take great moral courage for a young man or woman in this present age to announce to their peers that they feel called to ministry in the church and yet there are some very encouraging signs. The Irish Dominicans for example have bucked the trend and have seen a sharp rise in entrants in recent years. Many of those joining are men who had a successful career in professional life before answering the call. It is perhaps best if entrants have had some life experience rather than the old system of joining from school.
So in conclusion if you are a young(ish) person reading this who might have thought at any time of service in the church, do go and talk to someone about it. It’s a way of life blessed by God which offers fulfilment and happiness in his service. “The harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few.”(Matthew 9:37)
Fr. Philip Curran