Do I need to talk to you that there is plenty of work for new priests?
Do I need to talk to you that the priesthood is important for our Church?
My Dear Sisters and Brothers! No need to talk about these questions. What I would like to focus on instead is what the Word of God for this Sunday focuses on. Let start with discernment. Basically it comes to answering a couple of questions: What should I do? How should I do that? Darnel, mentioned in the Gospel, bears a close resemblance to wheat. There is no way you can tell them apart at first. The only way is to let both of them, wheat and darnel, grow. When the ear appears then you can tell the difference. Discernment needs time too. However it is not hanging around but it is about growth. If a man asked you: “Should I become a priest?” what would you say? Would you say straight away: “Join the priesthood today!” Can we say that, simply because we need priests? How can we help such a man to discern whether his desire to be a priest is a genuine call from Jesus? Even the Church doesn’t jump into a Yes or No conclusion straight away. On the contrary the Church gives those discerning their vocation a generous amount of time, six, seven or even more years. However it is not about hanging around for six or seven years in the seminary. It is about the growth: human, spiritual, Christian growth.
There is an event recorded in the Bible, in the Book of Numbers precisely, when Jews were traveling through the desert after escaping from Egypt. How many tribes did they have? You are right, 12. So they were asking which tribe should become the priestly family. After consulting God, Moses collected the staffs of the 12 leaders of the 12 tribes and placed them in the most sacred chamber where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, where God was present. In the morning when the staffs were picked up they discovered that something unusual happed to the staff of Aaron. The dry, dead stick flourished. That’s how the people of Israel found out, discerned, who was chosen by God to be a priest. Today we don’t walk about with sticks, well, at least not until we reach some certain age when it is hard to walk. However I would like to use that story with Aaron to explain the discernment for the priesthood. When did the staff of Aaron flourish? When it was in the presence of the Lord. When somebody is called by Jesus to be a priest you can see how he flourishes when he is in the presence of the Lord. It becomes evident in his interest in prayer. Learning about Christ fascinates him. He looks at the Church, at the People of God, with the same love, kindness and compassion shown by Jesus. Today you can hear that chastity, celibacy is not healthy. That it ruins the psychology of those who choose it. Today you can hear that poverty, renunciation of material goods doesn’t make sense. Today you can hear that placing one’s will, his dreams and plans for the future at the disposal of the bishop or the provincial is unfair. Well, those who are called to the priesthood or the religious life flourish, find happiness and peace in those things.
For seven years I was preparing myself for the priesthood. Now I am back to the seminary to help the young men to prepare themselves for the priesthood. It is not that Jesus calls somebody to this way of life and then drops him off to the seminary saying: “Work on him. I will come back in seven years to pick him up.” On the contrary when somebody comes to the seminary he comes with Christ who’s Spirit comes to help those who are weak as we could hear in the second reading. Most of the time Jesus did his public ministry it was to form, to prepare the Apostles to continue his mission. Seven years in the seminary may seem to be long but the priesthood isn’t a job it is a life commitment to Christ, a relationship with Christ, that’s why the longish time enables the man to get closer to Christ in order he could draw others to Christ too.
I would like to encourage you to pray for those men discerning their vocation so that they could have courage to say Yes to the call.