Sunday, April 29, 2007

Have you heard the Shepherd's voice?

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, in Year C marked by that most evangelical of all statements, John 10:27-30:

"Jesus said:‘The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life; they will never be lost and no one will ever steal them from me. The Father who gave them to me is greater than anyone, and no one can steal from the Father. The Father and I are one.’"

I loved this Sunday as a Lutheran. It fit in well with deluge of post-Easter pastoral activity: baptisms, confirmations, graduations, first communions, all in a rush to happen before Summer sets in. Besides, it gave the congregation a chance to sing "The King of Love My Shepherd Is" before everyone decamped for the summer, while we still had the good basses and sopranos to provide harmony.

In my Roman Catholic incarnation, I've come to see the shepherding through different eyes. It's less about activity, and more about being in relationship. True to that insight, I found that this Sunday is the annual World Vocations Sunday in the Catholic Church. It's about the call to be totally for God.

Many people are surprised to find that I, as a former Lutheran pastor, don't immediately jump on the bandwagon of support for married priests and women priests. Part of the reason is that I now see the priesthood as a state of life, not simply a career, or even what many would call a calling or vocation. The depth of that calling demands one's all- that tiresome old saw about being married to the Church and all that.

It's true.

The Shepherd is also the true Spouse. While that doesn't automatically narrow the field of candidates to single males, it does say a lot about how priesthood is "done." I speak from experience, that one who is called to the depth of ministry inherent in shepherding will always, ALWAYS, feel a pull between family ties and that calling. This isn't to say that it's not possible. I just see lots of common sense in the Church's wisdom.

Many say, especially here in the USA, that we Catholics have a shortage of vocations, and for that reason we should open the priesthood to married men and women.

Nothing could be further from the truth. We don't have a priest shortage.

We have a shortage of persons hearing the call, a shortage of men listening and responding. If you don't believe me, just visit any mainline Christian denominational seminary and listen to their tales of woe about the pulpits going unfilled these days. And many of these ecclesial bodies already have both married and women clergy. The calling to give totally of oneself is just not easily heard within this culture of "what's in it for me."

Finally, what I have found nurturing to my sense of vocation is not necessarily to ask "God, what would you have me do?" That's a good question.... but there's something more basic here.

I found that when I got really serious about developing a habit of virtue ...

being a more loving person....
praying more....
attending daily Mass....
praying the Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet....
regularly confessing my sins....

When I began to get serious about these things, then all of sudden the listening got easier.
It's almost as if I was a weathervane and by turning toward the wind I found my purpose for being.

Last night I had a dream and could remember only one word from it, and a date, Canisius, and the year 1534.

I googled that word this morning and discovered a saint by that name, Peter Canisius. I must've heard about him somewhere in the past, buried in the subterranean recesses of my mind. But this morning I found this quote from Peter Canisius. By the way, he was a Jesuit in Germany who was styled the second apostle to the Germans. He swayed many fellow Germans with his sermons to return to the Catholic faith from nascent Lutheranism. I still can't figure out what 1534 signifies, but Canisius was in the middle of his preparation for priesthood, and working on a master's degree at that time.

But I did find his own commentary on his calling to priesthood. It's all about the pursuit of virtue, hidden in the Good Shepherd's most loving heart:

Before he set out for Germany, Saint Peter Canisius received the apostolic blessing, and underwent a profound spiritual experience. He describes it:

"It was as if you opened to me the heart in your most sacred body. I seemed to see it directly before my eyes. You told me to drink from this fountain, inviting me, that is, to draw the waters of my salvation from your wellsprings, my Savior.

I was most eager that streams of faith, hope, and love should flow into me from that source. I was thirsting for poverty, chastity, obedience. I asked to be made wholly clean by you, to be clothed by you, to be made resplendent by you.

"So, after daring to approach your most loving heart, and to plunge my thirst into it, I received a promise from you of a garment made of three parts: these were to cover my soul in its nakedness, and to belong especially to my religious profession. They were peace, love, and perseverance. Protected by this garment of salvation, I was confident that I would lack nothing but all would succeed and give you glory."

May all those called to priesthood and the religous life be as motivated, and as successful.

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