A reflection by Fr Dwight Merrick on today’s observance of the 50th World Day of Prayer for Vocations
Many years ago I saw the film Mission and it remains one of the most inspirational movies I’ve ever seen. One scene toward the very end remains vividly etched in my memory since it relates so clearly to the need for more priests today. The ‘mission’ was being invaded and the priest decided to process with the Monstrance through the village followed by native Indians who had become Christians. As expected, he was fatally shot and as he falls a little boy takes up the monstrance and continues the Eucharistic procession, presumably until there was no one left to proclaim the Eucharistic Christ.
Almost two years ago, we lost Fr Compton and only recently Fr Neil, both members of Fraternity of Priests for some 25 years. Losing five priests within about two months, we are left to wonder who will take their places in the lives of the many people who came to depend on them for counselling, spiritual direction, mentoring and just friendship. Until these deaths, the only fathers I had lost from my Fraternity of Priests were Frs Ross and Ging, more fondly called Doctor Ging (coined by Fr Taylor, I believe, many years ago). Whether it was confession, counselling or during the often long drives to and from our Fraternity meetings around the Archdiocese, I always felt like an only son in the presence of a proud dad. Those deceased members, together with Fr John Theodore, gave me unwavering support, confidence and encouragement through challenging and the worst of times. They were always able to mix challenge and correction with their experience, discernment, wisdom and, yes, affection as well. About those who have died I can confidently say, they ran the race well, they fought the good fight. May they have their eternal reward.
The death of tremendous priests increases concern about the lack of interest in the priesthood among our Catholic young men, even among those who sense themselves being ‘called’ to Sacred Orders or the Religious Life. Society no longer prefers sacred over the profane and even Catholic parents are sometimes the greatest opposition rather than support for a young person discerning a vocation to the consecrated life. Some 50 years ago this year, Pope Paul VI said: “The problem of having a sufficient number of priests has an immediate impact on all of the faithful: not simply because they depend on it for the religious future of Christian society, but also because this problem is the precise and inescapable indicator of the vitality of faith and love of individual parish and diocesan communities and the evidence of the moral health of Christian families. “Wherever numerous vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life are to be found, that is where people are living the Gospel with generosity.” (Paul VI Radio Message April 11, 1964)
As we mark the 50th World Day of Prayer for Vocations today, a survey is being conducted at our Catholic boys’ and mixed secondary schools and in our parishes. Young men and teenage boys who are interested in a session on the priesthood and Religious Life are being asked to submit their names and contact numbers. When this information is collated, sessions will be organised by the various priestly groups in the Archdiocese to respond to those interested. Catholic teachers working with other groups of youth are encouraged to participate in this project, sending information to my contact below. The reality is that most of our Catholic young people do not attend Catholic secondary schools!
This weekend we pray that our young people, male and female, will have the courage to ask, “Is it I Lord?”