Pastores Dabo Vobis (“I Will Give You Shepherds”)

good-shepherdOccasionally I am asked why I became a priest. My response is always the same: “Because God asked me to.”

Is it really that simple? Basically, yes. Priests aren’t delivered by the stork, and we don’t fall from the sky. Well, in a way we do, because our vocation comes from on high. Ultimately a vocation to the ministerial priesthood is a mystery as inscrutable as Christ the great High Priest himself.

The fourth Sunday of Easter is a rare and important occasion when the power and mystery of the priesthood are celebrated in two-fold fashion: Good Shepherd Sunday, and World Day of Prayer for Vocations.

Vocations to the priesthood are fostered and cultivated by strong Catholic families, what Pope Saint John Paul the Great termed “the domestic church,” as well as by the lay faithful who pray for, support, and encourage men and women to make the supreme sacrifice: the priesthood and/or religious life.

That was my experience. I consider my call to ministry to be divinely inspired. I did not grow up in a religious family yet God called me when I was young. Nobody encouraged me so I let it go for twenty years until one day God made it clear what he wanted me to do with my life. I assented and he put the right people in my life who affirmed me. My journey to priesthood resumed.

I am preaching to the choir. Everybody knows that prayer for vocations is imperative. However, more so is the willingness to put the question to eligible men in the pews: Have you ever thought about becoming a priest?

For me the fat was in the fire. I could no longer run away from God like Jonah. In order for me to become the best Roman Catholic man that I could be I had to become a priest, had to follow the voice of the Good Shepherd, who leads, guides, and protects me.

The Church is God’s one flock. The Lord did not stop short of saving his chosen people, the Jews. Rather he sent his Son to fulfill the ancient promise that he made to Israel and that included the salvation of the entire human race.

Jesus said, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock” (Jn 10:16). The Church then is a sheepfold, the sole gateway to heaven, which is Christ who says, “I am the gate” (Jn 10:9).

The Son of God is the benevolent leader who cares for his sheep and none will be lost. “Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care” (Is 40:11). These are the words of the prophet Isaiah, who long ago served as a priest of the Temple.

The First Epistle of Saint John reminds us that we are not merely sheeple. We, like Christ, are human and divine. Presently we struggle with our humanity even as we glory in our divinity. John promises that one day we shall see the Beatific Vision, and that we shall be like God—eternal (cf 1 Jn 3:2).

Saint Peter, who heard the call and dropped his net, puts it more emphatically: “When the chief shepherd is revealed, you will receive the unfailing crown of glory” (1 Pt 5:4). This cherished heritages comes to those who do the will of God and carry out the mission that they received through Baptism.

John Paul the Great wrote that, without ordained ministers, the Church will be hamstrung from carrying out her fundamental mission: evangelization. The late pontiff of happy memory considered the formation and sanctification of clerics to be the most demanding and important tasks for the continual conversion of humanity. We cannot miss the mark; we cannot drop the ball.

Challenges perdure. Consumerism. Individualism. Hedonism and idolatry. A hypersexualized culture that insists that too much of everything is never enough. Good Shepherd Sunday and World Day of Prayer for Vocations is an crucial moment for our faith. We must not submit to societal shame and degradation.

I lived that way for years until the Good Shepherd rescued me, the way that David saved his sheep from the jaws of lions and bears (1 Sm 17:35). I am grateful to be a priest but hyperaware of my limitations. Every priest receives his vocation from the Lord through the Church as a gift. None are worthy. God gives us what we lack. You go with what you got.

Hope lies in the unfailing love of God and the prayers the Blessed Virgin Mary, who have promised that the Church will not be overcome by the ravenous wolves that come to steal and slaughter and destroy.

Call upon the name of the Lord. There is great power in his name.   In the Acts of the Apostles Peter preaches the gospel to all within earshot. “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved” ( 4:12).

Pray the Lord to open the hearts of men and women who God is calling to serve in the Church in a special way. Ask the question. Our faith life hinges upon an honest answer. The right response is to answer the call.

This command we have received from our Father.

Father Cordani was ordained to the priesthood in 2011. He holds an MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and an MDiv from Pope Saint John XXIII National Seminary. He has written for Our Sunday Visitor, the National Catholic Register, and Columbia Magazine. Follow him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/tucker.cordani and Twitter @tuckercordani