To be read at all Masses during the weekend of April 21/22, the Fourth Sunday of Easter
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Jesus, our Good Shepherd was crucified, but God raised him from the dead. Our Good Shepherd knows each one of us personally and he calls us by our name. His gentle voice calls to us in the deepest part of our hearts and souls. He invites us to come to him and to be close to him.
Because we are his friends he calls us to share in his humble service of his people. Each one of us is called for some special service for our Lord. Each one of us has a unique calling, a unique vocation from Jesus.
There are many ways in which we can serve the Lord and his people. Listen to God’s still small voice in your hearts and minds. What is Christ calling you to be and to do for him?
The Church and the world need the special witness of deacons and that of men and women consecrated to the religious life. The Church and the world need people to commit themselves to each other in holy matrimony. Married or single, we are all called to be a living sign of God’s loving presence in our world. This is our first and our most important vocation.
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. Today we focus on the specific vocation, the unique call, to be a priest. Our Risen Lord is always with us as our head and Shepherd, teaching us, feeding us, and uniting us with God and with each other. It is above all through the work of his priests that Jesus enables the continuing work of his visible Presence among us.
The priest is the living sign and instrument of Jesus the Good Shepherd. Through the priest, and especially through his preaching of the Word and the celebration of the Sacraments, Jesus himself touches our lives in our times of trouble or sorrow, our times of joy and celebration. In all of this the priest must, of course, work closely with the whole Catholic community. But, however much we involve everyone at the heart of the Church’s life and mission, the ministry of the priest is irreplaceable.
No Christian community can really be the Church without a priest. If there is no priest, then something vital is missing, for the Mass, which is the summit and source of all we do and are as the Church, can no longer be at the centre of our lives. Our Diocese is blessed with a great body of dedicated priests. We need to ensure that when they retire their ministry and service is taken on by other men dedicated to the same service.
At the moment we have twelve seminarians studying for the priesthood (pictured above with Bishop Alan at the White House in Poringland over Christmas). Four of them will be ordained as deacons in June and, please God, as priests next year. We hope that a new priest will also be ordained this July. This is good news indeed and we thank God for this wonderful gift. But we need more men to hear God’s call and to respond with generosity and sacrificial love. Perhaps someone here today should be asking themselves the question: Is Jesus calling me to be his priest? Am I willing to allow the Risen Lord to take my life and work through me to bring his love to his people?
I can assure you that there is no more fulfilling way to spend your life for to be a priest is to know the joy of sharing the Lords work as our Good Shepherd. None of us is worthy to be a priest. But God calls us all the same. All bishops and priests fail from time to time. We too need God’s forgiveness but in our weakness the Lord is our strength.
If you think that God may be calling you to be a priest, have a word with your parish priest, or contact our Diocesan Vocations Director, or write directly to me and I will pass your details on to him. This is a first step, with no commitment on your part or pressure from anyone else. In making sure that we continue to have priests for our Diocese in the future years, each of us has our part to play.
First, we are asked to see such vocations as a blessing from God. So if your son, or brother or friend says that he is thinking of becoming a priest please encourage them!
Second, please pray each day for more vocations to the priesthood in the Diocese especially in times of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Offer the Holy Mass for this intention. Pray with the Mother of God as you offer a decade of the rosary each day for this intention.
All of us are called to be a living sign of God’s loving Presence in the world. This is our vocation first and foremost. May all of us answer the call of the Good Shepherd with a generous and joyful Yes!
With my good wishes and prayers for you all,
Yours devotedly in the Risen Christ,
Bishop Alan Hopes