When Jesus teaches something in the Gospel, do we take notes? Do you apply His words to the way we live our lives? We say that we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and therefore is God Himself, but do we take what He says in the Gospel seriously?
Take Matthew 19. Jesus tells his listeners that he is calling for an understanding of the marriage covenant that goes beyond a civil contract. He raises marriage to the dignity of a sacrament and thus says that the old Jewish understanding of divorce is no longer valid. But later on in the chapter, Jesus goes even further. He states that some are called to forgo marriage “for the sake of the Kingdom of God,” and then he makes the stakes even higher, saying “whoever can accept this ought to accept it.” (Matthew 19:12)
When we think about vocations to the priesthood and religious life, do we ever think about this clear teaching of Jesus. He is calling some to forgo the goodness of marriage to point people toward the Kingdom of God, and yet don’t we often see the call to celibacy as the rare “exception to the rule,” or something to consider after other goals have been accomplished or other more pressing questions about our lives and futures have been answered?
It is true that marriage to another is a natural desire of our hearts, but I challenge all those who profess the faith to really examine the way they see the possibility that they, or someone they love are being called to an incredible life, a life of fruitfulness not in a marriage bond, but in a deep, life giving relationship with the church.
God wants to give us many great leaders who can build up the church as spiritual fathers and mothers, begetting and protecting the many souls entrusted to them, and courageously pointing the laity toward the Kingdom when things seem most desperate, when tragedy has struck, or when temporal leadership has let them down. But we won’t have that great stock of leadership if we don’t take the words of Jesus extremely seriously. Jesus doesn’t say, well, those who don’t want to get married for some reason or who have exhausted all other options should think about doing this. No, he wants the very best potential husbands and fathers and wives and mothers to answer the call if they receive it. He wants the most talented and gifted among us to use their gifts for the church in ordained ministry or consecrated life if he calls them to it.
In order to answer the call, however, one must be open to it, he or she must be listening. Please encourage young men and women in your midst to be open to this call and help them to be open to the call by talking about it and learning about it yourself. Parents, help your children and teach them this lesson that Jesus gives us in the Gospel. We must shift the way in which the church sees the call to priesthood and religious life. We should give God our best, our first shot. We should all open the way to this call in our hearts, then if we don’t receive it, we can joyfully pursue a life-giving married life. Think of the gifts that would be brought to bear in our parishes and our diocese if all of us took the teachings of Jesus seriously, and were open to whatever the Lord called us to. “Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”
(Fr. Nick travels a lot, but he puts his homilies on the internet for those who would like to hear them! Go to www.jacksonpriests.com/podcasts each Sunday evening to listen. You can also find out all you want to know about our Vocation office at www.jacksonpriests.com.)