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Laborers in the Vineyard

Often when I am at dinner with some of my friends or in the company of fellow priests, the conversation inevitably turns towards the alarming shortage of priests. Someone in the group – usually a prophet of doom – will predict that the Church is going to suffer drastic decline because of the shortage. However, hardly anyone suggests ways to stem the tide. I really believe that the scarcity of priests and nuns should not be merely a conversation starter. We must all find ways to address the situation.

 

In last Sunday’s gospel, Jesus speaks to the seventy-two before they are sent out into the field. Jesus says, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few. Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his vineyard.” If you look at the numbers, the Lord was right. The number of priests and sisters has declined dramatically over the last half a century. In the US in 1970 there were 59,000 priests while in 2015 that number had declined to 37,000, a decrease of 22,000. At the same time the number of Catholics has gone up. The field is certainly fertile especially in certain places like Africa and South America where the large number of Catholics are in urgent need of priests and religious. Even in the West, millions of Catholics need to be re-evangelized because many of them have little or no religious education. Quite a few Catholics in our country are Catholics in name only. The harvest is abundant and it is calling for more workers.

“What are we to do?” one may ask. I would like to suggest four things that we all can do quite easily.

First of all, we need to pray. That is what Jesus counseled His disciples to do. He said, “Pray to the Lord of the harvest.” When we pray we do not get discouraged by the dismal numbers. We realize that He is the Lord of the harvest. This Church is His, not ours. The Holy Spirit is very creative and will always find ways to send laborers. When as a little boy I learnt to be an altar-server, I never imagined that someday a married man would be at the altar assisting the priest as a deacon. In our own parish we have two active deacons and a retired deacon. Once upon a time the parishes were completely run and managed by the priests and the nuns. To some extent because of the lack of priests and religious, lay ministries have flourished in the Church. All of us in the pews have come to realize that we are the Church, not only the priests, the bishops and the religious. If we keep praying, the Lord will provide.

Second, we need to re-visit our image of the priesthood and religious life. Because of the sex abuse scandals and other awful stories about priests and nuns, their image has become tarnished. The priesthood has lost a lot of its appeal and justifiably so. We have to bear in mind that in contrast to these terrible men and women who wreaked havoc on our young, the majority have tried to be faithful. I have personally met many wonderful priests and nuns who have dedicated themselves to Christ and His service. Priesthood is a noble vocation that young men should aspire for. Looking back on my 37 years as a priest, I can sincerely declare that this has been an amazing ride. I feel so content and fulfilled as the Lord has filled me with numerous blessings.

Third, we need to encourage young people to consider vocations to the priesthood, religious life and to lay ministries as a wonderful life path. When I was growing up, both my father and mother encouraged us to consider those vocations. In fact my dad would often repeat to me and my brother: “The best thing a smart boy can do is to become a priest.” He never pressured or compelled us. In response to his encouragement both my brother and I entered the junior seminary. My sister became a Franciscan nun. If children do not hear such words of encouragement, the call of God gets stifled by the alluring noises of the world. Don Bosco, a great saint of the Church, used to say that one out of every three boys has a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. Parents and grandparents should talk about the joy of serving the Lord in the Church. I wish that more young people from our parish will become priests, nuns and lay ministers. That is a blessing I keep praying for.

Finally, we must become the laborers who enter God’s vineyard with our sleeves rolled up. By our baptism, we have been given a mission to establish God’s Kingdom wherever we are. Our parish has many opportunities to get involved. Six years ago, a young mother of three called me asking to meet with me. She told me that God has been nudging her to start a group that will make service to the poor its focus. Over the previous couple of years I had been wondering about and praying for exactly that. I know that as a parish we are very generous with our material resources. However, we need to get involved, to get our hands dirty, to come face to face with the poor and the needy. This young mom, with the help of a few other parishioners, launched this group. This is how “The Servants of St Francis” came to be born with the sole goal of nurturing a spirit of service among our children, our teens and our families. Here is one way we can all join God’s labor force.

I am earnest in saying that religious and priestly vocations must come from our own families. After all, the priests and sisters who serve today came from families like ours. Please keep praying for this intention in your personal as well as in your family prayer.

May God bless you and smile on you!

Mission Statement: As children of God, living in a Catholic community of faith, we are united by the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. Aware that all we have is gift and grace from our Heavenly Father, we strive to give of our time, talent and treasure to build His kingdom on earth. We live this mission, challenged by the Word, nurtured by the Sacraments, and enlivened by the Spirit, to serve our brothers and sisters in peace, justice and dignity. All are welcome on this journey.

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St. Paul of the Cross

320 South Washington Street
Park Ridge, IL 60068


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Phone: (847) 825-7605
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Mass Schedule

Sunday

7:30 a.m. - Upper Church
9 a.m. - Upper Church & Holy Family Chapel
10:30 a.m. - Upper Church & Holy Family Chapel
12 p.m. - Upper Church
5:30 p.m. - Upper Church

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8:30 a.m. - Upper Church

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4:30 p.m. - Upper Church & Holy Family Chapel