Dear Friends in Christ,
Almost every week there is at least one kind person who will express appreciation for the number of Masses that we are able to offer here at St. John Vianney Parish. I know that I speak on behalf of Fathers Richard and Chuck when I say that it is truly our honor and privilege. That being said, I also know that the future is not so secure. Currently, we offer 6 weekend masses in English and 2 in Spanish. During the week, we are offering 12 masses and in Advent and Lent we offer 15 weekday masses plus weddings and funerals. On most Saturdays, there are six hours of confessions heard and many weeks it is more! As I look down the road, I see that this schedule is not sustainable. The reason is not desire but personnel. If it were truly up to me, I would have four masses and confessions every single weekday and would be begging the Cardinal to open up new parishes all over the archdiocese. But the problem that we all have to face is the declining number of priests in the archdiocese. I am confident that if the Cardinal had the priests, he would be opening up parishes and doing many other things in the archdiocese. In the future, sooner than any of us want, we will have to examine the number of masses. At this time, we do not have sufficient numbers of students in the seminary studying for the archdiocese and the priests we have are getting older.
There is a solution, however, and it is not to be found in whining and complaining. The solution is in our praying for and encouraging vocations in our own families and here in our parish. We are blessed that we have three young men studying in the seminary for the archdiocese from St. John Vianney Parish. We have another parishioner studying for the Diocese of Austin and still another young man studying for the Norbertine Fathers. We were blessed to have one young man, Fr. Paolo Puccini, C.S.P., ordained to the priesthood this summer for the Paulist Fathers. Fr. Paolo is currently assigned to St. Austin’s Parish across the street from the University of Texas at Austin. This year the archdiocese has 36 seminarians over the 9 year span of formation. Our archdiocese covers ten counties with more than 1.7 million Catholics; 36 is not enough. We simply need more vocations! We need more young men willing to dedicate their lives to Christ and His Church. We need more young men willing sacrifice marriage and family, career and worldly success for the sake of God’s Kingdom. We need more young men to desire to use their gifts and talents to help others to know, love and serve God. We need more young men so in love with God that they will say “Yes” to His call. Being a priest is not always easy, nor is it always fun. Many of the “perks” of being a cleric from bygone eras have evaporated and are not returning. The priesthood in many ways is a far more challenging life today than 50 years ago. It is definitely not for everyone. But to those that God calls, He also equips. So one should not be afraid or fearful.
The scandals of the last two decades concerning the priesthood have not been easy, but God has brought good from them. There has been a necessary purification in many ways. I would dare to say that we are not yet done. The corruption and betrayal on the part of a few has hopefully lead to a greater appreciation of the great gift of the priesthood. The declining numbers of vocations has hopefully made some dioceses and religious orders focus their attention on the essence of the priesthood and the mission of the church. The church (and the world) does not need ordained social activists, therapists or life coaches but rather ministers of the sacraments of grace and mercy. In theology, the priest is often called an alter Christus (another Christ). The work of the priest is not his own, it is Christ’s own work that he participates in and furthers by his willing sacrifice. In fact, the priesthood of the ordained priest is not his own. Every man ordained a priest is ordained to the priesthood of Jesus Christ. The mercy and grace a priest bestows, is not his own, but the mercy and grace of God. In a world that is constantly crying out and screaming at every moment “LOOK AT ME!!!”, the priest is charged to humbly say with his whole life “Look at Jesus.” Do priests fail? Yes, we do. Every one of us, every day. It is because of our own failures, limitations and unworthiness of so great a vocation that we can attest to the greatness of God’s mercy and love. No one knows better than a priest himself that he is unworthy of such a calling. But no one knows better than a priest that God and His church are worth the sacrifices that the priesthood demands. But what a vocation! What a life! What a joy! The gift of giving yourself to God and bringing God to people and people to God, there is nothing like it! May our daily prayer be that those whom God calls will answer “Yes, Lord. Here I am.”
In pace Christi,