I think the prophet Amos is a fascinating character
In that first reading we heard, he’s basically saying to that priest of Bethel: “Hey look, I’m not a professional prophet…I’m not part of some polished company of prophets. I’m just a shepherd. I’m just a dresser of sycamore trees. Everything you see and hear from me — that’s all God’s work. I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t volunteer to be the bearer of this message.”
“I’m NOT cut out for this.”
But then God called. Then the Lord crashed into his life and said:
“Go, prophesy to my people”
Every man called to the priesthood of Jesus Christ — up and down the centuries — can probably relate in a very deep way to how the prophet Amos must feel here.
Almost every priest, when asked why he decided to go off to seminary will say something along these lines:
“Look — I didn’t ask for this. I’m only here because the Lord burst into my heart and into my life — He called me! — I fell in love with God, and so I was compelled by Jesus to be open to explore the priesthood. I felt this mysterious urge, this little nudge, this desire that I couldn’t quite understand. I tried my best to resist… but in the end, I just couldn’t. I knew deep down that I had to say ‘yes’ to Him.”
I know I can certainly speak for myself: I was NOT a “professional religious” guy when I first heard God’s call.
Like Amos, I was in a drastically different state in life. I was a graphic designer! I was an artist!
Then the Lord took me, and said to me:
Go, prophesy to my people.”
Now maybe this will be surprising for some of you to hear, but it’s actually a big mistake to assume that Catholic priests have always been “professional Church people.”
As if we picked this path because we happened to really like religious stuff — liturgy and chalices and vestments…all that stuff is cool, but it’s actually NOT why I’m doing this.
Perhaps subconsciously, people will put Catholic priests into a worldly box — a sort of pragmatic, utilitarian sort of box. “OH isn’t that nice you found a job that’s really meaningful to you. Isn’t it nice that you just enjoy doing what you do…Oh that’s so NICE for you.”
And yet — now with one full year of priesthood under my belt — I see more clearly than ever before:
That this ministry is not just what God called me to DO.
This is who God called me to BE.
There’s a huge difference in that little change of phrase.
God knows who each of you are. And if you are going to say “YES” to the priesthood, or the religious life, or the diaconate, or marriage, or the consecrated single-life — if you’re going to say yes to ANY vocation — then the process of discernment can’t be centered on questions like “What am I good at?” or “What do I like to do?”
No…instead… true discernment of God’s will has to be founded on questions more like:
“Who am I? What does God see when He looks at my heart? What is the mission I’m being invited to take part in?
Once you start asking those sorts of questions, you are really getting somewhere in discernment! Saint Paul talks about this in our second reading this weekend:
“In him we were also chosen,
destined in accord with the purpose of the One
who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will,
so that we might exist (EXIST!) for the praise of his glory”
That last line is so crucial — So that we might EXIST for God’s PRAISE AND GLORY!
That IS WHY WE EXIST. THAT is the heart of any vocation. It is center of any call from the Lord.
In other words: Your vocation can’t just be a profession. It can’t just be a job… something that you DO…
It has to be who you are. It has to be intimately connected to the REASON you exist: Which is to give praise and glory to God.
I think the tendency will always exist, however, and I see it especially in the priesthood, to start thinking that your vocation, your mission, your calling from the Lord as just a series of tasks you gotta get done. It’s what you have to do. A way to earn your bread.
That is so dangerous! And that’s what Amos is being told to go do — “Go earn your bread somewhere else! Stop bothering us! Can’t you do what you’re doing somewhere else?”
Fr. Federico Suarez, who wrote a book called “About Being a Priest,” says that this temptation — a temptation that he calls “professionalism” — can very easily “slip in almost unnoticed.”
By ‘professionalism,’ what he means is the “tendency to make the service of God and souls into a business, a way of earning a living.”
“Such a priest” he goes on to say “changes from a man with a mission into a paid religious official. Instead of serving the Church, he makes the Church serve him.”
What happens to such a priest? What are the consequences?
Well Fr. Suarez minces absolutely no words:
“Such a man is like the living corpse of a priest, for he has lost all his enthusiasm and energy, his spirit of faith, [and] his supernatural view of the Church.”
Yikes! That is insane.
Another hero of mine — Archbishop Fulton Sheen — was concerned about this same sort of thing — this temptation to professionalism when he asked this question:
“Has administration taken precedence over evangelization? Has organization swallowed up shepherding?”
I sincerely hope not! And that’s why I’m preaching on this now: I am asking you all — the People of God — for your help. The Holy Spirit hasn’t called us — your priests — to be distant religious professionals.
He has called us to be your supernatural fathers.
You don’t need a priest to be a bureaucrat. You don’t need him to be a politician, a liability manager, a social-worker, a psychiatrist. You don’t need him to be the consummate professional.
You need your priest to be Jesus for you.
You need priests who point to Christ and His Cross, not to themselves.
You need priests who invest large quantities of time in the chapel praying on their knees for you. You need priests to have the fire of the Gospel burning down in their bones, who can’t help but let it spill out into their preaching and into their lives. Who get vulnerable with you. Who confess their sins when they fail…not if! Who pray the liturgy reverently, and by the book.
You need priests who don’t run away when the wolf comes to devour the flock, who don’t revert to politeness or political correctness to save their own skins, who present the Full Gospel without any ambiguity. You need priests who have tireless, missionary hearts — who are never too busy to hear a quick Confession or celebrate the Eucharist. Who seek out wayward souls to invite them into the love and forgiveness of our God!
In short: You don’t need professionals who happen to do priest stuff.
You need priests who ARE priests. Imperfect men who are desperately in love with God and His Church.
And so I ask you —
Hold us to this! Hold all of your priests to this beautiful, dangerous, adventurous mission!
Because here’s the truth: If priests are only ever treated like professional religious officials… if we are only sacramental machines… if we’re only political representatives of this world-wide organization that we call the “Catholic Church” —
Then we will burn out.
We will slink away to our offices and our rectories — discouraged and unneeded.
We will become lonely and isolated. Spiritually dead robots.
We will get weird…
So again, I encourage you — Please hold us to the radiant beauty of the priesthood of Jesus Christ!
Now how can you do that?
Well, look no further than this weekend’s Gospel story!
Because just as Christ once sent out the Twelve Apostles, two by two into the surrounding villages to be with people in their lives and to call them to repentance — so he sends His priests today.
And so — Let us in!
Don’t be like the houses that slam the door on the apostle’s faces. Don’t make us have to shake the dust off our feet!
So I’m gonna give you three practical ways you can help your priests live up to the call they’ve already said “yes” to on their ordination day:
First of all — Rely on our prayers. Invite us to offer up sacrifices for real things going on in your real life.
Give us mass intentions. Ask us to come and bless stuff. Cardinal Sarah says that priests and bishops are called to “be constantly in the presence of God.” Their lives, he says, “are supposed to become an unceasing, persevering prayer… a permanent liturgy.” So please call us to prayer! And know how much we rely on your prayers for us!
Second — Welcome us into your families! A priest’s life makes so much more sense in the context of the domestic church — the family home. Have us over for dinner! We are not too busy!
We won’t judge your cooking skills, or your messy house, or your loud kids. Really! We just want to be there. And when we are there, please talk to us about stuff that matters — your questions, your struggles, your desires. Don’t settle for small talk about weather…. Or politics.
We want to go deep with you. As Jesus put it so simply in our gospel: “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave.” The Holy Spirit will inspire countless vocations and conversions in this informal, beautifully human way. That’s what the Church is supposed to be all about. It’s not a business. It’s a family. The family of God!
Third — Allow yourself to be exhorted by your priests. Believe it or not, our homilies aren’t supposed to be entertainment. They are a call to a higher life — the life of Jesus! If the priest’s instruction, guided by the Truth of the Gospel, goes in one ear and out the other, then what are we doing here? If you pick and choose which teachings you’ll buy into, if you don’t let the Word of God penetrate and convict you… If none of this challenges you to pursue Christ and let Him pursue you in a more radical way, then I’m afraid we are all wasting our time!
This priestly ministry is a gift, not just for me and Fr Kevin, but primarily for you! For the entire Church! And, by extension, the entire world! As Fulton Sheen said so well — “The priest is not his own!”
So…receive that gift! Receive the priesthood Jesus has established in his Church! Forgive us for all the scandals and the many ways we have betrayed your trust and maybe built up walls, and maybe presented ourselves as just…professionals.
Please don’t forget: Jesus is still sending his apostles out into the world — into neighborhoods. Into communities. Into parishes.
So let us in! Call us up higher. Don’t let us become professional religious guys earning our bread safely…
Allow us to truly be your fathers.