Sunday, April 21, 2013


When you live in the same house as the Vocations Director, you really have to do things up for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations...

   Fourth Sunday of Easter   C 

In the midst of all the other news—
so sad and distressing—
coming out of Boston these past several days,
I suspect many of you have seen some footage
of Wednesday night’s Bruins-Sabres game. 
It was the first major sporting event in that city
following last Monday’s bombing of the Boston Marathon. 
Before play got underway,
teams and fans both paused for a moment of silence
in tribute to the victims. 

And then Rene Rancourt 
stepped forward
to sing the Star Spangled Banner—
just as he has done 
whenever the Bruins
have taken the home ice 
since 1976. 
But only a couple of lines 
into the song,
Rancourt lowered his mic 
and let the crowd take over,
in one of the most beautiful 
and moving renditions
of our beloved national anthem
that anyone has ever heard.

It began with one voice—
strong, recognized, and reliable.
It was then picked up by just a few.
But soon, 17,000 people—
including, no doubt, 
many who would otherwise
claim that they can’t sing a note—
were belting out those lyrics 
penned in battle
not quite 200 years ago.

It was loud—very loud—
but the song echoed not only because of the volume.
The familiar text was clear,
but it conveyed a message far greater than it’s words.

On this Good Shepherd Sunday, Jesus says:
My sheep hear my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.

During this Year of Faith,
we’ve been encouraged to look back
at all the many examples of faithfulness who have preceded us.
As a whole, we look to the Saints.
But as individual believers,
we can look back to people much closer to home.
I’m sure we could all give names of men and women—
family members, friends, and neighbors;
priests, religious sisters, and lay teachers—
who built up the Church, often in the face of many hardships.
I—for example—think of my grandparents.
Like John in his vision, we see a great multitude,
of every nation, race, and tongue,
who have survived times of great distress,
trusting always that the Lamb will shepherd them.

But during this Year of Faith,
we are also encouraged to look ahead.
I think of my nieces and nephew.
I think of our young parishioners soon to be confirmed
or receive their first Holy Communion.
With so many voices in the world
contradicting or rejecting the Gospel of Christ—
much as it was when Paul and Barnabas preached in Antioch—
I wonder:
What will become of them?
What will become of their faith?
What will become of these parishes—of this Church?

There’s great comfort in knowing
that we stand on the strong shoulders
of those who have gone before us.
Yet there’s also great danger in growing complacent.
How do we make sure that the Good Shepherd’s voice
is heard—loud and clear—in our world today?

For 50 years, this 4th Sunday of Easter
has been designated as the World Day of Prayer for Vocations.
In particular, we are encouraged to pray
for vocations to the priesthood,
since without priests none of the other vocations can stand.
(Without the priesthood, there can be no Eucharist…
…and without the Eucharist, there can be no Church.)
In his message for this annual observance,
now-Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
cited these striking words of Pope Paul VI from back in 1964:
The problem of having a sufficient number of priests
has an immediate impact on all of the faithful:
not simply because they depend on it
for the religious future of Christian society,
but also because this problem
is the precise and inescapable indicator
of the vitality of faith and love
of individual parish and diocesan communities,
and the evidence of the moral health of Christian families.
Wherever numerous vocations
to the priesthood and consecrated life are to be found,
that is where people are living the Gospel with generosity.

When I arrived as your pastor almost three years ago,
I was in for quite a culture shock:
I was leaving two relatively small parishes
in a rather quiet corner of the Adirondacks;
I was coming to now shepherd four parishes,
which together form the largest Catholic community
in the entire Diocese of Ogdensburg.
As I’ve described it, I went from basically being a one-man-band
to conducting a major symphony orchestra!

That musical metaphor 
continues to speak to me.
The Catholic priesthood—you see—
is not about being a soloist.
Yes, we priests are charged 
by Christ and the Church
with teaching the words 
and starting the song…
…but we’re never intended 
to be singing it by ourselves.

As the challenging words of two Popes make clear,
we must all join in the singing.
The vocation of each one
depends on the vocations of all the others—
whether to holy orders or marriage,
to religious or single life.
In the Church, there can be no casual bystanders.
Everybody’s got a part to play, and every part is essential.
Use the voice God gave you—
no exceptions, no excuses!

And we need to make sure
we’re all on tempo and in tune.
We all know what it’s like
when we’re singing or saying the various parts of the Mass,
and someone in the crowd’s a little fast or a little slow,
or slips back into the old translation of the Missal:
it quickly throws the whole thing off.
So, too, when we willingly stray from Church teaching.
To try and croon to our own beat
only serves to compromise the music
and draw attention to oneself.

But while we need to sing together,
we must also realize that
we can’t and we shouldn’t all sing the same way.
Some sing bass while others sing soprano,
and if there weren’t any diversity
then there wouldn’t be any harmony, either.
We’ve all been made and remade in God’s likeness,
yet we’re not all cut from the same mold.
And so we must listen closely to each other
if we hope to achieve the right blend.

On this Good Shepherd Sunday,
we must all recommit ourselves
to calling forth young men 
(and maybe a few older ones)
to conduct the music taught us by Jesus.
But we must also recall
that this isn’t really about a chosen few—
as if preaching to the choir.
We’re talking about a melody
which ought to resound 
beyond these sacred walls
and be heard in our daily living.

In the midst of a frightening 
and tragic week,
a single patriotic song 
sung at a single hockey arena
brought comfort and hope 
to many, far and wide.
Then just imagine what can happen
when we all—
with full heart and mind and voice—
join in that unending hymn
which alone has the power
 to save the world!

So sing—
that the Shepherd’s voice 
might be heard.

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