Fourteenth Sunday of the Year 2019 (Cycle C)
“The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest” (Luke 10:2). This has usually been understood to mean that we should pray for more Priests. But, have we understood it correctly?
I ask this because we know that God answers our prayers. And yet in this case our prayers don’t appear to be answered. Vocations to the priesthood have been declining since the 1970’s. When I first went to the seminary there were about one hundred and twenty students for the priesthood. But when I went to visit it recently I saw that there were about twenty-five. In about twenty years the number of students had dropped by two thirds.
This shortage of vocations has had an effect on the Roman Catholic. Many of you will remember when there was a Parish Priest and a Curate, sometimes more than one. Some large parishes had as many as six Curates. Today few Parishes have one nevermind six curates. Most of my priest friends are now running two parishes.
You can understand why the Church urges us with to pray for more vocations. “The harvest is rich but the labourers are few’. So we pray with greater urgency. I am the vocations’ director for the Carmelites in England and Wales. I have now been doing this job part time for three years and full time for two. We use the social media a lot, because that is how most inquirers learn about us. We have our own webpage dedicated to vocations, created a video. We have also organized what we call ‘Come & See’ days, attended conferences, gone on pilgrimages and even walked the Camino. I can say that we have never worked so hard for vocations. And not only us but the Church generally is now really focussed on vocations to the priesthood and religious life. But our prayers do not appear to be answered.
What is the problem? Why aren’t we getting more vocations? Why aren’t more labourers coming forward to help with this bountiful harvest? I suggest that they are, only they’re not just priests. When the Lord was spoke of “labourers” he didn’t mention that they had to be priests. He didn’t say, “send priests to his harvest” did her, but rather, “send labourers to his harvest” “Labourers” can be priests but they can also be people like you, people the Church calls ‘the laity’; you too are being called to the harvest. And it is already happening.
More and more Laity are doing studies that were once reserved for Priests. Some are studying theology at University. A few are studying alongside students for the Priesthood in seminaries. An increasing number of laypeople are as well educated in scripture and theology as many Priests.
I see more and more dedicated laypeople working for the Church: as Catechists, Eucharist Ministers, Readers. In my last parish we priests never touched the money; all the money from the masses was counted by our parishoners and banked by them. We had a parish secretary who probably did more ministry than we priests. I have become aware that an increasing number of Laity have a sense of vocation and some are dedicating their lives to working for the Church.
Now all this is happening while the number of Priests is declining. Is this the end of the ordained Priesthood: are Priests are dying breed? No! The Church needs the ordained Priesthood, and we must continue to pray for more vocations. But the Church of today needs dedicated Laity just as much.
“The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest”. Well, He is doing this. Our prayers are being answered. Only the “labourers” will not only be Priests. God is asking you, the non-ordained Laity, to work more and more for the Church: to help those overworked labourers who have been working alone for too long. We’re all in this together.