Today, the 4th Sunday of Easter, is also designated ‘world day of prayer for vocations’, and we’re encouraged to remember in our prayers those who have followed their call to vocation, most obviously priests, deacons and religious, as well as those presently discerning God’s call to them. Of course, it’s absolutely right to pray for, and give thanks to God for, our priests, who literally offer life itself through He who died and rose again for love of us; for deacons, who serve in so many ways and often in ways unseen; and for our religious who I believe have saved the world on numerous occasions through their life of prayer and witness.
But I want to talk about the vocation of the ‘common’ priesthood that Lumen Gentium, one of the major documents from Vatican II, talks of. The priesthood that, albeit in their own proper ways, is a common sharing in the priesthood of Christ between ordained, religious and lay faithful. We all have a sharing in this by virtue of our baptism, so it’s a responsibility that we must take seriously. But how?
Today’s readings, as you might expect, offer some guidance, not only to the ministerial priesthood, but also to the rest of us desperately trying to live up to our common sharing in Christ’s priestly vocation.
Our first reading from Acts, I find very interesting. Not only because it tells of the early Church (which Vatican II was endeavouring to move closer to) but also because of the detail that it goes into. When asked ‘what must we do’, Peter said; ‘you must repent’ and ‘you must be baptised’. So, two things. The first was not unlike John the Baptist’s message, preaching a baptism of repentance. But it has been elevated by adhering to Christ’s command at the very end of Matthew’s Gospel…’go, make disciples of all people and baptise them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit’. Make no mistake, this isn’t simply a baptism of repentance, but much deeper, more a commitment of discipleship. Because in these two actions we’re being asked to firstly; not simply repent of the times we’ve failed, but to recognise those times, to be sorry from our hearts, and to commit to trying to eradicate them in the future. Secondly, once we accept the need for forgiveness, to recognise that there is only one person who can make that happen and in response to this, to declare in public, in the early Church’s case by the act of baptism, that we accept this.
In those days, of course, adult baptism was the norm and baptism was very much a public act of commitment. Today, when most are baptised in infancy, we publicly commit in many ways; through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, through gathering in church, and simply by the way we try to live our lives. Regardless of how we do it, we are publicly committing to Christ through our recognition that He alone can save us through his boundless mercy. So, here we have one of the ways that we share in the common priesthood, put simply, we have accepted the gift of faith.
Our second reading, from Peter, is a lesson in humility…and yes, I struggle with this one; bearing punishment unjustly. I really struggle not to defend myself at times when I know I’m innocent of the charge. But, occasionally I manage it. And when I do, I always chalk it up as a victory to Christ! This might seem a tad churlish, as there are many more exacting ways to offer humility, but this one particularly, for me, touched a nerve. The point is though, think of a way in which humility touches a nerve for you, and that is what we’re called to do. Humility is sharing in our common priesthood.
And what about our Gospel from John. The beautiful image of Christ the Good Shepherd. As members of the common priesthood, we are called to know him and to follow him. But I know that some of us have occasional doubts and swing between firm faith and something a little less positive.
Looking back to our first reading, we’re told that Peter used ‘many arguments’ and that these arguments were accepted by many. The catechism tells us that we can ‘prove’ God through various ‘ways’, and it seems that Peter’s listeners were won over through arguments that appealed to the ‘head’. I have often said to people, don’t try to reason God with your head because you never will. You can’t prove God to yourself simply be reason. Instead, think with your heart. Does this mean I’m at odds with the catechism? No…(a sigh of relief all around). Peter’s listeners heard the arguments, but the Spirit was at work in them, guiding their thoughts, opening their hearts to accept the gift of faith. If we listen with our hearts, we will know the voice of Jesus, giving us the freedom to follow him knowing that it is He. We won’t be seduced by an imposter, a thief, or a brigand. To share in the common priesthood, we are called to open our hearts, listen, to allow our hearts to be informed and to ignore the imposter in our head.
I suppose what I’m arguing for is that to share in our common priesthood involves a number of things, perhaps different things for different people. But heartfelt repentance, public commitment, humility, and listening with our hearts, has to be in the mix somewhere. Yes, thank God for our priests…we need them, love them (even the grumpy ones), and offer our humble thanks for their ministry of selflessness and love. But thank God also for the gift of faith which allows us to share in the priesthood of Christ as a witness to his mercy, his compassion, and his love for all of humankind. And that’s a message that an awful lot of people need to hear right now.
With my love and my prayers. May God bless you all…and keep safe. Deacon Anthony