Fr. Martin Fuchs´s sermon on 12th February 2017, Prague, Czech republic
When the Saviour came into this world and founded the New Covenant, He nominated twelve men to continue His work. He walked by the sea of Galilee and called Peter and Andrew, James and John. “Come ye after me“, He said, “and I will make you to be fishers of men.“ And they immediately leaving their nets, followed him.“ (Matthew 4:18-20)
After His death and His Resurrection he made Saul fall the back of his horse and made him the most important apostle of the Gentiles. Audible was his voice, tangible his force.
In the course of the Church´s history He walked the earth again and again and called workers into His vineyard.
However; in most cases this call was not audible anymore as it had been for the apostles. But how were these men able to hear God’s call? How did God call them into His service?
He called them, too, partly thanks to inspiration, partly thanks to the talents which He gave them. Sometime later this vocation was and will be confirmed and sealed by the call of the Church, by a bishop and by a head of a religious order. On occasion of the ordination for subdeacons a bishop admonishes candidates for the last time to practice celibacy and to devote themselves entirely to Jesus Christ. If they want to return to world, this is their last opportunity. If not, they shall now make one step forward to the altar. It is a step, a great step.
Today we want to ask ourselves how we can recognize this divine call and we want to give some examples how different people answered this call.
How can the divine call be recognized?
- By the pure intention
The one who in the priesthood seeks something else than the honour of God and the salvation of immortal souls, is certainly not called by God.
- By the mental disposition
The required knowledge is necessary for the ordination. The candidate must have passed the matura, in other words: the necessary studies for the university and he must have graduated from the theological studies.
- By the moral disposition
He must lead a pure life and be ready to renounce to a family.
- By the love for prayer
The priest is a man of prayer. The one who does not like to pray, must not become a priest, because about 50 % of his daily labour are filled with prayer: the breviary, the rosary, spiritual lectures, Bible lectures, contemplation etc.
- By the mental and physical health
There must be no obstacle to ordination such as epilepsy, dumbness, deafness, blindness or miscreation or nanism.
Due to these handicaps a priest would not be able to administer the sacraments for which speech, sense of hearing and sight are required.
A disease such as epilepsy would also interfere with the work of the priest.
For example even the Pope Pius IX had not initially been admitted for priesthood but he was healed on the occasion of a pilgrimage to Loreto.
If a priest gets blind or deaf later, he will not be able to perform the duties of priesthood any longer, or just in a limited way. A blind priest would be allowed to always say the same Mass, in honour of the Saint Virgin for example.
If all proper abilities are given and if the Church confirms the vocation before the ordination to the subdeaconate, the candidate must no longer doubt of the divine call.
There are of course men who do not follow the call despite all these criterions. Many follow the call, some do not want to hear it, some betray it and some force it.
Let us have a closer look at the answer of four men:
- A loyally practiced vocation
At the time of Jesus there was a rich publican named Levi. Day after day he sat at his receipt of custom and went about his lucrative business. His very thought and wish was money and gain. It was out of question for him to change his profession. One day Jesus passed by the receipt of custom and something strange happened. A look of Jesus’s eyes like a flash from different world, a light falls into Levi’s soul, short words so mild and friendly and yet so imperious and irresistible: “Follow me. And leaving all things, he rose up and followed him.“ (Luke 5:27-28)
The publican Levi became the apostle Matthew. With all his might he spread the Word of God. He wrote down the first Gospel. And finally he joyfully gave his life for his Master.
- A forfeited vocation
A rich young farmer lived on a large farm. He had everything of luck on earth and joy of living which a young heart could wish for and yet he was discontented.
He searched for everlasting life, went to Christ, went on his knees to him and asked fervently: “Good master, what good shall I do that I may have life everlasting?“ Jesus told him: “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments: Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness. Honour thy father and thy mother and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.“ The young man said to him: “All these I have kept from my youth, what is yet wanting to me?“ Jesus looked at him and said: “If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come follow me.“ And when the young man had heard this word, he went away sad, for he had great possessions.“ (Matthew 19:16-22)
This young man had a divine call, he had lived an irreproachable youth, without blemish or blame. Christ showed him the way of perfection. Just the young man’s consent was missing. But he didn’t give it. Sadly he went away. What would have happened if this young man had accepted Christ’s invitation, just like Peter, Andrew, James, John and the other apostles? He would certainly have saved many souls. But now… what an enormous tragedy!
If we think of Jonah in the Old Testament who also wanted to flee the divine call and who, struck a second time by God’s grace, thrown into the Ocean and spit to the shore by the whale, converted 40,000 Ninivites, we cannot measure the damage of an unanswered call.
- A betrayed vocation
When Our Lord Jesus Christ chose the twelve apostles among the group of His disciples, He also called Judas Iscariot and Judas followed this call. He was qualified for the position of an apostle mentally and morally and his call had been sealed by the choice of the Lord and by his own consent.
For three years he was living very close to Christ and was an eye- and ear-witness of His divine words and deeds.
A secret passion, however, captivated him: his love for money. He was ready to sacrifice everything for that. Thus apostasy was the last station of his way. He was the one who, according to the Eucharistic speech, did not believe. (John 6:65, 71)
Betrayal, despair, and finally suicide followed. The betrayed profession. It would have been better for him not to have been born.
- A forced vocation
It was in France towards the end of the 18th century. A young son of a count, Charles Maurice Talleyrand, lived in Paris: He was endowed with outstanding intellectual talents but he seemed not to be fit for a secular profession, especially a military career, because he limped. So his family intended him to join the clergy and he became the priest, without having an inner call nor a qualification or inclination for the clergy. He was highly talented but only for the secular career and not for the ecclesiastical office; for the political career, but not for the religious office.
God had not called him: “Come ye after me!“ Only the will of his family was decisive for him. He even became the bishop. When the French Revolution broke out, he immediately joined the Church’s enemies and betrayed the inviolable rights of the Church and the Pope. He renounced his diocese and joined the civil service. He occupied the office of Foreign Minister of the Republic and the Empire for ten years, thus being a State’s servant and a betrayer of the Church.
Pope Pius VII transferred him to laity. He got married but without papal dispensation. He died at the age of 84, after having worked for almost fifty years afar from and against the Church. On the day of his death he wrote a letter to the Pope, revoked all aberrations of his life, reconciled himself with the Church and received the last rites. A forced profession – an unhappy profession.
The Lord’s call and the sincere answer and cooperation make an apostle a fertile apostle. Let us pray for vocations to priesthood, for many vocations to priesthood, for many saint vocations to priesthood.
It was no doubt a special matter that was near our Saviour’s heart, since he had formulated few intents as expressly as the prayer for vocations to the priesthood: “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he send forth labourers into his harvest.“ (Matthew 9:38)