A. Let me first thank you for being here at All Saints Convent, for setting aside some time for prayer and reflection, focused on the possibility that God may be calling you to become a priest. I came to pray with you, to offer my support, and, of course, to have the opportunity to visit with you personally. May this time of discernment bear much good fruit for you and for the Church!
B. I have met some of you, probably most of you, along the way, at Quo Vadis, at a Highways and Byways gathering, or perhaps when I visited your parishes. A few of you may have made the discernment retreat last year as well. Some may just be starting out on the road to discerning a priestly vocation and others on the verge of submiting your application. Wherever you are along that spectrum, I pray you will have the grace to hear and answer God’s call.
II. The First Letter of John
A. Today’s liturgy and its readings from Scripture shed a lot of light on your desire to hear and answer God’s call. Take, for example, the first reading from the Letter to John: “We have this confidence,” John writes, “that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” So tonight, the Power Ball drawing will take place and the jackpot is 800 million dollars. And I can say to the Lord, “Please, please, let me win this prize! Honestly, I will give it all to charity!” I might even share with the Lord what my plans would be for using all that money. “You know,” I could say, “I would do a lot of good for those in need!”
B. I hope the dear Lord is amused when I ask him to ratify my plans. But that is not really how I am supposed to pray, even when my plans are more realistic than the luck of the draw. Rather, in my prayer, I should be seeking to know God’s plans. “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done”: that is how the Lord taught us to pray. When I substitute my plans for God’s will, I am falling into idolatry. In fact, sin is also a form of idolatry-a way of substituting my desires in place of God and my plans in place of the true blessings that God wants to bestow upon me.
C. The same is true for you. I don’t know if any of you bought a Power Ball ticket, but I’m going to bet you are considering plans for the future. There are many paths you could take but you are here because you are seeking the path God has in mind for you. Specifically, you are considering the possibility God is calling you to be a priest: to spend your life preaching the Gospel, teaching the faith, celebrating the Mass and the Sacraments, serving those in need, building parishes into true communities of faith, and most of all, touching minds and hearts with truth and love of Christ, that truth and love for which every person was created.
III. John the Baptist and Jesus
A. In this time of prayer, the Gospel gives us a model for our discernment, namely, St. John the Baptist. As we meet him today, John the Baptist is fully engaged in his mission. He is living an austere life, preaching the need for conversion, and providing a baptism of repentance in the River Jordan. Tomorrow, in fact, the Church will celebrate that moment when John the Baptist baptizes Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry.
B. But today, the picture is a little more complicated. We read that John the Baptist and Jesus were both doing baptisms. John the Baptist had his followers and Jesus had his followers and the two sets of disciples were in competition with one another, even though people were more and more going over to Jesus. It wasn’t like that with John the Baptist, though. True to his vocation, he had come not to compete with Jesus but to be his forerunner and his herald. So he is not disturbed that he is losing followers to Jesus. His vocation is not to be the Bridegroom but the best man. Speaking of Jesus, John the Baptist said: “He must increase; I must decrease.”
C. What good advice John the Baptist is giving you for your discernment. “He must increase; I must decrease.” What does John the Baptist mean by that statement? Does he mean that he, John, is going to fade away and be forgotten, like a rock star whose music and whose persona are no longer popular? Clearly not! Twenty centuries we remember him. We celebrate not only his birth but also his martyrdom and the Church proclaims Gospel passages about him throughout the year.
D. No, John’s greatness turns on the fact that he is a follower of Jesus. John’s disciples were slow to see this but John saw it clearly. His greatness and joy did not consist in his popularity but in his discipleship. His greatness and joy consisted in emptying himself of all that so that both in life and in his martyr’s death, he would point to Jesus. In emptying himself in such a total way, John’s greatness shone through. As Jesus himself taught, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt. 16:25).
A. As we listen in amazement to John the Baptist as he gives up everything for Christ, we might feel like a first year violin student listening to the virtuoso, Isaac Stern. We wonder if we could ever really give ourselves so completely to the Lord. Well, brothers, let us be of good cheer. John the Baptist is a great and towering figure in the Church’s life yet he too had to undergo discernment and formation, just like you and me. He had to discover, not only his vocation, but all his vocation would require of him. The God of mercy took him through all of this step by step, day by day.
B. All the Lord is asking of you now, on this discernment weekend, is a good heart… a heart that is willing to pray, to listen, to say “yes” to whatever he is asking. The Lord is asking that we make room for him in our hearts so that any plan contrary to God’s will might be crowded out or that any tendency to be full of ourselves might be diminished. It won’t happen overnight. It’s not like winning the lottery. If we give God permission, he will not only help us find our vocation but he will also help us be formed, day by day, so that we can live our vocation. Like John the Baptist, our greatness will ultimately consist in what we have allowed the Lord to do in us and through us.
C. This year I will mark my 39th anniversary of priestly ordination. I wanted to be a priest ever since I can remember. Even so, the Lord continually surprises me by showing me, day after day, what my vocation requires of me and how he wants to use me to advance his saving mission. After all this time, I am still a disciple, a learner, a follower of Jesus. After all this time, I am still learning to decrease so that the Lord may increase. After all this time, I am still amazed and grateful to have been chosen. May you know always the joy of belonging to the Lord and may you have the courage and goodness to say to him, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening!”
God bless you and keep you always in his love!