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Holy Christians Guarantee Holy Priests | Bishop Fulton J. Sheen | From The Priest Is Not His Own | Ignatius Insight
Holiness descends in the Church from the All-Holy God through Christ, His bishops and His priests, to the
entire community that is the Mystical Body. But there is simultaneously an
ascending movement of holiness from the Christian community to the All-Holy
God. Particularly is this true of vocations to the priesthood and the religious
There is no priest who does not go through the motions of urging the faithful
to pray for vocations. But, too often, the phrases are formal. They are what is
expected of one. In the priest's mind, they are a part of the announcements, on
a level with the card party for the Ladies' Auxiliary or the Catholic Youth
Organization skating meet.
These other activities are, of course, not to be sneered at. They too foster a
Christian life and therefore stimulate vocations. But can we put them in the
same category as prayer? Out of hundreds of possible ways of fostering
vocations, prayer was the single one Our Lord specified.
The harvest, He told them, is plentiful enough, but the laborers are few; you
must ask the Lord to Whom the harvest belongs to send laborers out for the
harvesting. (Luke 10:2)
What prompted these words? Luke says that Christ spoke them on the occasion of
choosing seventy-two disciples (Lk 10:1). Matthew sketches the background in
more detail. It was after a long journey, he noted, and the Lord's heart was
touched by compassion for the masses who hungered for knowledge of heaven but
did not know where to search for what they lacked.
Yet still, when He looked at the multitudes, He was moved with pity for them,
seeing them harried and abject, like sheep that have no shepherd. Thereupon He
said to His disciples, The harvest is plentiful enough, but the laborers are
few; you must ask the Lord to Whom the harvest belongs to send laborers out for
the harvesting. (Matthew 9:36-38)
Not only those already in the Church but equally those outside her make Him
yearn for laborers, lest the plentiful wheat rot in the fields.
Christ's compassion for the multitude was twofold. Because they were hungry, He
miraculously fed the five thousand. Because their souls suffered, sheep without
a shepherd, He was moved with pity.
Every true priest has the same heart-tearing pity as he flies over a great city
such as Paris, New York or London. Down below he sees with Christ's eyes
millions of souls unfed by the Eucharist, unhealed by penance, living in houses
built on sand because they know not the Rock. He sees in them what Our Lord saw
when He looked at the multitudes-danger of eternal loss! Here are countless
acres ripe for harvesting, but how few the laborers to gather!
Our Lord indicates that this harvest of souls is convertible. He is enthusiastic
about the prospects of winning souls, and His words are intended to project
that enthusiasm to His priests. He made a similar expression of confident
anticipation when the crowds streamed out of Samaria to hear His words:
Why, lift up your eyes, I tell you, and look at the fields, they are white with
the promise of harvest already. (John 4: 35)
As wheat does not oppose the sickle, so the masses will not oppose us. One
wonders if we do not underestimate the possibility of conversions. The failure
may simply be in our defective preparation and approach. The unbelievers will
not go to hear philosophers, but they will go to hear saints. Priests who work
in the slums amid the outcasts report that they rarely meet with an insult.
Like the wheat, the masses will bend only before a certain kind of harvester.
Not finding us as we should be, they turn their backs on us. But when they
encounter a priest whose life expresses the message he brings, they are ready
to be harvested.
What Our Lord asked us to pray for was laborers. He did not say, "My
Father is almighty; He can make the few accomplish much." He knew the
extent of His Father's power, but He was also one with His Father in the divine
plan to sanctify man with the aid of human means. In the Incarnation, His human
nature was instrumentum conjunctum divinitatis. In the prolongation of His Incarnation, He uses us
as instruments. Though He could reap the harvest without men, He will not. But
only laborers, not idlers, are acceptable instruments. The priest must study to
perfect his mind, not wearying the people with stale repetitions. It is true
that "words will be given you when the time comes" (Mt 10:19); but
what Our Lord here promised was not inspiration for those who do not prepare
their message, but the help of the Spirit for those persecuted beyond human
resource. In the designs of Providence, whether a priest receives the gift of
final perseverance may depend not only on the amount of evil he has done, but
on the good he has left undone.
The laborers must go into the harvest fields, to the masses, to the
unbelievers, to the abandoned, to the rudderless. Is it not possible that the
Lord withholds many vocations from dioceses and mission societies because of
the growing use of priests in strictly secular activities? Why specifically
does God call a man to the priesthood? It is not easy to justify the placing of
a priest in insurance, building, accountancy, banking, publicity and promotion
when the need is so grave for convert makers, for missioners to search out the
lost sheep and lead them gently to the fold of Christ. Do we lack dedicated and
reliable laymen able to do such tasks as well or better? If the Lord was so
particular about the fragments of bread, which He ordered gathered up, then
will He not insist jealously that His priests do precisely that for which He
Why did Our Lord, when He spoke of vocations, single out precisely the word pray? Because prayer is the expression of the Christian
community and the yearning of the Church. As the Church gets the kind of pope
she deserves, so she gets the kind and number of priests she deserves. Why do
some countries have so many vocations? Because the Catholic people of these
countries, rich in their faith, want priests, and they pray to be given the
priests they want. Why do some countries have so few? Because few people, even
few parents, pray for priests. "Ask, and the gift will come" (Lk
11:9). Can we hope to receive if we do not ask? There are probably hundreds of
thousands of vocations hanging from heaven on silken cords; prayer is the sword
that cuts them. The laborers are available potentially in the heart of Christ;
it is our petitions that actualize them. "And I was never consulted?"
Are there prayers in church for vocations? Do mothers pray for vocations for
their children? Do the faithful pray the Lord "to send laborers out for
the harvesting" (Mt 9:38)? Do schoolchildren pray for the call of God?
What the Christian community wants ardently, the Lord of the harvest will grant.
That is why Our Lord told us to pray. The command was intended for all, but it
was given directly and specifically to the Apostles and the disciples, as His
ambassadors and coworkers among the people. Prayer in the Church is alone
primary; publicity and its methods are secondary. The search for vocations
begins on our knees. One bishop had no candidates for the priesthood in two
years. He began a campaign of prayer in the schools of his diocese, and without
any other publicity he had activated forty vocations at the end of one year.
The original Greek word for "sending" laborers into the
fields is stronger than the Latin (Mt 9:38). It means that the Lord of the
harvest would thrust them out, or propel them forward. The same Greek word is
used by Matthew (8 :31) for the expulsion of a devil out of a man (though
different words are used in describing the incident in Mark 5:8 and Luke 8:29);
it takes a great power to drive the priesthood into a man. This power Our Lord
said He would exercise, if we prayed. It even suggests that from totally
unexpected and impossible places, He would inspire vocations.
Related Ignatius Insight Articles and Excerpts:
Letter of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI Proclaiming a Year for Priests on the 150th Anniversary of the "Dies Natalis"
of the Curé of Ars | Pope Benedict XVI
The Blessed Virgin Mary's Role in the Celibate Priest's Spousal and Paternal Love | Fr. John Cihak
The Priest as Man, Husband, and Father | Fr. John Cihak
St. John Vianney's Pastoral Plan | Fr. John Cihak
Satan and the Saint | The Feast Day of St. John Vianney | Carl E. Olson
Who Is A Priest? | Fr. Benedict Ashley, O.P.
Women and the Priesthood: A Theological
Reflection | Jean Galot, S.J. | From Theology of the Priesthood
The Real Reason for the Vocation
Crisis | Rev. Michael P. Orsi
Pray the Harvest Master Sends
Laborors | Rev. Anthony Zimmerman
Priestly Vocations in America:
A Look At the Numbers | Jeff Ziegler
Clerical Celibacy: Concept and Method |
Alfons Maria Cardinal Stickler | From
The Case for Clerical Celibacy
The Religion of Jesus | Blessed Columba
Marmion | From Christ, The Ideal
of the Priest
Fulton Sheen (1895-1979) is considered by many to be the most influential
Catholic of the 20th century in America. Millions of people watched his
incredibly popular television series every week, "Life is Worth Living",
and millions more listened to his radio program, "The Catholic Hour".
Wherever he preached in public, standing-room-only crowds packed churches
and halls to hear him. He had the same kind of charisma and holiness that
attracts so many people to Pope John Paul II, who called Sheen "a loyal
son of the Church." Learn more about Archbishop Sheen by reading his
In Clay, or visiting the Archbishop
Fulton J. Sheen Foundation website.
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