As they were going out, a demoniac who could not speak was brought to him, and when the demon was driven out the mute person spoke. The crowds were amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel. But the Pharisees said, “He drives out demons by the prince of demons.”
Jesus went around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness. At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest”. (Mt 9:33-38)
This text from Saint Matthew’s Gospel immediately precedes the first sending of his Apostles on mission by Jesus, giving them “power over all unclean spirits to cast them out and to cure every disease and every sickness” (Mt 10:1). Leaving aside the first part: the exorcism of a mute demoniac, who upon being exorcised began to speak… and the incomprehension and envy of the Pharisees, incapable of converting before such an extraordinary sign… while the people admired and said “nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel“. It is sufficient to say that this miracle of Jesus, in which he shows his power over demons, prepares the sending of the Apostles that follows, for which Jesus communicates to them his power to exorcise demons and to heal. Power that through the Apostles, especially in the transmission of the Catholic Priesthood, the Church and the ministers of the Church also have today.
We are more interested in the second part of the text, in which Jesus, going through villages and synagogues, cures “every sickness” and “every disease” (a power that he also gives to the Apostles in the text that follows), and has compassion on the people who are “exhausted and dejected”, because “they are like sheep without a shepherd”. And he commands them to ask God to make laborers for “the harvest” of the Lord, that is, to send ministers into the field of the world, to work for the good of souls.
This text speaks to us then of the first vocation ministry to be done, that which Jesus himself taught us and commanded us to do: pray for vocations, pray to the Lord of the harvest (God) to send laborers to work for his harvest. With this command the Lord also assures us of the efficacy of this prayer, because it is a prayer for the good of the Church and for the good of souls, a prayer that He always listens to. Let us analyze the text a little further.
– Jesus “has compassion on the nations… because they are like sheep without a shepherd”. Jesus’ compassion is what led him to become incarnate, to become man, to come to redeem mankind. That compassion that Zechariah, the father of St. John the Baptist, sings beautifully in the Benedictus, when the forerunner of Jesus is born: “in the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us… a mighty savior” (Lc 1:78). What depths of the mercy of God, who is love, as St. John teaches in his first letter. “God is love.(1Jn 4:8.16)”
– Because of that endearing love of God, the first to be sent to shepherd the sheep and lead them to the safe pastures of heaven was Jesus himself. He came as Shepherd of the sheep, as the “great Shepherd” (megas), as St. Paul (Hb 3:20) calls him. And he has shown us how to be a good shepherd: by giving his life for his sheep. He will say: “I am the good shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. And he gives it freely: no one takes it from me, but I myself give it. I have the power to give it and the power to take it again” (Jn 10:18). Thus showing that the greatest love, the love that goes to the point of dying for those he loves. Then He will say at the Last Supper: “there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends….” (Jn 15:13)
– This good shepherd, who was sent by his Father to give his life in sacrifice for us, wants others to do the same as he did. He wants to associate others with his same redemptive mission. That is why he chooses, he calls. And he always chooses, he always calls so that in his Church there will be no lack of good shepherds, ready to give their lives for the sheep. He first chose the Apostles, and other disciples, and sent them, saying to them: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn 20:21). That is to say, He sends us by giving us everything necessary for the mission, as the Father gave Him everything necessary for the mission already in the eternal generation of the Word; but He also sends us with the same purpose: “to teach and do good to all” (Cf. Mt 28:19-20). And giving us a concrete example: being sent in the same way that He was, that is, giving our lives for the sheep.
How great is the vocation of priests: prolonging the same mission of Jesus… not separately from Jesus, but by participating in his unique priesthood! It is an effective priesthood for the forgiveness of the sins of the world. That is why the priest, when he does the greatest things that only he can do (celebrate Mass and absolve sins), pronounces the words in the first person, as if made one with Jesus: this is my body given for you / this is my blood poured out for you / I absolve you of your sins.
– Thus it is through priests that Jesus perpetuates his priestly presence in the Church. Also in every baptized person, his member, who is part of his body and of his priestly people. But the ordained priest participates in the function of Christ the head, of Christ the head who gives grace to the whole mystical body. What an admirable vocation! Through priests Jesus is as a host offered on our altars, as food to be given to us in communion, and to forgive sins. And there is also his power, the power to cure every ailment and every spiritual sickness, as the Gospel of Saint Matthew says, and the power to exorcise the devil.
An admirable vocation, we fight against so much in our days! For the enemy knows that he can do nothing against the power of priests, for it is the very power of Christ. So he does everything to turn men away from the priest… by slander, defamation, discredit…. It is enough to open a newspaper or listen to a radio to realize this!
And yet, how great is the priest! Holy priests are the flower of humanity, the great benefactors of humanity, who silently offer themselves for the salvation of souls. May God send many holy priests to his Church. And for this it is up to us to pray very much, according to the Lord’s command: “pray for the Lord of the harvest to send more laborers for his harvest.” This is the first and most fundamental pastoral work for vocations! Because the one who sends the workers to his harvest is God: he alone calls, and we have to ask him for this grace.
But we must also do more. I say only this: just as the world speaks ill of priests because it wants to keep people away from the sources of grace, we must do the opposite. Have great charity for our priests and speak well of them. Especially in front of children and young people, so that they grow up loving them and loving our faith.
John Paul I, before being Pope (Albino Luciani), who will be soon beatified, said, speaking about the tremendous power of the environment in which one grows up: “Do you have in your family children of four or five years old, who speak fluently? Yes? How did it happen? You have had them at home, they have continually seen you, listened to you, answered your questions and now they speak without asking why or how. Well, do you also want them to learn to pray and to be meek? Let them see at home parents, siblings and grandparents who pray, who love each other, who smile, who face the sacrifices of each day in good spirits. Let the furniture, the pictures, the books, the magazines, reflect the fine and religious spirit of those who run the house. Each one of these elements will act minute after minute, for days, for months, for years, penetrating in the souls, and influencing the destiny of a whole life” (Albino Luciani, “One Hundred Thoughts”, n. 45). If in our families we pray for vocations, pray for priests and live in a Christian environment, many and holy vocations will arise.
Let us entrust this intention to Mary Most Holy, Mother of all priests.
R.P. Gonzalo Ruiz Freites, IVE