8 April 2014, Synod Hall, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh

Armaghpriest.com is an online resource to support vocations to the priesthood

The harvest is rich but the labourers are few…

‘The Gospel says that “Jesus went about all the cities and villages… When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest’” (Mt 9:35-38)’.

So begins the message of Pope Francis for the 51st World Day of Prayer for Vocations.

We are reminded every year on Vocations Sunday of the need to pray for Vocations and I always believe that of all the things we can do to ensure that there are adequate priests to serve in our parishes in the future, the most important and most effective is prayer.

That is why it is so fitting that our Vocations Commission chose to begin this evening with prayer and I would certainly encourage everyone here, at home, at school and in our parishes never to neglect prayer for Vocations.

It is also important for us all to work for vocations. To this end, I return to ideas in Pope Francis’ message – if we want to reap an abundant harvest in any field, we have to do a fair bit of work – to plough the field and sow it, to cultivate it and nourish it so that when the harvest comes it will be fruitful and bountiful.

I remember that lovely story of the priest out walking in the countryside and he sees the farmer looking over the gate at a beautiful and luscious field of barley – the sun is shining and the priest leans on the gate and says to the farmer – isn’t it wonderful what the Lord can do! To which the farmer replies, Well Father it is wonderful, but you know the Lord wasn’t making much of a job of this field until I went into partnership with him!

In working to achieve a good harvest of vocations we need to be ‘in partnership’ with God. We need to consider how we can help to plough and till the field, water it and remove the weeds, protect the fences and boundaries from intruders and pests, and all under the inspiration and guidance of God.

St Paul has a beautiful phrase in his first letter to the Corinthians: “You are God’s field” (1 Cor 3:9), he says. And it is true that when it comes to the harvest of vocations, the fields that are important are the fields of the family, the parish, the school and the community. These are the fields in which God chooses to sow the seed of a vocation to priesthood in the heart of a young man.

If these fields are well tended, and the circumstances are right, the seed will grow and develop, it will multiply and strengthen until at the time of harvest, that young man will approach someone and say – I want to be a priest.

I love that line in the Pope’s message for Vocations Sunday this year: ‘A vocation is a fruit that ripens in a well cultivated field of mutual love, that becomes mutual service, in the context of an authentic ecclesial life’.

This new website is an important tool in helping to plough and feed the fields in which the fruit of a vocation is developing.

Some years back our Vocations Commission produced a wonderful DVD to support the development of a sense of vocation in every person, lay or clerical. I commend this new initiative of the Vocations Commission which is targeted specifically at vocations to the priesthood. This project has been developed by Damien Quigley, one of our seminarians together with his fellow seminarians. The idea is to have a website which will speak to the enquiring young man who is considering the priesthood, guide him in the right direction, answer his questions, inspire him with testimony from seminarians and priests and help him to have confidence in his enquiry. When God sows the seed in the heart of a young man, the first encounters he has are critical. The seed can be choked by weeds and thorns of negativity  or false information; it can be burnt if it springs up to quickly without spirit-filled discernment and careful management. This website can help to answer the natural concerns of a young man or his family or his teachers who might wonder – could anyone be happy in the priesthood? It can help a priest give good witness and truth to the young man who is enquiring. It is not intended to be the definitive last word on the subject, but a helping and riendly web companion.

Well done to our seminarians and to Damien in particular, to all those who contributed or who will contribute in the future. We are determined in the Archdiocese of Armagh to lead the way in new digital technologies in the cause of evangelisation in Ireland. This website is the first branch in a whole suite of resources that we will place under the umbrella name of ‘ArmaghCatholic’.

I am convinced that peer to peer support and guidance is the most effective way to encourage and support any young man considering the priesthood. ArmaghPriest is a wonderful initiative. Our next step is to make it widely known in the schools, parishes and homes of this Archdiocese. Pray that there will always be a plentiful supply of priests to stand alongside the lay men and women and the wonderful sisters and brother religious of our diocese so that together we will bring the joy of the Gospel to the world.