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Do this in Memory of Me

 

The Importance of Praying for Vocations to the Priesthood
by Fr. John Harris

I had the wonderful privilege a number of years ago of going on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It was indeed a trip of a lifetime. It was a great spiritual joy to walk where our Blessed Lord walked, to see the country He saw and to be in the sacred sites where He saved the world. Having been to the Holy Land, one reads the Gospels in a different way; for you have been in the places that you read about; you have sat in the places where the mysteries took place.

On the first morning, just a few hours after arriving, I celebrated Holy Mass in the tomb of the Lord, and then walked to Calvary. I remember sitting in the ruins of the synagogue of Capernaum, and reading there the words spoken by Jesus in the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel on the “Bread of Life” in that very same synagogue. It was a great experience to sit overlooking the Lake of Galilee on the mountain and read the Sermon on the Mount. But the place that left the deepest impression on me is the Upper Room.

In this room, Jesus gathered with His disciples on the first Holy Thursday. It was to this room that the disciples returned after the terrible events of Calvary. It was in this room that Jesus appeared to the disciples after the Resurrection, and here the Apostles prayed with Mary until the descent of the Holy Spirit. It was from this room that St. Peter led the Apostles out to preach the Gospel and the Church began her mission.

The deepest impression left to me concerning the room was that of being gathered with the Lord and His disciples as they sat around a table on that first Holy Thursday. The night He took some bread, said the blessing, broke the bread and said “This is my Body given for you” and then He took some wine, again He offered blessing and gave it to them saying, “This is my Blood, the Blood of the new and everlasting covenant which will be shed for you and for many. Do this in memory of me”.

“Do this in memory of me”: here is the Priesthood. Everything we priests do and say is always done in memory of the Lord. The use of the word “memory” in this context is not simply a matter of thinking back to what was said and done on those three days over 2000 years ago which saved the world, but to make it present now in the world of today. The love that was in the heart of Jesus in that Upper Room, in the garden at prayer, on the Cross on Good Friday and now gloriously loving us in Heaven is made present sacramentally today to our world by the actions of the priest.

Pope Benedict XVI said to priests on Holy Thursday 2006, “The mystery of the priesthood of the Church lies in the fact that we, miserable human beings, by virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders can speak His ‘I’ ”. By the sacramental activity of the priest, Christ, the High Priest, is present for the Church of today. It is truly Jesus, the son of Mary and Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity, who says “your sins are forgiven you” in the sacrament of confession; who touches us with his healing touch in the sacrament of the sick; who unites us with Himself in His offering of Himself to His Father at the Holy Mass. In and through the sacred ordained priesthood Divine Mercy Himself continues to touch our world.

The Lord who was born in Bethlehem was not just born for that time but He was born for all time. What began in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the moment of His conception, His offering of Himself to the Father continues now in the Church. Christ, who comes into our world to bring it renewal, forgiveness, healing and true reconciliation with God, continues this ministry in the ministry of the priesthood.

In the late nineteenth century, Cardinal John Henry Newman of England was asked what he thought about the position of the laity in the Church. He said that the Church would look a very strange place without them. This is absolutely true but it is even truer of priests. Without priests there would be no Church for there would be no Eucharist and as Pope John Paul II reminded us in his last encyclical, “The Church draws her life from the Eucharist. This truth does not simply express a daily experience of faith, but recapitulates the heart of the mystery of the Church”.

Some people are now saying that we do not need priests that we must be planning for priest-less parishes. Such statements amaze me. There is the practical reality of the shortage of priests in the western world, but for some to be looking forward or indeed actively working for such a day when priests are no longer part of our Catholic experience is an outrage. Rather than practically planning for no priests we should be storming Heaven for good and holy priests in our midst. Our Blessed Lord told us that the labourers would be few and the harvest would be great. But then He went on to teach us to pray the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into the harvest.

Each time you pray the fifth mystery of light, ‘The Institution of the Eucharist and the Establishment of the Priesthood’, let your heart-felt prayer be for good and holy priests. I am convinced that there are plenty of good young men in the Ireland of today who are willing to give their lives to Christ, but who need encouragement to take the leap of faith. When you pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy pray that God will show us His great mercy by sending us holy priests to be his ministers of mercy.

We must be renewed in our prayer and in our support of the holy priesthood. Christ did not leave Ireland without good and holy priests, many of whom became martyrs, during the penal days, so he will not do so now. But the secret is prayer. Both praying for vocations and also our young men must be people of prayer. It is only in prayer that we hear the voice of the call of the Lord asking us to gather round him in the Upper Room and to “do this in memory of me.”

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