"Come after me!"
Sometimes on Thursday evenings, I go to Bellarmine Prep to join the Jesuit priests for their community night. At Bellarmine alone there are around 10 priests who either work in the school, or work in local parishes or in the hospitals. Most of them, of course, are well known to you — kind of like local legends in the Tacoma Catholic Community. For those of you who went to Bellarmine they may even be household names. Names like Fr. Jerry Chapdelaine, Fr. Fred Mayovsky, Fr. Pete Henriot, Fr. John Fuchs. You get all those men together in one room and you’re never quite sure what is going to be said. But it’s always a wonderful experience because we start by celebrating Mass together in their community chapel. Their chapel in Orton Hall is a very small space, just large enough for 11 or 12 people, and on Thursday evenings all the priests sit in a “U” shape around the altar as the Eucharist is being celebrated, we celebrate together as brother priests.
And every time I’m there, celebrating Mass alongside those Jesuits, alongside those men who have each dedicated some 40, 50, 60 or more years of their lives in service to God’s people, I can’t help but think of a phrase made famous by Sir Isaac Newton, who said: “I feel as if I’m a dwarf standing on the shoulders of giants.” To be able to gather around legends of the faith, great men who have spent their entire lives in the vineyard, and to be their little brother. It is a spectacular feeling.
But there is another thought that runs through my mind on those Thursday evenings, and really, every day I come to work here at St. Charles. It’s the thought I get when I see our own pastor, Fr. Mike, who spends days and nights, weekends and beyond working on plans, on projects, on buildings, laboring nearly every moment that he is awake on helping people find Jesus Christ. When I’m constantly surrounded by the Hall of Fame of priests — I constantly think one thing to myself: who will fill their shoes?
As many of you know Fr. Mike at this moment is in Honduras with some of our families on mission to serve those in need. And in his absence, some of our parishioners have said to me, “Oh Father Kyle that means you’re the boss!” And really, that is a lie straight from Satan himself. This place runs like a well-oiled machine whether Fr. Mike is here or a thousand miles away. But it is a funny comment which at its core contains a very powerful message. That someday, Fr. Mike will retire. Someday a new pastor will come to St. Charles, who, please God, is even half the priest that Fr. Mike is. Someday young vicars will need to grow up and become seasoned pastors. And we will be left with the same question: who will fill all their shoes?
In this weekend’s Gospel, our Lord gives us the answer. It is that beautiful scene when Jesus was walking the shores of Galilee and catches sight of Simon Peter and Andrew. In that very instant he says to them: “Come after me.” Never before had Simon Peter or Andrew seen this man, a stranger, but all of a sudden he summons them: “Come after me.” In the original Greek is the imperative form “deute,” its exclamatory. And it was something about Jesus, his draw, his intimacy, his holiness, that inspired them to drop everything and to follow him.
That same invitation is being giving at this very moment to young men and women in this very church. To some of you he is saying come after me, because I need you to be a loving husband or wife. To some of you he is saying come after me, because I need you to dedicate your life as a religious sister or brother. And to some of you young men, he is saying come after me, because I need you to be a shepherd, a priest who serves my people with his entire life. There is no shortage of invitations, my friends. There are only ears which aren’t quite ready or willing to hear the call.
And there lies the paradox of discernment. The paradox of finding what it is that will make us truly happy and fulfilled in this life. Because oftentimes I ask young men at our parish: “Have you ever thought about becoming a priest?” And most of them sort of laugh at me and say “Father, I want to be married, I want to have a family.” And I think to myself, that’s not a very good reason not to become a priest. In fact that is a reason in favor of why you would make an excellent priest! Remember what I said a few weeks ago, any man who desires to be a priest should have all the qualities of a Christian husband and a father. He should be loving, considerate, sacrificial, a gentleman, well-groomed, selfless, with a heart for his family and a deep love for God. No, desiring to be a husband and a father doesn’t disqualify you, it qualifies you. Because at the end the day, vocations, God’s invitation to a particular life of holiness, aren’t so much about what “I” want, but what God wants. There is a place deep in every human heart, a direct line, where God whispers and makes known his desire. Because ultimately we can only find what it is that will make us truly joyful and fulfilled, when we follow God’s will. He must increase, and I must decrease — the paradox of discernment.
For all of us young people, we need to get better a listening. Because today there is not so much a crisis of the priesthood or a crisis of marriage. There is a crisis in listening. People say if only the church would just do this. If only we did “this” we would have more priests. Other Christian faiths have tried that, but it doesn’t seem to solve the problem. Perhaps, because, the issue isn’t so much the Church, it’s our ears which fail to hear and respond to Christ. Because in your life you have millions of outside voices telling you what you should do. You have your parents, your teachers, your friends, your own expectations — all of these voices saying “do this, and you will be happy.” But there is one voice which can lead you to places you never imagined and beyond, and it doesn’t come from outside but from within, and it’s God’s. Doing his will, figuring his desire for us, following his call, is the only way forward worth following. “Come after me.”
So much of what we do at this parish, as you can see this weekend, focuses on the gift of the life – on families and marriages. And that is a good thing, because that is where priests, sisters, brothers, lay ministers, future husbands and wives come from. As a community we need to pray for vocations. We need to create a culture of vocations where we aren’t afraid to tell a young man, “you would make a great priest,” or to tell a young woman “have you considered the religious life,” or tell a young lay person, “have you considered working for the church?” We need to let others know that great things can happen when we simply listen and come after Jesus.
You know, I get a bit sad when I think that one day Fr. Mike will retire. One day Fr. Chapdelaine, Fr. Mayovsky, Fr. Henriot, Fr. Fuchs, they all will step down and that chapel won’t be as full on Thursday evenings. But for now they press on. The most joyful and happy men I’ve ever met. And God always reminds me that there is hope for the future. Hope that the work those missionary priests have accomplished, the work countless consecrated nuns and brothers have accomplished, the work that many lay people who serve the church have done, will live on for generations to come. Because somewhere in this city, in this church, there are young men and women who will listen and respond to God’s call to stand on the shoulders of the giants. Young men and women who will come after Jesus, and discover that the shoe fits.