Read out in all Churches at Masses on 6th & 7th May 2017
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
At the beginning of Lent, when ashes were imposed on our foreheads, we were invited to “repent and believe in the Gospel.” Through our Lenten penance however stuttering, and, I hope, through the Sacrament of Confession, we responded to that call to repent. Now, in this Easter season, the focus is on believing in the Gospel, the focus is on our faith in Jesus, who died for us, who is risen and who is our good shepherd.
During these weeks of Easter, I am writing to encourage you, in our parishes and schools, to model yourselves on the first Christian community in Jerusalem. They were faithful to the teaching of the Apostles. They were faithful to one another as the community of faith. They were faithful to prayer, and they were faithful to “the breaking of bread”, to the Mass.
I think that there is a great need for us to encourage one another and to accompany and support one another in all these areas, not just when we are being received into the Church or preparing for the sacraments, but in our day-to-day lives as Catholic Christians. I have to confess that I was brought up short the other day. It was pointed out to me that a good friend had been ill for some time, and that I had not visited him! How much we can take each other for granted and be too preoccupied with ourselves!
The Good Shepherd wants us close to him. That is why that first Christian community in Jerusalem were so faithful to the teaching of the Apostles, to the community of faith, to their prayers and to the Mass. Yes, in our prayer, in the community, in the Word and in the Mass, there is Christ the Good Shepherd. There we can listen to his voice and hear what he wants of us.
It is in that context that today we pray especially for vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. With that prayer comes the responsibility for us all to identify and accompany those who may have a vocation.
The vocation to the priesthood begins with someone based in a parish living first as a committed layman. Gradually, someone discerning a call to the priesthood can develop the dynamic of self-giving which is all-important in the life of a priest.
Do sow the seed in someone you know. Support them and help them to make contact with the Diocesan Vocations Director. He will assist them in that process of discernment to the point where a decision is made whether or not to apply formally to be accepted as a student for the Priesthood.
What happens then? Once the candidate is accepted, increasingly there is an introductory year to help a candidate transition from work or university or school into seminary formation. The focus throughout the time of formation will be on the spiritual, human, pastoral and academic development of the individual.
What I am emphasising is that the response to God’s call is not just the responsibility of a man on his own, it is a responsibility for us all including, of course, the need to finance the training of a student which costs £25,000 each year So, please be very generous at the retiring collection!
We are very blessed to have ten students training for the priesthood. One of them will be ordained priest in July and another will be ordained deacon. Please pray for them all, and please look out for and pray that others will join them in responding to the call of the Good Shepherd.
May all of us who form the flock of Christ be granted a lively and active faith in this Easter season.
With every blessing,
+ Peter, Bishop of Northampton