“Ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest.”


Photo by João Silas on unsplash

I wonder if you have been enjoying the football.
I happen to know a former professional footballer, now sadly fallen on harder times. He often likes to say that the worst player is better than the best commentator. And he tells a story of a footballer waiting to take the first penalty of a penalty shoot-out in a cup final. The player is visibly exhausted after full time and extra time and obviously nervous as he approaches the ball.
High up in the gantry, the commentator remarks, “I wouldn’t like to be in his boots right now.”
Beside him, George Best quietly replies, “I would.”

The day I was ordained, I remember asking the Bishop who was ordaining me what he thought it really meant to be an ordained priest in the Church. He thought for a moment and then he said - “it just means being a Christian... ... ... in public!”
At the time, I didn’t know what he meant.

A few days after ordination, I was sent off to my first job which was in South America. And the day I arrived, before I got over the jet lag, I saw an advertisement in the paper for an extraordinary general meeting of the country’s National Medical Association. So I thought, “Great! This is my chance to go along and get to know some other doctors here.” So I went along. And, as I’m afraid sometimes happens with me, I was about half an hour late. So when I arrived, there were about 150 doctors in the room all shouting and arguing fiercely with one another. And as I walked in, the noise quietened down to tense hostile hush.

I was a stranger, so they asked me who I was. And I told them that my name was Paul O’Reilly, that I was a doctor trained in Britain and that I was a Catholic priest. Suddenly, everyone was interested. As soon as I said I was a priest I had everyone’s attention. And then they spoke the most frightening seven words in the English language: “Come right in, you’re just the man!”

Because - as they told me - the National Medical Association was then going through a rather troubled time because it was split between two major factions and this meeting was their fourth attempt to conduct an election for presidency of the association. And because I was priest, they all thought that I was exactly the right man to be the Returning Officer in charge of the election. They did not know me from Adam, but I was a Catholic priest and that was good enough for them.

So I agreed; they had their election and (I hope) the best doctor won. But what really struck me very forcefully was that all sides were prepared to trust me - not because of anything special that I have - no talent or ability - but simply and solely because I bear the name of Jesus - I am a priest of His Church. For me, that was a very powerful and a very humbling experience. Because it taught me the power of the Church’s good name and the responsibility of living up to it. That power arises from the great tradition of Christians before us who, in followership of Jesus, have established a reputation for honesty and trustworthiness. And that power is such that someone who bears that name can walk into a group of people who cannot trust one another and even though he himself is completely unknown, he can bring healing to them - even in His name cast out a few demons of fear and mistrust.

The responsibility comes from the realisation that such a reputation can be destroyed in an instant - in one single occasion where we as Christians fail to live up to the name we bear. Sadly, as we all know, there have been a number of such failures.

All Christians are called to live lives of public witness to Christ. That is why we bear that name.
Catholic Christians are called to do so as part of a single united Church which spans the entire world.

So, let us ask once again the Lord of the harvest to send us as labourers to his harvest

  • to make us all faithful in our public witness to Jesus;
  • to make each and every one of us faithful disciples capable of going out and bearing Christ’s name and witness to all the towns and villages - all the homes and communities that He Himself is to visit.
  • and to raise up generous and dedicated leaders from our families and our friends who will serve as sisters, priests and brothers and lay ministers.

And we pray that the Lord who calls us may also give us all the grace to be true “Christians in Public”.

It is in bearing his name that we rejoice in that power and in that responsibility. And when the critical moment comes we ask the Lord to give us the ball.

Paul O'Reilly SJ