“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”


faith, vocation
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Just once in a while, usually in that really quiet period after Mass when nearly all of the people have gone, I will notice out of the corner of my eye a young woman or a young man hanging about suspiciously near the poor box by the candle-stand. And as I clear up after Mass, they will continue to hang around, loitering with what looks like intent. And then when I walk up to the back of the Church, they will very slowly sidle up to me. And then, as they get near me, I will see a shifty look come into their eyes. And then I will know that they want to ask me something – something a bit more than the usual: “Oh Father, could you lend me a fiver to get through to next Thursday.”

No, they will ask, quietly and hesitantly, whether or not I think they have a vocation to the priesthood or religious life.

To tell you the Truth, I never usually have any good answers for them. After all, if they don’t know when they are living with the question all the time, I don’t know how they expect me to know. And so I give them the usual advice – to pray, to read the Scriptures and to trust that God will open their path. If they have a specific sense of call, then I will give them the details of the vocations promoters either of the diocese or of a religious order. But most often, they are too unsure of their call to want to take that step. And sadly – at least I think sadly – it is not usually that they feel that they are too good for religious life; but they believe that religious life is too good for them – not that they do not feel the call, but that they do not feel the confidence to respond with generosity to it. They are held back by the fear that they are not actually good enough for God.

Often they ask me for something to read about it. And out of all the great spiritual texts that have been written throughout the ages on the spirituality of priesthood and religious life, I nearly always find myself recommending a novel by Graham Greene – a religious sceptic of very doubtful faith and even more dubious personal moral standing – who ultimately became a Catholic of sorts and – as it happens - a member of this parish [Farm St]. That novel is called ‘The Power and the Glory’ and it describes the life of a priest during the great atheist persecution in Mexico in the 1930s, when a fascist regime attempted to annihilate the Church in Mexico through persecution. Thousands of priests and nuns were shot; many more simply gave up the faith for their own protection. Only a few persevered. Our “hero” was one of them. And, as we follow his story, we discover that he is not much of a hero.
He cannot obtain the wine he needs to say mass, even by bribery.
He runs from the enemies of the Church and, three times, tries to escape across the border. Each time, however, the needs of the people draw him back.
He is a whiskey-priest – a man who cannot face his fears sober.
He even has an illegitimate daughter, growing up poor and illiterate in a remote village with her destitute mother who now despises him and all he has ever stood for.
And at the end, he is betrayed by a man whose life he saved.
And he is shot – a reluctant martyr for a Faith he only just about still retains.
We never learn his name.
And yet, throughout the book, we know that he is a martyr we can believe in and understand, much more than any plaster saint. This is a man if not like you, then very much like me, who has bet his life on God’s promise that it is in our own weaknesses that His strength will be most clear. It is because of women and men like him that the Faith in Mexico endured that bitter persecution and endures to this day. It is because of women and men like him that the Faith will continue to endure future persecutions. And we pray that, if it falls into our calling, we may endure with it.

And so, now, whenever I meet a shifty eyed youngster at the back of church who wonders whether God could be calling her or him, despite whatever personal weaknesses – and we all have them -  I lend a copy of that book. I don’t know for sure how many of them actually get around to reading it. Sometimes the young person comes back; sometimes I never see them again; hardly ever do they actually return the book. But those who do, I hope, come to understand that living a life in the service of God is not actually about the personal gifts and talents of the person; it is about what God can do with us. It is not about what I do for God; but what I allow God to do in and through me.

I hope that there may be some here today to whom the Lord wants to say: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Wherever you have been in your life before; whatever you have done or failed to do; I am the Lord. Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.

Let us profess our faith – and our hope that all of us may respond generously to the calling that each of us have been given to be God’s people in the world.

Paul O'Reilly SJ