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Jesus was touring towns and villages of Galilee, teaching in synagogues, proclaiming the good news of God’s reign, curing every sickness and disease, when the crowds swelled to great numbers. He "had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (Matt. 9:36). It was at this time that he made a significant request to the disciples:

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest (Matt. 9:36-37; the RSV version is used throughout this article).

In this writing my observations are directed to those called to priestly celibacy. But in a broader sense they are addressed to each and every vocation to which Christ calls his people. "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10).

Peter may have initially prayed for vocations with no small struggle: "Shall I pray that others abandon wife and home as I am doing? Is that the right thing to do?" James and John may have reminisced similarly: "We left our father in the boat alone. Was it right? Shall we pray that others abandon their father as we did? "Matthew may have reflected: "Just when I had job security I tossed it to the winds. Shall I ask the Lord to induce others to do a thing like that?" Christ was asking them implicitly to re-affirm their own vocation while they prayed for more laborers in the harvest field.

Peter once articulated what all of them may have been thinking: "What’s in this for us?"

And Peter said: "Lo, we have left our homes and followed you." And he said to them, "Truly I say to you, there is no man who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive manifold more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life" (Luke 18:28-30).

All of us have left our homes, said Peter. Jesus knew that. He had met Peter’s wife, had called James and John away from their father, and knew the circumstances of each. His response reassured them. He invited them to pray that others would do the same. Matthew’s version has additional specifics:
Truly I say to you in the new world, when the Son of man shall sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life (Matt. 19:28-29).
The response included tantalizing words about twelve thrones. Christ did not explain. They had much to learn. The mother of James and John heard this promise about thrones and put in a good word for her boys: their thrones should be latched to that of Jesus, one to the right, one to the left. The Messianic kingdom danced before her eyes and the eyes of the apostles. Even when Christ was about to ascend into heaven they still had an earthly kingdom in mind: "Lord, are you going to restore the rule to Israel now?" (Acts 1:7).

Peter had once advised Jesus to stop this talk about suffering many things in Jerusalem and being killed there. Jesus cut him short: "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men" (Matt. 16:23). He went on to teach them that "if any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Matt. 16:24). Only after the Holy Spirit descended on them with power did they finally understand and accept their true vocation. They are to be a continuation in the world of the Christ who "loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water and the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:25-26). Christ had asked them to pray for vocations even when their understanding of the concept was still imperfect. He would inspire the new recruits patiently, as he was presently building up priestly qualities in the small band of apostles.

Jesus also promised that they would receive even in this life "many times" more than what they had left behind: "a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecution, and in the age to come eternal life" (Mark 10:29-30). Between the lines we may read that when Mark wrote his Gospel the early Christians were already accustomed to think of the celibate clergy as part of their family.

Today we hear a different message from the world and the media, clashing with Christ’s type of clerical formation: "Drop obligatory celibacy; ordain women; we are church!" Words of the Old Testament preacher come to mind:
The wind blows to the south,
And goes round to the north;
Round and round goes the wind,
And on its circuits the wind returns (Eccl. 1:6).

Truly, unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it. And unless we pray for vocations by making our own the mind of Christ, we pray like puffs of wind. "Round and round goes the wind" of such prayer. Christ sleeps and does not listen.

The vertical dimensions of the priestly vocation

Christ coached the disciples through exercises of working miracles. He channeled through them extraordinary powers of his own, which were out of range of their native talents. He sent them on missions during which "they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them" (Mark 6:13). Not with medical skills, not with magic words, but with exciting powers of Christ in them they worked these wonders. They were being exposed to the rarefied atmosphere of the "other world."

Their lifestyle should bespeak their disconnect from secular pursuits. Money should not turn their heads: "The gift you have received, give as a gift," (Matt. 10:8). Henceforth "The Lord is my portion and my inheritance" is their mandated lifestyle (Dominus pars mea et hereditas mea).

This having been said, nevertheless the three-year apostolic course was not all work and no play. The promised "hundred fold reward in this life" sometimes showed through. At Cana the wine was excellent, and there was plenty of it. The occasional stop at Martha and Mary’s house had its gastronomical rewards. They had money to shop for the noon meal when stopping off at Jacob’s well in the town of Sheckem. The women who followed Jesus to serve him (cf. Mark 15:41) may have helped to provide for the apostles as well. When on mission journeys, Jesus instructed them to seek hospitality with someone who was worthy. There is no record of instructions that they should seek out the poorest house in the neighborhood.

Prayers for vocations heal secular thoughts

Prayers for true vocations according to the intentions of Christ will transform the thoughts of those who pray. Bishops, priests, and seminarians will grow into the mind of Christ, who loves the Church, who has compassion because the flock is "harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (Matt. 9:36). Pope John Paul II pointed out that priests are Christ’s extended presence in a very special manner:

Through the ministerial priesthood Christ continues his saving mission down to our time. For this reason, he appointed Bishops and priests, who "in the Church and on behalf of the Church . . . are a sacramental representation of Jesus Christ, Head and Shepherd, authoritatively proclaiming his Word, repeating his acts of forgiveness and his offer of salvation" (Apostolic Exhortation Pastores dabo vobis, n. 15). They are sent to preach the good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and sight to the blind; to set at liberty those who are oppressed (cf. Luke 4:18). Therefore, ministry in the Church is not a human achievement, but a divine institution.

With all respect and esteem for the valuable services of the laity in parish communities, it should never be forgotten: in the sacramental realm a lay person cannot replace what is distinctive of the priest. Only a priest can replace another priest (Address at Sankt Polten, Austria on June 20, 1998).

The Pope also pointed out to members of Serra International that prayer for vocations is a school of life:

But at the same time prayer for vocations is also a school of life as I had occasion recently to point out: "By praying for vocations we learn to look with Gospel wisdom at the world and at each person’s need for life and salvation; it is a way of sharing in Christ’s love and compassion for all mankind" (7 December 2000).

The early Church prayed for laborers

It is not likely that the Gospels would have recorded Christ’s request for vocational prayers if the early Christians had not already been doing exactly that. When the hundred and twenty disciples were assembled in the Upper Room after Christ’s Ascension, they "devoted themselves to constant prayer" (Acts 1:14). The first order of business at the Assembly was to select a worthy apostle to fill the vacancy left by Judas. Then on Pentecost Peter preached a powerful first message, and Baptisms began, some three thousand on that very day. They needed help to manage the logistics. Next we hear about the ordination of deacons. Soon we read that Paul and Barnabas installed presbyters in each church with prayer and fasting (Acts 14:23). They would not have done so, we assume, if the Church in Jerusalem had not authorized such procedure. We also assume that the early Church adopted guidelines concerning the laying on of hands for ordination of bishops and presbyters, which Paul then passed on to Timothy (1 Tim. 3).

One of the challenging qualifications for ordination was giving up family life. Pope John Paul II read in the Gospel an implication that the apostles were celibate: "According to the Gospel, it appears that the Twelve, destined to be the first to share in his priesthood, renounced family life in order to follow him" (General Audience of 17th July 1993). We may infer from this that when the early Church prayed for vocations, this included prayers for a celibate clergy.

Furthermore, their prayers likely asked for a clergy with courage. Bishops and presbyters were high profile targets for persecution. When Herod killed James with the sword and saw that it pleased the Jews, he next laid hands on Peter (Acts 12). Eventually, Peter and perhaps all the apostles became martyrs.

The models for the clergy which Jesus had shown to the Church had been selected with care. One rich young man was rejected because attachment to wealth was a problem (Matt. 19). Another loved too much the comforts of home life: "The foxes have lairs, the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head," (Luke 9:57). Still another failed the test of unconditioned obedience: "Let me bury my father first" he said (Luke 9:60).

Shoring up chastity among the clergy

Why is it that the number of seminarians in theologates in the USA declined dramatically from 8000 students in 1967-68, to 4000 in the year 2000? Note the year 1968. It is the year in which Father Charles Curran led a massive dissent against Humanae Vitae. "Readers with long memories will hearken hack to July 30, 1968, when 87 Catholic theologians from 24 different Catholic higher-education institutions issued their ringing dissent – ‘the shot heard round the world!’ – against Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae (a dissent later to be subscribed to by more than 600 theological dissenters). . ." (Kenneth D. Whitehead, Crisis, January 2001). Part of that manifesto of dissent reads: "It is common teaching in the Church that Catholics may dissent from authoritative non-infallible teachings of the Magisterium when sufficient reasons for doing so exist." That is an egregious and manifest error. From it sprang a "culture of death" in its manifestations of rampant contraception, sterilization, divorce, live-in before marriage, sodomy and others. Dissent in Catholic seminaries is the genie now out of the bottle. Until our seminaries recover obedience to the Magisterium and cultivate a love for the Vicar of Christ, look for further closing of seminaries.

Dissent is now institutionalized and fermenting in the Catholic Theological Society of America. Some years ago, before I cut my membership, I attended the unfortunate meeting during which the Society elected Father Charles Curran as vice president. Thunderous applause broke loose in the hall when his name was announced as the winner. I simply sat in my chair without clapping hands. Next to me sat a member applauding wildly with the rest. He looked at me askance. Applause continued, I sat unmoving. He looked at me again, and then again, and finally in disgust, got up and moved away from me to another row of chairs. It was the last year in which I paid membership dues to the Society.

The dissent of CTSA is currently directed against the document Ex Corde Ecclesiae. "The marked anti-Roman attitude of the CTSA a decade ago seems to be little changed today," observes Whitehead in the article cited above.

Cardinal Bernard Law voiced his disappointment with the continued dissent of CTSA, and asked for a change:

What a pity that those who have a strangle hold on the CTSA are so turned in on themselves. The academic theological community has become victim to the various politically correct currents of academe. . . . It becomes difficult if not impossible for them to evangelize the culture which has formed and which sustains them. . . .

It is no secret that some theologians beat the drums for a minimalist view of papal teaching authority. It is no secret that some administrators and academics view with alarm that truth illumined by faith should have a privileged place in a Catholic university. . . .

How many missed opportunities have passed the CTSA by in this and other issues. How pitiable it is to see the rich Catholic theological tradition put under the bushel basket of politically correct bromides. What a wasteland is the professional Catholic theological community as represented by the CTSA. . . (Pilot, June 18, 1997).
Where will reform begin? Seminaries, I believe, will be the leaders of the return to obedience to the teaching of the Church against contraception. The seminaries whose staffs stand firmly with the Pope will be the band of apostles which will continue what the first seminary started with Christ as its Teacher.

More things are wrought by prayer than we dream of. Dissenters today may be our leaders in obedience to the Magisterium tomorrow.

Some of the chief priests and elders who had convinced the crowd to ask for Barabbas and have Jesus put to death (Matt. 27:20) likely converted later on: "There were many priests among those who embraced the faith" (Acts 6:7).

Saul concurred in the act of killing Stephen, who died praying for his murderers. Saul’s fame and power grew overnight in Jerusalem, riding on the wave of a burning rage against Christ. But Christ made an apostle Paul out of Saul some weeks later. And more than one dissenter of 1968 is today a staunch defender of Humanae Vitae. We pray that more Sauls of 1968 will become Pauls with the grace of Christ.

David had a shameful affair with Bathsheba, then had her husband murdered to hide the fact. Nathan confronted him bluntly: "Thou art the man." David confessed, and accepted his penance. He became an ancestor of Christ through Solomon, son of his union with Bathsheba.

Long enough has the number of seminarians in the USA been in a tail spin, and long enough have dissenters barked against Peter at seminary conferences. We pray that dissenters will convert and become distinguished theologians.

While praying, we should also take such action as is indicated. The advice which Fr. Paul Shaughnessy gives to counter aggressive sodomites can be addressed also, mutatis mutandis, to counter dissent in seminaries:

What Rome can do:
Require heads on platters. No man should be made a bishop, and no bishop should be promoted, unless he embraces authentic Catholic doctrine about sexual morality and leads a morally upright life. But the first condition is too easy to fake; anyone can give lip service to the teaching. Therefore no man should be elevated unless he has a track record as a head-cracker and has cleaned up problems of sexual wrongdoing, by dismissing gay seminarians or seminary faculty, for example, or by getting rid of miscreants at a university chaplaincy. The reason is that gays are perfectly prepared to let one of their own number mouth Church teaching if by so doing he earns a promotion; but if a man exposes their iniquity and acts against it, they will retaliate fiercely if there is any ammunition to be had, any wrongdoing, that is, in their adversary’s past. They will do the necessary vetting out of vindictiveness. Keep in mind that this goes for heterosexual mischief as well. Rome should make it clear that, before a man can be considered episcopal material, he needs scalps hanging from his belt. God knows there is no shortage of opportunities (The Catholic World Report, November 2000).

If bishops uproot dissension from seminaries, the reform will be on its way. May I add a piece of advice: watch what you read. I remember some years ago getting a telephone call from my classmate priest, a beloved pastor in Nagasaki.

"After years of reading the National Catholic Reporter, I’m giving it up. I don’t think it is good for me," he said. It was good news for me. He had discerned that the NCR was impoverishing his priestly life and belittling the majestic picture of the Church that he was supposed to uphold for his people. In the meantime he has gone to his eternal reward. I say to seminarians and priests, read the weekly edition in English of the Osservatore Romano. It helps you to be proud of your Mother.

Russell Shaw speaks out against a progressive desacralization of the priesthood in the USA during the past three decades, namely "the progressive theologians and popularizers who, taking their lead from authors like Hans Küng and Edward Schillebeeckx, O.P. have been promoting a desacralized version of priestly ministry for three decades" (Crisis, December 2000). Against this, he continues, Pope John Paul II has spoken many times that a priest’s commitment to serve his people should be modeled on Christ, whose service to humanity reached fullest expression in "his death on the Cross . . . his total gift of self in humility and love."

Dissent, desacralization, sodomy, has no legitimacy in seminaries. Formation must be modeled on that which Christ gave to his apostles. The clergy must carry on the Tradition which he initiated.

In the year 390 a group of Bishops gathered at Carthage to review the issue of celibacy. The record implies that most of them were married, but they were abstaining from intercourse with their wives after Ordination in accordance with the ancient Tradition. The record also highlights one reason for abstinence: "So that they may obtain in all simplicity what they are asking for from God." The public expected that the prayers of chaste priests had a built-in priority with the Lord. Having ascertained once more the Tradition, the Bishops then unanimously renewed their vows: "What the apostles have taught and what antiquity itself observed, we also shall keep" (Ut quod apostoli docuerunt et ipsa servavit antiquitas, nos quoque custodiamus; see The Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy, Christian Cochini, SJ, p. 5; Ignatius Press, 1990).

Today, 400,000 priests around the globe struggle to be chaste. They sense that their chastity helps to build up the Church. The Byzantine canonist Zonaras articulated what they experience in their lives from day to day: "If priests practice all the virtues and converse in full trust with God, they will obtain right away all that they are asking for" (see Cochini, p. 7).

Blessed Pope John XXIII asked that priests continue to struggle to keep the obligations of celibacy, especially when the Church needs heroic people to be the salt of the earth:

It deeply hurts us that . . . anyone can dream that the Church will deliberately or even suitably renounce what from time immemorial has been, and still remains, one of the purest and noblest glories of her priesthood. The law of ecclesiastical celibacy and the efforts necessary to preserve it always recall to mind the struggles of heroic times when the Church of Christ had to fight for and succeeded in obtaining her threefold glory, always an emblem of victory, that is, the Church of Christ, free, chaste, and catholic (John XXIII, to Roman Synod, January 26, 1960).

We pray: "Lord Jesus, send chaste laborers into your harvest field. We pray to the Lord. Amen."

This article originally appeared in Homiletic & Pastoral Review, July 2001.

Reverend Anthony Zimmerman is Professor Emeritus of moral theology, Nanzan University, Nagoya, Japan. He promotes Natural Family Planning and publishes books and articles. His latest two books published by University Press of America are: Evolution and the Sin of Eden, and The Primeval Revelation in Myths and in Genesis. More of Father Zimmerman's writings can be found at CatholicMind.com.


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