We hear from Jesus, in the Gospel, that it is those who hear his voice and respond that are given eternal life, “and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of the my hand.” (Jn 10:28)

The good shepherd therefore, is the one who seeks out the lost and wounded offering them the words of eternal life through the preaching of the gospel.

The missionary journeys of Paul and the other apostles recorded in the book of Acts illustrates this well. Those who hear and respond become a part of the flock – the church within which all are fed, watered and protected in preparation to enter into the fullness of heavenly glory as revealed in the revelation of John the Divine.

This same Sunday is also known as Vocation Sunday because of the obvious connection between Jesus as the Good Shepherd and the ministerial priesthood. The priest, as Shepherd leads the people of God, offering them, through the sacraments, the foretaste of the heavenly vision. This is particularly tangible in the celebration of the mass, which is the source and summit of the Church’s activity, as Jesus is made present in our midst to feed us in anticipation and preparation of heavenly glory.

Now we cannot hide the fact that there is, in the Western Catholic Church, a crisis of vocations. The number of young men offering themselves for the priesthood over the last 60 years has collapsed. I hardly need to say that priests are not teleported from outer space. Young men arise from the laity and if there is a crisis of vocations then it also indicates that there is crisis in the laity too. We operate in the Arundel and Brighton diocese. I am therefore aware that they will by 2030 only have 25 priests under the age of 65. The impact of these falling numbers will hit parishes long before we get to 2030. This is an example and one for which I have figures but A and B are not alone.

One is not surprised that, like for the apostles, persecution comes from those not of the faith and in this present age from a growing militant secular culture. Those ‘young’ priests are more than aware of these problems and are ready to face them. What for many is the real trial is their experience that if they dress like a priest and celebrate the mass according to the Roman Missal worthily and well, they are vilified by a certain number of very vocal laity. In some cases hounded out of their parishes as being pre-Vatican II extremists. Yet many of the same laity rejoice in those priests who refuse to dress like the shepherd and habitually deviate or altogether refuse to use the liturgy of the Church.

Many of these vocal laity have been led to believe that in reality Vatican II was a decisive rupture with the past. The Church however speaks of a continuity with what went on before. Things that belong to a time in the Church before the reforms cannot be seen as erroneous and an anathema to the precent Church. Today is built upon yesterday not in contradiction to it. It is the same Holy Spirit that is eternal and unchanging who has inspired the followers of Christ throughout all its history.

A great deal of responsibility lies with the priests that have served since the 2nd Vatican council and what they have taught. It is chilling to hear the words of Cardinal Sarah in his book ‘The Power of Silence’ state that ‘Every priest, every bishop will keep in mind that on the terrible Day of Judgement he himself will have to answer before God for the sins of those whom he was unable to reform because of his own negligence.’

This is the real crisis. The terrifying thing is that in rejecting or persecuting those priests who are trying to be faithful to the Church in liturgy and teaching, their rejection is not of the individual priest but Christ in whose persona the priest stands.

If all the identified 25 ‘young’ priests of Arundel and Brighton are still around in 2030 it will be a miracle of grace, (I repeat, Arundel and Brighton are not the exception in this crisis). The stress that many are experiencing, in just trying to be faithful priests, will inevitable lead some to having, mental breakdowns, physical ill health and to even leaving the priesthood altogether.

The other pressure and subtle shift is that the hierarchy’s response is to push the parish priest into become a manager rather than a priest who central task is the administration of the sacraments. You are the people of God not customers buying a product. Do we still wonder why there is a vocations crisis?

Pray for your priests, pray for vocations, pray for a renewal of the faith among the laity that they might become still and quite enough to once again hear the voice of the Good Shepherd.