February 16th, 2021
It is the eve of Ash Wednesday. Tomorrow Lent begins.
Things are quiet here in Hosororo. The only sounds outside are the rustling of coconut trees in the breeze, the crickets and the frogs. It is a peaceful and relatively calm place. The simplicity of life, though, is not what brought me here. It was the need for laborers in the Lord’s vineyard.
The need for a priest was the greatest appeal, and it was what ultimately led me to ask my superiors to stay in Guyana for as long as Providence would allow. As I mentioned in an earlier chronicle, Hosororo and its surrounding territory has been without a priest for almost a year.
This past weekend, 14 children who had been waiting for that priest were finally able to make their First Confession and receive their First Holy Communion. This weekend, by the grace of God, 15 more will share in their joy, and roughly 30 children will finally be reborn into the life of grace through Baptism.
In spite of this joyful reality however, as I sit here in my office before retiring to bed I know that tomorrow there are faithful Catholics in our surrounding communities and chapels that will not get to go to Confession or attend Mass on Ash Wednesday. Tomorrow, I will only be able to offer three Masses in two different communities. A few of 21 chapels will be graced enough to at least have a Communion Service; but there are far more communities who will be left with nothing. They will have to begin their Lent on their own. Why? Simply because there are not enough priests to do the work.
It begs the question, is God not calling men to the missionary life as priests?
Of course, He is. The salvation of souls has always been His top priority; and when it comes to what is needed for the work of salvation He has and will always provide.
The problem does not lie in the One Who calls, but in the ones being called and the ones through whom He calls. God is calling, but men are not answering. God is calling, but those entrusted with the task of aiding and supporting are not doing enough to help. I believe a lot of it has to do with the fact that we do not have our priorities straight.
To the men who God is calling I make this appeal: take the risk in saying “Yes”. Leaving the world is risky. Cutting short that “five year plan” is risky. Stepping away from your American comforts is risky. But what love isn’t risky?
When Christ looked on the rich young man, Mark’s Gospel tells us that His look was one of love. He does not call you because He needs you. He calls you because He wants you. He wants you to share in His very way of life, in His very work of redemption, in His very Person (in persona Christi) for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.
In the secular world you, unless you are self-employed you will always have to work for someone. Jesus does not call men to work for Him as His priests, but with Him. A priest works with Him, since the priesthood He possesses is none other than the very Priesthood of Christ.
But, again, I said it was “risky”, because in calling men to be priests, Jesus also welcomes them into the mystery of his victimhood. The true priest of Jesus Christ is not just a priest, he must also be a victim. A man’s yes to the priesthood–and especially in the context of one exercised in the mission field—must also be a yes to victimhood. No greater love, He told us, exists than that whereby a man can lay down his life for his friend. The first friend you lay down your life for is the Friend who first laid down His life for you.
To the young men reading this who are still discerning their call in life, I want to conclude by saying that you can trust me in that I am only proposing to you the very thing I find the greatest joy in being: a missionary priest in Jesus Christ.
To the seminarians reading this I say, repeating the words of that great missionary St. Junipero Serra, “always go forward, never look back”. Fix your gaze on Christ! Seek to be conformed to Him every day! And most importantly, grow in your friendship with Him! He is the only One who has called you and He is the only One who can sustain you in the mission field.
To the religious and laity reading this I say, keep praying for vocations! Pray more! Sacrifice more! Encourage more! Continue to do your part in helping men answer the call to the priesthood. You may never come to the missions, but taking St. Therese of Lisieux as a model, you can certainly be here through your prayers, and especially through your prayers offered for future missionary priests.
Long live Christ!
Long live the priesthood!
Long live the missions!
Fr. Christopher Etheridge, IVE