Vocations Spotlight: Priests Fight to Win Souls

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Column by Father Peter Crowe

In the Gospel of Sunday, Saint Matthew (14:13-21) recalls how our Lord was trying to find some rest in prayer after hearing the distressing news of His cousin’s beheading. Yet He is unable to rest because the vast crowds were following Him and “his heart was moved with pity for them” (Mt 14:14). The crowd was quite vast for the tiny amount of food that the Apostles had at hand, and our Lord multiplied it so much that there were 12 baskets full of the remaining scraps. What an amazing thing that our Lord would do this to feed such a vast crowd. This miracle is often understood to be a foreshadowing of the great miracle of the Eucharist — an outpouring of our Lord’s heart as He breaks, blesses, and gives the food to the hungry crowd. I still remember that moment when I held the host that I had just consecrated at my first Mass. My hands were shaking! I am still in awe at this great miracle that takes place every time I offer Holy Mass, and what a consolation to those who are present at the Mass to worship God truly present on the altar in the Eucharist!

During the COVID19 shutdown we as a Church experienced a deep suffering that no words could possibly truly describe. I can only imagine what it was like to be deprived of the Blessed Sacrament for so long. As a priest, I experienced the suffering of not being able to feed my spiritual children even if it gave me some consolation to bring all my parishioners to the Mass with me in spirit. To be quite honest, it was extremely painful for me when I would read notes and letters written from parishioners who were just wanting to visit our Lord in the tabernacle. I remember the great emotion that was very evident, not only myself, but in others, as people returned to Mass that weekend of Corpus Christi this year. What suffering on both sides! I did what I could to bring the Sacraments to people who needed them, and I am inspired by brother priests who also did this. We truly are hungering for the spiritual food from heaven that can only come if there is a priest present to offer the holy sacrifice of the Mass.

Just as the people in Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 14:13-21) walked on foot to see our Lord, Saint John Vianney, whose feast is August 4, walked several miles to his own ordination, carrying his alb in his arm. Having grown up attending secret Masses held in barns, due to persecution by the French government, he was truly a heroic young man who overcame many odds to be ordained a priest. He is a great saint to ask his intercession as we storm heaven begging God that good young men will generously say yes to follow our Lord as His priests. Similar to Saint John Vianney’s day, we live in an age when the Faith is often mocked and many people are trying to ignore God.

Saint John Vianney gave a catechesis on the priesthood which is very appropriate and ties in well with the Gospel of the multiplication of the loaves:

“If we had not the Sacrament of Orders, we should not have Our Lord. Who placed Him there, in that tabernacle? It was the priest. Who was it that received your soul, on its entrance into life? The priest. Who nourishes it, to give it strength to make its pilgrimage? The priest. Who will prepare it to appear before God, by washing that soul, for the last time, in the blood of Jesus Christ? The priest — always the priest. And if that soul comes to the point of death, who will raise it up, who will restore it to calmness and peace? Again the priest. You cannot recall one single blessing from God without finding, side by side with this recollection, the image of the priest… When the bell calls you to church, if you were asked, “Where are you going?” you might answer, “I am going to feed my soul.” If someone were to ask you, pointing to the tabernacle, “What is that golden door?” “That is our storehouse, where the true Food of our souls is kept.” “Who has the key? Who lays in the provisions? Who makes ready the feast, and who serves the table?” “The priest.” “And what is the Food?” “The precious Body and Blood of Our Lord.” O God! O God! how You have loved us! See the power of the priest; out of a piece of bread the word of a priest makes a God. It is more than creating the world…” (The Little Catechism of the Cure of Ars, Ch. 9 On the Priesthood)

Young men today are still following our Lord on foot, having given up many opportunities that could have been presented to them instead. We are blessed to have several men continuing in seminary formation for the diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.

Rather than follow many career or family possibilities, they entered seminary. These men are a great inspiration to me as they persevered through seminary formation during the pandemic and are ready to return to seminary in just a few weeks. The calling to be a priest is a very high calling, and our Lord gives the graces beyond measure, just as He multiplied those loaves and fishes. To quote the Marine Corps’ billboard on Eisenhower Boulevard as one descends into Johnstown: “Marines fight to win.” Priests fight to win souls for Christ. It’s as simple as that! Perhaps you are a man wondering if our Lord is calling you to join this army of spiritual fathers and spiritual warriors. Do not be afraid. Remember the great generosity of our Lord in multiplying the loaves and fishes, and how we need priests if we want to receive the Eucharist and have our sins forgiven in Confession. Saint John Vianney, pray for us.

Father Peter Crowe is the Administrator of Saint Andrew Parish in Johnstown and the Diocesan Director of Vocations. For more information about priestly vocations, please contact Father Crowe at vocations@dioceseaj.org or (814) 317-2681.

[Photo: Father Peter Crowe posing near the incorrupt heart of Saint John Vianney during a visit to the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Altoona in January 2019.]