Shrewsbury ... shall be a name 'as stirring to the heart as the glories we have lost'

Blessed John Henry Newman, 1852

Letters and Homilies

A Pastoral Letter to be read in all the churches and chapels of the Diocese on Sunday 21st May 2017

 

On the Joy of the Priesthood 

My dear brothers and sisters,

This Sunday, I write from the Cathedral where we are celebrating the completion of works to help equip our Cathedral church for the mission of the century ahead.  I hope the openness of the new entrance and the visitor facilities will both enable this Mother Church of the Diocese to be a place of welcome for you and allow an increasing number of visitors to glimpse the joy and beauty of our faith.

Among all the new developments at the Cathedral, we have created a space where men can come for a year or a shorter period to discern the vocation to the Priesthood.  We want this support of the vocation to the Priesthood to be placed at the heart of our Shrewsbury Diocese.  Today, I write to invite each of you to place this priority in a similar way at the heart of your prayer and concern for the future mission of the Diocese, knowing how the Ministerial Priesthood supports every Christian calling.  In Saint John Vianney’s memorable phrase: “A priest is not for himself, he is for you!”  

Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles recounts the great joy which marked the beginning of the Church’s mission.  Saint Luke tells how, amid persecutions, there was “great rejoicing” wherever the Apostles went.[1]  I am always similarly moved on my journeys around the Diocese, to hear you speak of your priests with something greater than appreciation: I hear you rejoice in the gift of the priesthood.  I witness, too, the great joy which marks the ordination of every new priest who is ready to dedicate his life to continuing the apostolic mission of bringing the Word, the Sacraments and above all the Holy Eucharist to a countless number of souls.  The Catholic Priesthood is no half-hearted commitment.  Saint John Paul II would remind priests how the joy of this calling is found insofar as we are ready to give our lives totally to Christ for the salvation of souls.[2]

In our life-times we can rejoice that the Church has seen a great spring-time of vocations to the Priesthood across the world.  More young men have offered their lives to Christ in the Priesthood in our lifetime, than at any moment in the Church’s long history so that in 2017, we can say the Catholic Priesthood is truly young!  However, countries like our own have witnessed only the very first shoots of this spring-time.  Sadly, in recent decades we have seen a decline in Christian vocations: to Marriage; the Consecrated Life of women and men; as well as to the Ministerial Priesthood.  It is a sadness which I pray may be turned to joy!

In the natural world when we notice life disappearing we are alert to the problems of the environment.  Likewise, in the supernatural order, if such vital vocations as marriage, consecrated life and priesthood die away we must also be attentive to the environment.  Half a century ago the Second Vatican Council declared that the responsibility for promoting vocations to the priesthood rests with every member of the Christian community.[3]  In other words, we each have our part in helping to make an environment at home and in our parishes and schools where vocations can flourish.  It is by our own readiness to encourage, give witness in our own callings and to open our hearts in prayer that the gift and joy of new vocations will surely be received.

This Sunday in the midst of all the new developments at the Cathedral, I will bless a shrine of Our Lady in the Cathedral grounds.  It is a shrine which will recall the ancient devotion of the people of Shrewsbury to the Mother of God under the title: ‘Our Lady of Pity’.  This new diocesan shrine will be a new place where we seek Our Lady’s help in all our need and join with her in continuous prayer as the Church has always done since the beginning.[4]  It is to Mary, ever-faithful, that I will entrust each one of you and all who will be called to continue in the Priesthood – a life and ministry for the joy of all Christ’s faithful people.

United with you in this prayer and the joy of our mission,

  + Mark

Bishop of Shrewsbury

 

 

[1] Acts 8:8

[2] cf A Prayer Dictated by Faith and Coming from My Heart, Letter to my Brother Priests, Holy Thursday 1982.

[3] ‘Optatam Totius’ n 2

[4] cf Acts 1:14

 

(Photos by Simon Caldwell)