We, the priests of the Diocese of Metuchen, will gather in Spring Lakes, NJ, for the annual convocation this Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. It is a special time for the priests and bishop to pray together, reflect on our priesthood, share the challenges we face and enjoy priestly fellowship. This is a great opportunity for us to come together and experience a sense of unity, even though we’re all different. There will be enrichment sessions with a guest speaker. We will participate in many other events such as Holy Hour, Mass, Vespers, socials, dinner, etc.
Both Msgr. Seamus Brennan and I will be attending this gathering of priests. That means there will be no Mass in our church this coming Wednesday and Thursday. Thank you to our senior Deacon Ron Caimi who has graciously agreed to conduct a Communion Service at 8 am on these two days. This can be a reminder to us about the pastoral reality of priests’ shortage that we are facing as a nation.
During my nationwide travels as a presenter for RENEW International to promote small groups of faith sharing, I have come across many priests who were pastors of two or more parishes. The highest percentages of such multiple parish pastoring are found in states like Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota, where over 50% of the priests serve more than one parish. The lowest percentages (less than 10%) were in New Jersey, the District of Columbia, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Nevada. Multi-pastoring parishes will not be having weekday Masses on a regular basis. Here at St. Matthias, and in New Jersey in general, we have been very blessed to have the gift of daily Mass for those who wish to attend. We thank God for this blessing.
But we, as a Catholic Community, have to address the problem of the priest shortage. How are we going to continue our sacramental availability? Who is going to take responsibility? It cannot be just left in the hands of church authorities. Or it just can’t be left to mere prayers for an increase in vocations to priesthood, diaconate and religious life, though prayer is essential as Jesus himself said: “ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:38). We need to do more, especially to help our people in the pews understand what is happening, challenging them to fully live out their baptismal call, and providing formation for them to participate more fully in the church’s mission.
I am very happy that our parish lay leadership has initiated the St. Matthias Vocations Ministry. Its leaders have been making efforts to bring to us the understanding that the primary vocation for us all is to be holy. As we respond to that call to holiness in our own calling, we need to be on the lookout for young men whom we could encourage to consider vocations to the priesthood. As you must have already heard or read in the bulletin, our Vocations ministry is planning a retreat on November 13. We will have reflections from a priest, deacon, nun, married and single persons. I invite us all to consider spending this half-day to enrich our own vocation to be holy and encourage one another as we need to heed the call of Jesus.
Your brother in Christ,
Fr. Abraham Orapankal