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Body, blood, soul and divinity.

Because magazines operate the way they do, I must write my June column at the end of April. I'm thinking ahead to Corpus Christi, but we've just passed "Vocation Sunday," and of course they're related, because we can't have one without the other.

As was undoubtedly the case in many parishes, our homily for Vocation Sunday focused on the priest shortage (this topic usually makes me cringe, because it invariably gets political). I'm relieved they're calling it a priest shortage now, because they used to call it a vocation shortage, which actually means "calling shortage." And as our priest pointed out, the deficiency lies not with God, who does the calling, but with the faithful, who are not answering. He was speaking primarily to young men, but also to their parents (and more generally, the Catholic community) who are responsible for preparing a fertile seedbed in which vocations may flourish.

He mentioned that our ubiquitous "Prayer for Vocations" becomes a mockery if we don't do anything to follow it up. I fear we've been mocking God for some time now, and not just with our milquetoast "Prayer for Vocations." You know the prayer to which I refer: you can probably recite it in your sleep. It's the one that many parishes have been blithely tossing off for a couple of decades now. In fact, it's been around so long, that the wording has even been toned down to make it less demanding, and more politically correct. For example, we used to pray for "an abundance of holy and zealous priests, deacons, brothers and sisters ..." Now we just hope for any at all, and apparently we don't much care about their level of commitment: the words "abundance" and "zealous" have been expunged from the low-carb version. It's like another priest said: we ask the Lord to fill our cup, and then hold up a thimble.

Some of us are mocking God by questioning the nature of the priesthood. As the mother of seven girls, I have had Catholic priests joke to me (in the presence of my children) that perhaps someday my daughters will be presiding at Mass. I do not find this funny. I do not even find it tragic--it is sacrilegious at best. (Not to mention that it puts me in the painful position of either having to contradict the priest to his face, or allow the remark to stand, thus misleading and/or scandalizing my children.)

Some of us mock God in that we don't actually care whether or not he sends us priests, because we feel they are no longer necessary. This comes closer to the root of the problem. (Much to his credit, our pastor addressed this, but then he is Polish, God bless him, and less squeamish about church politics.) I know Catholics who actually believe that the presence of the community bestows "the special nature" (whatever that is) on the Eucharist. They don't use words like 'consecrate.' "Real Presence" has come to mean whatever you want it to mean.

Thus, we mock God when we question the nature of the Eucharist. Is it the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord, Jesus Christ, or is it just a Happy Meal? Is it the food without which our souls cannot survive, or is it just a warm and fuzzy time of caring and sharing? If the latter, then indeed we do not need priests; we just need a good social committee on parish council, and some capable lay presiders for our pseudo-liturgies.

We mock God when we doubt the significance of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Many of us are perfectly content to substitute a lay-led Liturgy of the Word. (It's twenty minutes shorter and you get a guilt-free sermon plus Communion--everyone wins!) I once heard a parish secretary remark: "We have to find ways to get rid of Father more often on the weekends so we can keep our lay liturgy team practiced up." I know of another parish where they've succeeded in doing this. Oy vay.

I'm not a priest or a theologian. I cannot think how to combat this level of confusion and unbelief, except to catechize my children, take them to Mass and Eucharistic adoration, and pray like we've never prayed before, to beg the Lord of the harvest to send us an abundance of holy and zealous labourers for his vineyard.

Mariette Ulrich writes from Scott, Saskatchewan.
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Title Annotation:COLUMNIST
Author:Ulrich, Mariette
Publication:Catholic Insight
Date:Jun 1, 2007
Words:739
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