Fr. Bryan Howard
4th Sunday of Easter – Year B – 22 April 2018
Everyone must sacrifice things in their lives. There is no path in life that you can take that doesn’t include sacrifice. This is true whether you’re married or unmarried, rich or poor, healthy or sick, religious or atheistic. In fact, in every decision you make, you’re sacrificing something else. When you choose what you’re going to do this evening. There are only so many hours in a day. If you choose to spend an hour going for a walk, then you can’t spend that hour at home watching TV. So, how do we choose which things to hold on to and which to sacrifice?
I think the best way I can explain that is to tell you how I made that decision, the most important one I’ve ever made, to follow God’s call and become a priest. It started when I was a child. I was raised in a Catholic home. We prayed together, we went to Mass together every Sunday, and we had crucifixes and images of the saints in the house. We lived with my Maw Maw and Paw Paw, and they would pray the Rosary together every night before bed. I learned how to pray the Rosary laying on the foot of their bed praying with them. I went to public schools, so I had to go to CCD classes at my parish, St. Clement of Rome. My mom would go through the lessons with me just like she went through all of my lessons for school. This reinforced that religion was normal, and that it was important. I didn’t start seriously thinking about the priesthood until the eighth grade, which at that time was the year we made Confirmation. My initial reaction was, “No Way! You’ve got the wrong guy!” I used all of the normal excuses to avoid thinking about it: I want to get married and have kids, I’m not good enough, I don’t have what it takes.
Two things came together that year to help me seriously consider that call, as God often does, He just wouldn’t leave me alone. First, the parochial vicar, Fr. David Dufour, called my house to speak with me. He asked me to be one of the readers for the Confirmation Prep Program Masses. When the teacher had asked in class, I hadn’t volunteered, but I couldn’t say no to the priest directly. This was a great gift. We had training before each of the Masses we would read at, and in those trainings Fr. David taught us how to pray with the Bible. Through reading at Mass I got to know the Mass better. I had always liked going to Mass, but now I was beginning to understand the Mass, to feel a connection to it, and to develop a love for the Mass.
Second, my CCD teachers for that year, George and Gay Hernandez, introduced the class to our Perpetual Adoration Chapel. Since I lived close to the Church, I started to ride my bike down and go to the chapel on my own time. I would pray with the Bible, and I would ask God to tell me what He wanted me to do. That call or attraction to the priesthood never went away, no matter how much I tried to deny it.
This went on for a couple of years. In high school I went on a retreat with the Church’s youth group. On the bus, I asked God to make it clear to me what He wanted me to do, what He was calling me to. Part of the retreat included adoration. As I knelt before the Blessed Sacrament and prayed, I felt an incredible sense of peace come over me, my fears and anxieties went away, and I could sense God reassuring me that it was alright and that He would always be with me. In that moment, I accepted that God was calling me to be a priest and decided to follow that call wherever it lead me. There are more ups and downs to the story, as it would be almost 11 more years before I was actually ordained, but that was, in a way, the first step, and I can say now that’s it’s the best decision I’ve ever made in my life. I can’t imagine being happier doing anything else.
The Church has named today as the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. Today, we celebrate those men and women who have chosen to follow God’s call to dedicate their lives completely to Him, priests, brothers, and sisters. In the Archdiocese of New Orleans there are 342 priests (213 diocesan priests, 53 or whom are retired, and 125 religious order priests), 63 religious brothers, and 370 religious sisters. Those numbers sound pretty good, but you have to realize that many of our parishes that used to have 2, 3, 4, or more priests now have only 1 or 2. Our Lady of Lourdes used to have 2 and now only has 1, and I can only think of 1 parish that has more than 2, and it’s run by the Dominicans. When you consider the entire country, in 1965 there were 58,632 priests for 48.5 million Catholics and in 2017 there were 37,181 for 68.5 million Catholics. That’s 21,000 fewer priests for 22 million more Catholics. If you think that sounds bad, listen to this, in 1965 there were 179,954 religious sisters in the U.S., but in 2017 there were only 45,605, which is 134,000 less. Have you ever wondered why in the 50s and 60s you saw sisters everywhere, in the parishes and in the schools, and now you don’t see them anywhere.
We need priests in the Church. Without priests there is no Mass and no Reconciliation, no Eucharist. Young men and women, consider that priesthood or consecrated life. Ask God what He is calling you to do with your life. Parents, encourage your children to think about their vocation, what God is calling them to. It’s true that they can be happy doing many different things, but God is the one who made us, and He made us for a purpose, and following that call will be more fulfilling than anything else. And everyone, we all need to pray for vocations. Jesus Himself told us, “Pray, therefore, the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers for the harvest.” Since Mary, our Blessed Mother, is the one who always shows us the way to her Son, let’s offer her prayer for an increase in vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and that all those who are being called right now may hear and answer.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.