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Fr Billy Swan

Dear friends. Today is ‘World Day of Prayer for Vocations’ or ‘Vocations Sunday’. Vocations Sunday is a day to pray for vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. It is also an opportunity for us priests to ask you to pray for us who try to serve in these challenging times. However, today is not just about priests. It has to do with the whole Church and how we are together within that one family. Here I reflect on two themes that Pope Francis often repeats in his teaching on the priesthood that he draws from the Gospel image of the Good Shepherd, described beautifully in today’s Gospel of John.

The first is that of closeness. We as priests are meant to know you and you are meant to know us. In the family of the Church we are drawn into relationship. As Jesus describes it in the Gospel: ‘I know my own and they know me’. Pope Francis famously described this pastoral closeness of priests to people as ‘having the smell of the sheep’ – not to remain aloof or distant from people but to be familiar with their lives so we are in a better position to help and serve. With this closeness, we priests are meant to mirror Christ’s own closeness to his people and thus be like him as ‘shepherds after his own heart’ (Jer. 3:15).

The second dimension of this closeness between us is that it is a relationship with a purpose. It is not meant to be a ‘hail fellow well met’ knowing each other but a relationship that leads to faith, nurtures faith and leads to worship and prayer. As Pope Francis puts it, the closeness of priests to people translates into us ‘praying over the realities of the everyday lives of the people, their troubles, their joys, their burdens, their hopes’. It is about sharing with people a missionary joy that spreads and attracts – a joy that flows from being rooted in Christ the Good Shepherd. It is only in him that we are united in faith and it is when we worship him together at the Eucharist that the bonds between us also deepen and grow.

Friends, let us all play our part to ensure that our parish and the whole Church is marked by this pastoral closeness between priests and people, even in these times of fewer priests. And may this closeness translate into a growth of faith in Christ the Good Shepherd in whom we are united along the journey we make together.


The Priest is not an angel sent from heaven; 

he is a man chosen from among men, and a member of the Church, a Christian.

Remaining human and Christian, he begins to speak to you the Word of God. 

This Word is not his own. No, he comes to you because God has told him to

proclaim God's Word.  Perhaps he has not entirely understood it himself. Perhaps he adulterates it. But he believes; 

and despite his fears, he knows that he must communicate God's Word to you.

For must not some of us say something about God, about eternal life….must not

some of us speak of sin and the love and mercy of God?  So, dear friends, pray for him. Carry him, so that he might be able to sustain others by bringing them the mystery of God's love, revealed in Jesus Christ.

Karl Rahner SJ (1904-1984)


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