There's never been anyone
 quite like him"

Today we hear the vocation stories of Isaiah, St. Peter and St. Paul. These men viewed themselves as unworthy to do God's work. Nonetheless, despite their real shortcoming each said "yes" to God's call.

Isaiah, while praying, felt called by God to be God's prophet. Isaiah wondered how his lips could speak God's words after his lips had spoken things not God-like. God sent an angel to purify Isaiah's lips as a sign of purifying Isaiah. When God says, "Whom shall I send?" Isaiah answers, "Here I am, Lord. Send me."

St. Peter and Jesus went out fishing in a boat. Jesus said, "Lower your nets for a catch." Peter replied that he and others had been working all night and had caught nothing, "but at your command I will lower the nets." Peter and other apostles then caught so many fish that their nets were tearing and their boats were in danger of sinking. When they came to shore, Peter said to Jesus: "Depart from me, Lord, I am a sinful man." Jesus replied, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men."

St. Paul of Tarsus explains. "I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle because I had persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective." The church calls St. Paul "the Great Apostle".

Regarding my vocation, I'd like to share a few thoughts about for me what aspects of priesthood are the hardest, the most humbling and the happiest.

The hardest aspect for me, and I suspect for most priests and sisters, is not being married and not having my own children, and simultaneously living in religious community. God gives everybody the natural desire to be married and to have children. I live in the Vincentian Family. For over 36 years, I have lived in many cities with many Vincentians. We have different personalities, spiritualities, work styles and senses of humor, political views and priorities. Yet, where would I be without the Vincentian Fathers? My education and opportunities, pastoral experiences, priest-friends, positions of responsibility and travels around the world have enriched me. Would I have done many of these things without being a member of the Vincentian Community? No.

The most humbling thing for me is trying to be good and to do good, to lead people in prayer and to preach God's Word. God made every person good, but too many times I don't do good. I like to pray lying flat on my back, which is not the posture that most saints used when they prayed. I love to work but at researching and writing books, not so much at paper work which needs to be done in my office. I love to meet people any time and place. This, however, diminishes the opportunities when I could be meeting people on the golf course. Preaching. After having preached every day for 36 years, I have become tired of hearing my own voice. And I have learned that the most powerful words are God's words from the Scriptures, not my words.

The happiest aspects of priesthood for me are interestingly the flip side of the things that are hardest and most humbling. The sacrifice of not enjoying companionship and conversation with a wife and children frees me to develop a deep relationship with God and God's people. My vocation provides me with time, peace and quiet in which to pray. I enjoy pondering God's goodness and Jesus' incarnation. Trying to perceive God's presence in every person and to appreciate God's beauty and power in all of creation makes life worthwhile. God's priesthood in me invites strangers on planes or trains to bare their souls; they don't know my name except it begins with "Father". In my office, I hear the happiest of news about a young couple wanting to marry or about the birth of a baby, and the saddest news about divorces and deaths of loved ones. A priest deals with the deepest realities of human life.

A priest's vocation is to guide people closer to God. The seminarian and priest needs to pray, study, research and reflect. These steps enable him to draw closer to God so that he might lead people closer to God. The priest's own path to God must be true, tested and effective. No leader can lead others on an unknown path. My happiest moments come from praying, reading, reflecting, preaching and teaching.

Paradoxically, the aspects of priesthood which are hardest and most humbling simultaneously also bring me the greatest happiness. Maybe for single people and married people too, the contexts which occasion your greatest burdens also occasion your greatest joys? In any case, I thank God that he has created me with a priest's mind, heart and soul. I thank God for my vocation. May I share with you a humorous poem I have kept in my wallet since I was a seminarian. This poem helps me to keep my feet on the ground.

If the priest visits his flock, he's nosey. If he doesn't, he's a snob.

  • If he preaches longer than ten minutes, he's long-winded.
  • If he preaches less than ten minutes, he's not prepared.
  • If he owns a car, he's worldly, if he's always late for appointments.
  • If he tells a joke at Mass, he's flippant; if he doesn't, he's too serious.
  • If he starts the service on time, his watch must be fast.
  • If he's a minute late, he's keeping the congregation waiting.
  • If he takes a holiday, he's never in the parish.
  • if he doesn't, he's a stick in the mud.
  • If he runs a gala or bazaar, he's money hungry,
  • if he doesn't, there's no social life in the parish.
  • If he has the church painted and redecorated, he's extravagant.
  • if he doesn't, he doesn't care that the church is shabby.
  • If he's young, he's inexperienced. If he's old, he ought to retire.

When he dies, "there's never been anyone quite like him".

Read other homilies by Father O'Malley