Good Shepherd Sunday is traditionally the day when Catholics join in prayer that the Lord will provide more shepherds for his flock. Some parts of the world seem rather better than others at generating vocations. Worldwide there is a gradual increase, In our own comer there's a dearth.
One reason may be that priests and nuns seem to many British people superfluous. If all you require of someone is that they should do some good in the world,
then you don't need to be a priest or a religious. People see a dog collar and think "social worker"; they see tweeds and sensible shoes and think "parish sister".
But what they also need to expect, need to want and need to generate are men and women whose primary task is to put God first. Most of the jobs thrust on secular clergy can just as easily be done by lay people. The priest's real raison d'être is to lead our prayer life and to open up all the sacramental channels of grace.
That goes against the grain
of our "success" culture. An old friend of mine, now a very distinguished historian, told me one day when we were students that the only effective motivation for people to do things is the prospect of success. And when I demurred and said that God's work called for humility, even the embracing of failure, he brushed that aside very brusquely: "Nonsense:. he said, "humility is the sort of success a priest can look for if he fails to be a bishop."
How easy it is to he cynical. I don't actually believe that the `job" of being a shepherd has much to do with earning success. It's a day-by-day exploring for fresh pastures.
The essence of priesthood is not leadership in the community but friendship with God and with his saints, both in heaven and here on earth.
At the Oxford chaplaincy 42 years ago, a young White Father. Michael Fitzgerald, told us that "the spiritual life isn't earning heaven but growing in friendship".
The phrase has shaped my values ever since.