"And he said to them: The harvest indeed is great, but the labourers are few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he send labourers into his harvest." Luke 10:2
Being away from my parish for vacation, I did not preach this morning at Mass. Nonetheless, as this topic is near and dear to my heart, I can't pass up the opportunity to write down what I probably would have said this morning at Sunday Mass, reflecting on this weekend's Sunday Readings.
On my vacation, as we were traveling through Kansas to get to Colorado, we traveled through mile after mile of crop lands, stretching for as far as the eye could see (and well beyond in truth). Harvesting all of that must be an incredible undertaking. I wonder if that is what Jesus sees now....tons of fields for harvest...stretching beyond what the eye can see. Indeed the harvest is great.
So what is the harvest? What is the purpose of the harvest? The harvest is not just merely human souls, but their faith. Both the person and their lives. Every single person who has walked on the face of this planet is supposed to be part of this harvest. Not all will be. Some will lives of weeds and not grain. Jesus tells us this will be collected to be burned. The end time harvest, of which Jesus speaks in many parables, is when all that belongs to Christ will be eternally gathered to Himself. Until then, the harvest to be gathered is the faith, love, hope of the People of God and their souls for eternity.
But a harvest is not meant merely to be stored ad infinitum. Harvest are meant to be used to nourish. What is nourished is the relationship we are supposed to have with God and one another. One does not throw love, hope, faith, or souls into a vacuum...they have a directionality. The virtues, especially the theological virtues are meant to deepen our relationship with God. God receives these as an act of thanksgiving and in return gives us the supreme grace of His Body and Blood so that more may be harvested. The harvest is brought here to Church as a thanksgiving sacrifice to God. He turns that harvest into nourishment which He in turns gives to us. But, let's be clear, there would be nothing to even harvest if it were not for God Himself who gives us the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love through which we can have something to offer back.
But who are the laborers, then? That is twofold. First, you are. You are the one that brings in your thanksgiving sacrifice here and now in this church. You bring them and they are handed over to the other laborer, the priest, who collects those offerings and offers them with his own to God. Do we not pray over the priest "May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands ..." after he has asked "Pray brothers and sister, that my sacrifice and yours, may be acceptable to God, the Almighty Father."? We do. The harvest is brought weekly before our God. It is offered to Him by His priests. We are given the great peace offering in return through what the grace of God does as the Eucharistic Prayer unfolds.
This leads to two further things worth pondering. First, are each of us doing our part in the harvest. What thanksgiving offering, harvested from your response to God's call to faith, hope, and love did you bring today? Simply showing up is not enough, for Exodus 23:15 reminds us that no one shows up before God empty handed. What are you handing to me to be joined to the thanksgiving sacrifice? In the Roman Canon I will pray later : "Remember, Lord, your servants and all gathered here, whose faith and devotion are known to you. For them, we offer you, this sacrifice of praise or they offer it for themselves and all who are dear to them..." What harvest of faith and devotion are you offering, that is joined to mine and the whole Church? I can not offer what you do not bring. I cannot offer it if you don't come to offer it. You must do your part in bringing a harvest of the love, faith, and hope you have shown God and each other.
The second thing to ponder is this: As the Mass is the supreme thanksgiving offering, it is necessary that a priest, who acts in union with the Person of Christ, as the intercessor between God and humanity, brings forth that offering. He in turn acts in the Person of Christ in providing for the lay faithful that which they cannot provide for themselves: The Body and Blood of Christ; we are given our daily bread and our share in the eternal peace offering of the Cross. As the number of priests continues to go down in our diocese, it will curtail the availability of this exchange of sacrifices to take place. Sure, you will still have a harvest of thanksgiving which you may well offer to God, but the other necessary sacrifice goes undone and the life that it gives is withheld. This priest also has another major job connected with Mass, namely, that He gives us the opportunity to receive God's grace to have that thanksgiving sacrifice made pure by God's grace through absolution of sin; for mortal sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and for venial sins in the Mass itself. Without this purification of both ourselves and our offering, we court disaster by bringing God a tainted offering or even a blasphemous offering. Again, without priests, this is made hard if not impossible.
So, yes, we need to pray that God does send more harvesters in the form of priests because of the work that needs to be done. The sacramental necessities are far from the only things a priest must do in offering to God what is right and just, but in helping us to understand how to better bring a harvest that is worthy before the Lord. We need to pray that God indeed sends more harvesters, but that those called say yes. That my friends, in so many areas, is not happening. God forces His will on no one. They must answer positively. The lack of response is deafening. I was stationed in one of the most Catholic areas of not just our diocese, but of the country, at one time. This county has failed to produce any priestly vocations for this diocese since the foundation for the diocese...nearly 60 years ago. While it not their fault entirely that we are in the situation we are in as a diocese, it contributes to a decline in the availability of sacraments in this diocese which will get worse before it gets better...if it gets better. I am not trying to scare you, only stating what is the reality. Our willingness to pray and encourage is that important.
The thanksgiving sacrifice will continue on, but where it continues on is up to our ability to hear, answer affirmatively, and give generously. Pray, then, as the Lord directs, that more laborers may be sent into the harvest. Be sure, as well, that you bring a harvest collected from the faith, hope, and love you have shown this week. Be sure as well, that you sacrifice is not tainted by sinfulness.