Recently, I had the pleasure of accompanying nine college students who are part of the Catholic Campus Ministry (CCM) at SUNY New Paltz on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic and Haiti. I attended last year and was very much looking forward to the opportunity to once again join them. We were hosted by a family living in Jarabacoa, which is not too far from Santiago. Last year, the group spent its time helping to build a chapel in a remote mountain area. This year, the main work was to begin construction on homes for people who literally live in shacks. When we visited these people and saw the poverty and condition of their living situation, we were struck by how dire these circumstances were. The students did incredible work getting construction started, and it was a great blessing to accompany them as their chaplain.
One of my personal highlights both years was the opportunity to celebrate Mass for the people who live in the mountains. Last year was startling since the place where I offered Mass was essentially the community's classroom, meeting space and chapel. Despite the difficult situation, the people were so grateful to have a priest come for Mass, and their joy and devotion inspired me. This year was a similar experience and it happened that the day I celebrated Mass was the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, a national holiday in the Dominican Republic. Everything is closed to honor the beautiful Feast of Our Lord's Body and Blood. This year was special because Mass was celebrated in one of the chapels a previous CCM group had constructed years before. The music, prayers and spirit of the people were remarkable and it was such a wonderful way to celebrate this glorious feast. Yet both places where Mass was offered are remote and not easy to reach, even in the all-terrain Jeep we used to get around to the more inaccessible locations. As we left the chapel, I asked the priest who came with us about the people's regular access to the sacraments since Mass is only offered once every three weeks at each place. He commented that on Sundays or feast days where Mass is not celebrated locally, people will walk, sometimes for hours, to another place for Mass. The faith is such an integral part of their life that they will simply not allow distance to prevent them from receiving the sacraments.
I thought about this a lot in the following days. We are so blessed that Mass and the sacraments here in the Archdiocese of New York are so readily accessible to us. We can forget that the long distances and lack of access to the sacraments are not relegated to the developing world. In many parts of the United States, there are dioceses where parishes do not have a resident priest and the sacraments are offered sporadically. I mention this because I think we can sometimes take for granted the Mass or the sacraments because of how readily available they are to us here in New York. We can forget just how essential the priesthood is and the number of priests is to the spiritual health and well being of not only the parish, but the archdiocese as well.
This is why when we speak about praying for vocations or praying for priests, these are not pious platitudes, but something vital. Without the priesthood, there is no Eucharist and without the Eucharist there is no Church. It can be easy to take for granted the availability of the sacraments and Mass, but we must never grow complacent about praying for the Lord to send more laborers into the vineyard, so that many will experience the harvest of grace that Jesus wants us to share.