US priest Fr Roger Landry’s second talk at the Auckland Eucharistic Convention might have been about the vocation of the laity and the importance of this in the renewal and reform of the Church and for the world, but it was a comment about priests that drew spontaneous applause from the audience.

Fr Landry, who works for the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations, told his audience at Sacred Heart College on July 14 about something he says when preaching retreats at seminaries.

“When I preach retreats to seminarians, which is always a joy, I always stress to them, and it originally shocks them because of the way I state it, I just simply say God is calling none of you to be a priest – and then I just wait as they are about to call for my crucifixion,” Fr Landry joked.

“He is either calling you to be holy priests or he is not calling you at all,” he tells the seminarians. Hence the applause.

His comment was in the context of speaking of a renewal of the Church which must be “fundamentally understood within Vatican II’s proclamation of the universal call to holiness, which is the Second Vatican Council’s key teaching”.

The importance of holiness was related by Fr Landry in an anecdote about St John Vianney.

The devil used to speak to the holy Cure of Ars through possession of penitents, whose confessions he (St John Vianney) would hear.

One day a woman came to confession. People heard the devil growling through her that “if there were three priests like you, my kingdom would be destroyed”.

Fr Landry admitted that the devil is the Father of Lies, but the priest added that this time the devil was likely telling the truth to St John Vianney.

“He was more frightened by three St John Vianneys on the face of the earth than by all the other priests who are ordinarily good.”

“Likewise, we could say,” Fr Landry continued, “that the devil would be more frightened of one true saint in the diocese of Auckland than everybody else combined. Imagine if that was two saints or ten, or everyone in the Eucharistic convention?”

In his talk, the US priest ranged across Vatican II and post-conciliar papal teaching on the vocation of the laity in the Church and in the world, noting St John Paul II’s statement that the vocation of the laity has a specifically secular character — “it is meant to go transform the age, it is meant to go transform the world. That is its primary focus”.

But at the heart of Fr Landry’s talk were three things Jesus is calling all members of the Church to be, for the world. As St John Paul II noted in Christfidelis Laici, lay people are called to live their vocation as salt, light
and leaven.

Speaking firstly about salt, Fr Landry noted three aspects of this substance that would be instantly recognisable by people in New Testament times.

Firstly, salt is a preserver — Jesus calls Christians to be his means of stopping the world decaying away and rotting away in corruption and death. Christians are meant to keep the world and others good. They lift others to a higher standard by the way they live.

Secondly, in the ancient world, salt was mixed with animal dung to be used as fuel. So salt can redeem almost anything. Christians are called to be God’s instrument to bring good out of evil. Christians are also supposed to be capable of heating others up. But Christians don’t wait for others to light them.

Thirdly, salt gives flavour to food. Only a little bit of salt can give flavour to a meal. Christians are called to be the salt of the earth so that others can taste and see the goodness of the Lord. Christians are supposed to bring joy — to show what real joy and blessedness is.

But Christians lose their “saltiness” by allowing themselves to be separated from Jesus.

Turning to the topic of light, there are two purposes of light, Fr Landry said — to help people see for real and to warm them. Jesus has done both for his followers.

“When we approach Jesus and when others approach us, we and they should feel like someone cold approaching a fireplace,” Fr Landry said.

“Jesus tells us in the Gospel(s) that the way we give off his light is through deeds of genuine Christian love that lead others, in seeing those deeds, to glorify God. God wants to bring us as lamps into every room of the world. We have to follow Christ along the path of charity in order to bring that light.”

Finally, on the topic of leaven, Fr Landry noted that only a small amount of leaven is needed to raise the dough. One Christian on a street, in a workplace or in a family or in a parish, is meant to have a dramatic transformative impact.

“We know that leaven works unseen, doesn’t call attention to itself, but it does its work all the same. Much of the most important work of Christians happens through example — by our cheerfulness, by the powerful transforming influence of good friendship, by the encouraging smiles and deeds that others need when they are down.”

Fr Landry had much more to say on the need for formation of the laity, evangelisation, clericalism, mission, and Pope Francis’ call for Christians to be “missionary disciples in communion”.

But in the end, “Jesus sends us out to the whole world … he sends us out together with him. He unites us to him as salt, he has us burn with his light and he himself implants himself within us almost as leaven, so lifts up our whole life, so that we might be placed in the dough of the world”.