APRIL 25, 2012 | The Long Island Catholic VOL. 51, NO. 4 | BISHOP WILLIAM MURPHY
Pope Benedict has chosen an arresting theme for the 49th World Day of Prayer for Vocations which the Church will observe this coming Fourth Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday. I suspect that often when we think of vocations, we think of a young man or woman struggling with a difficult choice and wondering if priesthood or consecrated life is “the right choice” for him or her. Perhaps we picture someone praying in a darkened church or gazing out a window. Whatever! The Holy Father invites us this year to come at prayer for vocations from a different perspective and see it first and foremost in terms of God. His theme is Vocations: the Gift of the Love of God!
Once again, Pope Benedict surprises us. He does not begin with “vocation crisis” or “priest shortage” or “lack of religious sisters” or any other kind of sociological or political jargon. He brings us back to the source where we can re-discover the originality and the freshness of living a life given to God for the sake of the world. “The source of every perfect gift is God who is love,” he reminds us. And so he sets the issue in its proper perspective and makes it possible for us to see the true substance of a vocation — any vocation — every vocation — rests always within the ambit of God’s love which, if we let God enter, trumps every other partial and often obscuring kind of attitude.
The Pope reminds us, before we even get to the question of prayer for vocations, that God’s love is limitless, precedes us, sustains us and calls us along the path of life, a love rooted in an absolutely free gift of God. Once we place the matter of vocations to priesthood and consecrated life within this, its proper context, then there is a calm and a tranquility that puts the psychological and social questions into a new light: the light of the One who calls first, the light of the One who reveals Himself fully in Jesus Christ.
A vocation then to priesthood or to religious life is the fruit of a journey of discovery, a discovery that reaches a new height when we recognize that God first loved us, that He never ceases to love us, that His love is limitless and that it is the ultimate source of life, joy, happiness and peace, the only ultimate gift that remains in us in order that we can become most fully all He calls us to be.
Paul reminds us that “we may be unfaithful but He is always faithful because He cannot be unfaithful to Himself.” All we need do is to open ourselves to that faithful love. And for that to happen every generation needs to be able to cut through the clashing voices and the blaring distractions and hear Him speaking to our hearts, heed what He says about the true meaning of life and encounter the concrete realization of that life and love in the encounter with His Son, Jesus Christ who, as true man, joins Himself to us so that he can open us to entering into His life of love of God and love of neighbor.
Pope Benedict tells us we need to open our lives to this love … The high standard of the Christian life consists in loving ‘as’ God loves with a love that is shown in the total and fruitful gift of self … It is in this soil of self offering and openness to the love of God, and as the fruit of that love, that all vocations are born and grow.
We have come to the heart of the vocation to priesthood and religious life: God first loved us and showed us what true love is in and through His Son Jesus Christ. Every heart is restless till it rests in Him, as St. Augustine so famously wrote in the fifth century. The heart that seeks God in openness and humility may well discover that his yearning corresponds to a call that God alone makes but which He manifests through His Son and through the Church. It is at that encounter, that meeting that a vocation can be discerned, freely accepted or freely rejected. This is a true crossroads in which the choice made carries with it all the promise God alone can make but which God leaves to the free choice of the person; so much does God respect our dignity and our freedom as an expression of our dignity. If the choice made resounds in the heart of the discerner then it will be surely blessed by God who will continue to draw him or her closer and closer in an embrace of love wherein all vocations are born and grow.
There is a twofold expression of that love, towards God and towards our neighbor. That love of God, however imperfectly lived, must be a mirror of God’s love and is the motivation for answering God’s call to special consecration through priestly ordination or the profession of the evangelical counsels … The other practical expression of love, that towards our neighbor … is the decisive impulse that leads the priest and the consecrated person to be a builder of communion between people and a sower of hope.
That demands that we who are in the Church and share responsibility for the Church must create the conditions that will permit many young people to say “yes” in generous response to God’s call. Here is the moment when we are all called to conversion and commitment. The conversion is a mind and a heart that desires young men and women to respond freely and totally to God’s call. Too many members of the Body of Christ place political, social and partisan barriers both by their own apathy regarding vocations and by the unfortunate mindset that sees vocations as being “unimportant, less than human, not for my children, a waste of one’s life etc.” We must not become obstacles to God’s call. Rather we all must make the commitment first and foremost to pray for vocations to priesthood and consecrated life. We must encourage our own who may be discerning a vocation. And we can become seekers of vocations if our prayer and our attitude express a deep love of priesthood and consecrated life and a deep commitment to support by word and action those who seek to discern such a noble call, such a wonderful way to realize the full potential of a life fully lived and fully fulfilled. There is no better place for that than in the family. There is no better foundation for that than the Sunday Eucharist.
My prayer is that all of us might make this Sunday not just the annual World Day of Prayer for Vocations. My prayer is that we make this Good Shepherd Sunday, 2012 the Sunday when we all commit ourselves to prayer and support of all young “discerners,” providing them with the means to test their desires and be formed in a healthy and wholesome way toward becoming living expressions of God’s love for them through who God shows His love for us all.