Praying for and living our vocations

In his 2018 message for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations (which we observe this Sunday, April 22), Pope Francis mentioned the upcoming Synod of Bishops this fall, at which the theme of “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment” will be discussed. The pope said that he, together with the bishops and their collaborators, “will have a chance to consider more deeply how, at the center of our life, is the call to joy that God addresses to us and how this is ‘God’s plan for men and women in every age.’ The 55th World Day of Prayer for Vocations once again proclaims this Good News to us, and in a decisive manner. We are not victims of chance or swept up in a series of unconnected events; on the contrary, our life and our presence in this world are the fruit of a Divine vocation!”

The Holy Father then admitted that we live in “troubled times,” but “the mystery of the Incarnation reminds us that God continually comes to encounter us. He is God-with-us, who walks along the often dusty paths of our lives. In the diversity and the uniqueness of each and every vocation, personal and ecclesial, there is a need to listen, discern and live this word that calls to us from on high and, while enabling us to develop our talents, makes us instruments of Salvation in the world and guides us to full happiness.”

The pope’s message then looked at the three aspects of vocation, “listening, discerning and living,” which “were also present at beginning of Jesus’ own mission, when, after His time of prayer and struggle in the desert, He visited His synagogue of Nazareth. There, He listened to the word, discerned the content of the mission entrusted to Him by the Father, and proclaimed that He came to accomplish it ‘today’ (Lk 4:16-21).”

In terms of “listening,” the pontiff acknowledged that it is rare to literally “hear” God’s voice. “The Lord’s call is not as clear-cut as any of those things we can hear, see or touch in our daily experience. God comes silently and discreetly, without imposing on our freedom. Thus it can happen that His voice is drowned out by the many worries and concerns that fill our minds and hearts.

“We need, then, to learn how to listen carefully to His word and the story of His life, but also to be attentive to the details of our own daily lives, in order to learn how to view things with the eyes of faith, and to keep ourselves open to the surprises of the Spirit.”

The pope warned, “We will never discover the special, personal calling that God has in mind for us if we remain enclosed in ourselves, in our usual way of doing things, in the apathy of those who fritter away their lives in their own little world. We would lose the chance to dream big and to play our part in the unique and original story that God wants to write with us.”

The Holy Father mentioned how Jesus “needed to recollect Himself in silence” and called upon us to do the same. “Nowadays listening is becoming more and more difficult, immersed as we are in a society full of noise, overstimulated and bombarded by information. The outer noise that sometimes prevails in our cities and our neighborhoods is often accompanied by our interior dispersion and confusion. This prevents us from pausing and enjoying the taste of contemplation, reflecting serenely on the events of our lives, going about our work with confidence in God’s loving plan, and making a fruitful discernment.”

In the second movement of vocation, discerning, the pope recalled how Jesus in the synagogue “discerns the content of the missions for which He was sent” after reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah (Lk 4:18-19). “In the same way, each of us can discover his or her own vocation only through Spiritual discernment. This is ‘a process by which a person makes fundamental choices, in dialogue with the Lord and listening to the voice of the Spirit, starting with the choice of one’s state in life’ (quoting from the synod’s preparatory document).” 

In our discernment we need “to discover that Christian vocation always has a prophetic dimension. The prophet unsettles the false tranquility of consciences that have forgotten the word of the Lord. He discerns events in the light of God’s promise and enables people to glimpse the signs of dawn amid the dark shadows of history.”

This is a tall order, and yet we are all called to do this. The pope added, “Today too, we have great need of discernment and of prophecy. We have to discover, in our relationship with the Lord, the places, the means and situations through which He calls us. Every Christian ought to grow in the ability to ‘read within’ his or her life, and to understand where and to what he or she is being called by the Lord, in order to carry on His mission.”

Moving to the third portion of our vocation, living it, the pope again goes back to Jesus in the Nazareth synagogue, where He “announces the newness of the present hour, which will enthuse many and harden the heart of others. Indeed, Jesus says that ‘today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’ (Lk 4:21).”

The Holy Father mixes happiness and challenge. “The joy of the Gospel, which makes us open to encountering God and our brothers and sisters, does not abide our slowness and our sloth. It will not fill our hearts if we keep standing by the window with the excuse of waiting for the right time, without accepting this very day the risk of making a decision. Vocation is today! The Christian mission is now! Each one of us is called — whether to the lay life in Marriage, to the priestly life in the ordained ministry, or to a life of special consecration — in order to become a witness of the Lord, here and now.”

Our vocation is not for some “tomorrow” “out there,” but for today; “This ‘today’ that Jesus proclaimed assures us that God continues to ‘come down’ to save our human family and to make us sharers in His mission. The Lord continues to call others to live with Him and to follow Him in a relationship of particular closeness. He continues to call others to serve Him directly. If He lets us realize that He is calling us to consecrate ourselves totally to His Kingdom, then we should have no fear! It is beautiful — and a great grace — to be completely and forever consecrated to God and the service of our brothers and sisters.”

Somewhat along the lines of the adage, “the perfect is the enemy of the good,” Pope Francis admonished us, “We should not wait to be perfect in order to respond with our generous ‘yes,’ nor be fearful of our limitations and sins, but instead open our hearts to the voice of the Lord. To listen to that voice, to discern our personal mission in the Church and the world, and at last to live it in the today that God gives us.” 

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