Vocations Awareness Week

As we come to a close to this week in which the Church invites us to be more aware of our own vocations and our duty to help the young in discerning God’s call in their lives, we are reminded of Christ’s repeated admonition to His Apostles: “Do not be afraid.”

In human terms it would make sense to be afraid. When we think about what Jesus Himself suffered and what He promised His followers they (we) would endure, how can we not be afraid? 

But Jesus promised that He would always be with us to help us — and He is, directly present to us in our prayer, and indirectly present in the countless good people who surround us (who are Christ serving us when we are helped by them, and are Christ being served by us when we assist them).

These good people are living out their vocations, which Father Cook delineates in his article beginning on page one and Father Landry (on the page facing this one) notes that all of these vocations, lived correctly, lead to holiness. These good people are being the Face of Christ, that Face for which we long (cf. Psalm 26).

Pope Francis on March 3, 2014 preached about vocations during his daily Mass at St. Martha’s House, where he lives. He was speaking about the Gospel account of the rich young man, who is initially enthused about following Jesus, but then leaves when Jesus invites him to give up everything and follow Him.

The pope spoke about young people who “in their hearts feel this call to draw near to Jesus; who are enthusiastic, who are not afraid to go to Jesus, who are not embarrassed to kneel before Him.” He said that many young people feel called by Jesus, but they do not ultimately follow Jesus because “their hearts are filled with something else, and because they are not courageous enough to empty them, they turn back [and] their joy is turned to sadness.”

Pope Francis said that “there is something standing in their way stopping them.” He did not say what that something was. It probably is different things for different people. We ourselves can look into our own hearts and recognize those things which stop us from being generous in responding to Our Lord’s love.

The Holy Father then spoke about our own prayer for vocations. He said, “When we ask the Lord to send vocations to proclaim the Gospel, He sends them.”

However, he noted that naysayers will object, “Father, things in the world are going so badly: there are no vocations to be a Sister, there are no priestly vocations, we are going to end in ruin!”

The pope rejected that negativity, saying, “There are many vocations.” Then, answering a rhetorical question in his own thoughts, he said that if they are so numerous “why do we need to ask the Lord to send them? We need to pray that the hearts of these young people might be emptied: emptied of other interests, emptied of other loves, that their hearts might become free.” This, he said, is the true “prayer for vocations: Lord, send us Sisters, send us priests; defend them from the idolatry of vanity, from the idolatry of pride, from the idolatry of power, from the idolatry of money. Our prayer helps to prepare their hearts to closely follow the Lord.”

The pope said that we should pray for young people, “Lord, help these young people to be free and not to be slaves [so that] they might have a heart only for You.”

Later that month, on March 31, 2014, the pope spoke with Salesians, members of a religious order that primarily works with youth. He told them, “The vocational dimension here is fundamental. Sometimes a vocation to the consecrated life is confused with a choice of volunteer work, and this distorted view is not good for institutes (religious orders). Next year — 2015 — which has been dedicated to the consecrated life, will be a favorable occasion to present its beauty to young people. Partial visions should always be avoided so as not to arouse vocational responses that are frail and based on weak motives. Apostolic vocations are ordinarily the result of good youth ministry. Caring for vocations requires specific attention: first prayer, then activities, personalized programs, courage in making the proposal, guidance and family involvement. The vocational geography has changed and is changing, and consequently more demanding formation, guidance and discernment is needed.”

What he told the Salesians is true for everyone — to promote vocations we need cooperation between families and other arms of the Church (such as youth ministry); we need to not do a “bait and switch” with young people, but show them what a given vocation truly entails; we need prayer and programming to help bring about responses. We all can be involved in this at home and at the parish.

Let us ask the Harvest Master to help ourselves work in the vineyard and to help us find fellow workers to bring in a good harvest of souls. There is a cornucopia of blessings out there; we just need Spiritual vision to find it. 

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