Pope Benedict XVI has designated Sunday, May 3, as the 46th World Day of Prayer for Vocations. We join our Holy Father this week in reflecting on this theme.

All the baptized are called to give witness to Jesus
Jesus is the perfect witness of the Father. In the Word made Flesh, we see the love of the Father in the face of Jesus, just as the Father beholds us in the face of His Son, who took upon Himself our human nature so that He might represent us before the Father. We, in turn, as the followers of Jesus, are called to give witness to Him. Having died and risen with Him at our Baptism, we are called to live out our Baptismal calling in holiness of life.

The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Council says the following concerning this call: “The followers of Christ, called by God not for what they had done but by his design and grace, and justified in the Lord Jesus, have been made sons and daughters of God by the Baptism of faith and partakers of the spanine nature, and so are truly sanctified. They must therefore hold on to and perfect in their lives that holiness which they have received from God” (Lumen Gentium, 40). All of us have recently renewed our commitment to this call to holiness, given to us at our Baptism, when we were sprinkled with the Easter water, recalling our Baptism and reaffirming our faith and commitment to Christ and His Church.

However, from the very beginnings of the Church, Jesus has called others to follow Him in a more intimate way as particular witnesses to Him and to His Kingdom, even in this world. This witness is lived out in a particular manner in the priesthood and the consecrated life.

In a talk which he recently gave to consecrated women in the United States, Cardinal Franc Rode, the Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, said: “From the birth of Christianity, some men and women were moved by the Spirit to devote their entire lives to imitating Christ more closely. Their consecration gradually took on the multiple forms we are familiar with today – rules and ways of life that at once express and give continuity to the charisms given by the Spirit. (Reforming Religious Life with the Right Hermeneutic, Stonehill College, 27 September 2008).

Theme of this year’s Vocation Prayer Day
Pope Benedict XVI has designated as the theme for this year’s World Day of Prayer for Vocations: “Faith in the spanine initiative – the human response.” We are called to pray for vocations because we believe in intercessory prayer. This is because Jesus has told us of its value in His sight. In particular, He spoke of the need for prayer for religious vocations: “Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:38). Just before saying this, Jesus said: “The harvest is great but laborers are few.”

These passages are of great importance to us in placing religious vocations in their proper context in our own day. First, we recall that even in His time, our Lord lamented the shortage of those who would respond to a religious vocation. Secondly, we are reminded that He is the Lord of the harvest and it is His harvest. Studies and programs are important and necessary and should not be ignored but we are not merely dealing with a scientific reality or sociological phenomena that we can control by coming up with our own solution.

In the mystery of those who are called to follow Jesus in a more radical way in the priesthood or the consecrated life, we are dealing with the deep mysteries of prayer, a spanine call and the free response of a generous heart. These are realities which cannot easily be reduced to scientific study or human control.

What is the witness of those who respond to a religious vocation?
Just what is the witness that is given by those who respond to a call to the priesthood or the consecrated life? The fact that there are those who leave home, family and the legitimate pleasures of this world in order to follow Christ more closely through the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience is a witness to the world that there is another reality-a heavenly reality-to which we are all called. Their lives give witness to this reality in the midst of this world.

This can be done through the many active apostolates by which various Religious communities of men and women serve the Church and society or by the contemplative life of prayer and penance, practiced by contemplative and cloistered communities. Each of these different forms contains elements of the other. The consecrated man or woman who carries out an active apostolate in the midst of the world must be nourished by prayer and contemplation. The contemplative religious is always conscious of the needs of the world, for which he or she is praying and offering the sacrifice of their lives.

The Decree on the Renewal of Religious Life of the Second Vatican Council sums up the living out of the counsels of the Gospel by consecrated men and women in this way: “They follow Christ virginal and poor (cf. Matthew 8:20; Luke 9:58) who, by obedience unto death on the Cross (cf. Philippians 2:8), redeemed humanity and made it holy. Under the impulse of love, which the Holy Spirit pours into their hearts (cf. Romans 5:5), they live more and more for Christ and his body, the Church (cf. Colossians 1:24)” (Perfectae Caritatis, 1).

Those who live the consecrated life are engaged in many forms of the apostolate. Those engaged in the active apostolate are often known to us by their generous service in the works of education, care for the poor and the sick and many other forms of service, which they perform as witnesses of their total dedication to Christ.

Here in our own Archdiocese we are blessed with a wide variety of apostolates performed by many consecrated men and women. Many of us benefit from the educational and charitable works of these Religious Brothers and Sisters who work in our midst and who give witness to Christ by their dedicated service, so necessary for building up the Body of Christ in our local Church.

We take this occasion to offer our heartfelt gratitude to the many Orders and Congregations of Religious Brothers and Sisters who are present in our Archdiocese. We should be mindful also of the Contemplative Religious Communities who pray for all of us and who contribute in such a valuable way to any success we enjoy in our labors for Christ.

The vocation to the Priesthood
More than anyone else, it would seem that consecrated men and women are conscious of the indispensable need for the priest. Since they have committed themselves to a deeper relationship with Jesus and to being witnesses to Him in the world, they know that their vocation cannot be lived out without the strength of the Eucharist. They also know that, according to God’s plan, the means of bringing Jesus in the Eucharist into our midst is through the Priesthood of Jesus Christ. The Priesthood of Jesus, exercised on the Cross and handed on at the Last Supper is the continuous outpouring of the love of the Father in our midst. This love is made manifest most completely in the Eucharist and it is the priest who is called upon to bring this mystery into the world.

The Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests of the Second Vatican Council teaches: “All ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate are bound up with the Eucharist and are directed towards it. For in the most blessed Eucharist is contained the entire spiritual wealth of the Church, namely Christ himself” (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 5). The priesthood, unlike the other forms of the consecrated life, which we esteem greatly, involves the conferral of a sacrament and makes possible the gift of the other sacraments to Christ’s faithful. This is according to God’s plan and it is most humbling to us, imperfect men, who are called to this priesthood to reflect on this mysterious truth.

An interactive relationship
As we reflect on the mystery of religious vocations, we are all called to marvel at the fact that God wishes us to have what we might call an interactive relationship with Him. He does not want us to love Him in a merely passive or automatic manner but rather with the free will of a loving heart. He even calls certain Christians to live out their baptismal commitment in a more radical way, by living lives of public witness to the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience. Likewise, He calls men to share in His very own Priesthood, so that the fruits of that priesthood might be brought to the world through those who themselves are also in need of its saving graces.

In the midst of the vocation that God has called each of us to, we pray in union with our Holy Father for an increase in the number of those who respond to God’s call to follow Him more intimately in the consecrated life and the priesthood, so that the Kingdom may be made ever more manifest, even in this world.

29 April 2009