Saturday, 6 May 2006

Vocations Sunday

This Sunday ('Good Shepherd Sunday') we pray for vocations. Actually, in a way that doesn't really make sense – the Lord calls us to follow Him, whether we like it or not. He calls some of us in a very specific way. As far as God is concerned, there is no shortage of vocations. Many people are called to marriage – and we need to pray for all those who are married or engaged because so much in our society stands against life-long fidelity and making sacrifices in order to raise a Christian family. Others will be called to Priesthood and the Religious Life. What we pray for today is that people recognise and accept their God-given vocation - and have the courage and patience to follow it through.

The call to Priesthood can come about in many ways. For St Ignatius Loyola it was the reading of saint’s lives as he recovered from a serious battle wound. For St Francis de Sales it was the occasion when, three times in one day, he fell from his horse and found that his sword and scabbard had landed on the ground in the form of a cross – a sure sign that he was being called to give up his noble pedigree for the nobler pedigree of Christ’s Priesthood. For St John Bosco it was one of his famous dreams – he was beckoned to a group of children and told to take charge of them and be their guide. For many people, myself included, it comes about in a less spectacular way. God normally speaks to us through the details of our everyday lives – the gifts and interests he gives us, for example, or the people we meet. Growing up in a strongly Catholic family, having two relatives who were priests and (especially at University) being surrounded by people who were also thinking about a Priestly vocation were important factors in discerning my own vocation.

Today we pray for a climate that will allow more people to hear the call of God. The shortage of priests has not been caused by the absence of vocations - many are called but many are reluctant to go forward. Following a vocation demands a lot of courage simply because it goes against the grain. And, it must be said, the Church itself sometimes doesn't do the best job in encouraging and sustaining vocations.

Not so long ago, most Catholic boys would think about becoming a priest and most Catholic girls would think about becoming a nun. They might think about it for 5 seconds and realise that it wasn't for them, but at least it was a serious option. There was a climate of vocations. Families were overjoyed rather than embarrassed if one of their number had a religious vocation. Some families even had multiple priests and nuns – we think of Cardinal Herbert Vaughan, who had five brothers who were priests (two of them bishops) and five sisters who were nuns! This was largely result of his mother’s prayers, who made a daily Holy Hour that her children would serve God either in the sanctuary or the cloister. Do we have such families today?

Our great model in discerning and following a vocation is, of course, Our Blessed Lady, who we honour this month. She was given a unique vocation – to be the Virgin Mother of God. She freely accepted the Angel Gabriel’s message and fully submitted to the will of God. As St Augustine put it, ‘the angel announces; the Virgin listens, believes and conceives.’ To be a Virgin Mother was something without precedent, yet she assented with a humble and daring heart. Her fiat, her acceptance of this vocation led to the Incarnation. Through the power of the Holy Spirit a child was conceived – a child who would be our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Mary lived out her Motherhood faithfully from that day – leading ultimately to the pain of Calvary and the joy of Easter.

Today we pray for vocations. We pray that young people will be receptive to the call of God – that, like Mary, they will daringly say ‘yes’ to God so that, like Mary, their lives will bear much fruit. We pray that their families will be open to their desire and that no obstacles will be put in their way. Today we commit ourselves to building up a climate of vocations. Priests and Religious don't grow on trees. They don't drop magically out of the sky. They come from our families and from our parishes. Look at those around you; look at yourselves. What does God want of you? Is the Lord calling you to serve Him in a special way as a priest or a religious? Quo vadis? Where are you going?

2 Comments:

Blogger Kevin K. said...

Bravo! Beautiful! I could not agree more heartily. It seems that no matter how often we encourage families to open to vocations, they rarely 'get it'.

6:11 am  
Blogger Fr Nicholas said...

Thanks for your comment. When I entered seminary, some Catholic friends made disparaging comments (especially about the 'burden' of celibacy - one person even suggested that I become an Anglican, because at least then I could marry). Many non-Catholics, on the other hand, seemed more enthusiastic ('how beautiful that you're giving your life to God'). We really do need to restore a climate of vocations within the Church.

8:59 am  

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