Answering God’s call – Pope Benedict on vocations as a sign of hope

pope writingOn the Fourth Sunday of Easter – still a long way away, it seems as we are approaching the Fourth Sunday of that other great season, Advent – the Church will join together, “united in prayer, to ask from God the gift of holy vocations and to propose once again, for the reflection of all, the urgent need to respond to the divine call,” as Pope Benedict XVI writes in his Message for the 50th World Day of Prayer for Vocations (My Dutch translation here).

Taking as its theme “Vocations as a sign of hope founded in faith”, the message is first and foremost a meditation on hope. Drawing on Abraham’s faith in Gods promise that He would make him “the father of many nations” (Rom. 4:18), the pope explains the reason for our hope: Gods faithfulness. He writes:

“Dear Brothers and Sisters, what exactly is God’s faithfulness, to which we adhere with unwavering hope? It is his love! He, the Father, pours his love into our innermost self through the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom 5:5). And this love, fully manifested in Jesus Christ, engages with our existence and demands a response in terms of what each individual wants to do with his or her life, and what he or she is prepared to offer in order to live it to the full.”

And later Benedict suggests a very real and practical realisation of this response to Gods love manifested in Christ:

“Just as he did during his earthly existence, so today the risen Jesus walks along the streets of our life and sees us immersed in our activities, with all our desires and our needs. In the midst of our everyday circumstances he continues to speak to us; he calls us to live our life with him, for only he is capable of satisfying our thirst for hope. He lives now among the community of disciples that is the Church, and still today calls people to follow him. The call can come at any moment. Today too, Jesus continues to say, “Come, follow me” (Mk 10:21). Accepting his invitation means no longer choosing our own path. Following him means immersing our own will in the will of Jesus, truly giving him priority, giving him pride of place in every area of our lives: in the family, at work, in our personal interests, in ourselves. It means handing over our very lives to Him, living in profound intimacy with Him, entering through Him into communion with the Father in the Holy Spirit, and consequently with our brothers and sisters. This communion of life with Jesus is the privileged “setting” in which we can experience hope and in which life will be full and free.”

The World Day of Prayer for Vocations is mostly aimed at vocations to the priesthood and religious life, but we must not forget that we all have a vocation. Because we are baptised, Christ calls us all. Each of us must decide to answer, and also how to answer. Hearing the call, ans thus answering “is possible in Christian communities where the faith is lived intensely, where generous witness is given of adherence to the Gospel, where there is a strong sense of mission which leads people to make the total gift of self for the Kingdom of God, nourished by recourse to the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, and by a fervent life of prayer.”

Archdiocese launches vocations app

In the runup towards the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, next Sunday, the Archdiocese of Utrecht’s vocations council announces the release of their Vocations app. It is is for now only available for Android users, and can be downloaded here.

The Dutch-language app is mainly informative, containing a list of frequently asked questions about the priesthood, vocations and discernment, as well as an interview with Fr. Patrick Kuipers, chairman of the vocations council.

About the app, which was designed and built by four students from the Saxion University of Applied Sciences in Enschede, Fr. Kuipers says:

“I hope that this app will lead more young people to think about the question if the priesthood is for them. There is, in any case, now an easily accessible, modern means, without obligation, to give some initial information about a vocation to the priesthood to interested people.”

Answering the Lord’s call because of love, Pope Benedict’s Message for World Day of Prayer for Vocations

Released yesterday, Pope Benedict’s Message for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations is one of those texts which builds upon the rich source of Sacred Scripture, with the Holy Father throwing out references to specific Bible passages like only he can. The main topic is the twofold divine love, love of God and love of the neighbour. It is a topic that the pope has written about before, not least in his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est.

This love, the pope writes, “must be lived with a particular intensity and purity of heart by those who have decided to set out on the path of vocation discernment towards the ministerial priesthood and the consecrated life; they are its distinguishing mark. Love of God, which priests and consecrated persons are called to mirror, however imperfectly, is the motivation for answering the Lord’s call to special consecration through priestly ordination or the profession of the evangelical counsels. Saint Peter’s vehement reply to the Divine Master: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you” (Jn 21:15) contains the secret of a life fully given and lived out, and thus one which is deeply joyful.”

The text of the message is also available in Dutch.

The need for vocations

Dutch blogging priest Schoppenkoning ponders the unhappy convergence of the World Day of Prayer for Vocations (tomorrow) with the upheaval around the resignation of two bishops not too far across the Dutch border. He wonders if you can still honestly and in good conscience ask young men if they have ever thought of becoming priests.

He thinks we most certainly can, and I wholeheartedly agree. Now that the Church is hit by a serious crisis it is clear that what she needs is people who want to follow Christ, the most innocent victim. This is the time to ask people to serve the Church in total imitation of Christ, for the benefit of a sinful and broken world. Because the Church is His, and certainly not ours. He is without sin and we most certainly are not, and yet… And yet God loved us so much that He gave His only Son.

God calls everyone to follow Him in the example of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. When we do we will stumble, we will fall, we will even fail. Now that that failure is so very evident, the Church needs honest and conscientious men who are willing to answer Christ’s call nonetheless. And the world deserves, needs, to recognise those qualities in those men.

You must never forget that priests are, and that they remain, men. God does not perform a miracle to wrest them from the human state.

– Emmanuel Cardinal Suhard, Archbishop of Paris (1874-1949)

Let us pray tomorrow specifically for vocations to the priesthood and also to the religious life, for young men and women to find the courage and the support to say ‘yes’ to Christ, in full confidence that He will help them. Let’s also pray that their faith will open these men and women to the world and at the same time bring them ever closer to Christ. May their honest and true witness of their faith in all they do and say be an inspiration for others, and may it lead them in turn to God.

Let’s also pray for ourselves, that we may ever discern our own vocation further, so that we may fully live in Christ.

Prayer of Thomas Merton

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
Nor do I really know myself,
And the fact that I think I am following your will
Does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you
Does in fact please you.
And I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this,
You will lead me by the right road
Though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
And you will never leave me to face my struggles alone.

A personal appeal from the bishop of Antwerp

Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp has written a letter for the upcoming World Day of Prayer for Vocations (25 April). Nothing extraordinary: the pope has published a message and so did the Dutch bishops. But Bishop Bonny’s letter has a very appealing personal tone, aimed exactly at young men who, at most, have only fleetingly considered some career in the Church.

Like large parts of Europe, Belgium too suffers from a shortage of priests. The practical problems caused by that will be evident, but another problem caused by this shortage is that the possibility of a vocation to the priesthood is no longer considered by many young men. After all, they don’t see many priests around them and if they do, they’re often old men, distant in age and experience. To counter that, to reach people again at their own level and in their own experiences, the Church must adopt a tone that can achieve that. In the case of finding prospective candidates for the priesthood the Church can’t take anything for granted: discerning a vocation must be presented as something new, something different, not as something that is normal and logical to aspire to. For many people it isn’t. But we do need those people, and they need to be aware of what their vocation may possibly be.

I think Bishop Bonny, in being open and inviting, and by very personally appealing to the reader, achieves that. I doubt that the Diocese of Antwerp will immediately see a massive influx of candidates, and I don’t think the bishop does either. These things take time. But, together with the new archbishop in Brussels, this letter may be another step in the right direction for the Church in Belgium.

Read the letter in Dutch or in English.

Dutch bishops’ message for World Prayer Day for Vocations

The Dutch bishops have released a message for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, which will fall this year on 25 April. It is available via the Diocese of Breda here. A translation into English is here.

The pope released his message a while ago, and that too is available in both Dutch and English.

Papal message for World Prayer Day for Vocations

The Vatican released Pope Benedict’s message for the 47th World Day of Prayer for Vocations, this year on 25 April. Like many of his recent messages, this one was written late last year, but released only now.

In it, the Holy Father addresses the role of priests and religious in fostering vocations among young people. Their life is an example and as such they have an obligation to live according to their calling. Read my translation of the message here or via the Translations tab above.