Today is the World Day of Prayer for Vocations or Vocations Sunday as it is more commonly known. The theme for reflection chosen by Pope Francis for 2016 is ‘The Church, Mother of Vocations’.
In his message Pope Francis urges all the faithful to assume their responsibility for the care and discernment of vocations. He also shares his hope that “during the course of this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, all the baptized may experience the joy of belonging to the Church and rediscover that the Christian vocation, just like every particular vocation, is born from within the People of God, and is a gift of divine mercy. The Church is the house of mercy, and it is the “soil” where vocations take root, mature and bear fruit.”
Pope Francis goes on to focus in on three specific points about vocations:
- Vocations are born within the Church: From the moment a vocation begins to become evident, it is necessary to have an adequate “sense” of the Church. No one is called exclusively for a particular region, or for a group or for an ecclesial movement, but rather for the Church and for the world. “A sure sign of the authenticity of a charism is its ecclesial character, its ability to be integrated harmoniously into the life of God’s holy and faithful people for the good of all” (ibid., 130). In responding to God’s call, young people see their own ecclesial horizon expand; they are able to consider various charisms and to undertake a more objective discernment. In this way, the community becomes the home and the family where vocations are born. Candidates gratefully contemplate this mediation of the community as an essential element for their future. They learn to know and to love their brothers and sisters who pursue paths different from their own; and these bonds strengthen in everyone the communion which they share.
- Vocations grow within the Church: In the course of formation, candidates for various vocations need to grow in their knowledge of the ecclesial community, overcoming the limited perspectives that we all have at the beginning. To that end, it is helpful to undertake some apostolic experience together with other members of the community, for example: in the company of a good catechist, to communicate the Christian message; together with a religious community, to experience the evangelisation of the peripheries sharing in the life of the cloister, to discover the treasure of contemplation; in contact with missionaries, to know more closely the mission ad gentes; and in the company of diocesan priests, to deepen one’s experience of pastoral life in the parish and in the diocese. For those who are already in formation, the ecclesial community always remains the fundamental formational environment, towards which one should feel a sense of gratitude.
- Vocations are sustained by the Church: After definitive commitment, our vocational journey within the Church does not come to an end, but it continues in our willingness to serve, our perseverance and our ongoing formation. The one who has consecrated his life to the Lord is willing to serve the Church wherever it has need. The mission of Paul and Barnabas is a good example of this readiness to serve the Church. Sent on mission by the Holy Spirit and by the community of Antioch (cf.Acts 13, 1-4), they returned to that same community and described what the Lord had worked through them (cf. 14: 27). Missionaries are accompanied and sustained by the Christian community, which always remains a vital point of reference, just as a visible homeland offers security to all who are on pilgrimage towards eternal life.
Highlighting the importance of priesthood as a vocation, Pope Francis says, “Among those involved in pastoral activity, priests are especially important. In their ministry, they fulfil the words of Jesus, who said: “I am the gate of the sheepfold […] I am the good shepherd” (Jn 10: 7, 11). The pastoral care of vocations is a fundamental part of their ministry. Priests accompany those who are discerning a vocation, as well as those who have already dedicated their lives to the service of God and of the community.”
Pope Francis concludes his message by reminding us that “the Church is the mother of vocations in her continual support of those who have dedicated their lives to the service of others”.