READ HERE THE MESSAGE OF THE HOLY FATHER FOR THE FIFTY-SECOND WORLD DAY OF PRAYER FOR VOCATIONS
On 14 April of this year Pope Francis published his Message for the fifty-second World DAY OF PRAYER FOR VOCATIONS, which follows tradition in being celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Easter, in this case 26 April 2015 – the Sunday of the Good Shepherd, called as such by the typical image that springs from the gospel reading of that day!
The thinking of the Pope is a reflection on the relationship that exists between vocation and exodus. Francis invites us not to see vocation as something that concerns only those who choose the priesthood and religious life because every vocation is an exodus, and he affirms that ‘The Church is faithful to her Master to the extent that she is a Church which “goes forth”, a Church which is less concerned about herself, her structures and successes, and more about her ability to go out and meet God’s children wherever they are, to feel compassion (com-passio) for their hurt and pain’.
Exodus is at one and the same time both individual and communal. ‘This exodus process does not regard individuals alone, but the missionary and evangelizing activity of the whole Church. God goes forth from himself in a Trinitarian dynamic of love: he hears the cry of his people and he intervenes to set them free’. A sign of, and witness to, this dynamic in history, the Church ‘is meant to be a Church which evangelizes, goes out to encounter humanity, proclaims the liberating word of the Gospel, heals people’s spiritual and physical wounds with the grace of God, and offers relief to the poor and the suffering’.
The Church, observed the Second Vatican Council, ‘is by her nature missionary’ and ‘the Christian vocation is necessarily born of the experience of mission’. The action of the Holy Spirit draws every believer, according to his or her own mission – and thus not only priests – into this ‘missionary dynamism, awakening within us the desire, the joy and the courage to offer our own lives in the service of the Kingdom of God’. That is to say: ‘To offer one’s life in mission is possible only if we are able to leave ourselves behind’.
What are the relations between vocation, or better the response to vocation, which is always a gift of God, and exodus? ‘When we hear the word “exodus”, we immediately think of the origins of the amazing love story between God and his people, a history which passes through the dramatic period of slavery in Egypt, the calling of Moses, the experience of liberation and the journey toward the Promised Land’.
Exodus ‘is a parable of the entire history of salvation, but also of the inner workings of Christian faith. Passing from the slavery of the old Adam to new life in Christ is a event of redemption which takes place through faith (Eph 4:22-24). This passover is a genuine “exodus”; it is the journey of each Christian soul and the entire Church, the decisive turning of our lives towards the Father’. Therefore every vocation is an exodus. At the ‘root of every Christian vocation we find this basic movement, which is part of the experience of faith. Belief means transcending ourselves, leaving behind our comfort and the inflexibility of our ego in order to centre our life in Jesus Christ. It means leaving, like Abraham, our native place and going forward with trust, knowing that God will show us the way to a new land’. The Pope makes clear that this ‘going forward’ ‘is not to be viewed as a sign of contempt for one’s life, one’s feelings, one’s own humanity. On the contrary, those who set out to follow Christ find life in abundance’ (Mt 19:29).
Love, wrote Pope Benedict XVI, is ‘an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus towards authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God’. Thus the experience of exodus is the ‘paradigm of Christian life’. The paradigm of exodus is an ‘attitude of conversion and transformation, an incessant moving forward, a passage from death to life like that celebrated in every liturgy, an experience of passover’. However one is dealing with responding to the call of God, of ‘allowing him to help us leave ourselves and our false security behind, and to strike out on the path which leads to Jesus Christ, the origin and destiny of our life and our happiness’.
‘This liberating exodus towards Christ and our brothers and sisters also represents the way for us to fully understand our common humanity and to foster the historical development of individuals and societies. To hear and answer the Lord’s call is not a private and completely personal matter fraught with momentary emotion. Rather, it is a specific, real and total commitment which embraces the whole of our existence and sets it at the service of the growth of God’s Kingdom on earth’.
It is certainly the case that the Christian vocation, inasmuch as it is exodus, is ‘rooted in the contemplation of the Father’s heart’, but it ‘never means flight from this life or from the world’. Indeed, ‘it is a specific, real and total commitment’ to the construction of a society of truth, of justice and of peace.
Only those who live according to the paradigm of exodus can be truly happy. ‘This exodus towards God and others fills our lives with joy and meaning. I wish to state this clearly to the young, whose youth and openness to the future makes them open-hearted and generous. At times uncertainty, worries about the future and the problems they daily encounter can risk paralyzing their youthful enthusiasm and shattering their dreams, to the point where they can think that it is not worth the effort to get involved, that the God of the Christian faith is somehow a limit on their freedom. Dear young friends, never be afraid to go out from yourselves and begin the journey!’. Living exodus makes the life of every young person, and the life of every Christian, ‘richer and more joyful each day’. And some will be ‘surprised by God’s call’ to the priesthood or religious life!
The World Day of Vocations exists not only to ask the Lord to send the Church priests and religious, it also exists to help everyone to reflect on vocation. Vocation is to say ‘yes’ to the Lord who calls us to move out of ourselves and to go towards God in mission!