MESSAGE OF THE HOLY FATHER
FOR THE 48th WORLD DAY
OF PRAYER FOR VOCATIONS
FOR THE 48th WORLD DAY
OF PRAYER FOR VOCATIONS
15 MAY 2011 FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
Theme: "Proposing Vocations in the Local Church"
Let the closing paragraph of the Holy Father’s message for today stand for all and serve as an introduction to my reflection on vocations promotion and the difficulties we face:
"The ability to foster vocations is a hallmark of the vitality of a local Church. With trust and perseverance let us invoke the aid of the Virgin Mary, that by the example of her own acceptance of God's saving plan and her powerful intercession, every community will be more and more open to saying "yes" to the Lord who is constantly calling new laborers to his harvest."
One of the topics I addressed briefly a week ago at the annual plenary assembly of the Bishops of the Antilles was vocations promotion and discernment. I did so while keeping in mind some words borrowed from the Holy Father’s homily of 5 February 2011, for the ordination of 5 bishops.
"Precisely in this hour... the Lord makes us understand that we cannot send workers to the harvest on our own, that it is not a question of management, of our own organizational capacity. Only God can send workers into his field. But he wants to send us to this work through the doors of our prayers. Thus this moment of thanksgiving for the realization of a sending on mission is, in a special way, also the moment of prayer: Lord, send laborers into your harvest! Open hearts to the one you have sent! Do not allow our supplication to be in vain!"
In a word, before we go on, be assured that nobody is more convinced than I am that prayer takes precedence over any vocations promotion program based on human ingenuity.
That said, let me say that so much of our faith in the Lord, in His power to save and to see to it that on their earthly pilgrimage His people are fed with the Eucharist, so much reassurance does not necessarily calm the fears or relieve the anguish over the lack of vocations facing many bishops who shepherd the flock in Christ’s stead. This faith in Christ the Good Shepherd may not even appear that comforting in the minds of many thoughtful and faithful lay people who are deprived of Sunday Mass for lack of a priest or who see their priests aging and no one coming up in the ranks to replace them. For our region in particular, the major seminary which recently closed (even if officially so only for three years for building repairs and the renewal of the seminarian population) stares back at us, perhaps even reproves us with an indiscriminate and less than salutary demand to correct what we are doing wrong and open the doors once again. The theme of the Holy Father’s message for today, “Proposing Vocations in the Local Church”, is not only a pertinent one but ends up being a confrontational challenge. With all that is going on in the world around us, one can feel almost if not truly helpless.
The Readings for Holy Mass on Good Shepherd Sunday (Year A) come to the rescue with a couple thoughts we need to hold onto in the face of hard times.
“I am the gate. Anyone who enters through me will be safe; he will go freely in and out and be sure of finding pasture.” (John 10:9)
While the terminology “horizontal and vertical” hardly renders the idea, it must be said that the horizontal or relational character of our Church experience today stifles our prayer because it places us often enough really outside the sheepfold. We can truly be out of touch with the supernatural, with the Divine. When the Holy Father invites us to enter through “the door of prayer” I think he is speaking about something vertical or supernatural, or if the spatial analogy disturbs, then, let us say, truly God-centered, truly focused on Jesus. “I am the gate.” Jesus says. He is the focus and too much of what we say and do looks to our neighbor or to our personal interests rather than to the Shepherd Who never leaves His flock untended. You could say that faith is lacking to the extent that we are not unlike Israel in the desert, impatient for Moses’ failure to return immediately from Mount Sinai and abandoning ourselves to crafting idols as a substitute for the Living God in Whom we should be placing our trust.
Invariably, when people are driving me around in the car (certainly in Jamaica and often on other islands) and we have to slow down or stop for sheep or goats on the road, people point out to me how much smarter goats are than sheep. I have heard this ten times if not two. My hosts always claim that goats seem to be able “to think on their feet” as the human expression goes. They are street savvy and manage road traffic, whereas sheep just plain follow or freeze. Needless to say, this predilection for goats here in the islands does not seem to be scriptural. You might say that part of the message of the final judgment scene from Matthew’s Gospel rests in understanding why the sheep are the ones invited into the Kingdom and the goats banished. Dependence upon God is not our immediate inclination; like goats we tend toward either self-reliance or despair.
The smarter of our two dogs, the one that receives all of the accolades, is the one that won’t stay put in the yard but is forever climbing out of the fence and chasing around the neighborhood all night with yelping and barking packs of strays, shredding ours and the neighbors’ trash bags in a search for morsels more tasty than the dog chow or chicken and rice the sisters so lovingly provide. Is the hound really smarter for being so “proactive”?
What is the kind of prayer that serves as an antidote to our restless distraction? While there are no sure-fire recipes or magic formulas, are we knocking on the right door, the real door of prayer? Do we seek to pass through the sheep gate Who is Christ or are we pretending to jump in and out like some nimble goat or my smarty dog? You might say then that our panic in the field of vocations promotion stems from our bold reliance on our personal skills and resilience. Some (let’s charge them with “progressive” posturing!) would say that if we can’t make it work according to the traditional norm then we’d better improvise. That doesn’t sound very scriptural either. Could it be that we’ve strayed too far? Could it be that we need the Shepherd to pick us up and carry us back to the fold?
The choice of the 2nd Reading for this Sunday is an important one for my reflection:
“The merit, in the sight of God, is in bearing punishment patiently when you are punished after doing your duty. This, in fact, is what you were called to do, because Christ suffered for you and left an example for you to follow the way he took. He had not done anything wrong, and there had been no perjury in his mouth. He was insulted and did not retaliate with insults; when he was tortured he made no threats but he put is trust in the righteous judge. He was bearing our faults in his own body on the cross, so that we might die to our faults and live for holiness; through his wounds you have been healed. You had gone astray like sheep but now you have come back to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:20/25)
Almost ingenuously I’d like to say that our salvation and vocations will bloom or burgeon as a result of our docility, as a result of our “heads down” following the Shepherd. If we could get people back into the sheepfold through the gate, we would stand a chance of them hearing the Shepherd’s voice and following Him out to verdant pastures.
I would hope that no one gives in to despair on this 48th World Day of Prayer for Vocations. I would also hope that nobody succumbs to the temptation to being rather street savvy in a goat-like fashion, jumping in and out of the fold at will. I would hope and pray that if we are not in the fold that we (especially our young people) would allow ourselves to be scooped up and carried back by the Shepherd. May we not abandon the faith of our fathers but rather entrust ourselves to Jesus, meek and humble of heart!
“You had gone astray like sheep but now you have come back to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.”
PROPERANTES ADVENTUM DIEI DEI