Issues Vol. 168 >
Vol. 168 No. 03 - January 21 - January 27, 2017
The Lord will provide for His flock, since He is the Shepherd (cf. Ez 34:14ff). This is the assurance that He gives us, and so the work of vocation promotion starts off on a firm foundation–the promise of the Lord Himself. But the Lord shares our human nature and invites us to be a part of His life. He entrusts to us His mission and asks us to collaborate with Him.
The seed of the vocation to the priesthood or the religious life is sown by the Lord, but the nurturing is to be carried out by various members of the Church. The family has a fundamental role in creating the atmosphere in the home for the seed to germinate. The parish too plays an important part in supporting the young person in his or her process of discernment. The community firstly prays for vocations, but its members are also called to encourage those who are seeking to understand God's call, in and through the circumstances of their lives, and to support those who have already responded to the call. If a parishioner feels that a particular young man or woman shows signs of a vocation, it would be worthwhile mentioning this to one of the priests or religious in the parish, and they could then follow up the matter with the potential candidate.
In discerning and responding to God's call, one can identify three significant factors. The first is the role that parents play in preparing a religious atmosphere in the home. Besides daily prayer, there can be special prayers on significant days of family life. Parents must find creative ways of preparing their children for the main seasons and feasts in the year.
The second factor is the opportunities and growth that can be experienced through involvement in the life of the parish. Being an altar server, attending mission camps and formation sessions in school, and later participating in youth programmes and helping out in the activities of the zone can help the young to reflect on life, to deepen their personal relationship with Christ, and interact with others, to be enriched by their sharing and to seek to live the gospel values.
The third factor in the discernment process is the candidate's personal interaction with priests. As persons genuinely concerned about others, priests could listen and offer spiritual guidance to youth through the joys and difficulties they encounter in life. The youth could be encouraged to seek the advice of some priests at different moments, in order to find out what God is really calling them to. A priest could provide assistance with very useful suggestions at each step. Priests must encourage and guide them; at the same time, leaving them free to choose according to their own convictions. It is important that they spend time in prayer, listening to the promptings of the Spirit, that would facilitate being absolutely open and honest with the one guiding them.
There are a variety of ways in which God calls a person. God uses the circumstances of our lives to communicate with us and to call us to share in His life. Discernment of a vocation involves an element of mystery, and we are led by God as we open ourselves to His revelation.
The Diocesan Vocation Service Centre has organised a number of programmes at different levels to create awareness and to provide guidance to those discerning their vocation. Talks and camps, leaflets and sharing of vocation stories have been of great help to young persons in their journey.
May the whole Church be proactive in the area of vocations, and find ways and means to help and guide persons to listen to and to respond enthusiastically to God's call. Those who respond will find joy, fulfilment and meaning in their lives, as they live out their priestly or religious calling.
+ John Rodrigues, Auxiliary Bishop of Bombay
My dear young people, I am pleased to announce that in October 2018, a Synod of Bishops will take place to treat the topic: "Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment." I wanted you to be the centre of attention, because you are in my heart. Today, the Preparatory Document is being presented, a document which I am also entrusting to you as your "compass" on this synodal journey.
I am reminded of the words which God spoke to Abraham: "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you." (Gen 12:1). These words are now also addressed to you. They are words of a Father who invites you to "go", to set out towards a future which is unknown, but one which will surely lead to fulfilment, a future towards which He Himself accompanies you. I invite you to hear God's voice resounding in your heart through the breath of the Holy Spirit.
When God said to Abram, "Go!", what did He want to say? He certainly did not say to distance himself from his family or withdraw from the world. Abram received a compelling invitation, a challenge to leave everything and go to a new land. What is this "new land" for us today, if not a more just and friendly society which you, young people, deeply desire and wish to build to the very ends of the earth?
But unfortunately, today, "Go!" also has a different meaning, namely, that of abuse of power, injustice and war. Many among you are subjected to the real threat of violence and forced to flee their native land. Their cry goes up to God, like that of Israel, when the people were enslaved and oppressed by Pharaoh (cf. Ex 2:23).
The great German philosopher Immanuel Kant said, "Two things fill my mind with wonder and awe: the starry heavens above and the moral law within." By "the moral law," Kant was referring to the voice of conscience within each one of us. All human beings have this calling, this vocation, to be morally good and to avoid being morally bad. Being fundamentally good is not something that we choose. Rather, it is a "default" or natural mode of being human, oriented towards personal and social wellbeing.
Connected to this vocation to be morally good is yet another vocation: the vocation to live a life of meaning and purpose. When this happens, what follows is what the Greek philosophers called eudaimonia or human flourishing, resulting in what Indian philosophers call ananda or bliss. How many people around us live truly happy lives? How many are engaged in study and work which they thoroughly enjoy? If you ask many people today whether they are enjoying their work, quite a few will say that while they make lots of money and achieve outward recognition and success, they are not really happy. This is often because they may not be following their inner calling. They are not doing what the Spirit pushes them to accomplish.
In our 'selfie' world, very few of us realise that true happiness and freedom does not lie in picking and choosing what will make us happy. Just like we cannot conveniently choose what is good, but are obliged to live according to the good, so also, we need to discover the best pathway to integral happiness, by asking questions such as these: For what purpose has the Lord of Life given me my distinctive set of talents, and placed me in my unique life situation? Which are the most growth-oriented and socially responsible organisations I could join? What would be the most productive and beneficial activities I could engage in? Which would be the most fulfilling personal relationships I could build? In what ways could I add specific value to the human family? If we discover the answers to these questions and follow through on them, two outcomes will naturally result: the quality of our lives would definitely be enhanced, and society would benefit from our unique contribution.
I remember quite vividly the day when I actually learned how to swim. I was around six years old, and had been taking swimming lessons for several weeks. I could stay afloat and swim short distances, but I lacked the confidence to really swim on my own. I would stick close to the edge of the pool, where I felt safe and secure. One fine day, as I was going through my usual safe routine close to the edge of the pool, the swimming instructor suddenly caught me, and threw me right into the middle of the pool. Initially, I panicked! There was no one else close by, and nothing to grab for safety. There was only one thing that I could do – and that was to start swimming! I thrashed about for a bit, but eventually managed to swim quite a good distance to the edge of the pool. That's when I discovered that I could swim longer distances safely, without any help. Once I got my confidence, I never looked back. I am grateful to my swimming instructor for forcing me out of my 'comfort zone' and helping me to realise my potential.
We usually love to remain in our 'comfort zones': in situations that are not challenging, in situations where we feel safe, secure and comfortable. While this affords us safety, it doesn't lead to growth.
The gospel text begins with the statement that when Jesus saw a crowd around Him, "He gave orders to depart for the other side [of the lake]" [v. 18]. This command of Jesus is not a strategy to escape from the crowd, but a challenge to the disciples to move on to greater things. We find this text at a significant point in Matthew's gospel – in chapter 8 – Jesus has finished His ministry in His home territory of Galilee with great success; He has just delivered the great 'Sermon on the Mount' [chapters 5-7], and we are told that the crowds were amazed at His teaching [7:28]. This was followed by a series of successful healings – that of a leper [8:2-4], the centurion's servant [8:5-13] and Peter's mother-in-law [8:14-15] and a multitude of sick people [8:16]. It was no wonder that He attracted such an admiring crowd. Jesus could have chosen to stay back and enjoy the adulation of the crowds, but He decides to cross the dangerous sea, and enter into new territory to continue His mission of proclaiming the Kingdom of God. His mission is not to enjoy the adulation of the masses, but to bring the Gospel to as many people as possible.
Every year, we have candidates joining seminaries. These future priests are confident that God has called them out of the whole world, like He called Abraham, saying, "Go from your country and your kindred, and your father's house to the land that I will show you." (Gen 12:1) These new fishes are uprooted from the immersive waters of their birth, childhood, youth and adulthood, and grafted into the soil of the seminary, with a faith quite like Abraham's. People always wonder what makes them so sure; with what iota of confidence do they presume that God Himself, and not some deceiving spirit cloaked as an angel of light, has just paid them a visit? The world calls it delusion, but the Church calls it discernment.
I suppose every person understands 'decision', if not discernment. When we go to a shop, we often decide between various brands of the same item. This choice is based on preference. When we choose a career after tenth grade, we have to choose between Arts, Science or Commerce and much more. This decision is based on skill and preference. When we choose a spouse however, or when we choose the consecrated life, it is not at all a choice or decision. It is discernment. Items on a shelf, Arts, Science and Commerce are all objects and possibilities we see. And if we can see them, then we can choose them; we can decide.
Nevertheless, what if you can never see the object, but only hear it. So you go into a store one day, and there is no Lays packet on the shelf. But you can hear Lays calling out to you, "Choose me. Choose me." Its voice is so loud and clear and distinct, that you can doubt your existence, but not that voice. Your response to Lays will be: "How on earth can I choose you, when I can't even see you? You are not "on the shelf" for me to decide!" Lays will whisper, "Don't decide; discern." Discernment is always used for an experience that is not physically present. But in the event of God's call, it is even harder, because, apart from the fact that we can't see God, hearing Him is not the same as hearing each other. The Bible does say that "the LORD said to Abram" (Gen 12:1), but underneath this call is a process of discernment, because of the sheer novelty of God's voice. We find this novelty of an experience also in the call of Samuel (1 Sam 3:4) who hears the voice, but is unable to discern who is calling him. More important than the voice falling on their eardrums is that the voice fell on their hearts making them drum. And as with all things related to the heart, one can't be swept away by its impulses and passions. Hence we discern.
for the spiritual needs of others. He is truly God's unique presence in the world with the power to make God present. One is not ordained or one does not become a priest for himself; he is ordained for others. Laying down one's life so that others may live.
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