“You know well enough that Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them.”
-St. Therese of Lisieux, Doctor of the Church
On Sunday July 7th, Pope Francis celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with many seminarians, novices and those discerning their vocations at St. Peter’s Basilica speaking to the mission of a vocation.
The word vocation comes from the Latin word “vocare” which means to call or to summon. The Lord calls each person to their own personal vocation which is their own journey to holiness, the universal vocation of all Christians. This call comes from God to man and is an invitation to freely take on the mission that God has for each person. In the summer program, Institute for Priestly Formation, seminarians are taught that one’s relationship with God is of the up most importance since it is from this relationship that their identity flows. Their identity then leads them to their mission. In his homily, Pope Francis addressed the three parts placing the emphasis on mission.
Man’s relationship to God is made visible through the sacraments, but it is most visible through the celebration of the Eucharist, when we are brought into full communion with God and all of heaven. Mark Brumley states it clearly in his article, The Eucharist: Source and Summit of Christian Spirituality, “In this way, as members of Christ and one another, we become ‘one body, one spirit in Christ,’ sharing imperfectly on earth in the heavenly liturgy and in that communion with God, the goal of the Christian life.” It is for that reason that Pope Francis, knowing that through the Eucharist humanity is brought into communion with God he said, “Today our joy is even greater, because we have gathered for the Eucharist on the Lord’s Day.” It is in the celebration of Mass that the greatest celebration is celebrated and where man is elevated to take part in the joy of the Holy Trinity, building on our relationship with our creator.
From that relationship with God, all are made aware and invited to freely accept their identity as beloved children of God. This identity is what all of God’s children share in common, whether believers or unbelievers. However, as future priests, seminarians are called to live out and integrate a deeper call, a call to become chaste spouses of the church, laying down their entire life for love of the church, the bride of Christ, and those that make up the bride, the people of God. Through this chaste spousal relationship they then are invited to exercise their roles as Spiritual Fathers, Divine Physicians and Head and Shepherd. These priestly identities are what the Institute for Priestly Formation calls the “Benchmark identities”. These are what seminarians should integrate into their lives as potential priests. And so it was only fitting that Pope Francis would reaffirm their identity when he said, “You are seminarians, novices, young people on a vocational journey, from every part of the world. You represent the Church’s youth!” Pope Francis continued to reaffirm their identity by reminding them of their Christ-like relationship with the church. He said, “If the Church is the Bride of Christ, you in a certain sense represent the moment of betrothal…” that moment when a man promises himself to the beloved. He equates it to the season of spring he says it is “the spring of vocation, the season of discovery, assessment, formation. And it is a very beautiful season, in which foundations are laid for the future.” These are words of encouragement from the Holy Father to men who are preparing, laying strong foundations with the help of God, for future ministry embarking on the mission set forth by the Word of God to serve the needs of the people.
But, “Where does mission originate?” asks the Holy Father. To this he answers, “It originates from a call, the Lord’s call, and when he calls people, he does so with a view to sending them out.” Pope Francis points out that the readings show three ways in which a person sent out is meant to live, “reference points of Christian mission…the joy of consolation, the Cross and prayer”.
Joy is what Pope Francis says is “the first element” of living a missionary life. When Isaiah addresses the people of God he is addressing a people who have been through a very dark experience in life, an experience of exile and suffering. Isaiah brings the people a message of hope when he says, “Rejoice … be glad … rejoice with her in joy.” (66:10). Pope Francis reminds the seminarians and novices that those in ministry and those being formed for future ministry are “called to be a bearer of this message of hope that gives serenity and joy: God’s consolation and tenderness to all.” However, he states that we must first experience God’s consolation, his love, in our lives so that we can then bring that consolation to the world that so desperately yearns for God’s consolation. The Pope says, “This is important if our mission is to be fruitful”. The call of Isaiah to rejoice must “resound in our hearts: ‘Comfort, comfort my people’ (40:1) and it must lead to mission.” This wonderful message of consolation can be communicated through words but the Pope makes it clear that “most of all they need us to bear witness to the mercy and tenderness of the Lord, which warms the heart, rekindles hope, and attracts people toward the good.” To be able to give the joy of God to others we must allow ourselves to experience and know the joy of God since one can only give from what they have. But this joy does not mean that we will not experience the cross of Christ, but face the cross in hope.
The Cross of Christ, Pope Francis says, is “the second reference point of mission”. He reminds all that St. Paul faced much suffering, weakness and defeat during his ministry but during the time of desolation he also was given joy and consolation. He says, “This is the Paschal mystery of Jesus: the mystery of death and resurrection. And it was precisely by letting himself be conformed to the death of Jesus that Saint Paul became a sharer in his resurrection, in his victory.” When we are in moments of trial we must be aware that the light of Christ is already at work in us recognizing that this “Paschal mystery is the beating heart of the Church’s mission!” He continues that “if we remain within this mystery, we are sheltered both from a worldly and triumphalistic view of mission and from the discouragement that can result from trails and failures”. In other words, when we remain united to the Paschal mystery we are protected from becoming desolate when we are faced with challenges and falls, since we are completely united to the Cross and resurrection of Christ and it assures us that whatever we do in mission we do in love and not for personal gain and away from the worldly understanding that suffering is only because we are failing at achieving something in our lives. We should always unite our trials and sufferings to the Cross because “It is the Cross – the Cross that is always present with Christ – which guarantees the fruitfulness of our mission…from the cross…we are reborn as a ‘new creation’ (Gal 6:15).” We can only unite ourselves to the Cross of Christ through a strong relationship with Christ himself, with the Holy Trinity, with all of heaven who have experienced the carrying of their cross, this is only achieved through prayer.
Pope Francis points to the last element of mission: prayer. Prayer is the central pillar of our mission in the world. It will be difficult for anyone to truly understand or hear their mission if not united to the voice of God. The Holy Father says,
“The labourers for the harvest are not chosen through advertising campaigns or appeals for service and generosity, but they are “chosen” and “sent” by God. For this, prayer is important. The Church, as Benedict XVI has often reiterated, is not ours, but God’s; the field to be cultivated is his. The mission, then, is primarily about grace. And if the Apostle is born of prayer, he finds in prayer the light and strength for his action. Our mission ceases to bear fruit, indeed, it is extinguished the moment the link with its source, with the Lord, is interrupted.”
Vocations are only heard in the silence of the heart, there aren’t any loud voices, heavenly thunder, divine telephone calls or visions associated with the regular call to vocation. Usually these calls come from God in the language of prayer, which is only heard in silence. For this reason, prayer is of great importance for all Christians. It is only through prayer that one can recognize the voice of God speaking and is able to respond in complete humility like Mother Mary. Prayer is and should always be, the foundation for action, for it is through this mystical link to heaven that one is able to become an instrument for the Lord. For this reason, Pope Francis says,
“‘Evangelization is done on one’s knees’, as one of you said to me the other day. Always be men and women of prayer! Without a constant relationship with God, the mission becomes a job. The risk of activism, of relying too much on structures, is an ever-present danger. If we look towards Jesus, we see that prior to any important decision or event he recollected himself in intense and prolonged prayer. Let us cultivate the contemplative dimension, even amid the whirlwind of more urgent and pressing duties. And the more the mission calls you to go out to the margins of existence, let your heart be the more closely united to Christ’s heart, full of mercy and love. Herein lies the secret of the fruitfulness of a disciple of the Lord!”
In prayer we allow for the Holy Spirit to guide us, showing us how to love as Christ loved. For, “whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8). Pope Francis says,
“The spread of the Gospel is not guaranteed either by the number of persons, or by the prestige of the institution, or by the quantity of available resources. What counts is to be permeated by the love of Christ, to let oneself be led by the Holy Spirit and to graft one’s own life onto the tree of life, which is the Lord’s Cross.”
The Holy Father finally encourages all to conform themselves to the logic of the love of the cross and to grow into deeper union with the Lord through the intercession of our Blessed Mother Mary.