Thursday, January 17, 2013

Creating a culture of vocations

HOMILY FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, National Vocation Awareness Week, January 20, 2013:

A woman went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land and visited the village of Cana where Jesus performed His first miracle.  At the gift shop, they sell a fine vintage of wine which they claim will be the best you’ve ever tasted.  The woman bought several bottles to bring home as gifts for family and friends.  At the end of the pilgrimage, she and her group were at the airport just about to head through security to board their plane when the woman realized that she forgot to put the bottles in her checked luggage and instead had them in her carry-on.  Thinking quickly, she took out a marker and labeled each of the bottles “Water.”  When she got to the security officer, he opened her bag, looked at the bottles and said, “What are these?”  She calmly responded, “They are just water.”  The officer looked suspiciously and said, “Well, we’re going to have to open one to check.”  He opened the bottle and poured some out and of course it was the fine vintage from Cana.  “Ma’am,” he said. “This isn’t water.  It is wine.”  Without missing a beat, the woman threw her arms in the air and cried out, “Hallelujah, Lord, you’ve done it again!” after which the officer waived her through.

As we hear this familiar story of Jesus and Mary at the wedding feast at Cana it is interesting to note that Mary, the mother of Jesus, only makes two appearances in St. John’s Gospel: in the passage we heard today at the beginning of Jesus public ministry; and then again at the crucifixion, the end of His ministry.

As we heard today, as the wedding feast went on, the wine ran out. Mary went out of her way to intercede with Jesus, she encouraged Him, and He performed what John tells us was His very first miracle.  But, if this was Jesus' very first miracle, how did Mary know He could do it?  Well, very simply, good mothers know their children. They know the hidden talents and gifts of their children. There are many young men and women who have gone on to accomplish great things in life because their mothers and fathers believed in them and encouraged them.

You know, we often talk about the need in the Church for more men and women to follow the call of God and accept a vocation to ministry in the Church. We know that there are fewer and fewer priests and religious, and more and more Catholics in our parishes.  But, I want to challenge the notion of a so-called Vocation Crisis.  As you know, I am the Vocation Director for our Franciscan community and personally, I don’t believe there is a Vocation Crisis.  I believe that what we have is a Vocation Awareness Crisis.  I know that God continues to call men and women into service, but I think we have created a point in our Catholic culture where people no longer have the ears to hear that call; or the willingness to follow it.

In vocation circles, we often talk about creating a culture of vocations.  We know it used to exist.  Fifty years ago, there was no greater honor to a family than if one of its members became a priest or a religious, but those times have changed – and they can change again.  If we become the agents of that change.  We all know that aside from complaining that there aren’t enough priests, we don’t really encourage vocations any more.  When someone mentions that they may be considering a vocation today, the regular response is not one of support, but the typical response is, a question, “Why would you want to do that?”  Outside of our church, our secular culture values materialism, wealth, status, position, celebrity and power, far, far above a call to poverty, chastity, obedience and service and so the natural outcome is fewer deacons, priests and religious.  God always calls more than enough workers for harvest, but too often we question that call and to fail to support it. 

And yet a recent study by the U.S. bishops showed that something as simple as having even one person encourage an individual to consider a vocation doubles the likelihood that they will do so, for both men and women. Furthermore, the effect is additive. If three persons offered encouragement, respondents were more than five times more likely to consider a religious vocation. We need to encourage our youth to consider this way of life just as they consider the myriad other ways of life presented to them every day.  Ultimately it is about doing what God wants you to do.  It isn’t that religious and priests never wanted a relationship or marriage or children or a nice big house and a fancy car; rather, it is that we are called to something different.  Each way of life is full of challenges – as any married person can attest to.  But, when it is what you are called to, you cannot imagine doing anything else.  We have to encourage people to be open to the possibility.  To open their hearts to listen to Jesus.

The simple thing that we are all called to do is encourage young people to be open to whatever God has planned for them – whether religious, married, single,  or priest.  When we make Jesus, manifested in our world, manifested in the Eucharist, Reconciliation and all the sacraments, the center of our life, we look at life differently.  You see, it is a domino effect.  When we are open to the presence of Jesus, we become the presence of Jesus in the world.  We leave this church each and every week as walking Tabernacles containing the presence of Jesus for our world. 

So, what can we do for vocations in our own limited way?  First and foremost, we can talk about them, we can talk about a life given fully to God, we can stop being afraid of raising the subject with someone.  In all of my work with young people, I encounter many young men and women who I believe are being touched by God for a special role of service.  I always, always tell them that.  I always encourage discussion about that.  Ask them to at least consider the possibility.  In fact, someone here today could be sensing God’s call. Does this mean that they will pursue a vocation?  Perhaps, but at the very least, it means that if we encourage them, they will not go through life wondering, “was I called?”  And, we can only talk about the issue when we value this way of life.   It is the responsibility of every Catholic.

I’d like to ask you all today – have you ever ad the thought about someone that they might make a good priest, a good religious sister or brother?  If you’ve had that thought, did you tell them? 

In Mary today we are given a great example of how we can all support vocation awareness.  Mary saw something in her Son, she encouraged it, prayed for it, supported it all through His ministry, from the very beginning to the very end.  Mary is the model for us all.  We all have to do the same.   Mary encouraged Jesus and he reached out to the people at the wedding, and – literally - a miracle took place. 

Today, then, is a good day to ask ourselves: Who among us might God be calling?  What can I do to support that call?  How can I be a Vocation Director in my own family, church, community?   How will there continue to be this manifestation of Jesus in our world if no one is encouraged to take up the call.   Let me end with a vocation prayer that was written by Pope John Paul II:

Lord Jesus, as You once called the first disciples to make them fishers of men,
let your sweet invitation continue to resound: Come, follow Me!
Give young men and women the grace of responding quickly to Your voice.
Support your bishops, priests and consecrated people in their apostolic labor.
Grant perseverance to our seminarians and to all those
who are carrying out the ideal of a life totally consecrated to Your service.
Awaken in our community a missionary eagerness.
Lord, send workers to your harvest and do not allow humanity to be lost
for the lack of pastors, missionaries
and people dedicated to the cause of the Gospel.
Mary, Mother of the Church, the model of every vocation,
help us to say "yes" to the Lord Who calls us to cooperate
in the divine plan of salvation.

May God give you peace.

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