Saturday, March 2, 2013

The heart of vocation: "I want to do that too!"


“God called out to Moses from the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’ He answered, ‘Here I am.’ God said, ‘Come no nearer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.’”  With this incredible moment, Moses’ life would be changed forever.  He would go from being a privileged member of the Egyptian royal family to become a prophet and leader of a slave people on their way to freedom – all because of this encounter.

Think for a moment about how extraordinary this encounter is. Moses is going about his normal day-to-day activities of tending the flock, when he sees something that defies explanation – a bush appears to be on fire and yet the bush itself is not being consumed.  This initially brought about a curiosity in him to go and investigate this odd situation.  And, there, as he approaches, he hears a voice; a voice that he immediately recognizes as the voice of God.  Moses hid his face, believing that if he saw God, he would not live. He wasn’t ready to die.  But, this would not be the case, instead, Moses was being called by God to a new vocation; one that would last the rest of his lifetime; a vocation so profound that it would leave its mark on all generations to come after him right down to our own time.

There are two important things to remember from this encounter. First, God was very present to Moses.  And second, God had mercy on His people and was ready to rescue them with infinite love and patience.  That was what Moses learned on that day so long ago; and it is exactly the same for us today.  Like Moses, God has a vocation for each of us; and just like the people then, we too are constantly being shown God’s infinite mercy, love and patience.  We prayed that in our psalm today, “The Lord is kind and merciful.”

I read a vocation story about a young girl in the 1940s who learned a lesson and received a call. One day at lunch time, the children were told to bring their coats to their desks and get ready to go home for lunch.  They could line up as soon as their coats were buttoned and their hats on. They did this quickly because they were eager for lunch. But one little boy couldn’t button his coat, and he was holding the whole class up. This little girl thought to herself, “Boy, even my younger sister and brother can button their coats, what’s wrong with this boy?” And then she looked at her teacher.  Sr. Mary was across the room and noticed the boy standing unable to fix his coat. Her eyes met with his and she slowly walked over with a loving smile on her face and compassion in her eyes. Slowly she buttoned his coat while lovingly smiling to him.  He beamed back with all the love in his heart. The little girl who started out as judgmental, now stood in awe.  She thought to herself, “Sister didn’t even speak a word and she is doing something so good!  I want to do that too!” Today, she counts that simple day as the beginning of her own religious vocation.  In that moment, she saw the mercy, the love, the presence and the patience of God; and felt God calling her to the same; it changed her life from that day forward.

Now, we could stop right here, but we still have our Gospel passage to deal with which calls us to repentance.  Jesus tells the parable of the fig tree – a parable in which even the fig tree gets a second chance.  This is important because God gives us second chances too.  God gives us far more than second chances; He gives us infinite chances to repent and return to Him; to listen and hear His call; to be strengthened and follow His vocation for our lives.  God is always waiting to forgive us; to reconcile us; to welcome us back to Him.  And God is always calling us.  We want to meet God as best we can. Even knowing of God’s infinite love and mercy, God wants us – His beloved sons and daughters – to live good lives, to follow where He leads us. Every day is another gift of mercy, love, and compassion from God.

So what can each of us do about vocations?  Well, in vocation circles, we 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.  Those times have changed – but the good news is that 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 cumulative. If three persons offered encouragement, respondents were more than five times more likely to consider a religious vocation. It’s not rocket science.  When we encourage our youth to consider this way of life – they actually do!  So, we have to be the ones encourage young people to be open to the possibility.  To open their hearts to listen to Jesus; to to be open to God’s plan for them – whether religious, married, single,  or priest.  

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?  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?   

In just a few moments, God will reveal Himself to us just as powerfully as He did to Moses; this time not in a burning bush, but in the Blessed Sacrament – His true and real presence among us.  He will again call us to follow our true vocation as His children.  If we value the Eucharist; if we value the grace of forgiveness through Confession; if we value having someone at our bedside when we are near death to usher us into Heaven; if we value these and so many things – we need priests.  We all need priests.  Who will be the priests that bring us Jesus into the next generation?  Surely, some of them must be sitting among us here in this church today.

Join me now in praying to our Blessed Mother, asking her to strengthen the young to consider living extraordinary lives as priests, deacons or religious men and women.  Let us pray, “Hail Mary…”

May the Lord give you peace.

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