21 February 2011

Homily - 20 February 2011

The Sixth Sunday of the Year (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

“The ability to foster vocations is a hallmark of the vitality of a local Church.” With these words Pope Benedict XVI concluded his Message for the 48th World Day of Prayer for Vocations, which will be observed on May 15th, the Fourth Sunday of Easter.

His message centers around the theme, “Proposing Vocations in the Local Church,” and his words are a clarion call to Catholics everywhere.

The words of the Lord Jesus echo through the centuries down to our present day: “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few. Pray, therefore, the Master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest” (Matthew 9:36-38)!

Here in our own Diocese of Springfield in Illinois we are beginning to recognize the truth of these words all the more. Even so, our present situation is a time for neither despondency nor apathy, but rather a time to dedicate ourselves anew to the promotion and cultivation of vocations, particularly to the priesthood and to the consecrated life.

A vocation is a calling to a certain way of life; it is not a career, an occupation or a job; these can exist within a vocation. The Church knows of three vocations, three callings to a way life, that the Lord give to his people: the vocation to the single life (which includes the call to consecrated life), the vocation to the married life and the vocation to the priestly life.

The Lord calls each member of the faithful to one of these vocations to that everyone might fulfill the command of Jesus given at the end of today’s Gospel: “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). It is the same command repeatedly given in the Book of Leviticus: “Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy” (Leviticus 19:2).

A vocation, then, is calling to a certain manner life through which a person follows Christ Jesus and grows in holiness. Those called to the single life grow in holiness by serving those around them. Those called to the married life grow in holiness by helping their spouse – and their children – grow in holiness each day. Those called to the priestly life grow in holiness through the exercise of the celebration of the Sacraments, through their preaching and teaching, and their pastoral care of those entrusted to them.

In his message, the Holy Father urges us forward in the promotion of priestly vocations with these words:

Particularly in these times, when the voice of the Lord seems to be drowned out by “other voices” and his invitation to follow him by the gift of one’s own life may seem too difficult, every Christian community, every member of the Church, needs consciously to feel responsibility for promoting vocations. It is important to encourage and support those who show clear signs of a call to priestly life and religious consecration, and to enable them to feel the warmth of the whole community as they respond “yes” to God and the Church.

To sum up what Pope Benedict says with these words we need only remember what the Knights of Columbus have for years been telling us: “Vocations are everybody’s business.”

I ask you, then, what are you doing to promote vocations here in your parish and throughout the Diocese? What will you do today, tomorrow, next week and even next year? None of us can simply stand on the sidelines waiting for vocations to sprout up; each of us has a part to play in their cultivation.

Parents first till the soil when they present the child for Baptism and they plant the seed as they educate their child in the ways of faith. Family, friends, teachers and fellow parishioners help nourish and water the soil of the soul with their own examples of faith and their encouragement to seek always the will of God. Each of us has a part to play in the cultivation of vocations for we are all one in the Body of Christ.

How do we go about doing this? Pope Benedict provides us with a four-step program aimed helping children and young people “grow into a genuine and affectionate friendship with the Lord.” Growing into such a friendship with Jesus involves four steps.

The first is “cultivated through personal and liturgical prayer.” Friendship with the Lord is like our other friendships. If we do not spend time with him each day we cannot know him and be his friend.

At the same time, it is one to thing to attend Mass on Sundays and Holydays, but quite another to actually enter into the prayer of the Mass, to enter into the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord. It was thing to receive Holy Communion and return to the pew as if nothing happened; it is quite another to know who it is that we receive in the Eucharist and to leave the Mass with the certainty of his presence and the desire to bring him with me wherever I go.

The second step is “to grown in familiarity with the sacred Scriptures and thus to listen attentively and fruitfully to the word of God.” It was Saint Jerome who famously said that “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” The Bible is not simply a collection of stories. The Scripture is our story; it is our past, our present and our future. Through the inspired word the Lord still speaks with us and is present to us. We must be familiar with the Scriptures because through them we come to know the Lord better.

The third step is “to understand that entering into God’s will does not crush or destroy a person, but instead leads to the discovery of the deepest truths about ourselves.”

The fourth step is “to be generous and fraternal in relationship with others, since it is only in being open to the love of God that we discover true joy and the fulfillment of our aspirations.”

This program of renewal is not without its challenges and difficulties, but it is not impossible, either; we know the Lord wants to provide shepherds after his own heart for his flock, but we must first be willing to encourage and support them and let them enter into the Lord’s service (cf. Jeremiah 3:15).

We must always remember that “proposing vocations in the local Church means having the courage through an attentive and suitable concern for vocations, to point out this challenging way of following Christ, which, because it is rich in meaning, is capable of engaging the whole of one’s life.”

Let us, then, beg the Lord to give us the grace to promote, encourage and nourish vocations in our parish as we beg him to send more laborers into his harvest. Amen.

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