Dear Brothers and Sisters,
It is not unusual today to hear people profess that although they are spiritual they are not religious. Or to declare that they have faith but do not have anything to do with the Church or churches. Whereas we are about to stand and publicly proclaim, “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” Even from the very first moment we were baptised and became a child of God, we were told in the Rite that “the Christian community welcomes you with great joy.” In the prayer over the baptismal water the priest said: “You have called your children to this cleansing water and new birth that by sharing the faith of your Church they may have eternal life.”
Just to make sure that all understand that at Baptism and Confirmation our profession of faith is done within the context of a “faith community”, the Church, the celebrant reminds us: “This is our faith. This is the faith of the Church. We are proud to profess it in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And not only do we receive our calling to be sons and daughters of the Father within the community of the Church, but all our further callings, our vocation as disciples of the Lord are in and for the Church. To add weight to the argument, in the Rite of Confirmation, we are told “The Holy Spirit….through whom we are gathered in unity of faith and diversity of calling, is received by us and is working invisibly to make the Church Holy and One.”
Although it might be in vogue to be spiritual but not religious, to be a person of faith but shunning the Church, it is not of Christ or his followers, neither based on the Word of God nor on the practice of God’s people throughout their history. We have been called to be part of the Body of Christ; we have been confirmed as mature members of his Church and gifted as disciples. This is certainly our calling, our vocation in the Church and for the Church.
On this World Day of Prayer for Vocations then, let’s look more closely into what a vocation is? To help us let me quote from The National Vocations Framework published on behalf of the Bishops’ Conference recently:
“Pope St John Paul reminded us that ‘Love is the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.’ This innate vocation grows in the life of the Christian who ‘walks in the path of a living faith which arouses hope and works through charity.’ As they walk in this path, people hear God calling them into discipleship, a living relationship with the person of Christ, a call that has three dimensions. Firstly, the universal call to holiness: God the Father calls people to listen to his Son, to be baptised in the Holy Spirit and to live as disciples of Christ. Secondly, the call to a way of life: a Christian disciple expresses their faith, hope and love through living as a consecrated person, an ordained minister or a lay person, in the married or single state. And thirdly, the call to work: God calls people to many different kinds of work, ranging from paid work to care of family members. Work on its own does not give meaning to life however; it is human beings who give meaning to work. Work constitutes one of the fundamental dimensions of a person’s earthly existence and of their vocation.
The distinctive way that a person integrates all three elements expresses the irreplaceable person God is calling them to be. By the grace of God, a Christian is enabled to live out this unique vocation: in the words of Bl. John Henry Newman ‘God has created me to do Him some definite service.’”
What then can we do, you and I?
“People are often reticent when it comes to speaking about vocation and in particular their own vocation. It is important that within families there should be conversations about the vocation of marriage and all other vocations. Parish communities should encourage people to talk about their vocations and to see it as a continuous discovery of God’s purpose in their lives. The culture of vocation is central to the life and curriculum of Catholic schools and is integral to all forms of youth ministry, family ministry and catechesis. Bishops, priests and deacons, together with consecrated men and women, need to speak freely about how their vocation has grown and to invite those they think suitable to consider a vocation to the priesthood, diaconate or consecrated life. And we all need to pray for vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life throughout the year, and especially today.”
I end this letter with Pope Francis’ prayer for Vocations, on this World Day of Prayer for Vocations:
Father of mercy, who gave your Son for our salvation and who strengthens us always with the gifts of your Spirit, grant us Christian communities which are alive, fervent and joyous, which are founts of fraternal life, and which nurture in the young the desire to consecrate themselves to you and to the work of evangelisation. Sustain these communities in their commitment to offer appropriate vocational catechesis and ways of proceeding towards each one’s particular consecration. Grant the wisdom needed for vocational discernment, so that in all things the greatness of your merciful love may shine forth. May Mary, Mother and guide of Jesus, intercede for each Christian community, so that, made fruitful by the Holy Spirit, it may be a source of true vocations for the service of the holy People of God.
Yours in blessed hope,
Bishop of Middlesbrough