“We Are His People, the Sheep of His Flock” World Day of Prayer for Vocations

Decorative ImageIn the last century, one of the great developments in the history of the Church was the development of many “lay movements.” These lay movements often developed as a result of a rediscovery of the importance of baptism and the call that is given to all Christians to understand that they have been saved by Christ and that they are to live their lives as His disciples. One of these lay groups has the name the “Neo- Catechumenal Way.” The members of this community are convinced that their Baptism is one of the most significant moments of their lives and they spend their entire lives trying to respond to their baptismal call. Here in Toronto, we have several parishes that are devoted to this way of living and at St. Augustine’s Seminary there are about 20 candidates for the priesthood studying to serve this community and the Archdiocese. They are an important reminder to all of us of the importance of taking our Baptisms seriously and attempting to respond to God’s love for us.

This is something that has always been an important part of the Easter Season. This year, our parish community accompanied eight adults who were baptized at Easter, one who was received into the Church and another who was confirmed and received First Communion. For those who were baptized, the Easter Season is supposed be a time of understanding the significance of their baptismal calling and discerning how best to live their life within the Church that they were received into at Easter. This period is called the “Mystagogy” and has a very ancient past in the Church. It goes back to the second and third century and points to a time when those baptized were really challenged to take their Baptisms seriously and think about how it would change their lives. This is very similar to what the Neo-Catechumenal Way is all about and ultimately reminds us that this is how we should be living our faith as well. All those who have been baptized ought to be discerning throughout their lives how they are to live their baptismal calls at each stage of life.

During the Easter Season, you and I are reminded of our Baptisms and challenged to think about the way in which our Baptisms should impact on our lives. This is why we renew our baptismal promises at Easter. In order to help each of us do this, we hear a great deal from the Acts of the Apostles in this season. This reminds us of the fact that the early Christians allowed their Baptism to change the way they lived and determined how they lived their mission in the Church. In order that we might also consider the significance of our Baptisms and the way in which each one of us responds to God’s love for us within the Church, on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, which is today, each year the Church holds the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. Today, we are all asked to think about our response to God’s love for us and to pray for vocations in the Church.

I think for most Catholics, when we think about vocations, we tend to think of a call to the priesthood or the religious life for men and women. The fact is, however, that every baptized person in the world has a vocation. The word “vocation” comes from the Latin word “vocare.” This word means “to call.” Through our baptisms, we are all called to follow Jesus and to do His will in our lives.  There is a beautiful prayer that is said after a person is baptized, when he or she is anointed with the Oil of Chrism. This anointing takes place to signify that through baptism we are all set aside to share in Christ’s life and receive a gift of the Holy Spirit that allows us to be formed in His likeness. The prayer states:

God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has freed you from sin,
given you a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit,
and welcomed you in to his holy people.
He now anoints you with the chrism of salvation.
As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet and King,
so may you live always as a member of his body,
sharing everlasting life.

The reason why I love this prayer so much, is that it speaks so clearly of the dignity that belongs to each of us through our Baptisms. We become members of Christ’s Body in Baptism and are called to continue His saving work in the world. By baptism, each one of us is a member of Christ’s priestly, prophetic and kingly people.  To be a member of Christ’s priestly people means that each one of us is to offer our lives in a sacrifice of love to the Lord. We are to love Him and serve Him in what we do. Parents do this as they love their children and make sacrifices for them. Single people do this as they make sacrifices to care for others and contribute to society. Spouses make these sacrifices when they care for the other or put their interests aside for the other. As members of Christ’s prophetic people, we are called to speak the Gospel message in those places that we are sent in the course of the week. We do this when we speak of justice and the dignity that belongs to every person in a world that does not share these values. Christ calls each of us to witness to Him in the world. The laity have the special mission of taking Christ to the many different places that they are sent through the course of the week.  Each one of us, through our Baptisms is called to build the Kingdom of God and to do our part in the mission of the Church.

In order to emphasize the responsibility that each baptized person has for the life of the Church, Cardinal Collins has introduced as a special theme for the pastoral life of the diocese that of “Stewardship.“ Stewardship is intended to celebrate what God has done for each of us and how it is that we are called to respond in gratitude for these gifts. The Bible begins with the story of creation and calls us to recognize that everything we have has come to us from God. Once we acknowledge that everything that we have is from God, we ought to desire to give thanks to God for these gifts. The other thing that the Bible tells us about the gifts that God has given us, is that they are only ours to enjoy for a finite period of time. Because we are creatures of God, we must ultimately give them back to God and give an accounting as to how we have used these gifts. The gifts we have received from God are not ours for all eternity. The only thing that will be ours for eternity is the place that God is offering us in Heaven.

The reason why the theme of Stewardship is so important is that it calls all of the baptized to recognize the responsibility that they have for the life of the Church.  When we think that only priests and religious men and women have a vocation, then we think that it is their job to look after the life of the Church. For many years our parish had been blessed with many priests, sisters and seminarians. Were able to depend upon them to do much of the work of the parish. Today, In order for the life of our parish community to continue to grow, more and more of our lay faithful will be required to take up the different ministries that they have done here in the parish. Even in those ministries that are exercised by the lay faithful, many people leave it to others to be lectors, Eucharistic ministers or ushers. These are ministries that ought to be shared widely by members of our community. I would really like to ask everyone to think about how they might become more involved in our parish community and over the next few months, as you hear invitations to get involved, to think about how you might do so. As we look at celebrating the parish’s 125th anniversary this coming September, and hope to be re-opening and some return to “normal”, I pray that we will see many new people think about how to get involved in our community of faith.

A significant role that each of us has in the stewardship in the life of the Church is to pray for and encourage vocations. We have all heard of the difficulties that many have encountered in their vocations as priests and religious men and women. These are not unlike those encountered by married and single individuals. This does not mean that we should not encourage people to think of vocations or to stop promoting them. We should all encourage young people to think of vocations to marriage, the priesthood, the religious life or even if called to be single, how they might best hear the call of God in their lives. Some people believe that God is no longer calling people to vocations. I tend to think that the world has gotten so busy and cynical that less people are listening and responding to the call towards a vocation. This World Day of Prayer for Vocations is a way for all of us to support vocations and be aware of the reality that we are all called by God to respond to His love for us.

This year, the Pope Francis has asked the Church to meditate on the example and life of St. Joseph, the spouse of the Virgin Mary and Guardian of Jesus. As we do so, Pope Francis has also written a letter about vocations for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations that looks at the life of St. Joseph. One of the amazing things about St. Joseph is that he unexpectedly received a call from God to do something he had never thought about—a call to be the guardian of Jesus. This call changed his life and everything that he had planned to do. And yet, in accepting this call, he found fulfillment and joy that he could have never planned or arranged on his own. St. Joseph is a reminder that we should support those sudden and unexpected vocations and help those who experience a call to trust in the Lord. The words that the Angel Gabriel spoke to Mary and Joseph in the face of their unexpected callings are words that each one of us should take to heart if unexpectedly called by the Lord— “Do not be afraid!” For those who might be interested in reading Pope Francis’ Letter for this year’s World Day of Vocations, it can be found at: Message for the 58th World Day of Prayer for Vocations 2021 | Francis (vatican.va)

When we are baptized, Christ proclaims that He loves us so much that He wants to spend eternity with us. If a total stranger were to come up to you and tell you this, the best thing to do might be to run away. Because for so many people Christ is a stranger, they do run away from God and have nothing to do with him. Today it is not that God is not calling people to vocations anymore, rather we are too distracted to listen and follow. When I was young, my parents would call me for dinner when I was playing video games. They could have been five feet away from me and screaming at the top of their lungs. I would somehow not respond. Everything about creation proclaims God’s love for us and His desire that we understand His love for us. He has given each of us gifts to share and use to add to the life of our parish community. No matter what vocation each member of our community might be called to, let us pray that we might accept that spirit of stewardship that will allow us to offer these gifts for the good of our community.

On this World Day of Prayer for Vocations Sunday, may we all hear God’s call to us and respond with generosity.

Fr. Michael
Pastor—St. Peter’s Parish—Toronto.

This Sunday’s reflection based on the readings for Fourth Sunday of Easter—Year B: Acts 4: 8-12; Psalm 118; 1 John 3:1-2; and John 10: 11-18.