Each year, on Good Shepherd Sunday, we are reminded of our call to be shepherds of God’s flock – the human race. Each of us is called by God to bear witness to Jesus Christ. So when I was at Mass on Sunday evening, while singing the psalm (117) with these words:
This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad. This is the day the Lord has made; let is rejoice and be glad.
I was dismayed to see some gloomy faces - even as some of them sang along.
As I left the sanctuary, a wave of disappointment came over me. This because here we are on Good Shepherd Sunday, Vocation Sunday with an apparent non-joyous community.
In the Church, this Sunday is kept as a special day of prayer for vocations, particularly to the priesthood and consecrated life. Pope Francis tells us:
We will never discover the special, personal calling that God has in mind for us if we remain enclosed in ourselves, in our usual way of doing things… We could lose the chance to dream big and to play our part in the unique and original story that God wants to write with us.
God calls young people from our local communities to serve as priests and consecrated religious. God also calls many of us to play a different role. However, on this particular Sunday, we all have a role to play in helping young people to ‘dream big’ and hear this call. What can we do to foster vocations?
Even if we smiled, said hello and engaged in a bit of conversation that would be a start. I can hear some of you speaking back to me, saying “but there are no young people”. I recognise they are not there in great numbers, so we must do our bit for those who come and seek to belong to a faith community.
This year there will be a Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment in Rome. In his letter to young people (13 January, 2017), Pope Francis recalled the question he asked them at World Youth Day in Krakow in 2016. He asked them, “Can we change things?” and those gathered shouted, “Yes!” Pope Francis continues:
That shout came from your young and youthful hearts, which do not tolerate injustice and cannot bow to a “throw-away culture” nor give in to the globalization of indifference. Listen to the cry arising from your inner selves!....A better world can be built also as a result of your efforts, your desire to change and your generosity. Do not be afraid to listen to the Spirit who proposed bold choices; do not delay when your conscience asks you to take risks in following the Master. The Church also wishes to listen to your voice, your sensitivities and your faith; even your doubts and criticism. Make your voice heard, let it resonate in communities and let it be heard by your shepherds of souls.
He also wrote the following words:
Jesus looks at you and invites you to go with him. Dear young people, have you noticed this look towards you? Have you heard this voice? Have you felt this urge to undertake this journey? I am sure that, despite the noise and confusion seemingly prevalent in the world, this call continues to resonate in the depths of your heart, so as to open it to joy in its fullness. This will be possible to the extent that, even with professional guides, you will learn how to undertake a journey of discernment to discover God’s plan in your life. Even when the journey is uncertain and you fall, God, rich in mercy, will extend his hand to pick you up.
I have been meeting and exercising ministry with the Diocesan Council for Ministry with Young People for several years and they are beginning to feel despondent at the lack of response to any of their initiatives to engage with young adults. I think the struggle comes from finding people of faith because faith provides vocational discernment with its fundamental contents. Faith as gift requires a response to the gift of grace bestowed on each of us. I have no doubt that we desire to encounter, accompany and care for every young person. We know the fruits of living life to the full, with a deep sense of faith, hope and love. And we want everyone to have that same experience of meaning-making, which brings joy and peace and invites us to live a life of truth and compassion.
These gifts or ‘charisms’ are given to all Christians to help them discern their individual vocations as disciples. These charisms are the way God calls, through the promptings of the Spirit; if they are discerned, they enable the Christian to discover his or her call from God; if they are embraced or responded to, they will enable the whole community to flourish in its mission.
All of the baptised are called to work toward the transformation of the world. Most do this by working in the secular realm; some do this by working in the Church and focusing on the building of ecclesial communion, which has among its purposes the transformation of the world. Some are specifically called to the priesthood and consecrated life. Ministering in the Church collaboratively and co-responsibly, is a path of Christian discipleship.
Let’s remember to smile and to recall:
This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.
I am sure we will continue to hear more on this topic as we prepare for the Plenary Council of the Catholic Church of Australia.