248. The word “vocation” can be understood in a broad sense as a calling from God, including the call to life, the call to friendship with him, the call to holiness, and so forth. This is helpful, since it situates our whole life in relation to the God who loves us. It makes us realize that nothing is the result of pure chance but that everything in our lives can become a way of responding to the Lord, who has a wonderful plan for us.
249. In the Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, I spoke about the vocation of all to grow and mature for the glory of God; I wanted “to repropose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities”. The Second Vatican Council helped us to recognize anew this call addressed to each of us: “All the faithful, whatever their condition or state, are called by the Lord, each in his or her own way, to that perfect holiness by which the Father himself is perfect”.
God’s call to friendship
250. The first thing we need to discern and discover is this: Jesus wants to be a friend to every young person. This discernment is the basis of all else. In the risen Lord’s dialogue with Simon Peter, his great question was: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” (Jn 21:16). In other words, do you love me as a friend? The mission that Peter received to shepherd Jesus’ flock will always be linked to this gratuitous love, this love of friendship.
251. On the other hand, there was the unsuccessful encounter of Jesus and the rich young man, which clearly shows that the young man failed to perceive the Lord’s loving gaze (cf. Mk 10:21). He went away sorrowful, despite his original good intentions, because he could not turn his back on his many possessions (cf. Mt 19:22). He missed the opportunity of what surely would have been a great friendship. We will never know what that one young man, upon whom Jesus gazed with love and to whom he stretched out his hand, might have been for us, what he might have done for mankind.
252. “The life that Jesus gives us is a love story, a life history that wants to blend with ours and sink roots in the soil of our own lives. That life is not salvation up ‘in the cloud’ and waiting to be downloaded, a new ‘app’ to be discovered, or a technique of mental self-improvement. Still less is that life a ‘tutorial’ for finding out the latest news. The salvation that God offers us is an invitation to be part of a love story interwoven with our personal stories; it is alive and wants to be born in our midst so that we can bear fruit just as we are, wherever we are and with everyone all around us. The Lord comes there to sow and to be sown”.
Being there for others
253. I would now like to speak of vocation in the strict sense, as a call to missionary service to others. The Lord calls us to share in his work of creation and to contribute to the common good by using the gifts we have received.
254. This missionary vocation thus has to do with service. For our life on earth reaches full stature when it becomes an offering. Here I would repeat that “the mission of being in the heart of the people is not just a part of my life or a badge I can take off; it is not an ‘extra’ or just another moment in life. Instead, it is something I cannot uproot from my being without destroying my very self. I am a mission on this earth; that is the reason why I am here in this world”. It follows that every form of pastoral activity, formation and spirituality should be seen in the light of our Christian vocation.
255. Your own personal vocation does not consist only in the work you do, though that is an expression of it. Your vocation is something more: it is a path guiding your many efforts and actions towards service to others. So in discerning your vocation, it is important to determine if you see in yourself the abilities needed to perform that specific service to society.
256. This gives greater value to everything you do. Your work stops being just about making money, keeping busy or pleasing others. It becomes your vocation because you are called to it; it is something more than merely a pragmatic decision. In the end, it is a recognition of why I was made, why I am here on earth, and what the Lord’s plan is for my life. He will not show me every place, time and detail, since I will have to make my own prudent decisions about these. But he will show me a direction in life, for he is my Creator and I need to listen to his voice, so that, like clay in the hands of a potter, I can let myself be shaped and guided by him. Then I will become what I was meant to be, faithful to my own reality.
257. To respond to our vocation, we need to foster and develop all that we are. This has nothing to do with inventing ourselves or creating ourselves out of nothing. It has to do with finding our true selves in the light of God and letting our lives flourish and bear fruit. “In God’s plan, every man and woman is meant to seek self-fulfilment, for every human life is called to some task by God”. Your vocation inspires you to bring out the best in yourself for the glory of God and the good of others. It is not simply a matter of doing things, but of doing them with meaning and direction. Saint Alberto Hurtado told young people to think very seriously about the direction their lives should take: “If the helmsman of a ship becomes careless, he is fired straightaway for not taking his sacred responsibility seriously. As for our lives, are we fully aware of the course they are taking? What course is your life taking? If it is necessary to give this more thought, I would beg each one of you to give it the highest consideration, because to get it right is tantamount to success; to err is quite simply to fail”.
258. In the life of each young person, this “being there for others” normally has to do with two basic issues: forming a new family and working. Surveys of young people repeatedly confirm that these are the two major issues worrying them and, at the same time, exciting them. Both must be the object of particular discernment. Let us look briefly at each of them.