By Linda Bordoni
Noting that the Congress for the Pastoral Care of Vocations in Europe is intended to help implement the Synod of Bishops devoted to young people, Pope Francis urged those present to continue to proclaim the vocation to consecrated life and to ordained ministry. The Church – he said - needs this!
In prepared remarks, he focused on three approaches that, he said, are particularly close to his heart: holiness, which, he said, is a calling that gives meaning to one’s entire life journey; communion, the fertile soil for vocations in the Church, and vocation itself, a keyword to be preserved and “conjugated” with others – ‘happiness’, ‘freedom’ and ‘together’ – and finally ‘declined’ as special consecration”.
Focussing on ‘holiness’, the Pope reminded those present never to forget that vocation is a life-long journey. He pointed out it has to do with the years of youth in terms of the overall direction we choose to take in response to God’s invitation, but it also has to do with the years of adulthood in terms of its fruitfulness and our discernment of how best to do good.
He reminded participants that our lives are meant to bear fruit in charity, and this entails the call to holiness that the Lord addresses to everyone, each in his or her own way.
As for ‘communion’, the Pope said pastoral care has to be synodal and should involve a “journeying together.”
He said it’s about living ever more fully our filiation and fraternity, fostering mutual respect, valuing the richness of each individual and believing that the Risen Lord can also work wonders through the pain and frailty that are part of everyone’s life.
The Church’s communion, he continued, will give rise to new vocations, and lamented the fact that sometimes in communities, families and presbyterates, worldly mentalities cause division and separation.
“That is part of today’s culture, and the tormented political history of Europe can serve as a warning and an incentive,” he said.
Only by acknowledging ourselves truly as communities that are open, alive and inclusive, he said, will we be prepared to face the future.
Reflecting on the word “vocation,” the Pope said it is not outdated. He said he knows of some communities that have decided to stop using the word “vocation” in their work with the young, because they think that young people get scared by it and may be reluctant to join in their activities. But this, he said, “is a strategy doomed to failure.”
“What we need are men and women, laity and consecrated people who are passionate, set afire by their encounter with God, redeemed in their humanity, and capable of proclaiming in their lives the happiness born of their vocation,” he said.
As promised in his premise, the Pope went on to elaborate on the concepts of ‘happiness’, ‘freedom’ and ‘together’.
He described happiness as a burning issue in a world in which people content themselves with fleeting joys and said that true happiness remains because it is Jesus himself, whose friendship always endures”.
He explored the word freedom, which he said is deeply connected to freedom from forms of dependence or domination, and has much to do with vocations and decisions that must coincide with what God wants of us.
As for ‘together’, the Pope said no one can make a life decision alone: “vocation is always for, and with, others”.
He said the Lord never calls us “simply as individuals, but always within a community, to share his loving plan, which is plural from the outset because he himself is plural, a Trinity of love. It revives our awareness that, in the Church, nothing is accomplished alone”.
A forest that quietly grows
Pope Francis concluded recalling the precious contribution of all those communities of consecrated life that form a great network of charitable works and of mission; of monastic life, in which the roots of Europe are planted and that continues to attract many vocations; of parishes, working on the ground and filled with evangelical potential for our time; of the commitment of countless priests, deacons, consecrated men and women, and bishops devote themselves with integrity and dedication to the service of the young. Their efforts, he said, are “like a great forest that quietly grows”.