By Francesca Merlo
Pope Francis begins his message by recalling a letter he wrote last year in which he chose four key words – pain, gratitude, encouragement, and praise – as a way of “thanking priests and supporting their ministry”.
Today, he says, those same words can “be addressed to the whole people of God”, alongside a passage from Matthew’s Gospel that recounts the “remarkable experience of Jesus and Peter during a stormy night on the Sea of Galilee” (cf. Mt 14:22-33). Pope Francis says, “After the multiplication of the loaves, Jesus told his disciples to get into the boat and precede Him to the other shore, while hHe took leave of the people”. He explains: “The image of the disciples crossing the lake can evoke our own life’s journey”:
The boat of our lives slowly advances, restlessly looking for a safe haven and prepared to face the perils and promises of the sea, yet at the same time trusting that the helmsman will ultimately keep us on the right course. At times, though, the boat can drift off course, misled by mirages, not the lighthouse that leads it home, and be tossed by the tempests of difficulty, doubt and fear.
Something similar happens to those who, called to follow the Teacher of Nazareth, have to undertake a crossing and abandon their own security to become the Lord’s disciples, says the Pope. However the Gospel reminds us that “in the midst of this challenging journey we are not alone”.
Francis begins with the word ‘gratitude’, which he says “is the first word of vocation”.
“How we find fulfilment in life is more than a decision we make as isolated individuals; above all else, it is a response to a call from on high”, he says.
Returning to the metaphor of the boat he explains:
The Lord points out our destination on the opposite shore and he grants us the courage to board the boat. In calling us, he becomes our helmsman; he accompanies and guides us; he prevents us from running aground on the shoals of indecision and even enables us to walk on surging waters”.
Every vocation is born from the Love of the Lord, says the Pope, and “we will succeed in discovering and embracing our vocation once we open our hearts in gratitude and perceive the passage of God in our lives”.
When the disciples see Jesus walking towards them on the sea, they first think that He is a ghost and are filled with fear, says the Pope. Jesus immediately reassures them, saying: “Take heart, it is I; have no fear” (Mt 14:27). “This, then, is the second word I wish to offer you: encouragement”.
Often, says Pope Francis, “certain ‘ghosts’ that trouble our hearts” hinder our journeys. When we are called to leave safe shores and embrace a state of life – like marriage, ministerial priesthood, consecrated life – our first reaction is often from the “ghost of disbelief”. “Surely, this vocation is not for me! Can this really be the right path? Is the Lord really asking me to do this?”
The Lord knows that these fundamental life choices call for courage, says the Pope. He knows the doubts we face and so He reassures us with those words: “Take heart, it is I; have no fear!” We know in faith that He is present and comes to meet us, that He is ever at our side even amid stormy seas, he says. This knowledge, adds the Pope, “sets us free from the interior discouragement that hold us back from experiencing the beauty of our vocation”.
Moving onto the third word, the Pope explains that what he called ‘pain’ in his letter last year, this year he is translating as ‘fatigue’.
With every call comes responsibility, he says. The Lord’s call places our lives at the service of the Gospel, “yet, like Saint Peter, our desire and enthusiasm coexist with our failings and fears”, he adds.
“Whenever fatigue or fear make us start to sink, Jesus holds out His hand to us. He gives us the enthusiasm we need to live our vocation with joy and fervour”, says the Pope:
When Jesus at last boards the boat, the winds die down and the waves are calmed. Here we have a beautiful image of what the Lord can do at times of turbulence and tempest in our lives. He stills those winds, so that the forces of evil, fear, and resignation no longer have power over us.
Jesus is at our side, says the Pope, and if we acknowledge Him as the one Lord of our lives, He will stretch out His hand, take hold of us and save us.
The Pope concludes by asking the Church, “on this day in particular, but also in the ordinary pastoral life of our communities” to “continue to promote vocations”.
He says, “may she touch the hearts of the faithful and enable each of them to discover with gratitude God’s call in their lives, to find courage to say ‘yes’ to God, to overcome all weariness through faith in Christ, and to make of their lives a song of praise for God, for their brothers and sisters, and for the whole world”.