RENEWED BIBLICAL CATECHESIS WILL LEAD TO A MORE INCISIVE PROMOTION OF VOCATIONS
Pope John Paul II
Message for 34th World Day of Prayer for Vocations to be Celebrated on Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 20, 1997, given on October 28, 1996
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate, Dear Brothers and Sisters throughout the world!
1. The next World Day of Prayer for Vocations takes place within the context of the immediate preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. As noted, 1997 will be dedicated to reflection on the mystery of Christ, Word of the Father, made man for us. This reflection must be carried out by means of a more lively familiarity with the Word of God (cf. Tertio millennio adveniente, n. 40). How can we fail to point out the opportunity of a more attentive examination of the biblical data also on the topic of the call to total self-giving in the service of the kingdom? Therefore, it is my ardent wish that, on the occasion of the next World Day of Prayer, we reflect with renewed commitment on how to bring about a biblical catechesis which will lead to a more incisive promotion of vocations.
Christ is the model for understanding vocations
The Word of God reveals the deepest meaning of things and gives mankind security of discernment and orientation in the daily choices of life. In the field of vocations promotion, then, biblical Revelation, which makes known the stories of the various people to whom God has entrusted a particular mission on behalf of his People, can help us to understand better the style and characteristics of the call which he directs to men and women of every time.
In addition, the World Day of Prayer of next 20 April takes on a particular relevance in the Church because it falls just before the "Congress on Vocations to the Priesthood and Consecrated Life in Europe". The assembly will take place in Rome and will have the intention of carrying out an in-depth vocational assessment and discussion. To those promoting this assembly, I express immediately my spiritual closeness and my cordial greetings. I invite everyone to support with their prayers such an important event, the fruits of which will certainly benefit not only the Ecclesial Communities of Europe, but the Christian people of every continent.
2. In fulfilling the plan of Redemption, God wanted to ask mankind's collaboration: Sacred Scripture narrates the history of salvation as a history of vocations, in which the Lord's initiative and people's response have become intertwined. In fact, every vocation is born from the meeting of two freedoms: the divine and the human. Having been personally invited by the Word of God, the one called places himself or herself at his service. In this way there begins a journey, not without difficulties and trials, which leads to a growing intimacy with God and to an ever greater openness to the demands of his will.
In every vocational call God reveals the deep meaning of the Word, which is a progressive revelation of his Person up until the manifestation of Christ, the ultimate meaning of life: "he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (Jn 8:12). Therefore, Christ, Word of the Father, is the model for understanding the vocation of every man and woman, for verifying their life journey and giving spiritual fruitfulness to their mission.
In personal reading of the Bible, just as in catechesis, it is necessary always to listen to the Spirit who enlightens the meaning of the texts (cf. 2 Cor 3:6): it is he who makes the Word alive and present, helping to grasp its worth and its demands. "Holy Scripture must be read and interpreted according to the same Spirit by whom it was written" (Del Verbum, n. 12).
Biblical catechesis with a vocational perspective is carried out, therefore, by placing oneself in an attitude of docile obedience to the Spirit: only those who are enlightened by him are able to encourage the development of the vocational seeds present in the Church, as is witnessed by the experience of the founders of the religious congregations and institutes of consecrated life, who have assisted so many men and women in discovering and welcoming the Lord's call.
3. In present day culture, especially in those societies with an ancient Christian tradition, the service of the Word is taking on an even greater urgency and relevance. As I have often recalled, this is the time of the new evangelization in which everyone is involved. In an ever more secularized world, a renewed implantatio Ecclesiae is to be courageously promoted as the condition which is always necessary so that the vocational experience might be possible.
Opportunely imparted catechesis, while it brings about a maturing of faith and makes it conscious and active, also leads us to read the signs of the divine call in our everyday experience. In addition lectio divina is also very useful as the privileged occasion for meeting God while listening to his Word. Practised in many religious communities, it can be appropriately proposed to all those who wish to harmonize their lives with God's plan. Listening to divine Revelation, silent meditation, contemplative prayer and its translation into life experience constitute the soil in which an authentic vocational atmosphere can flower and develop.
In this light, the relationship which binds Sacred Scripture to the Christian community becomes ever more highly valued. Listening to the Word opens the heart of individuals to the Word of God and contributes to the building up of the community, whose members in this way discover their vocation from within and educate themselves for a generous response of faith and love. Only the believer, who has become a "disciple", can savour "the goodness of the Word of God" (Heb 6:5) and respond to the invitation to a life of special evangelical commitment.
Youth catechesis must be explicitly vocational
4. Every vocation is a personal and unique event but also a community and ecclesial event. No one is called to walk alone. Every vocation is raised up by the Lord as a gift for the Christian community which must be able to benefit from the vocation. Accordingly, a demanding discernment is necessary which should be carried out by the one concerned together with representatives of the community who are accompanying him or her on the path of a vocation.
My thoughts turn to you, Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate, who, as Pastors of the Church, are primarily responsible for the promotion of vocations. Place all your energies at the service of vocations. With the strength of the Spirit, encourage your diocesan communities to acknowledge the vocations problem as their own and to become aware of the ecclesial dimension of every divine call.
Youth catechesis should be explicitly vocational and lead young people to explore, in the light of the Word of God, the possibility of a personal call and the beauty of the total gift of self for the sake of the kingdom. With courage, promote vocations to the priesthood, to the consecrated life, male and female to the missionary life and to the contemplative life so that all those who are really called may discover the precious gift which the Lord intends to give them with a mark of special preference (cf. Mk 10:21).
Open your heart to trust in Christ!
5. To you, diocesan and religious priests, I ask that you strive with every means possible to promote among the faithful the knowledge and love of Scripture, and that you strongly ensure the vocational dimension of catechesis. Work so that regard for the Word of God may grow in the hearts of young people, in the conviction that faith, being derived from the Sacred Scriptures, is the "vital memory" of the believer.
To consecrated persons I address an urgent appeal to bear joyful witness to your own radical consecration to Christ: let yourselves be continually challenged by the Word of God, shared in community and lived with generosity in the service of others, especially young people. In a climate of love and fraternity, illuminated by the Word of God, it is easier to answer yes to the call.
In addition, I urge parishes, catechists, associations, movements and those lay people involved in the apostolate to cultivate a real familiarity with the Bible remembering that listening to the Word of God is the privileged way for encouraging vocations In parish catechesis, appropriate space should be given to the vocational dimension, through the setting up of vocations groups, as well as by promoting, during the liturgical year, initiatives of prayer and biblical catechesis ordered to this end, fully valuing school camps and courses of spiritual exercises. The faith of every Christian must be nourished with the loving knowledge of the Word of God, in an attitude of generous openness to the enduring action of the Spirit.
6. But, above all, it is to young people that I would now like to address myself: Christ needs you in order to realize his plan of salvation! Christ needs your youth and your generous enthusiasm for the proclamation of the Gospel! Respond to this appeal by giving your life to him and to your brothers and sisters. Have faith in Christ and he will not disappoint your wishes and your plans, but will fill them with meaning and joy. He has said: "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life" (Jn 14:6).
Open your heart in trust to Christ! Let his presence in you be strengthened through daily, worshipful listening to the Sacred Scriptures, which constitute the book of life and of fulfilled vocations.
7. Dear brothers and sisters: at the conclusion of this message, I would like to invite all believers to join me in lifting up unceasing prayers in the name of him who can do all things with God (cf. Jn 3:35). May he, who is the living Word of the Father and our Advocate, intercede for us and obtain for the Church many holy vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life.
Holy and provident Father, you are the Lord of the vineyard and the harvest and you give each a just reward for their work. In your design of love you call men and women to work with you for the salvation of the world.
We thank you for Jesus Christ, your living Word, who has redeemed us from our sins and is among us to assist us in our poverty. Guide the flock to which you have promised possession of the kingdom. Send new workers into your harvest and set in the hearts of Pastors faithfulness to your plan of salvation, perseverance in their vocation and holiness of life.
Christ Jesus, who on the shores of the Sea of Galilee called the Apostles, and made them the foundation of the Church and bearers of your Gospel, in our day, sustain your People on its journey. Give courage to those whom you call to follow you in the priesthood and the consecrated life, so that they may enrich God's field with the wisdom of your Word. Make them docile instruments of your love in everyday service of their brothers and sisters.
Spirit of holiness, who pour out your gifts on all believers and, especially, on those called to be Christ's ministers, help young people to discover the beauty of the divine call.
Teach them the true way of prayer, which is nourished by the Word of God. Help them to read the signs of the times, so as to be faithful interpreters of your Gospel and bearers of salvation.
Mary, Virgin who listened and Virgin of the Word made flesh in your womb, help us to be open to the Word of the Lord, so that, having been welcomed and meditated upon, it may grow in our hearts. Help us to live like you the beatitudes of believers and to dedicate ourselves with unceasing charity to evangelizing all those who seek your Son. Grant that we may serve every person becoming servants of the Word we have heard, so that remaining faithful to it we may find our happiness in living it. Amen!
To those responsible for the pastoral care of vocations, to young people searching out God's will for them and to all those called to the life of special consecration, I affectionately impart a special Apostolic Blessing.
From the Vatican, 28 October 1996.
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