This week, the Church celebrates National Vocation Awareness week*.
Here below is a post written by Louis Cona, a Pre-Theologian for the Diocese of Rockville Centre.
“I saw and realized that love sets off the bounds of all vocations, that love is everything, that this same love embraces every time and every place. In one word, that love is everlasting.”- Saint Thérèse of Lisieux
Our vocations are about only one thing: love. Vocation, which comes from the Latin word “vocare,” means “to call.” As St. Thérèse explains, we are all called to love. Love is the foundation of all vocations. This love, however, is expressed in various ways throughout the life of the Church. But what exactly is this love which St. Thérèse so beautifully describes, and how can we respond to this call in a radical way amidst the many distortions of love in today’s culture? National Vocations Week gives us a moment to reflect on these questions.
Love is an outward force. It is not inward looking, but rather brings us out of ourselves and into the presence of another. As Pope Francis says, love “[liberates us] from our narrowness and self-absorption.” He warns us not to be fooled by the empty promises of our culture which seeks to convince us that love is about ourselves, about our own needs, or about our own instant gratifications. No, love is entirely different than this. Love excludes self absorption and instant gratifications. We are called to a greater love, a love which does not count the cost, a love that is ready to serve, a love that is so focused on the other that we are willing to “lay down our lives for” those whom God has placed in front of us (John 15:13). The Cross, which is the greatest act of love in the history of the world, shows us love’s true meaning. It is not a comfortable and sentimental love, but a love that is heroic and given to others.
In the life of the Church, our call to love is expressed primarily in two ways: marriage and religious life. Each vocation reveals that love is a radically outward and life-giving force. There is nothing self-seeking about it. In marriage, for example, the love shared between a man and woman does not remain stagnant, but rather overflows to their children. Holy matrimony is a beautiful reflection of the life of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Created in this triune image we are called not to lock up our love in itself but to invest it in another. It is a love that is so dynamic that it constantly brings forth new life.
Finally, there is the call to religious life. In the life of the priest or consecrated person lies a radical call and desire to give of ourselves entirely to God and others. It is a desire that only God can plant in our hearts, and what God plants only God can cultivate. This understanding of God’s will is achieved when we listen to Him in prayer. “Lord, what is it that you ask me to do?” The call to the priesthood is not a great “no,” but rather, a “yes” to what makes life free, beautiful, and great. The young man or woman considering a vocation recognizes that “life grows only by being given away.” What’s more, they recognize that Jesus Christ is the answer to the longing of the human heart.
Why would any young person consider a life devoted entirely to God, especially a life of celibacy? Because we recognize that our lives will only have meaning when we live for a greater purpose, a greater love that is outside of ourselves. Young people look around at the idleness that surrounds us and our heart yearns for something more. The heart of the celibate priest is not one that is cold, lonely, and inward looking. No, quite the contrary. It is a heart that beats in communion with the Sacred Heart of Jesus. A heart that bleeds for sinners, a heart that is broken and given up for all. The life of a religious is one of the greatest acts of love any man or woman can commit themselves to. It is a love that overflows, a love that is available to everyone, and a love that does not count the cost of discipleship.
In a world that suffers from so much violence, hatred, and selfishness, it is refreshing to see that the Lord continues to call young men and women to serve the Church in a culture that is so hostile to this love in which we speak of here. This call must be supported in our communities and among our family and friends. We live in a time where definitive decisions are discouraged, where the mindset is to wait, to put off what God has in store for us. Young people tend to live their lives year by year, avoiding big decisions or commitments for fear of responsibility and fear of closing doors. But our Lord wants more from us than to tarry in life’s foyer. No! God is calling us today, now, to serve him. We were not made for mediocrity, but for greatness and this greatness can only be achieved when we give of ourselves to God and others.
To the young men sitting here today, recognize that the priest is a mediator between God and man. The priest brings God to people and people to God. In the sacraments he brings Christ into the world. The world needs Christ — Long Island needs Christ. How beautiful it is to live in a world that is permeated with sacramental grace. A world that is lifted up to the true, the good, and the beautiful. The priest is the man of the future. There will always be a need for priests because there will always be a need for God. Never let anyone tell you otherwise.
I leave you all with one thought that both the married man and the priest must ask himself on the altar as he gazes into the eyes of his wife or kneels before the bishop for ordination: “Lord, why me? But love knows no ‘why.’ It is a free gift to which one responds with the gift of self.” Only then, when we live completely for another, will our lives have any meaning. Only then will we quench our thirst for the transcendent. Let us pray this week for more men and women to respond to God’s call and to give their lives in service of love.
Louis Cona has been a parishioner of St. Catherine of Sienna since we was baptized as a small child. After graduating from Georgetown University in May, he has entered his studies for the priesthood at Cathedral Seminary House of Formation in Douglaston, Queens. Please pray for him and his continued discernment.
*National Vocation Awareness Week (NVAW) is an annual week-long celebration of the Catholic Church in the United States dedicated to promote vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and consecrated life through prayer and education, and to renew our prayers and support for those who are considering one of these particular vocations. NVAW began in 1976 when the U. S. bishops designated the 28th Sunday of the year for NVAW. In 1997, this celebration was moved to coincide with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which falls on January 13 in 2013. Beginning in 2014, NVAW was moved to the first full week of November.