.- Christian families should be a happy and loving environment in which young people can discern calls to the priesthood or religious life, Pope Benedict XVI says in his message for the World Day of Prayers for Vocations.
âFamilies are not only the privileged place for human and Christian formation; they can also be âthe primary and most excellent seed-bed of vocations to a life of consecration to the Kingdom of God,â by helping their members to see, precisely within the family, the beauty and the importance of the priesthood and the consecrated life,â the Pope said on Feb. 13.
The 49th World Day of Prayer for Vocations will be celebrated on April 29 with the theme, âVocations, the Gift of the Love of God.â The Popeâs message, which was released Feb. 13, comes at a time when vocations to the priesthood in most Western countries are on the rise.
In order for that to continue, says the Pope, the Church must âcreate the conditions that will permit many young people to say âyesâ in generous response to Godâs loving call.â
This quest, he suggests, finds an âeloquent and particular realization in Christian familiesâ whose love âis an expression of the love of Christ.â In families which are âa community of life and love,â the Pope says, young people are best able to experience the kind of âself-giving loveâ that Christ showed everyone.
Therefore, priests and parishes should work hard to foster such âhomes and schools of communion,â modeled âon the Holy Family of Nazareth, the harmonious reflection on earth of the life of the Most Holy Trinity.â
Pope Benedict opens his letter by outlining how all vocations flow from the love of God for humanity.
We are all âloved by God even âbeforeâ we come into existenceâ and are brought into existence âsolely by his unconditional love,â to âbring us into full communion with Him,â he writes. The âdiscovery of this realityâ is what âtruly and profoundly changes our lives,â he says.
The Pope illustrates his point by quoting the 5th-century theologian St. Augustine of Hippo, who converted to Christianity as an adult and turned towards the âsupreme beauty and supreme loveâ of God.
âLate have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!â he famously wrote. With these images, says the Pope, âthe Saint of Hippo seeks to describe the ineffable mystery of his encounter with God, with Godâs love that transforms all of life.â
Godâs love, which is an âabsolutely free gift,â goes ahead of everyone and âsustainsâ them along the path of life of life, the Pope said, explaining that this means âevery specific vocationâ is born of âthe initiative of God.â
The Pope asserts in his message that the âappealing beauty of this divine loveâ must be proclaimed ever anew, âespecially to younger generations.â
In this âsoil of self-offering and openness to the love of God,â he says, âall vocations are born and grow.â
Pope Benedict also offers some advice to those considering religious vocations. He encourages them to love God and their neighbors â âtwo expressions of the one divine loveâ â with a âparticular intensity and purity of heart.â
It is a love for others, especially the most disadvantaged, that should inspire them to be âa builder of communion between people and a sower of hope.â The Pope quotes the 19th-century French cleric St. John Vianney, patron of priests, who would say to his people that âpriests are not priests for themselves, but for you.â
Pope Benedict concludes his message by imparting his blessing, especially on âthose young men and women who strive to listen with a docile heart to Godâs voice and are ready to respond generously and faithfully.â