.- 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.
“Families are not only the privileged place for human and Christian formation; they can also be ‘the primary and most excellent seed-bed of vocations to a life of consecration to the Kingdom of God,’ by helping their members to see, precisely within the family, the beauty and the importance of the priesthood and the consecrated life,” the Pope said on Feb. 13.
The 49th World Day of Prayer for Vocations will be celebrated on April 29 with the theme, “Vocations, the Gift of the Love of God.” The Pope’s 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 “create the conditions that will permit many young people to say ‘yes’ in generous response to God’s loving call.”
This quest, he suggests, finds an “eloquent and particular realization in Christian families” whose love “is an expression of the love of Christ.” In families which are “a community of life and love,” the Pope says, young people are best able to experience the kind of “self-giving love” that Christ showed everyone.
Therefore, priests and parishes should work hard to foster such “homes and schools of communion,” modeled “on the Holy Family of Nazareth, the harmonious reflection on earth of the life of the Most Holy Trinity.”
Pope Benedict opens his letter by outlining how all vocations flow from the love of God for humanity.
We are all “loved by God even ‘before’ we come into existence” and are brought into existence “solely by his unconditional love,” to “bring us into full communion with Him,” he writes. The “discovery of this reality” is what “truly and profoundly changes our lives,” 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 “supreme beauty and supreme love” of God.
“Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!” he famously wrote. With these images, says the Pope, “the Saint of Hippo seeks to describe the ineffable mystery of his encounter with God, with God’s love that transforms all of life.”
God’s love, which is an “absolutely free gift,” goes ahead of everyone and “sustains” them along the path of life of life, the Pope said, explaining that this means “every specific vocation” is born of “the initiative of God.”
The Pope asserts in his message that the “appealing beauty of this divine love” must be proclaimed ever anew, “especially to younger generations.”
In this “soil of self-offering and openness to the love of God,” he says, “all vocations are born and grow.”
Pope Benedict also offers some advice to those considering religious vocations. He encourages them to love God and their neighbors – “two expressions of the one divine love” – with a “particular intensity and purity of heart.”
It is a love for others, especially the most disadvantaged, that should inspire them to be “a builder of communion between people and a sower of hope.” The Pope quotes the 19th-century French cleric St. John Vianney, patron of priests, who would say to his people that “priests are not priests for themselves, but for you.”
Pope Benedict concludes his message by imparting his blessing, especially on “those young men and women who strive to listen with a docile heart to God’s voice and are ready to respond generously and faithfully.”