Society needs priests 'enamored' with the Gospel, Pope Francis says

A priest walks through St Peters Square Credit Daniel Ibaez CNA A priest walks through St. Peter's Square. | Daniel Ibañez/CNA.

In his message for the 2017 World Day of Prayer for Vocations, Pope Francis focused on the need to be "missionary disciples" who first fall in love with God, and are then propelled into action, zealously spreading the Good News they have heard.

"The People of God need to be guided by pastors whose lives are spent in service to the Gospel," the Pope said in his message, published Nov. 30.

He asked parish communities, associations and various prayer groups within the Church not to get discouraged by an apparent lack of vocations, but to continue praying fervently "that the Lord will send workers to his harvest."

"May he give us priests enamored of the Gospel, close to all their brothers and sisters, living signs of God's merciful love," he said.

Set to be celebrated May 7, 2017, the 54th World Day of Prayer for Vocations will take place on the fourth Sunday of Easter and will hold the theme: "Led by the Spirit for Mission."

While Francis' previous messages for the event have focused on the frequent summons he makes for the Church to "go out" of ourselves in order to hear the Lord and the importance of the ecclesial community as the place where God's vocational call is born, this year will focus on another topic often promoted by the Pope: mission.

In his message, the Pope noted how those who drawn by God's voice and choose to follow Jesus "soon discover within themselves an irrepressible desire to bring the Good News to their brothers and sisters" through proclamation and charitable service.

As disciples, "we do not receive the gift of God's love for our personal consolation, nor are we called to promote ourselves, or a business concern," he said. "We are simply men and women touched and transformed by the joy of God's love, who cannot keep this experience just to ourselves."

Commitment to the mission isn't some sort of "decoration" added to the Christian life, but is rather "an essential element of faith itself," he said, stressing that we must overcome our own feelings of inadequacy "and not yield to pessimism, which merely turns us into passive spectators of a dreary and monotonous life."

"There is no room for fear! God himself comes to cleanse our unclean lips and equip us for the mission," Francis continued, explaining that all Christians, but priests and consecrated in particular, are "bearers of Christ."

Priests, he said, are asked to "go forth from the sacred precincts of the temple" with renewed enthusiasm in order to "let God's tender love overflow for the sake of humanity."

"The Church needs such priests: serenely confident because they have discovered the true treasure, anxious to go out and joyfully to make it known to all," he said.

When it comes to a Christian understanding of mission, Pope Francis said we can understand it by looking at three scenes from the Gospel: the launch of Jesus' mission at the synagogue in Nazareth, the journey he makes with the disciples from Emmaus after his Resurrection, and the parable of the sower and the seed.

Turning to the first scene, the Pope noted to be a missionary disciple "means to share actively in the mission of Christ."

Just as Jesus in the synagogue of Nazareth said he had been "anointed" by the Spirit to bring good news to the poor, and that he had been "sent" to proclaim the release of captives and to heal of the oppressed, "this is also our mission," Francis said. "To be anointed by the Spirit, and to go out to our brothers and sisters in order to proclaim the word and to be for them a means of salvation."

Pointing to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the Pope stressed that we are never alone on our journey, but that Christ is at our side every step of the way.

Life's questions and challenges can "make us feel bewildered, inadequate and hopeless," and the Christian mission at times appears to be "mere utopian illusion" beyond our reach, he said. However, if we contemplate Jesus on the road to Emmaus, we see a true "liturgy of the street."

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"We see that, at every step of the way, Jesus is at our side! The two disciples, overwhelmed by the scandal of the cross, return home on the path of defeat. Their hearts are broken," the Pope said, but noted that instead of judging them, Jesus walks beside them.

"Instead of raising a wall, he opens a breach" and gradually transforms their discouragement into hope, he said, explaining that the same goes for a Christian, who never carries their burdens alone, but who even amid difficulty know that Jesus is by their side.

On the parable of the sower and the seed, Pope Francis said it's important to look at the passage to understand from the Gospel itself what Christian proclamation should look like.

Even with the best intentions in mind, Christians can at times "indulge in a certain hunger for power, proselytism or intolerant fanaticism." However, the Gospel, he said, tells us to reject "the idolatry of power and success, undue concern for structures," and an anxiety "that has more to do with the spirit of conquest than that of service."

The seed of the God's Kingdom, "however tiny, unseen and at times insignificant, silently continues to grow, thanks to God's tireless activity," he said, explaining that our first reason for confidence in God is that he surpasses our every expectation and "constantly surprises us by his generosity."

Francis then pointed to the importance of maintaining a life of prayer, stressing that "there can be no promotion of vocations or Christian mission apart from constant contemplative prayer," above all in scripture by forming a personal relationship with Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

"I wish heartily to encourage this kind of profound friendship with the Lord, above all for the sake of imploring from on high new vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life," he said, and urged parishes and Church institutions to continue praying for vocations.

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Despite a general sense throughout the world that faith "is listless or reduced to mere 'duties to discharge,'" young people want to discover "the perennial attraction of Jesus, to be challenged by his words and actions, and to cherish the ideal that he holds out of a life that is fully human, happy to spend itself in love," he said.

Pope Francis closed his message by entrusted youth to the intercession of Mary, who "had the courage to embrace this ideal."

He asked through her prayers, "we be granted that same openness of heart, that same readiness to respond, 'Here I am' to the Lord's call, and that same joy in setting out, like her, to proclaim him to the whole world."

Vocations is a theme Pope Francis is likely to delve into in a deeper way over the next two years, since it will form the heart of the discussion for the next Synod of Bishops. Announced Oct. 6, the theme for the next Ordinary Synod, scheduled to take place in October 2018, will discuss "Young People, the Faith and the Discernment of Vocation."

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