Drawing on the Lord's Prayer, the Pope's 1999 message for vocations delivers potent words for all the faithful
Following is Pope John Paul II's message for the 1999 World Day of Prayer for Vocations, which will be on April 25.
Venerable brothers in the episcopate, dearest brothers and sisters throughout the world!
The celebration of the World Day of Prayer for Vocations on April 25, the fourth Sunday of Easter, constitutes a recurring reminder to consider with attention a fundamental aspect of the life of the church: the call to the ordained ministry and to the consecrated life.
In the journey of preparation for the great jubilee, the year 1999 opens “the horizons of believers, so that they will see things in the perspective of Christ: in the perspective of the Father who is in heaven (cf. Matthew 5:45)” (Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 49) and invites them to reflect on the vocation that constitutes the true horizon of every human heart: eternal life. It is precisely in this light that the full importance is revealed of the vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life with which the heavenly Father, from whom come “every good endowment and every perfect gift” (James 1:17), continues to enrich his church.
A hymn of praise erupts spontaneously from the heart: “Blessed be God, the father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:3) for the gift, even in this century which is drawing to a close, of innumerable vocations to the priestly ministry and the consecrated life in its different forms.
God continues to show himself as Father by means of men and women who, urged by the strength of the Spirit, give witness by their word and deeds, and sometimes even by martyrdom, to their unlimited dedication to serving their brothers and sisters. Through the ordained ministry of bishops, priests and deacons, he provides the permanent guarantee of the sacramental presence of Christ the Redeemer (cf. Christifideles Laici, 22), making the church grow, thanks to their dedicated service, in the unity of one body and in the variety of vocations, ministries and charisms.
The Father has poured out his Spirit in abundance on his adoptive children, manifesting in the various forms of consecrated life his fatherly love, which he wishes to extend to the whole of humanity. His love is a love that awaits with patience and welcomes with rejoicing the person who has been far away; which educates and corrects; which satisfies every person's hunger for love. He continues to point out the expectations of eternal life which open the heart to hope, even in the midst of difficulties, pain and death, especially by means of those who leave everything to follow Christ, dedicating themselves totally to the establishment of his kingdom.
In 1999, dedicated to the heavenly Father, I wish to invite all the faithful to reflect on vocations to the ordained ministry and consecrated life, following the outline of the prayer that Jesus himself taught us, the “Our Father.”
The Second Vatican Council recalls that “Christ … in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling” (Gaudium et Spes,22). For the human person, fidelity to God is the guarantee of fidelity to his own being and, in this way, of the full realization of his own project of life.
Every vocation has its roots in baptism, when the Christian “is born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5) and becomes a participant in the event of grace that revealed Jesus, on the banks of the river Jordan, as the “beloved son” in whom the Father was well pleased (Luke 3:22). Baptism is the source of true fruitfulness for every Christian vocation. Therefore, it is necessary to take particular care to introduce catechumens and children to the rediscovery of baptism and the establishment of an authentic filial relationship with God.
Holiness, a gift to be constantly requested, constitutes the most precious and effective response to the modern world's hunger for hope and life. Humanity needs holy priests and consecrated souls who live out daily the total gift of self to God and neighbor; of fathers and mothers who can give witness within the home to the grace of the sacrament of matrimony, reawakening in all those with whom they come into contact the wish to carry out the Creator's plan for the family; of young people who have personally discovered Christ and have been so attracted by him as to move their contemporaries to the cause of the Gospel.
The invocation “thy kingdom come” encourages conversion and reminds us that man's earthly day must be marked by the daily search for the Kingdom of God before and above all other things. This invocation invites us to leave the world of fleeting words to take on generously, in spite of every difficulty and opposition, the commitments to which the Lord calls us.
Asking “thy kingdom come” of the Lord brings with it, among other things, choosing the house of the Father as one's own dwelling, living and working in the style of the Gospel and loving in the Spirit of Jesus; at the same time, it means discovering that the kingdom is a “little seed” endowed with an unexpected fullness of life, but exposed constantly to the risk of being rejected or trampled down.
Those who are called to the priesthood or consecrated life can welcome the seed of vocation that God has placed in their hearts with a generous openness. Drawing them to follow Christ with an undivided heart, the Father invites them to be joyful and free apostles of the kingdom. In the generous response to the invitation they will find that true happiness for which their heart is longing.
Following the example of Mary, we must learn to educate the heart to hope, opening it to the “infinite love” of God, who makes us exult with joy and gratitude. For those who respond generously to the Lord's invitation, the happy and sad events of life become, in such a way, the topic for confidential discussion with the Father, and the occasion for unceasing rediscovery of their own identity of beloved children called to participate with a specific and personal role in the great work of the salvation of the world, which was begun by Christ and entrusted now to his church.
Knowing human fragility, God prepared for man the path of mercy and forgiveness as an experience to share—one is forgiven and one forgives—so that the authentic traits of true children of the one heavenly Father might be seen in the renewed life of grace.
The struggle against evil, which Christ strenuously fought, is today entrusted to the church and to every Christian, according to the vocation, charism and ministry of each one. A fundamental role is reserved to those who have been elected to the ordained ministry: bishops, priests and deacons. But an irreplaceable and specific support is offered, among others, by the institutes of consecrated life, whose members “make visible, in their consecration and total dedication, the loving and saving presence of Christ, the one consecrated by the Father, sent in mission” (Vita Consecrata, 76).
How can we fail to stress that the promotion of vocations to the ordained ministry and the consecrated life must become the harmonious commitment of the whole church and of individual believers? The Lord commanded them to “pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:38).
Aware of this, we turn in prayer to the heavenly Father, the giver of every good thing:
Good Father, in Christ your Son you reveal to us your love, you embrace us as your children and you offer us the possibility of discovering in your will the lines of our true face.
Holy Father, you call us to be holy as you are holy.
We pray you, never allow your church to lack holy ministers and apostles who, with the word and the sacraments, may open the way to the encounter with you.
Merciful Father, give to lost humanity men and women who, through the witness of a life transfigured to the image of your Son, may walk joyfully with their other brothers and sisters toward our heavenly homeland.
Our Father, with the voice of your Holy Spirit, and trusting in the maternal inter-cession of Mary, we earnestly beseech you: Send to your church priests who will be courageous witnesses to your infinite bounty.