In an address at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on April 16, 2008 after commending the United States Catholic Bishops on their pastoral priority of strengthening the vocation of marriage and family life, Bishop Benedict XVI answered a further question regarding vocations this way:
What is needed above all, at this time in the history of the Church in America is a renewal of that apostolic zeal which inspires her shepherds actively to seek out the lost, to bind up those who have been wounded, and to bring strength to those who are languishing (cf. Ez 34:16). And this, as I have said, calls for new ways of thinking based on a sound diagnosis of today’s challenges and a commitment to unity in the service of the Church’s mission to the present generation.
Let us be quite frank: the ability to cultivate vocations to the priesthood and the religious life is a sure sign of the health of the Church. There is no room for complacency in this regard. God continues to call young people; it is up to all of us to encourage a generous and free response to that call. On the other hand, none of us can take grace for granted.
In the Gospel, Jesus tells us to pray that the Lord of the harvest will send workers. He even admits that the workers are few in comparison with the abundance of the harvest (cf. Mt 9:37-38). Strange to say, I often think that prayer – the unum necessarium – is the one aspect of vocations work which we tend to forget or to undervalue!
Nor am I speaking only of prayer for vocations.Prayer itself, born in Catholic families, nurtured by programs of Christian formation, strengthened by the grace of the sacraments, is the first means by which we come to know the Lord’s will for our lives. To the extent that we teach young people to pray, and to pray well, we will be cooperating with God’s call. Programs, plans and projects have their place; but the discernment of a vocation is above all the fruit of an intimate dialogue between the Lord and his disciples. Young people, if they know how to pray, can be trusted to know what to do with God’s call.
It has been noted that there is a growing thirst for holiness in many young people today, and that, although fewer in number, those who come forward show great idealism and much promise. It is important to listen to them, to understand their experiences, and to encourage them to help their peers to see the need for committed priests and religious, as well as the beauty of a life of sacrificial service to the Lord and his Church. To my mind, much is demanded of vocation directors and formators: candidates today, as much as ever, need to be given a sound intellectual and human formation which will enable them not only to respond to the real questions and needs of their contemporaries, but also to mature in their own conversion and to persevere in life-long commitment to their vocation.
Do these words of the Holy Father speak to your heart? The Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity invite you to consider our May 30-June 1, 2008 young adult single women discernment retreat.