Faithlife Sermons

Dominica III post Pascha

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LESSON: Vocations need support

Today, in addition to being the Third Sunday after Easter, is the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. The day when, throughout the world, we are invited to pray for an increase in holy vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
As the American bishop’s website says regarding today’s observance:
The purpose of the World Day of Prayer for Vocations is to publicly fulfill the Lord's instruction to, "Pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest" (Mt 9:38; Lk 10:2). As a climax to a prayer that is continually offered throughout the Church, it affirms the primacy of faith and grace in all that concerns vocations to the priesthood and to the consecrated life.
Encountering priests and religious is a regular occurrence for faithful Catholics, we see our priests at church on Sunday’s at Mass, and during the week at other events. We may encounter religious teaching children, tending the sick, or engaged in some other apostolate.
What we don’t see on a regular basis though, are those in formation for these vocations. Seminarians (other than those on a pastoral year) are studying within the seminary walls, and religious novices are in their houses of formation. And of course, long before a vocation even reaches that stage, it has to grow within the hidden recesses of the hearts and souls of young men and women.
Because we don’t have daily reminders of their presence, we can forget that they need our prayers and support, because a vocation is a precious and delicate thing that needs to be nurtured continually. Just like a flower in a garden needs sunlight, water, and nourishment from the soil to flourish, a vocation needs the sunlight of prayers, the water of encouragement, and the nourishment of a formative environment, not only during the time of training and formation but long before it as well.
While we don’t know specifically, it’s generally understood that a large number of those who experience a vocation never pursue it, and we do know that a significant proportion of those who do pursue a vocation to the priesthood or religious life never reach ordination or final vows. There are, of course, those who legitimately discern that the vocation is not for them, but when it comes to a religious vocation, the world, the flesh, and the devil are working overtime to prevent our young people from following God’s call.
Sadly, the strongest opposition that many face is from those closest to them, even when these are people who are faithful and normally support vocations.

ILLUSTRATION: St. Thomas’ family tries to thwart his vocation

St. Thomas Aquinas is one of the most well known saints due to his amazing intellect, his profuse writing, and the central role that he played expounding on the philosophical underpinnings of the Church’s theology. However, if his family had had their way, none of this might ever have happened.
At the age of five Thomas began his early education at Monte Cassino but after the military conflict between the Emperor Frederick II and Pope Gregory IX spilled into the abbey in early 1239, Thomas’ parents Landulf and Theodora had Thomas enrolled at the studium generale (university) recently established by Frederick in Naples. It was here that Thomas was probably introduced to Aristotle, Averroes and Maimonides, all of whom would influence his theological philosophy. It was also during his study at Naples that Thomas came under the influence of John of St. Julian, a Dominican preacher in Naples, who was part of the active effort by the Dominican order to recruit devout followers.
At the age of nineteen Thomas resolved to join the recently founded Dominican Order. Thomas's change of heart did not please his family. In an attempt to prevent Theodora's interference in Thomas's choice, the Dominicans arranged to move Thomas to Rome, and from Rome, to Paris. However, while on his journey to Rome, per Theodora's instructions, his brothers seized him as he was drinking from a spring and took him back to his parents at the castle.
Thomas was held prisoner for almost one year in the family castles in an attempt to prevent him from assuming the Dominican habit and to push him into renouncing his new aspiration. Political concerns prevented the Pope from ordering Thomas's release, which had the effect of extending Thomas's detention.
Thomas passed this time of trial tutoring his sisters and communicating with members of the Dominican Order. Family members became desperate to dissuade Thomas, who remained determined to join the Dominicans. At one point, two of his brothers resorted to the measure of hiring a prostitute to seduce him. Thomas drove her away wielding a fire iron and two angels appeared to him as he slept and strengthened his determination to remain celibate.
By 1244, seeing that all her attempts to dissuade Thomas had failed, Theodora sought to save the family's dignity, arranging for Thomas to escape at night through his window.
While St. Thomas’ case is a rather extreme example, those close to someone with a vocation can have a strong influence over whether that vocation is pursued or not. This is why we need to have supportive environments in which vocations can flourish.

APPLICATION: Supporting vocations

If we want many more holy priests and religious for our Church, then we need to provide the elements that make vocations flourish, which, as I mentioned, means prayers, encouragement, and a supportive environment.
Praying for vocations should not just be a once-a-year occurrence, praying for vocations should form a part of our daily prayers throughout the year. If you still have children living at home, then praying for vocations should form part of the daily time of family prayer, so that children see that it is something that their parents value.
Those in formation for the priesthood or religious life do not have an easy road, they have to live the rigours of the formation environment each day, and as I mentioned, the world, the flesh, and the devil are working overtime to discourage them from pursuing or continuing to pursue vocations. Besides just praying for them, they need to see our support. Find out who is in formation in your diocese or from your local area, send them a note of encouragement, send them a donation if they need financial support and we are able. They need tangible reminders that the faithful are there to support them.
Finally, and this one is particularly for parents, but some of it goes for all Catholics. Vocations need a supportive environment to flourish. Children need to be taught to listen to the voice of God and follow where He leads. They need to see that their parents value and support vocations, particularly among their own children.
Lastly, and this is for everyone, we need to support the vocations we already have. There are, of course, separate days set aside to focus on prayer for priests and religious, but we should be praying for them every day as well. Additionally, while we may have legitimate concerns about the actions of certain individuals, we cannot constantly be critical of priests or religious simply because they don’t live up to the perfect ideal that we have in our minds. If we are constantly critical of the vocations we have, we are discouraging the vocations that we could have.
Today, as we celebrate the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, let us pray, today and everyday, that God may send more labourers into His harvest, that we may have many more holy priests and religious for our Church.
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