By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY — Every Christian has a vocation to respond to God’s love and to share that love with others, Pope Francis said.
“The Lord’s call is grace, complete gift and at the same time a commitment to bring the Gospel to others,” the pope wrote in his message for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, which was to be marked April 30 in most dioceses.
“Vocation: Grace and Mission” was the theme the pope chose for the 2023 celebration.
The pope’s message was released at the Vatican April 26 with a news conference led by Cardinal Lazarus You Heung-sik, prefect of the Dicastery for Clergy.
The message, the cardinal said, emphasizes that a vocation is “the gift of self,” a call that is “common to all Christians: All are called to be on the front line, to do their part so that the earth may become the common home in which individuals and peoples live together as brothers and sisters, under the gaze of the one Father.”
In his message, Pope Francis said that, “led by the Spirit, Christians are challenged to respond to existential peripheries and human dramas, ever conscious that the mission is God’s work.”
The mission, he said, “is not carried out by us alone, but always in ecclesial communion, together with our brothers and sisters, and under the guidance of the Church’s pastors.”
The multiplicity of vocations, gifts and responsibilities in the Church, he said, always has been part of “God’s dream: that we should live with Him in a communion of love.”
In the Church, and in the pope’s message, “vocation” referred to more than just the call to priesthood or consecrated religious life.
In fact, the pope wrote, “our common vocation to give ourselves in love develops and finds concrete expression in the life of lay men and women, devoted to raising a family as a small domestic Church and working as a leaven of the Gospel to renew the different sectors of society; in the testimony of consecrated women and men who are completely committed to God for the sake of their brothers and sisters as a prophetic sign of the kingdom of God; in ordained ministers — deacons, priests and bishops — placed at the service of preaching, prayer and fostering the communion of the holy people of God.”
The “true nature and richness” of each of those vocations, he said, is revealed and makes sense only in relation to the others within the community of the Church.
“Viewed in this light,” the pope said, “the Church is a vocational ‘symphony’ with every vocation united yet distinct, in harmony and joined together in ‘going forth’ to radiate throughout the world the new life of the kingdom of God.”
The vocation God gives to each Christian is not a command or imposition, Pope Francis said, but an individual call to respond to God’s love with the gifts, talents and dreams that each person has.
“In the course of our lives,” he said, “this call, which is part of the fiber of our being and the secret of our happiness, comes to us by the work of the Holy Spirit in ever new ways. It enlightens our minds, strengthens our wills, fills us with amazement and sets our hearts afire.”
Cardinal You Heung-sik, presenting the pope’s message, told reporters, “God, in fact, has a ‘dream’ that he wishes to realize for us and with us, a project that He gives us so that, accepting it and realizing it with all freedom, we can find the authentic meaning of our existence, the realization of our humanity, but also the mission through which we can contribute to the construction of a more fraternal, more just and more supportive world, the anticipation and realization of the kingdom of God.”
Sometimes the call comes “in completely unexpected ways,” Pope Francis wrote, recounting how, for him, the call came on “Sept. 21, 1953, as I was on my way to an annual school celebration, (and) I was led to stop by a church and go to confession.”
“That day changed my life and left a mark that has endured to the present day,” the pope wrote.
“The gift of vocation is like a divine seed that springs up in the soil of our existence, opens our hearts to God and to others, so that we can share with them the treasure we ourselves have found,” the pope said.
The basic way vocation works, he wrote, is: “God calls us in love and we, in gratitude, respond to Him in love. We realize that we are beloved sons and daughters of the one Father, and we come to see ourselves as brothers and sisters of one another.”
Cardinal You Heung-sik told reporters that Pope Francis “truly gives an excellent example” of what a Christian vocation is, “not just as a bishop or priest,” but as a person who has encountered Jesus and joyfully shares the faith with others.