To the youth: Christ needs you!

Bishop Jorge Rodriguez

On April 22, the World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Vocations is celebrated in the Church: prayer for the ordained ministries (priesthood and diaconate), the consecrated life in all its forms (masculine and feminine, contemplative and apostolic), societies of apostolic life and to secular institutes and for the missionary life. This day is the public testimony of the community in prayer to obey the Lord’s command: “So ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest” (Mt 9:38).

In his message for this day, Pope Francis reminds us that no human being is the result of coincidence, or a series of events disconnected from each other; on the contrary, our life and our presence in this world responds to a divine vocation. The challenge is to listen and discern that voice in our heart which calls us from above to become instruments of God’s love and salvation in the world, and thus find our own happiness.

We need young people, both men and women, who want to give their lives for Christ and for the Gospel! The Church, especially our Church in Colorado, needs men who would like to be priests and consecrated women who wish to spend their lives bringing the love of God to the poor, the sick, children, schools, hospitals and to the work of evangelization, in parishes.

In his message, the Pope describes three steps to vocation: listening, discernment, and go for it! God continues to call many young people to the priesthood and consecrated life, but listening becomes more difficult for the youth today. They live in a world of noise, strongly stimulated by the internet, cell phones, iPhones, iPads and other gadgets, and are driven by a selfish culture where the ideal does not go beyond self-interest. In this sort of society, it is very difficult for them to hear the voice of God who always calls them in a silent and discreet way, without putting pressure on their freedom. It comes as no surprise for that voice to be drowned in the thousands of noises that sometimes fill the minds and hearts of young people.

The second step is the discernment process by which the person makes fundamental decisions (in dialogue with the Lord and listening to the voice of the Spirit) about the state of life that they wish to embrace. Here, the person is challenged, too. He or she is asked to choose a life of total love for God and of generous dedication to the service of the Gospel and of the poor. It is important that the young man or woman can read the Word of God and the depth of his own heart to encounter that lifestyle which will make him live fulfilled and happy: because it was for this purpose that God gave him his existence.

It is urgent to listen, discern and go for it! That is what Pope Francis expresses: “The joy of the Gospel, which makes us open to encountering God and our brothers and sisters, does not abide our slowness and our sloth.  It will not fill our hearts if we keep standing by the window with the excuse of waiting for the right time, without accepting this very day the risk of making a decision.  Vocation is today!  The Christian mission is now!… Today the Lord continues to call others to follow him.  We should not wait to be perfect in order to respond with our generous “yes”, nor be fearful of our limitations and sins, but instead open our hearts to the voice of the Lord.  To listen to that voice, to discern our personal mission in the Church and the world, and at last to live it in the today that God gives us..” (Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for the 2018 World Day of Vocations, December 3, 2017.)

Guys and girls, God is the only one who knows why he has created you. He has made some of you to be priests; others to be religious and consecrated; and others for the life of marriage or the single life. But he has left you a clue written on your own heart. Now, God does not impose, but he invites; he does not yell, but suggests; he does not obligate, but wants that your answer to be from your heart and for love. He has left in your hands the task of discerning and deciding. But he also gives you tools: his Word, the longings of your heart, and the Church that accompanies and sustains you in this process. As in other professions in life, one who is already living this type of life can share his experience and guide you. If you feel something in your heart, talk to a priest, talk to a religious person, talk to a consecrated woman.

Dear fathers and mothers, the family that you raise is the good land where this seed was possibly deposited, in the heart of one of your sons or daughters, and it could bear the fruit of a priest for a parish, a religious for a Catholic school, a missionary for the world, or a cloistered nun to pray for the salvation of the world.

A vocation is everyone’s task: God calls and plants the seed, the family nourishes it, the prayer of everyone in the church sustains it, the example of the priest and the consecrated one illuminate it, and the young man or woman responds.

COMING UP: Why stay in the Church?

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There are many people who have either left the Church or are currently considering leaving because of the scandals of recent decades. We have felt pain and righteous anger at our leaders and have suffered scandal from their betrayal. For some, the grand jury reports and lack of accountability for bishops have been the last straw. It’s hard to blame people for feeling this way, but we have to ask with Peter, “to whom, Lord, shall we go?” (John 6:68).

Significantly, this question comes after many disciples walked out on Jesus for his teaching on the Eucharist, and it is the Eucharist that should be at the center of any response to the crisis. Peter answers his own question: “you have the words of everlasting life” (John 6:68). The Church is Jesus’ own body in the world, and we are members of his mystical body, given eternal life by consuming his own flesh at Mass. Without the Eucharist, Jesus’ presence in the flesh, the very heart of the Church, where would we be?

Bishop Robert Barron echoes Peter’s question in a recent pamphlet-style book, with over a million copies in print, Letter to a Suffering Church: A Bishop Speaks on the Sexual Abuse Crisis (Word on Fire, 2019). He turns to the Bible and Church history to look for perspective on the crisis. Because of the centrality of the Eucharist in the Church, the betrayal of some of our priests and bishops takes on greater significance. They act in persona Christi at Mass, offering the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross to the Father, and we depend on them for our sacramental life.

Fortunately, the validity of the sacraments does not depend upon the sinlessness of priests, but rather the holiness of God. Barron points out, however, that priests will not get off easy, given the extremely harsh words that Jesus offers to those who lead children astray: “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me;  but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,  it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the man by whom the temptation comes!” (Mt 18:7-9). Barron also references the punishment of Eli, in 1 Samuel 2-4, who as priest and judge of Israel watched his own sons, who were also priests, abuse the people. Barron argues that this scene gives us the best example of God’s retribution for allowing abuse to happen and not correcting it.

Barron also looks at the tumultuous story of Church history for context on the current crisis. Although the Church is the mystical body of Christ, he references St. Paul assertion that we bear our treasure in earthen vessels, as evidenced by the human weakness of Christians throughout history. In fact, this weakness manifests the Lord’s grace guiding and preserving the Church in spite of us. Barron quotes Belloc that a proof of the Church’s divine foundation “might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight” (43). Heresies, sinful popes, and sexual perversity have not fundamentally destroyed the Lord’s work, even if they have turned many people away. God has promised to remain with his Church and his providence will guide us especially through dark moments.

The crisis challenges us and raises the question of why we are Catholic. Most of us have been born Catholic and may take our faith for granted as something we’ve inherited from our parents. We may view belonging to the Church like membership in a voluntary organization. Rather, our life as members of Christ’s Body is a gift from God that changes our identity and unites us to God and our fellow Christians. As we experience challenges to faith, it is an opportunity to embrace this identity even more strongly — not as something that depends upon myself or anyone else in the Church, but on God. We go to Church to honor and thank him and to receive his grace, not to be a part of a human organization.

The Church is a family, called together by God, but, like any family, we experience pain from our own and each other’s sinfulness. As family, we can’t give up on each other, but have to “stay and fight” as Barron exhorts us, helping each other to be faithful to the mission that Jesus gave us: to love one another as he has loved us and to share the Good News of his salvation.

Featured Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash