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: The Vatican’s Choice: Jimmy Lai or Xi Jinping?

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In mid-May, Chinese leader Xi Jinping unveiled a plan to bypass Hong Kong’s legislature and impose draconian new “national security” laws on the former British colony. Putatively intended to defend Hong Kong from “secessionists,” “terrorists,” and “foreign influence,” these new measures are in fact designed to curb the brave men and women of Hong Kong’s vibrant pro-democracy movement, who have been aggravating the Beijing totalitarians for a long time. With the world distracted by the Wuhan virus (which the Chinese government’s clumsiness and prevarication did much to globalize), the ever-more-brutal Xi Jinping regime evidently thinks that this is the moment to crack down even harder on those in Hong Kong who cherish freedom and try to defend it.

This latest display of Beijing’s intent to enforce communist power in Hong Kong coincides with the most recent persecution of my friend, Jimmy Lai.

Jimmy and I have only met once. But I have long felt a kinship with this fellow-Catholic, a convert who first put his considerable wealth to work in support of important Catholic activities and who is now risking all in support of the pro-democracy movement in Kong Kong. Arrested in February, and then again in April, Jimmy Lai has been charged with helping organize and lead “unauthorized protests.” That he was in the front ranks of pro-democracy demonstrations is true. The question is, why do the Chinese communists regard peaceful protest in support of freedoms Beijing solemnly promised to protect as treasonous?

In late May, the thugs in Beijing tightened the ratchet of repression another notch: Jimmy Lai’s case was transferred to a court that could give the 72-year old a five-year sentence, or even consecutive sentences. But what else could be expected from a regime that was already trying to bankrupt Lai’s pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, by pressuring both Chinese and international firms to stop buying advertising space there? Shamefully, far too many have kowtowed to those pressures, and a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed article reported that Apple Daily is now cut off from 65% of the Hong Kong advertising market. Meanwhile, Beijing, while trying to reassure the business community that everything will be just fine, warns business leaders (as well as diplomats and journalists) not to “join the anti-China forces in stigmatizing or demonizing” the new national security laws.

The Xi Jinping regime may be less stable than it wants the world to think it is. Secure regimes do not increase repression, as Beijing has done for several years now. Moreover, labeling all criticism of the Xi Jinping government as “anti-China” is not the play a regime confident about its legitimacy and stability would make. Such tactics seem clumsy; they bespeak sweaty nervousness, not calm self-assurance.

The attempt to break the Hong Kong democracy movement is one facet of a broader campaign of repression that has not spared Chinese religious communities on the mainland. One million Muslim Uyghurs remain penned in Xinjiang concentration camps, where they are being “educated.” Protestant house churches are under constant threat. And repressive measures continue to be taken against Catholics and their churches, despite the almost two-year old (and still secret) agreement between the Holy See and Beijing. That agreement, which gave the Chinese communist party a lead role in the nomination of bishops, looks ever more like one in which the Vatican gave away a great deal in return for hollow promises; Chinese Catholics who do not toe the party line as the Chinese communist party defines that line are still persecuted. The effects of this sorry affair on the Church’s evangelical mission in the China of the future – hopefully, a post-communist China – will not be positive.

Around the world, voices have been raised in support of Hong Kong’s brave pro-democracy demonstrators. Has the Holy See’s voice been heard? If so, I missed it and so did many others. Are strong representations in favor of religious freedom and other basic human rights being made by Vatican officials behind the scenes in Beijing and Rome? One might hope so. But if the Holy See’s current China policy is in fact a reprise of its failed Ostpolitik in central and eastern Europe during the 1970s, those representations are more likely tepid and wholly ineffectual.

With one of its most courageous Catholic sons now in the dock and facing what could be life-threatening imprisonment, the Vatican now faces a defining choice: Jimmy Lai or Xi Jinping?