Vocations are given, not manufactured

Archbishop Aquila

There are many uncertainties in life, but as the Church observed World Vocation Day on May 12, I want to remind everyone — especially young people — that you can be certain that God has a unique and loving plan for your life that only you can fulfill. Your task is to seek the Lord with all your heart, and if you do so, you can be sure he will reveal your vocation.

This is not a popular thing to believe, but it is true. Most young people today are taught that they are a blank slate that can be drawn upon however they wish. The tides of relativism have eroded belief in objective truth to the point that increasing numbers of people think that one’s gender, the nature of marriage, and ultimately what is right or wrong can be changed at will. When there is no reference to God, one makes oneself God.

This development could lead to people thinking that vocations are just like a career choice, but in fact, a vocation is a calling that God the Father places on one’s heart. As Pope Francis reminds us, it is a summons “to follow Jesus on the path he has marked out for us, for our own happiness and for the good of those around us” (Pope Francis’ 2019 World Day of Vocation Message). Jesus is the one who “marks out our path for our happiness.”

The Gospel message stands at the very heart of every vocation: God loves you. He died for you. And he has a plan for your happiness. Experiencing this in your life will bring you lasting joy and freedom.

But that’s not to say that following God’s plan for you won’t be challenging. Pope Francis draws on the story of Jesus calling the apostles away from their fishing to become “fishers of men” to describe how being called contains both promise and risk. “The Lord’s call,” he says, “is not an intrusion of God on our freedom … On the contrary, it is the loving initiative whereby God encounters us and invites us to be part of a great undertaking.  He opens before our eyes the horizon of a greater sea and an abundant catch.”

Whether one is called to the priesthood, religious life, consecrated life, or marriage, the great joy over souls brought to the Lord for healing and salvation is certainly abundant. Ask any priest and you will hear stories about the richness, the challenges and the joys of his ministry.

The Holy Father offers us a reflection on the risk and promise of our vocation by looking at Mary’s life. “Her mission was not easy, yet she did not allow fear to prevail. It was the ‘yes’ of someone prepared to be committed, someone willing to take a risk, ready to stake everything she had, with no more security than the certainty of knowing that she was the bearer of a promise.  I ask each one of you: Do you see yourselves as bearers of a promise?  What promise do I bear within my heart to take forward?  Mary’s would undoubtedly be a difficult mission, but the challenges that lay ahead were no reason to say ‘no.’”

May the Blessed Mother’s example inspire everyone to discern how the Father is calling you and may she intercede for you to receive the gifts of wisdom and courage so that you can follow her son, Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He will bring you great happiness, even in the trials of life.

COMING UP: Five Hispanic-American saints perhaps you didn’t know

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The American continent has had its share of saints in the last five centuries. People will find St. Juan Diego, St. Rose of Lima or St. Martin de Porres among the saints who enjoy greater popular devotion. Yet September, named Hispanic Heritage Month, invites a deeper reflection on the lives of lesser-known saints who have deeply impacted different Latin-American countries through their Catholic faith and work, and whose example has the power to impact people anywhere around the world. Here are just a few perhaps you didn’t know.

St. Toribio de Mogrovejo
1538-1606
Peru

Born in Valladolid, Spain, Toribio was a pious young man and an outstanding law student. As a professor, his great reputation reached the ears of King Philip II, who eventually nominated him for the vacant Archdiocese of Lima, Peru, even though Toribio was not even a priest. The Pope accepted the king’s request despite the future saint’s protests. So, before the formal announcement, he was ordained a priest, and a few months later, a bishop. He walked across his archdiocese evangelizing the natives and is said to have baptized nearly half a million people, including St. Rose of Lima and St. Martin de Porres. He learned the local dialects, produced a trilingual catechism, fought for the rights of the natives, and made evangelization a major theme of his episcopacy. Moreover, he worked devotedly for an archdiocesan reform after realizing that diocesan priests were involved in impurities and scandals. He predicted the date and hour of his death and is buried in the cathedral of Lima, Peru.

St. Mariana of Jesus Paredes
1618-1645
Ecuador

St. Mariana was born in Quito, modern-day Ecuador, and not only became the country’s first saint, but was also declared a national heroine by the Republic of Ecuador. As a little girl, Mariana showed a profound love for God and practiced long hours of prayer and mortification. She tried joining a religious order on two occasions, but various circumstances would not permit it. This led Mariana to realize that God was calling her to holiness in the world. She built a room next to her sister’s house and devoted herself to prayer and penance, living miraculously only off the Eucharist. She was known to possess the gifts of counsel and prophecy. In 1645, earthquakes and epidemics broke out in Quito, and she offered her life and sufferings for their end. They stopped after she made her offering. On the day of her death, a lily is said to have bloomed from the blood that was drawn out and poured in a flowerpot, earning her the title of “The Lily of Quito.”

St. Theresa of Los Andes
1900-1920
Chile

St. Theresa of Jesus of Los Andes was Chile’s first saint and the first Discalced Carmelite to be canonized outside of Europe. Born as Juana, the future saint was known to struggle with her temperament as a child. She was proud, selfish and stubborn. She became deeply attracted to God at the age six, and her extraordinary intelligence allowed her to understand the seriousness of receiving First Communion. Juana changed her life and became a completely different person by the age of 10, practicing mortification and deep prayer. At age 14, she decided to become a Discalced Carmelite and received the name of Theresa of Jesus. Deeply in love with Christ, the young and humble religious told her confessor that Jesus told her she would die soon, something she accepted with joy and faith. Shortly thereafter, Theresa contracted typhus and died at the age of 19. Although she was 6 months short of finishing her novitiate, she was able to profess vows “in danger of death.” Around 100,000 pilgrims visit her shrine in Los Andes annually.

St. Laura Montoya
1874-1949
Colombia

After Laura’s father died in war when she was only a child, she was forced to live with different family members in a state of poverty. This reality kept her from receiving formal education during her childhood. What no one expected is that one day she would become Colombia’s first saint. Her aunt enrolled her in a school at the age of 16, so she would become a teacher and make a living for herself. She learned quickly and became a great writer, educator and leader. She was a pious woman and wished to devote herself to the evangelization of the natives. As she prepared to write Pope Pius X for help, she received the pope’s new Encyclical Lacrymabili Statu, on the deplorable condition of Indians in America. Laura saw it as a confirmation from God and founded the Missionaries of the Immaculate Heart and St. Catherine of Siena, working for the evangelization of natives and fighting or their behalf to be seen as children of God.

St. Manuel Morales
1898-1926
Mexico

Manuel was a layman and one of many martyrs from Mexico’s Cristero War in the 1920s. He joined the seminary as a teen but had to abandon this dream in order to support his family financially. He became a baker, married and had three children. This change, however, did not prevent him from bearing witness to the faith publicly. He became the president of the National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty, which was being threatened by the administration of President Plutarco Elías Calles. Morales and two other leaders from the organization were taken prisoners as they discussed how to free a friend priest from imprisonment through legal means. They were beaten, tortured and then killed for not renouncing to their faith. Before the firing squad, the priest begged the soldiers to forgive Morales because he had a family. Morales responded, “I am dying for God, and God will take care of my children.” His last words were, “Long live Christ the King and Our Lady of Guadalupe!”