Reflecting on the Holy Father’s message for the 46th World Day of Prayer for vocations to the priesthood and to the consecrated life held last May 3, 2010, with the theme: “Faith in the divine initiative - the human response”, I found a crystal-clear affirmation of my longtime-held conviction: that the response to God’s call to priesthood or religious life is born out of one’s firm faith. Whenever people ask me why I decided to become a priest, my usual reply is that I believe God has called me first: I did not decide it first – He did. I am simply trying to respond in faith.
This Vocation Month’s theme: “Vocation: a gift and a commitment” emphasizes, first of all, the truth that “vocation to the priesthood and to the consecrated life constitutes a special gift of God which becomes part of the great plan of love and salvation that God has for every man and woman and for the whole of humanity” (POPE BENEDICT XVI, Message for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations). The call is God’s initiative, not man’s. To become a priest is not a life’s project that we can simply put below our picture in a high school yearbook, or a reply to an inquiry in a slum book: “Ambition? To become a nun”.
It is God’s initiative. Therefore, whenever we hear a young lad saying, “I want to become a priest”, or a young lady saying, “I want to enter the convent”, our first thought would be that God must have stirred something in these persons. In a sense, the desire to become a priest or a nun is already the first sign – but not the only or even the most decisive one – of vocation. The candidate should go deeper in the discernment and purification of such desire through prayer and reflection. “What is asked of those who are called, for their part, is careful listening and prudent discernment, a generous and willing adherence to the divine plan, and a serious study of the reality that is proper to the priestly and religious vocations, so as to be able to respond responsibly and with conviction” (Ibid.).
It belongs to the Church the responsibility to discern whether or not such sign is authentic. Yet such responsibility is just one side of the coin. The other side is what the Pope highlights: “Our first duty, therefore, is to keep alive in families and in parishes, in movements and in apostolic associations, in religious communities and in all the sectors of diocesan life this appeal to the divine initiative with unceasing prayer. We must pray that the whole Christian people grows in its trust in God, convinced that the "Lord of the harvest" does not cease to ask some to place their entire existence freely at his service so as to work with him more closely in the mission of salvation” (Ibid.).
God may sow in the hearts of young people the seed of vocation if the “ground” is fertile. A Christian family that tries to live coherently its faith, with parents and children praying together, going to Mass on Sundays together, and inculcating the values of generosity and loving sacrifice, would likely favor the flourishing of a priestly or religious vocation. On the contrary, a family that hardly has time to be together at home, even in praying before meals, with parents and children, brothers or sisters always thinking of one’s own comfort and benefit, unwilling even to lend one’s new T-shirt or any belonging to another family member, could hardly encourage self-sacrifice which is essential in any response to God’s call.
Citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Cfr. n. 2062), the Pope says “God’s free initiative requires a free response on the part of men and women; a positive response which always presupposes acceptance of and identification with the plan that God has for everyone; a response which welcomes the Lord’s loving initiative and becomes, for the one who is called, a binding moral imperative, an offering of thanksgiving to God and a total cooperation with the plan which God carries out in history” (Ibid.). In a word, vocation is simply a loving dialogue between God Who calls and the one being called.
God always calls men and women to priesthood and religious life. No doubt about that for Jesus even promised to perpetuate His Church until the end of time. And for the Church to continue, priests are necessary. For without the priests, there would be no Eucharist. And without the Eucharist, there would be no Church. But what is not so certain is man’s response. That is why, it is on this aspect that our celebration of vocation month should particularly focus (though the term “vocation” here may also refer to marriage). What could we do as a Church, in this case, the local Church of Davao, to foment free human response to a divine initiative? Putting it simply, what can we – the people of God in Davao – do in order to promote, stir up and sustain priestly and religious vocations?
The Pope’s message calls for more prayer and deeper trust: “The exhortation of Jesus to his disciples: ‘Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest’ (Mt 9:38) has a constant resonance in the Church. Pray! The urgent call of the Lord stresses that prayer for vocations should be continuous and trusting. The Christian community can only really ‘have ever greater faith and hope in God's providence’ (Sacramentum Caritatis, 26) if it is enlivened by prayer”.
But our prayer should be coupled with sacrifices and should be put into action if we want it to be efficient. As St. Josemaría says: “Action is worth nothing without prayer: prayer grows in value with sacrifice”. Let us pray for more priestly and religious vocations in Davao. But then, let us learn to take care and sustain these vocations in our archdiocese. For in every vocation, we find man’s loving dialogue with God.