Sunday, May 11, 2014

Vocation Sunday

As any teacher knows, to repeat the same news over and over again can help it to be accepted, to be learned, and even to become one of the things that matter most in one’s thinking. Likewise, for us to hear the proclamation of the resurrection, over and over again during these Easter Sundays, strengthens our faith by the witness of others’ faith - in particular the faith of the apostles. So one of the most noticeable features that distinguishes Easter from the other seasons of our Catholic calendar is the daily reading from the Acts of the Apostles. Through our annual journey with the apostles though the history of the early Church, we identify ourselves with that first generation of Christians in their exciting experience of the Risen Christ. We do that in order to become like them – to become a community of disciples which witnesses to the presence and action of the Risen Lord in his Church, a community which expresses its new life in its liturgy, from which it then reaches out into the wider world.

In his Message for today’s 51st Annual World Day of Prayer for Vocations, Pope Francis writes of our participation “in a communal journey that is able to release the best energies” in and around us.

Preaching to the people on the first Pentecost Sunday [Acts 2:14a, 36-41], Peter wanted his hearers to feel personally impacted by his message – not simply hearing some new information about which one might or might not care, as we all do now, all day long, in our so-called “information age.” And, based on the story we just heard, Peter was apparently quite successful. The people were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other apostles, “What are we to do?”

Now, one possible response to Peter’s message might be a certain feeling of remorse. In the process of conversion, guilt is often a first step. Remorse alone, however, can get stuck in a focus on oneself. We avoid getting stuck, we avoid being absorbed in ourselves, when guilt goes forward to true conversion, which resolves guilt with forgiveness and the freedom which comes from forgiveness.

The proclamation of the good news – whether in 1st-century Jerusalem or 21st century Tennessee - ought always to lead us to that experience of conversion. As Peter told the people, the promise is made to all those. Whomever the Lord our God will call. The apostles’ message of the call to conversion was, in that first instance of course, an invitation to identify with Christ in baptism. But, once we have been baptized, we are also repeatedly invited, as Peter exhorted his hearers in today’s 2nd reading [1 Peter 2:20b-25], to follow in Christ’s footsteps, living the new life made accessible to us by Christ’s death and resurrection, remaining united with him no matter what.

We hear this message repeatedly during this Easter season, Sunday after Sunday, inviting us to see something that wasn’t just for the 1st century, but is addressed to us here and now in our own 21st century.

As Pope Francis says, “the true joy of those who are called consists in believing and experiencing that he, the Lord, is faithful, and that with him we can walk, be disciples and witnesses of God’s love, open our hearts to great ideals, to great things.”

In particular, on this 51st Annual World Day of Prayer for Vocations, the Church challenges us to focus in a special way on what is required for the message to continue to get out, to continue to be heard, to get transmitted from this generation to the next, in the life of Christ’s Body, the Church. With confidence in the Risen Lord’s promise to be with his Church forever and never to abandon it, we must - like those first Christians - nevertheless take seriously our own responsibility to do our part in making the mission of the Church actually happen among the people of our day.

As Pope Francis writes in his Vocation Sunday message: “A vocation is a fruit that ripens in a well cultivated field of mutual love that becomes mutual service, in the context of an authentic ecclesial life. No vocation is born of itself or lives for itself. A vocation flows from the heart of God and blossoms in the good soil of faithful people, in the experience of fraternal love.”

What does it mean for us to think of our life together as Church as "a well cultivated field of mutual love"? What message might that send out to the world?

Homily for the 4th Sunday of Easter (51st Annual World Day of Prayer for Vocations), Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, May 11, 2014.

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