On 4 August last year, the 160th anniversary of the death of the Curé of Ars, I chose to write a letter to all those priests who daily devote their lives to the service of God’s people in response to the Lord’s call.On that occasion, I chose four key words – pain, gratitude, encouragement and praise – as a way of thanking priests and supporting their ministry.
According to Pope Francis, God accompanies and guides us; he prevents us from running aground on the shores of indecision and even enables us to walk on surging waters.Every vocation is born of that gaze of love with which the Lord came to meet us, perhaps even at a time when our boat was being battered by the storm. “Vocation, more than our own choice, is a response to the Lord’s unmerited call” Letter to Priests. We will succeed in discovering and embracing our vocation once we open our hearts in gratitude and perceive the passage of God in our lives.
When the disciples see Jesus walking towards them on the sea, they first think that he is a ghost and are filled with fear. Jesus immediately reassures them with words that should constantly accompany our lives and our vocational journey: “Take heart, it is I; have no fear” (Mt 14:27). This, then, is the second word I wish to offer you: encouragement.What frequently hinders our journey, our growth, our choosing the road the Lord is marking out for us, are certain “ghosts” that trouble our hearts. When we are called to leave safe shores and embrace a state of life – like marriage, ministerial priesthood, consecrated life – our first reaction is often from the “ghost of disbelief”. Surely, this vocation is not for me! Can this really be the right path? Is the Lord really asking me to do this? Take heart, do not be afraid! Jesus is at our side, and if we acknowledge him as the one Lord of our lives, he will stretch out his hand, take hold of us and save us.
Every vocation brings with it a responsibility. The Lord calls us because he wants to enable us, like Peter, to “walk on water”, in other words, to take charge of our lives and place them at the service of the Gospel, in the concrete and everyday ways that he shows us, and specifically in the different forms of lay, priestly and consecrated vocation. Yet, like Saint Peter, our desire and enthusiasm coexist with our failings and fears.If we let ourselves be daunted by the responsibilities that await us – whether in married life or priestly ministry – or by the hardships in store for us, then we will soon turn away from the gaze of Jesus and, like Peter, we will begin to sink. On the other hand, despite our frailty and poverty, faith enables us to walk towards the Risen Lord and to weather every storm. Whenever fatigue or fear make us start to sink, Jesus holds out his hand to us. He gives us the enthusiasm we need to live our vocation with joy and fervour. Take heart, do not be afraid!
Dear friends, on this day in particular, but also in the ordinary pastoral life of our communities, I ask the Church to continue to promote vocations. May she touch the hearts of the faithful and enable each of them to discover with gratitude God’s call in their lives, to find courage to say “yes” to God, to overcome all weariness through faith in Christ, and to make of their lives a song of praise for God, for their brothers and sisters, and for the whole world. May the Virgin Mary accompany us and intercede for us.
In these times of restriction, contending with the experiences of lockdown and social distancing, there is a real sense of a community spirit, and a readiness to respond to the needs of others. In the face of the pandemic, almost everyone has been playing their part. As households and families, we’re staying on message, through remaining at home as much as possible and thereby helping to protect the most vulnerable. Without fail, every Thursday evening at 8pm many of us have been gathering to recognise and pay tribute to those on the frontline, especially all the medical staff and various workers, who courageously respond to the demands placed on society by the virus. In encountering those who go above and beyond the call of duty, who in their selfless offering of their time and energy, we experience a witness to a real life calling. These are the women and men who encapsulate living a vocation. In these stormy and uncertain times, we celebrate the many, many people who have gone the extra mile, who respond with heartfelt compassion. Throughout these strange and unfamiliar weeks and months, an opportunity exists of being able to look at life, with new and fresh eyes. Learning to appreciate the circumstances of other people’s lives, including the lonely, the house bound, the many who struggle with depression and various other physical and mental illnesses; those men and women who battle throughout each day, trying to find hope and to encounter genuine love and mercy. These are the people who have been fighting a more persistent and longer-term pandemic, confronting a different form of virus, which can be every bit as deadly, namely, the devastating absence of joy, meaning and hope. In a world acutely aware its vulnerability and of the need for healing, who are those people called to witness to God’s presence, to be living signs of God’s mercy and compassion? Can we allow ourselves to be drawn by the example of Jesus the Good Shepherd? In seeking to strengthen and guide the Church, the Holy Spirit imparts the charisms and gifts necessary for the building up and the sanctification of the people of God. How are we being called to live out the truth, which dwells in our hearts? Ultimately, we discover who we are, by walking step by step, along the amazing lifelong journey of becoming the person God created us to be.
Lord Jesus Christ, gentle shepherd, you know each of us by name.
Through Baptism you call us to do something special for you with our lives.
Open our hearts to listen to your Holy Spirit within.
Like, Mary our Mother, may we have the courage to say yes to your call.
We make this prayer through Jesus Christ, our friend and brother.
Saint Eugene, Pray for us.
Saint Columba, Pray for us.
Saint Patrick, Pray for us.
Saint Brigid, Pray for us.
Celebrant: Dear friends, with confidence in the Good Shepherd, we turn to our loving Father: The Lord knows each one of his flock by name. Let us offer our prayers to God, trusting in his love for us.
For Pope Francis, Bishop Donal and all bishops, priests and deacons: that they may faithfully imitate Christ in accompanying the people of God on their journey and encouraging their growth toward holiness
For the shepherds of our Church: that they will faithfully help others to find Christ by the witness of their lives, the truth of their words, and the integrity of their actions
For our world: that the presence of Jesus the Good Shepherd may bring healing, peace and joy to all in need, especially those persecuted for their faith.
For a listening heart: that we, who have been called by name, may hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and respond confidently to God’s invitations
For all who are discerning a call to ministry: that they will recognize God’s invitation, open their hearts to God who loves them, and follow Jesus in laying down their lives for others
For our young people: that they will be open to hear the call of the Good Shepherd to lay down their lives in love and service of God and neighbour.
For all who serve in our hospitals, care homes and in the community: that their generosity and sacrifices may contribute to promoting an ever more loving and caring society
For all who work to restore life and bring healing, for medical personnel, for counsellors, and for chaplains: that God will guide them as they journey with those in pain and preserve them from harm
For our seminarians and all in formation to the priesthood and consecrated life: that they may persevere in lives of generosity and love.
For those who have died: may they be welcomed by the loving embrace of the Good Shepherd
Celebrant: Father hear us and guard the sheep of your flock. Keep us safe in the fold of the Good Shepherd, who welcomes each of us by name. We ask this through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
Lord Jesus Christ, gentle shepherd, You know your sheep,
And you know how to reach their hearts.
Give to the people of the diocese of Derry
Hearts that are open to the call of the Holy Spirit.
Speak to the hearts of the (young) men of our diocese
That they may hear your call
To follow you and serve your people as priests.
Awaken in them the courage to answer: ‘Here I am, Lord, Send me.’
St Eugene, pray for us.
St Columba, pray for us.
St John Vianney, pray for us.