THE MEANING OF VOCATION

IN THE WORDS OF

Pope John Paul II

 (Pope John Paul 2' address at 83 places in the World. Scepter pub., 1997)

 

1.What is God calling you to do?

 

I TURN ESPECIALLY to you, boys and girls, young and not so

young, who find yourselves at the decisive moment of choice. I would like to meet you one by one, call you by your name, talk to you heart to heart of things extremely important not only for yourself, but for the whole of humanity.

I would like to ask each one of you: What will you do with your life? What are your plans? Have you ever thought of committing your existence totally to Christ? Do you think that there can be anything greater than to bring Jesus to people and people to Jesus?

Our interior gaze extends to the limitless horizons of our hopes and aspirations. And in the midst of all of life's contradic­tions, we search for life's true meaning. We wonder and ask, Why? Why am I here? Why am I alive at all? What must I do? None of you is alone in posing these questions. Humanity as a whole feels the pressing need to give sense and purpose to a world which is increasingly complicated and difficult to be happy in.

You are at the great crossroads of your lives and you must decide how your future can be lived happily, accepting the respon­sibilities which you hope will be placed squarely on your shoul­ders, playing an active role in the world around you. You ask me for encouragement and guidance, and most willingly I offer some words of advice to all of you in name of Jesus Christ. In the first place I say this: you must never think that you are alone in decid­ing your future! And second: when deciding your future, you must not decide for yourself alone!

The conviction which we must share and spread is that the call to holiness is directed to all Christians (Lumen Gentium, ch. 5). This is not a question of privilege or of spiritual elitism. It is not a matter of some persons feeling inclined to heroic daring. Still less is it a question of seeking a quiet refuse adapted to certain forms of piety or certain natural temperaments. It is a question of a grace offered to all the baptized, but in varying ways (. Eph 4: 7).

Ask yourselves, young people, about the love of Christ. Acknowledge his voice resounding in the temple of your heart. Return his bright and penetrating glance which opens the paths of your life to the horizons of the Church's mission. It is a taxing mission, today more than ever, to teach men the truth about them­selves, about their end, their destiny, and to show faithful souls the unspeakable riches of the love of Christ. Do not be afraid of the radicalness of his demands, because Jesus, who loved us first,, is pre­pared to give himself to you, as well as asking of you. If he asks much from you, it is because he knows you can give much.

Christian holiness does not mean being sinless, but rather it means struggling not to give in and always getting up after every fall. Holiness does not stem so much from the effort of man's will, as from the effort to never restrict the action of grace in one's own soul, and to be, moreover, grace's humble "partner."

Every lay Christian is an extraordinary work of God's grace and is called to the heights of holiness. Sometimes, lay men and women do not seem to appreciate to the full the dignity and the vocation that is theirs as lay people. It is their specific vocation and mission to express the Gospel in their lives and thereby to insert the Gospel as a leaven into the reality of the world in which they live and work.

Follow Christ! You who are single or who are preparing for marriage. Follow Christ! You who are young or old. Follow Christ! You who are sick or aging; you who feel ... the need of a friend. Follow Christ!

 

2. When and how does God call?

 

HOW MANY young people do not possess the truth, and drift along without a "reason why"; how many, unfortunately, after empty and exhausting searches, disappointed and embittered, have given and still give themselves up to despair! And how many have succeeded in reaching the truth only after years of tormented questioning and painful experiences!

Just think, for example, of St. Augustine's dramatic path to arrive at the light of truth and at the peace of regained innocence! What a sigh he heaved when at last he arrived at the light! And he exclaimed with nostalgia: "Sero Te amavi!" (Late have I loved thee).

Just think of the effort the famous Cardinal Newman had to make to arrive with the force of logic at Catholicism! What a long and painful spiritual agony! It is really a great thing to know that one possesses truth.

He has chosen you, in a mysterious but real way, to make you saviors with him and like him. Yes, Christ calls you, but he calls you in truth. His call is demanding, because he invites you to let your­selves be "captured" by him completely, so that your whole lives will be seen in a different light. Let yourselves be seized by Jesus and try to live just for him!

As we reflect together on the life which Jesus gives, I ask you to have the courage to commit yourselves to the truth. Have the courage to believe the good news about life which Jesus teaches in the Gospel. Open your minds and hearts to the beauty of all that God has made and to his special, personal love for each one of you.

Young people of the world, hear his voice! Hear his voice and follow him!

There is a wonderful way of experiencing love in life: it is the vocation to follow Christ in the celibate state freely chosen or in the state of virginity for the love of the kingdom of heaven. I ask each one of you to question yourselves seriously about whether God may not be calling you to one of these paths. And to all of those who suspect that they may have this possible personal voca­tion, I say: pray insistently to receive the needed clarity, but then reply with a joyful yes.

God has, in fact, thought of us from eternity and has loved us as unique individuals. He has called every one of us by name, as the Good Shepherd "calls his sheep by name" (Jn 10: 3).

 

 

A vocation to a total commitment to Christ

 

3. God calls in earliest youth

 

During the years of youth each person develops his own personality. The future already begins to be present, and it is right beyond your arm's reach. It is the period in which life is seen as a promis­ing plan to be fulfilled in which each one is, and wants to be, involved. It is also the right time for discerning and becoming more radically aware that life cannot develop without God and others. It is the time for facing the great questions, the choice between selfishness and generosity.

Each one of you too is confronted by the challenge of giving full meaning to your life, the one life you are given to live. You are young and you want to live. But you must live fully and with a purpose. You must live for God, you must live for others. And no one can live this life for you. The future is yours, but the future is above all a call and a challenge to "keep" your life by giving it up, by "losing" it -as the Gospel has reminded us- by sharing it through loving service of others. You are called to be witnesses of the paradox that Christ proposes: "He who loves his life loses it, he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life" (Jn 12: 25). And the measure of your success will be the measure of your generosity.

Christ has the remedy to cure the world's ills. He, who applied to himself the term "doctor" (Mk 2: 17), taught us that if one wishes to change the world, it is necessary first of all to change man's heart.

We are all called -each in a different way- to go and to bear fruit. The disciples were chosen by the Master. They did not pre­sent themselves nor were they in fact volunteers, at least not in the initial stage; because the friendship offered by Jesus lies in the order of salvation, it is totally gratuitous. One who has entered into a relationship of love with Jesus is committed to being a faith­ful and active disciple. That is what is meant by bearing "fruit."

 

4. God is the one who calls and he does so from all eternity

 

Every vocation is part of a divine plan. This means that in God's creative initiative there enters a particular act of love for those called not only to salvation, but also to the ministry of salvation. Therefore from all eternity, since we began to exist in the plans of the Creator, and he willed us to be creatures, he also willed us to be "called," preparing in us the gifts and conditions for the per­sonal, conscious, and opportune response to the call of Christ and of the Church. God who loves us, who is Love, is also "He who calls" (Rom 9: 11).

Vocation is, therefore, a mystery that man accepts and lives in the depths of his being. A gift and a grace, it depends on supreme divine freedom and, in its total reality, it escapes our understanding. We cannot demand explanations from the Giver of all goods - "Why have you made me thus' " (Rom 9:20) because he who calls is also "he who is" (Ex 3: 14). Therefore, in the presence of a vocation we adore the mystery, we respond lovingly to the initia­tive of love, we say yes to the call.

The experience of a vocation is unique and indescribable, and is only perceived as a gentle breeze of the clarifying touch of grace. The vocation is a breathing of the Holy Spirit, who, at the same time as he genuinely shapes our fragile human reality, shines a new light into our hearts. He instills an extraordinary power that merges our existence into the divine enterprise.

 

5. The process of a vocation

 

The Lord has given you a heart open to great horizons; do not be afraid to commit your life completely to the service of Christ and his Gospel! Listen to him as he says again today: "The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few."

We can learn how the Lord acts in every vocation (Ex 3: 1-6; 9-12). First, he provokes a new awareness of his presence-the burning bush. When we begin to show an interest he calls us by name. When our answer becomes more specific and like Moses we say: "Here I am" (cf. v. 4), then he reveals more clearly both him­self and his compassionate love for his people in need. Gradually he leads us to discover the practical way in which we should serve him: "I will send you." And usually it is then that fears and doubts come to disturb us and make it more difficult to decide. It is then that we need to hear the Lord's assurance: "I am with you. Be not afraid!" Every vocation to the apostolate springs from familiarity with God's word and involves being sent to communicate that word to others.

 

The lack of workers for God's harvest was already a challenge in Gospel times, [even] for Jesus himself. The Gospel tells us that as he roamed through towns and villages, Jesus was moved with pity for the crowds which "were lying prostrate from exhaustion, like sheep without a shepherd" (Mt 9: 36). He tried to remedy that situ­ation by teaching them at great length (cf. Mk 6: 34), but he wanted the disciples to join him in solving the problem and so he invited them, first of all, to pray: "Beg the harvest master to send out labor­ers to gather his harvest" (Mt 9: 38). He also teaches us today that with prayer we can and must influence the number of vocations. This prayer must be joined to efforts to encourage an increase in the responses to the divine call. Here too we find the prime example in the Gospel. After his first contact with Jesus, Andrew brings his brother Simon to him (Jn 1: 42). Certainly, Jesus shows himself sovereign in his call to Simon, but on his own initiative Andrew played a decisive role in Simon's meeting with the Master.

 

Do not be afraid to go out into the streets and public places like the first apostles, who preached Christ and the good news of salvation in the squares of cities, towns, and villages. This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel. It is the time to preach it from the rooftops. Do not be afraid to break out of comfortable and rou­tine modes of living in order to take up the challenge of making Christ known in the modern "metropolis." It is you who must "go out into the byroads" and invite everyone you meet to the banquet which God has prepared for his people. The Gospel must not be kept hidden because of fear or indifference. It was never meant to be hidden away in private. It has to be put on a stand so that people may see its light and give praise to our heavenly Father.

 

From the human point of view, a vocation in the Church begins with a discovery, with finding the pearl of great price. You discover Jesus: his person, his message, his call. After the initial dis­covery, a dialogue in prayer ensues, a dialogue between Jesus and the one called, a dialogue which goes beyond words and expresses itself in love.

 

Some experiences of religious enthusiasm, which the Lord sometimes grants, arc only initial and passing graces which have the purpose of prodding [one] towards the decisive commitment of conversion, walking generously in faith, hope, and love.

 

The calling of man first finds its source in God: in man's mind and in the choice that God himself makes and which man needs to read in his own heart. In clearly detecting this vocation that comes from God, man experiences the sense of his own insuffi­ciency. He even attempts to defend himself against the responsi­bility of this calling. And so, almost without wanting it, the calling becomes an interior dialogue with God and, at times, even results in becoming a battle with God.

 

Faced with the hesitancy and difficulties human reason sets up, God offers the power of his grace. And by the power of this grace, man is able to fulfill his calling.

 

6. The reply to the vocation is always a faith-filled  yes

 

Faith and love are not just words or vague feelings. Believing and loving God means a consistent life, lived wholly in the light of the Gospel; ... this is not easy. It often calls for great courage in going against the trends of fashion and the opinions of our world. But this -I repeat- is the one [requirement] for a truly successful and happy life.

If, in spite of your personal effort to follow Christ you are sometimes weak and do not live in conformity to the law of love, to the commandments, do not be discouraged. Christ continues to wait for you. He, Jesus, is the Good Shepherd who searches for the lost sheep and who tenderly bears it on his shoulder ( Lk 15: 4­7). Christ is the friend who never lets you down.

 

In the Gospel story we see that the young man, having affirmed that he has kept the commandments, adds: "What do I still lack?" (Mt 19: 20). That young heart, moved by God's grace, felt a desire for greater generosity, more commitment, greater love. This desire for more is characteristic of youth; a heart that is in love does not calculate, does not begrudge, it wants to give of itself without measure. "Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, come, follow me (Mk 10: 21)."

 

To those who entered the path of life by observing the com­mandments ... the Lord proposes new horizons; the Lord proposes to them means that are loftier and calls them to commit them­selves to his love without reserve. To discover this call, this voca­tion, is to realize that Christ is looking on you and inviting you by his glance to give yourself totally in love. Before this glance, before his love, the heart opens its doors gradually and is capable of say­ing yes.

 

If some of you hear the call to follow Christ more closely, to dedicate your entire heart to him, like the apostles John and Paul, be generous, do not be afraid, because you have nothing to fear when the prize that you await is God himself, for whom, some­times without ever knowing it, all young people are searching.

Young people who are listening to me, young people who, more than anything else, want to know what you must do to gain eternal life, always say yes to God and hee will fill you with his happiness.

"There  is one thing you lack, come, follow me" (Mk 10: 21). Is Jesus perhaps repeating to some of you today: "There is one thing you lack"? Is he perhaps asking for even more love, more generosity, more sacrifice? Yes, the love of Christ involves generos­ity and sacrifice. To follow Christ and to serve the world in his name requires courage and strength. There is no place for selfishness -and no place for fear! Do not be afraid, then, when love makes demands. Do not be afraid when love requires sacrifice.

 

To each one of you I say, therefore: Heed the call of Christ when you hear him saying to you: "Follow me!" Walk in my path! Stand by my side! Remain in my love! There is a choice to be made: a choice for Christ and his way of life, and his command­ment of love. Real love is demanding. I would fail in my mission

if I did not clearly tell you so. Love demands effort and a personal commitment to the will of God.

 

7. Vocation involves difficulties

 

Unfortunately we live in an age in which sin has even become an industry which produces money, inspires economic plans, bestows prosperity. This situation is certainly striking and terrible. Yet we must not let ourselves be frightened or oppressed: any age demands "consistency" from the Christian.

You, too, be courageous! The world needs convinced and fear­less witnesses. It is not enough to discuss, it is necessary to act! ... live in grace, abide in his love, putting into practice the whole moral law, nourishing your soul with the Body of Christ, taking advantage of the Sacrament of Penance periodically and seriously. Always feel ready to love, to assist, to help-in the family, at work, at recreation-those who are near and those who are far away. Also consider, with seriousness and generosity, whether the Lord might not also be calling some of you.

How can this be? That is a good question. Our Blessed Lady, Mary of  Nazareth, asked that same very question when God's extra­ordinary plan for her life was first explained to her. And the answer which Mary received from Almighty God is the identical answer that he gives to you: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow ... noth­ing is impossible to God" (Lk 1: 34-37).

 

They will tell you that the meaning of life is to have as much pleasure as you can. They will try to convince you that this world is the only world there is, and that you must grasp everything you can for yourselves, now. You will hear some people telling you: "Look after yourselves, and do not worry about others." There will be those, moreover, who will say: "You will find your happiness in accumulating money and as many consumer goods as you can, and when you feel unhappy use the escape of alco­hol or drugs."

 

You come from Catholic families; you go regularly and meet Christ in Holy Communion on Sundays or even during the week. You pray with your families every day; and I hope you all will con­tinue to do so throughout later life. And yet it can happen that you will be tempted to walk away from Christ.

You will hear people tell you that your religious practices are hopelessly out of date, that they hamper your style and your future, that with everything that social and scientific progress has to offer, you will be able to organize your own lives and that God has played out his role. Even many religious persons adopt such atti­tudes, breathing them in from the surrounding atmosphere with­out noticing the practical atheism that is at their origin.

A society that, in this way, has lost its higher religious and moral principles will become an easy prey for manipulation and for domination by the forces, which, under the pretext of greater freedom, will enslave it ever more. Christ has the answers to your questions and the key to history; he has the power to uplift hearts.

Without heeding the call of Jesus, it's not possible to realize the fullness of your own humanity. He keeps calling you. He keeps inviting you. Yes, Christ calls you, but he calls you in truth. His call is demanding, because he invites you to let yourselves be "cap­tured" by him completely, so that your whole lives will be seen in a different light. He is the friend who said to his disciples, "No longer do I call you servants ... but I have called you friends" (Jn 15: 15). And he proved his friendship by laying down his life for you.

True living is not found in one's self or in things. It is found in Someone else, in the One who created everything that is good, true, and beautiful in the world. True living is found in God and you discover God in the person of Jesus Christ.

 

8. To see the way clearly requires prayer, the sacraments, and spiritual direction

 

Try to get to know Jesus in a true and comprehensive way! Deepen your knowledge of Jesus which ends loneliness, over­comes sadness and uncertainty, gives real meaning to life, curbs passions, exalts ideals, expands energies in charity, brings light in decisive choices. Let Christ be for you the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Look for him in prayer, in sincere and assiduous dialogue with him. Let him share in the questions that come up, your problems, and your own plans. Look for him in his word, in the Gospels, and in the liturgical life of the Church. Have recourse to the sacraments. Confidently open your most intimate aspirations to the Love of Christ who waits for you in the Eucharist. You will receive the answer to all your worries and you will see with joy that the consistency of your life which he asks of you is the door to fulfill the noblest dreams of your youth.

Mature in meditation and prayer the choice you are about to
make and which, inevitably, you will have to make. If the Lord's
voice rings out deep down in your heart, listen to it: "O that today
you would listen to his voice! Harden not your hearts" (Ps 94: 8).


          Who would dare to say no to the call of the Lord? No one can afford to make a mistake about his path in life. Therefore reflect
well, pray to have the light necessary for your choice and, once it
is made, pray even more to have the strength to persevere, always
walking in a way "worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing him" (Col 1: 10).

"Lord, help me to see" (Lk 18: 41). Help me, Lord, to see what is your will for me at every moment and especially help me to see what is your design of love for the whole of my life, that is my vocation. Give me the generosity to say yes to you and to be faith­ful to you in whatever path you mark out for me. Let me be both salt and light in my place of work, in my family, and in the whole world.

The Sacrament of Penance constitutes a singularly effective means in that commitment to spiritual growth ... an indispens­able means ... for the faithful who, having fallen into grave sin, desire to return to the life of God. Certainly, "spiritual direction" can be carried out even outside the context of the Sacrament of Penance and even by someone who is not endowed with Holy Orders. In this way the penitent overcomes the danger of arbi­trariness and is helped to know and to decide his vocation in the light of God.

 

9. Replying with a prompt yes in light of' the greatness of the calling

 

Take heart young people! Christ is calling you and the world awaits you! Remember that the Kingdom of God needs your gen­erous and complete dedication. Do not act like the rich young man, who invited by Christ, was unable to choose and kept his possessions and his sadness (Mt 19: 22), he who had been looked upon with a loving gaze ( Mt 19: 21). Act like those fishermen who, called by Jesus, immediately left everything behind and became fishers of men (Mt 14: 18-22).

It is always Christ who sends. But whom does he Send" You, young people, are the ones he looks upon with love. Christ, who says, "Follow me," wants you to live your lives with a sense of vocation. The search and discovery of God's will for you is a deep and fascinating endeavor. Every vocation, every path to which Christ calls us, ultimately leads to fulfillment and happiness, because it leads to God, to sharing in God's own life.

Know the greatness of this mission, let yourselves be completely caught up in this whirlpool at whose center God himself is at work. Be fully aware of carrying out a mission that cannot be replaced. Do not let tiredness or disappointment dull that freshness of self-giving that the priestly vocation demands.

 

10. The joy of being generous

 

You understand that I am speaking to you of very important mat­ters. It is a question of dedicating one's life to the service of God and of the Church, of doing so with unshakeable faith, with mature judgment and a free decision, generously regardless of the price.

Open your heart to a joyful meeting with Christ. Ask for advice. The Church of Jesus must continue its mission in the world. In speaking to you about vocation and in urging you to fol­low along this path, I am the humble servant of that love that moved Christ when he called the disciples to follow him.

Be certain that, if you listen to his call and follow him, you will find great joy and happiness. Be generous, take courage, and remember his promise: "My yoke is easy and my burden light" (Mt 11: 30).

Young people: Christ needs you and calls you to help millions of your brothers and sisters achieve their salvation. Open your heart to Christ, to his law of love. Place no conditions on God's accessibility to you, have no fear to respond definitively, because love and friendship never fade.

 

11. Perseverance and fidelity

 

It is easy to be consistent for a day or two. It is difficult and impor­tant to be consistent for one's whole life. It is easy to be consistent in the hour of enthusiasm; it is difficult to be so in the hour of tribulation. And only a consistency that lasts throughout the whole of life can be called faithfulness.

His calling is a declaration of love. Your response is commit­ment, friendship, love manifested in the gift of one's own life as a definitive following. Being faithful to Christ is loving him with all of one's soul and all of one's heart in such a way that this love becomes the standard and motive of all our actions.

Christ's fidelity achieves its full and highest expression on the cross. As a result renunciation and mortification are indispensable. Without a demanding asceticism and without a disposition to serve him deeply rooted in your heart, without habitual self forgetfulness, it becomes impossible to truly love and to be con­cerned solely with the interests of Christ.

Allow me to open my heart to you and say that the principal concern of every priest must be fidelity and loyalty to his own vocation, as a disciple who wants to follow in total self-surrender and missionary readiness, without conditions or frontiers. Only in the light of this surrender can the other problems be faced.

 

12. The vocation is always apostolic

 

Jesus went in search of the men and women of his time. He needs laborers ready to work in his vineyard. May you, the Catholic young people of the world, not fail him. In your hands, carry the cross of Christ; on your lips, the words of life; in your hearts, the saving grace of the Lord.

God calls whomever he wills through a free initiative of his love. But he wants to call through other persons. This is the way the Lord Jesus wants to call us. It was Andrew who called his brother Peter. Jesus called Phillip, but Phillip called Nathaniel (Jn 1: 33 fl:). We should not be afraid to directly suggest to a young or not so young person that the Lord may be calling them. It is an act of esteem and confidence. It can be a moment of light and of grace.

No Christian is exempt from his apostolic responsibility, no one can be substituted for in his personal apostolate. No human activity can remain foreign to your apostolic craving.

 

Many of your contemporaries do not know Christ, or do not know him well enough. You cannot, therefore, remain silent or indifferent. The harvest is indeed great and laborers are needed in abundance. Christ is counting on you and counting on your coop­eration. I invite you, therefore, to renew your apostolic commit­ment. Christ has need of you! Answer his call with the boldness and enthusiasm proper to your age.

 

13. Total commitment in the middle of the world

 

There is no vocation more religious than work. A Catholic layman or laywoman is someone who takes work seriously. Only Christianity has given a religious meaning to work and recognizes the spiritual value of technological progress.

Your institution has as its aim the sanctification of one's life, while remaining in the world at one's place of work and profes­sion: to live the Gospel in the world, while living immersed ill the world, but in order to transform it, and to redeem it with one's personal love for Christ. This is truly a great ideal. This, in fact, is the spirituality of Opus Dei: to live united with God, in the world, in whatever situation, seeking to better oneself with the help of grace, and making Jesus known with the witness of one's life.

What could be more beautiful and more enthusiastic than this ideal? You, who are immersed in and linked to this joyful and sor­rowful humanity, wish to love it, to enlighten it, to save it. May you always be blessed and encouraged in this intention of yours.

It is worth devoting oneself to man for Christ, in order to bring him to him, to raise him, to help him on his way to eternity. For the kingdom, it is worth living this precious value of Christianity, priestly celibacy.

Bear witness to Christ before your contemporaries. In this way you will fortify your lives as firm believers, persons fully committed to a great cause and you will be able to be led by the voice of the Holy Spirit. And if this voice calls you to a higher and more generous love do not be afraid.

With a burning heart, in conversation with the Lord, perhaps some of you have noticed that Jesus is asking more of you. Dear young people, I would like to tell each one of you: If such a call comes into your heart, do not remain silent. Allow it to mature into a genuine vocation. Cooperate with this calling by means of prayer and faithfully fulfilling the commandments. You well know, there is a great need for vocations ... of committed lay persons who follow Jesus more closely. "The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few. Pray, therefore, to the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest" (Lk 10: 2). This is the program that the Church sets before you, young people. May you also pray. And, if the fruit of this prayer of the Church should bloom in the depths of your heart, listen to the Teacher who tells you: "Follow me." Do not be afraid. Give him, if he asks it of you, your heart and your entire life.

 

14. The vocation to matrimony

 

The whole history of mankind is the history of the need of lov­ing and being loved. The heart symbol of friendship and love has also its norms, its ethics. To make room for the heart in the har­monious construction of your personality has nothing to do with mawkishness or even sentimentality.

Young people, raise your eyes more often towards Jesus Christ! Do not be afraid! Jesus came not to condemn love but to free love from its ambiguities and its counterfeits. The human being is a corporeal being. The body is not just one object among other objects. It is, in the first place, someone, in the sense that it is a manifestation of the person, a way of being present to others, of communication, of extremely varied expression. The body is a word, a language. What a marvel, and what a risk at the same time! Young men and women, have very great respect for your body and for the bodies of others! Let your body be in the service of your inner self ! Let your gestures, your looks, always be the reflection of your soul!

The union of bodies has always been the most forceful lan­guage in which two beings can communicate with each other. That is why this language, which touches the sacred mystery of man and woman, demands that the gestures of love should never be performed without the conditions of a complete and definitive assumption of responsibility for the partner, and that the commit­ment should be undertaken publicly in marriage.

And to those of you whom Christ is calling to the vocation of married life I say this: be assured of the Church's love for you. Christian family life and lifelong fidelity in marriage are so needed in the world today.

Deep within yourself, listen to your conscience which calls you to be pure: it is a serious thing to commit oneself in marriage: it is the foundation of a sturdy building. A home is not warmed by the fire of pleasure which burns quickly like a pile of withered grass. Passing encounters are only a caricature of love; they injure hearts and mock God's plan.

 

What does Jesus want of me? To what is he calling me? What is the meaning of his call for me?

For the great majority of you human love will present itself as a
way of self-realization in the formation of a family. This is why, in the
name of Christ, I want to ask you: Are you prepared to follow the call
of Christ through the Sacrament of Marriage, so as to be procreators
of new life, people who will form new pilgrims to the heavenly city?
The family is a mystery of love, because it collaborates directly
in the creative work of God. Beloved young people, a large sector
of society does not accept Christ's teachings, and, consequently, it
takes other roads: hedonism, divorce, abortion, birth control, and
contraceptive methods. These ways of understanding li
fe are ill
clear contrast to the Law of God and the teachings of the Church.
To follow Christ faithfully means putting the Gospel message into
practice, and this also implies chastity, the defense of life, and also the indissolubility of the matrimonial bond, which is not a mere contract which can be arbitrarily broken.

Living in the "permissiveness" of the modern world, which denies or minimizes the authenticity of Christian principles, it is easy and attractive to breathe in this contaminated mentality and give in to the passing desire. But, bear in mind that those who act in this way neither follow Christ nor love him. In the Christian framework, life is stronger than death. Therefore I ask you again: Are you prepared to protect human life with the maximum care at every moment, even at the most difficult times? Are you pre­pared, as young Christians, to live and defend love through indis­soluble marriage, to protect the stability of the family, a stability which favors the balanced upbringing of children, under the pro­tection of a paternal and maternal love, which complement each other? This is the Christian witness that is expected of the major­ity of you, young men and women.

 

15. Priestly vocation

 

I am often asked, especially by young people, why I became a priest. Maybe some of you would like to ask the same question. Let me try briefly to reply. I must begin by saying that it is impos­sible to explain entirely. For it remains a mystery, even to myself. How does one explain the ways of God? Yet, I know that, at a cer­tain point in my life, I became convinced that Christ was saying to me what he had said to thousands before me: "Come, follow me!" There was a clear sense that what I heard in my heart was no human voice, nor was it just an idea of my own. Christ was call­ing me to serve him as a priest.

And you can probably tell that I am deeply grateful to God for my vocation to the priesthood. Nothing means more to me or gives me greater joy than to celebrate Mass each day and to serve God's people in the Church. That has been true ever since the day of my ordination as a priest. Nothing has ever changed this, not even becoming Pope.

It is with deep emotion that I recall the meeting that took place in Nagasaki [Japan] between a recently arrived missionary and a group of people, who after making sure that he was a Catholic priest, told him: "We have been waiting for you for centuries." They had been without priest or churches or public worship for well over two hundred years. And yet, in spite of these adverse circumstances, the Christian faith had not been extinguished; it had been handed down in the family from generation to generation.

The priestly vocation is essentially a call to sanctity, in the form that derives from the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Sanctity is intimacy with God; it is the imitation of Christ, poor, chaste and humble; it is unreserved love for souls and self-giving to their true good; it is love for the Church which is holy and wants us to be holy, because such is the mission that Christ has entrusted to it. Each one of you must be holy also in order to help your brothers pursue their vocation to sanctity.

You wish to become priests, or at least you wish to discover if you are really called. And so the question is a serious one, because you have to prepare thoroughly, with clear intentions and an austere formation.

His calling is a declaration of love. Your response is commit­ment, friendship, and love manifested in the gift of your own life as a definitive following and as a permanent sharing in his mission and in his consecration. To make up your mind is to love him with all of your soul and all of your heart in such a way that this love becomes the standard and motive of all your actions. From this moment on, live the Eucharist fully; be persons for whom the Holy Mass, Communion, and Eucharistic adoration are the center and summit of their whole life. Offer Christ your heart in medi­tation and personal prayer which is the foundation of the spiritual life.

The world looks to the priest, because it looks to Jesus! No one can see Christ; but everyone sees the priest, and through him they wish to catch a glimpse of the Lord! Immense is the grandeur of the Lord! Immense is the grandeur and dignity of the priest!

"Pray, therefore, to the Lord of the harvest that he send har­vesters into his harvest. ..:' Considering that the Eucharist is the greatest gift our Lord gives to his Church, we must ask for priests, since the priesthood is a gift for the Church. We must pray insis­tently for this gift. We must ask for it on our knees.

Called, consecrated, sent. This triple dimension explains and determines your conduct and your lifestyle. You are "set apart"; "segregated," but not "separated." What would separate you, would be to forget or to overlook the meaning of the consecration that characterizes your priesthood. To be but one more in your profes­sion, in your lifestyle, in your way of living, in your political oblig­ations, would not help you to filly carry out your mission. You would betray your own faithful who want you to be priests through and through.

 

16. Religious vocation

 

If someone among you hears Christ's call to a complete gift of self in the religious life, do not reject such a noble, though demand­ing, proposal. Have the courage to say yes generously and firmly; this can give an incomparable depth of meaning to your whole life.

A religious vocation is a gift, freely given and freely received. It is a profound expression of the love of God for you, and, on your part, it requires in turn a total love for Christ. Thus, the whole life of a religious is aimed at strengthening the bond of love which was first forged in the Sacrament of Baptism. You are called to do this in religious consecration through the profession of the evan­gelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience.

I want to reaffirm strongly the eminently apostolic role of cloistered nuns. To leave the world to devote oneself in solitude to deeper and constant prayer is none other than a special way of being an apostle. It would be an error to consider cloistered nuns as creatures separated from their contemporaries, isolated and seemingly cut off from the world and the Church. Rather, they are present to them, and in a deeper way, with the same tenderness as that of Christ. It is therefore not surprising that the bishops of the new churches solicit, as an eminent grace, the possibility of receiv­ing a monastery of contemplative religious, even if workers for the active apostolate are still in such insufficient number.

 

Experience shows that often the example of a man or woman religious has a decisive impact on the direction of a young per­sonality which has been able to discover in this fidelity, integrity, and joy the concrete example of an ideal way to live.

Today's young people are not, as is too easily said, closed to the evangelical call. They may certainly move more spontaneously towards new institutes, however, they are no less attracted to older congregations who demonstrate vitality and remain faithful to rad­ical and adequately presented demands. We have long had proof of this: we need only to consult the history of the Church. Often adap­tations are necessary, but those inspired by a relaxation or which lead to it, absolutely cannot attract the young who are capable of radical giving, even if at times these capacities seem hesitant or blocked.

 

I want to acknowledge here in a special way four hundred young contemplative nuns from Spain who have told me of their wish to be present at this meeting. I am certain that they are very united to all of us through their prayer in the silence of the clois­ter. Seven years ago, many of them attended the meeting which I had with young people in the Santiago Bernabeu  Stadium in Madrid. Afterwards, responding generously to the call of Christ, they have followed him for life. Now they dedicate themselves to praying for the Church, but above all for you, young men and women, that you also may be able to respond with generosity to the call of Jesus.

 

17. The example of Mary

 

MY MESSAGE to young people is, above all, an invitation and an exhortation. My desire is for the young people of the entire world to come closer to Mary. She is the bearer of an indeli­ble youthfulness and beauty that never wanes. May young people have increasing confidence in her and may they entrust the life just opening before them to her.

Look to Mary to see how to respond to Jesus' call. First, she kept all things [concerning that call], pondering them, in her heart. She also went in haste to serve her cousin Elizabeth. Both attitudes are essential parts of our response to the Lord: prayer and action. That is what the Church expects of her young people. That is what I have come here to ask of you. Mary, Mother of the Church and our mother, will help us to hear her Divine Son.

What does Mary, our mother and teacher, have to tell us? In the Gospel we find a statement in which Mary certainly shows herself to be a teacher. It is the statement she makes at the wed­ding feast of Cana. After having said to her Son: "They have no wine;' she says to the waiters: "Do whatever he tells you."

"Do whatever he tells you." In these words Mary expresses, above all, the deepest secret of her life. The whole of her person is in these words. Her life, in fact, has been a total yes to the Lord. A yes filled with joy and trust. And these words enclose a very impor­tant message, relevant to every man of every age. This "do what­ever he tells you" means: listen to Jesus, my Son, act on his word and put your trust in him. Learn to say yes to the Lord in every sit­uation of your life. This message of great comfort is one of which we all have need.

You must welcome Mary into your young lives as the apostle John took her "to his own home." May you allow her to be your mother. May you open your hearts and consciences to her. May she always help you find Christ, to "follow him," on all the paths of your lives.

"Behold, the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me accord­ing to your word."

This was the moment of Mary's vocation. The very possibility of Christmas hung upon this moment. Without Mary's yes, Jesus would not have been born.

 

 

18. Parents: facing up to the vocation of their children

 

ADDRESS PARENTS as well. May faith and readiness never be I lacking in your hearts, if the Lord should bless you by calling a son or a daughter to missionary service. May you give thanks to God! Indeed, see that this call is prepared through family prayer, through education rich in spirit and enthusiasm, through partici­pation in parochial and diocesan activities, through involvement in associations and volunteer work.

The family that cultivates a missionary spirit in its lifestyle and in education itself, prepares good soil for the seed of the divine call and, at the same time, strengthens the loving ties and Christian virtues of its members.

The Christian family, as the "domestic Church," forms the original and fundamental school for training in the faith. The father and mother receive, in the Sacrament of Matrimony, the grace and the responsibility of providing a Christian education for their children, to whom they bear witness and transmit, at one and the same time, human and religious values. In learning their first words, the children also learn to praise God, whom they feel to be very close as a loving and provident Father. As they learn the first expressions of love, the children also learn to open themselves to others, perceiving in their own self-giving the meaning of human living.

Here is Jesus, who returns to Nazareth and is obedient to them, to Mary and Joseph. That "obedience" signifies filial obedi­ence, but also, at the same time, an obedient opening to humanity, which always needs to learn, above all in the family. Parents must behave in such a way that children can find in them a living model of mature humanity -and can, on the basis of this model, gradually develop their own human and Christian maturity.

For man, to generate a child is above all to "receive it from God": it is a matter of welcoming from God as a gift the child that is generated. For this reason, children belong first to God, and then to their parents: and this is a truth which is rich in implications for both parents and children.

To be instruments of the heavenly Father in the work of forming their own children -here is found the inviolable limit that parents must respect in carrying out their mission. They must never consider themselves "owners" of their children, but rather they must educate them, paying constant attention to the privi­leged relationship that their children have with their Father in heaven. In the last analysis, as with Jesus, it is his business that they must "be about" more than that of their earthly parents.

The family is for this reason also the first and fundamental set­ting in which the Christian vocation sprouts, is formed, and is manifested. Just as Jesus' vocation was manifested in the family of Nazareth, so every vocation today is born and manifests itself also in the family. And when this general vocation is revealed as a par­ticular calling to "leave everything" then the Christian family is revealed here also, and above all here, as the privileged place where the seed placed by God in the heart of the children can take root and mature; the place where the participation of the parents in the priestly mission of Christ himself is revealed in its most elevated degree. Vocation touches the very roots of the human soul. It is an interior calling of God directed to the person: to the unique and irreplaceable person.

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