Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Culture of Vocations Revisited

Last June I posted an entry entitled "A Culture of Vocations" in which I wrote about how the Daily or Morning Offering can help foster an environment in which young people can begin to see that life is about "giving" rather than "taking." Such a mindset will lead to generous vocations to the priesthood, consecrated life, marriage, and, yes, the life of the single lay person who faithfully lives out his or her baptismal promises. Tomorrow I will be giving a talk at a staff retreat for the Institute on Religious Life and I plan on expanding on this topic of creating a culture of vocations.

I believe that the Eucharistic spirituality of the Apostleship of Prayer can play an essential role in creating a culture that 1)helps Catholics see that everyone who is baptized has a vocation, and 2) helps young people to be open to a vocation to priesthood or consecrated life. How does this happen? In five movements.

First, we begin with a knowledge of God's love. It is a deep and personal love that is revealed most clearly through the pierced side of the Crucified Jesus who continues to show us his love in the Eucharist and his Sacred Heart. A deeper knowledge of this love is essential for a "vocation friendly culture." Besides promoting devotion to the Heart of Jesus, I also lead people through the "Spiritual Exercises" of St. Ignatius. In both of these I see the words of an early Church Father named Diadochus come to life: "The measure of our love for God depends upon how deeply aware we are of God's love for us."

Knowing the love of God in a deeper way leads to a response. Devotion to the Sacred Heart entails making a consecration, individually or as a family, and then periodically renewing that consecration or offering. The "Spiritual Exercises" culminate in a prayer of offering known as the "Suscipe:" Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O Lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me only Thy love and Thy grace, for this is sufficient for me. Out of a deeper awareness of God's love for us flows the response of a total gift of self which is at the heart of every vocation. The Daily or Morning Offering is one way to keep this gift of self fresh.

The third movement involves living this offering in daily life. Whether one is young or old, lay or ordained, married or consecrated or single, each of us is called to make every moment of our day an act of worship, an offering to God. The "Suscipe" or vows (marriage or religious) or Morning Offering--these need to be lived in the moments of daily life. Thus we strive throughout the day to be aware of how we are being called to make an offering of "our prayers, works, joys, and sufferings," as the traditional Morning Offering puts it.

The fourth movement is at the end of the day when we review it. The Examen, Evening Review, or Examination of Conscience asks the basic question which reinforces our response to God's love: "What have I offered to God today?" Some of what was part of the day we offered may make us happy. We are pleased that we offered something that surely pleases God. We share in the pleasure God has in our offering. But some of what became part of the day we offered may not be so pleasing to us or to God. We may be ashamed of some things that became part of the day we offered to God. These are the things that are not worthy of God--our faults and failings and sins. By reviewing our daily offering with both gratitude and contrition we end the day reminding ourselves of our basic identity as Christians who are called, as St. Paul wrote, to offer ourselves "as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God" (Romans 12: 1). This daily review also nurtures the habit of discernment by which we more easily see God's presence and direction in our daily lives. Discernment is another important element of the culture of vocations.

Lastly, our response or offering has a communal dimension to it. We make this offering in union with Jesus who offers himself in every Mass and in union with the whole Church, the Body of Christ. Part of a culture of vocations is having this ecclesial mindset and it is fostered in the Apostleship of Prayer when we make our Daily Offering for the Holy Father's monthly intentions. These prayer requests of the Vicar of Christ help us to think with the Church and to see ourselves at the service of the Church.

To sum up: the Apostleship of Prayer's Five Step Method for Creating a Culture of Vocations is:

1. To know God's love revealed in the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
2. To respond to that love with an offering of oneself.
3. To renew that offering through the events, prayers, and works of each day.
4. To review the day's offering in the evening.
5. To serve the Church by praying for the Pope's monthly intentions.

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