FR. GENERAL'S MISSIONARY MEDITATION VOCATIONS IN THE WESTERN WORLD
Why a meditation on vocations right after finishing the week of prayer for Oblate vocations and various Church days in the same vein? It’s because this theme came up as I was preparing my report for the General Chapter. Also, I just returned from a meeting of religious about Europe, and several participants tenaciously stressed this point. But what is it really all about? The question could simply be posed in these words: what must we do as religious and as Oblates to attract vocations in the western world?
This question could arouse certain reactions. Perhaps some will ask for a more exact clarification of the word “vocations,” and of course, it is true that every baptized person has a vocation. And certainly, we cannot focus only on vocations to the consecrated life (priests, religious, etc.). Today more than ever, it is important to speak about the basic call to faith in Christ because it is this very faith that is in crisis. Other reactions will avow that religious congregations should not worry too much about survival; it’s the mission and the great needs of the world which should take first place and not our internal problems. Comments such as these express essential aspects of the vocation theme and should be taken seriously. We no longer life in an era in which we could imagine a Church in which the clergy and religious have to do almost everything, nor is it the moment to promote withdrawal into our institutional interests.
On the other hand, I believe it would be false escapism if, as religious and, concretely, as Oblates, we wanted to avoid the question of vocations to our congregation in the western world. How does the situation present itself? First we must say that, thanks be to God, there are vocations, even though they are few: two in one country, five or six in another, etc. Secondly, we must note that in some countries that formerly had many Oblates, there have been no vocations for years and years. Thirdly, we must realize that the situation is dramatic; if it does not change, the greater part of what today is a visible Oblate presence tomorrow will have disappeared.
In practical terms, how should we react? We have discovered valid means that can help us in these times of vocational shortage, and I see them as none other than great opportunities that the Holy Spirit is offering us. The first of these are the lay associates; there are always more Christians who enthusiastically take on the charism and the mission of the Oblates. Some of them, let’s say twenty or thirty of them, have already been incorporated into missionary communities in the west and are bring new energy. We need to continue in these directions! Nevertheless, this is no reason to evade our question. The Oblate mission cannot disregard the native vocations of western Europe, of the United States of American, of Canada, and of Australia.
So let us finally speak about these vocations. Dialoguing, meditating and praying, we will often find some ideas. For my part, I would like to propose three points.
The first comes from a recent conversation with cardinal, one of the pope’s councilors. He said that we must not hide from youth the fact that God asks everything of them. I wonder, isn’t this precisely what we avoid saying, and we are afraid because it would involve us as well? Yes, let’s face it: God asks everything of us.
They say that today’s youth find that particularly difficult. On the other hand, “God alone suffices” (Saint Teresa of Avila), and He alone can fulfill our lives. The missionary religious vocation, whether as a Brother or as a priest, demands everything: chastity in celibacy, poverty in the apostolate, obedience to go anywhere in the world and perseverance for a lifetime. All of this is a lot, but for that very fact, it makes happy the one who is called and responds.
The second point is that the call which comes to the young person suggests a commitment, not only in relation to God, but also with a community belonging to the Church. A young man is going to consider giving his life to God, becoming an Oblate, only if we offer him a missionary project for which it is worth giving his life. The project must respond to actual needs – like the lack of God and the absence of meaning, the instability of the family, unemployment, the condition of immigrants, etc. And it should not be a theoretical project but something already lived by an apostolic community that becomes a spiritual home for the one who feels himself called.
Third, we must repeatedly invite people to this project and do so with great faith, patience and prayer. We need to invite them publicly, during youth days and in parishes; we also need to invite them privately, walking with the young person who feels attracted, by means of frequent contact and conversations and nurturing in him an intense spiritual life. Along with vocations to Oblate life, normally various types of other vocations are going to appear from this effort, and they can all be expressed in the missionary activities of youth.
Oblate life and religious life are something bigger than we are. In the meeting of religious mentioned above, a journalist said that the consecrated life is the legacy of Europe. I think it can even be called the legacy of humanity. Vocations of this kind are most necessary because they indicate that humanity, which came from the loving hands of God, even though it has forgotten Him, is called to leap once again into His hands, responding to this love in freedom and pure gratitude. God alone can fill the human heart, and each religious vocation reminds us of that.
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