4th Sunday of Easter
May 7, 2017
Acts 2: 1, 4, 36-41
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.
“The promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord will call” (Acts 2: 39).
Thruout the Easter season, our 1st readings on both Sundays and weekdays come from the Acts of the Apostles, which tells the stories of the 1st proclamation of the Gospel, i.e., the good news that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead and now shares his divine life with us.
This evening/morning we heard a short piece of the sermon that St. Peter preached on Pentecost day. He refers in it to God’s call thru Jesus Christ given to Israel and “to all those far off” to be saved by having their sins forgiven.
Today is World Day of Prayer for Vocations, which is observed every year on the 4th Sunday of Easter, when the gospel always focuses on Jesus as the Good Shepherd. But vocation has a wider meaning than being a priest, deacon, sister, or brother, someone who shepherds God’s flock in the distinct way of a consecrated vocation. The wider sense of vocation is “a call from God,” and we just heard St. Peter speak of that: God calls people to salvation. The 1st call that you and I, every one of us, received is the call to follow Jesus Christ as his disciple. The promise of salvation thru the cross and resurrection of Jesus and thru the gift of the Holy Spirit is given to all who accept the Word of God, accept Baptism, accept Jesus as their Lord (2:38).
After that general call or vocation to discipleship, God gives every Christian a more particular call. You probably have heard, at some point, about the vocations of ordained ministry, religious life, marriage, and single life.
Ordained ministry, as you know, includes the offices of deacon, priest, and bishop. “Ministry” means service. “Office” means duty or responsibility. God chooses some men, after the example of Jesus, to carry on Jesus’ mission of preaching the Word of God and of sanctifying their sisters and brothers by leading them in worship and celebrating Christ’s sacraments. It’s a beautiful, challenging vocation that’s necessary for the life of Christ’s Church.
Religious life, or more broadly speaking, consecrated life, is a special call given to both women and men to live their baptismal vocation in a radical fashion, totally dedicated to God, usually by vows of obedience, chastity, and poverty, usually but not always within a community of peers: monks, nuns, priests, or brothers, such as Benedictines, Franciscans, Christian Brothers, Sisters of Charity, or Salesians. But there are also consecrated men and women who live independently in what are known as secular institutes or as consecrated virgins or as hermits. This isn’t the time to go into detail (and please don’t Google till you’re out of church!). 2 examples of independent consecrated life are St. Catherine of Siena and St. Rose of Lima.
Tomb of St. Catherine of Siena
Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome
Most Christians respond to the vocation of marriage, a vocation also graced as a sacrament. Marriage is a sign of the permanent, faithful, self-sacrificing love between Jesus and the Church, which is called his bride. A Christian family is a mini-church, or in the words of Vatican II, a domestic church (LG 11). Husband and wife respond to God’s call to help each other live as faithful disciples of Jesus, to become saints, and together—if so graced by God—to raise their children also to be faithful friends and followers of Jesus and saints. This is just as noble a calling from God as a call to ordination or consecrated life, and you know how challenging it is.
Finally, there’s a call to single life. This is a call that’s undergoing some debate these days. It implies following Jesus as an individual—not part of a marriage partnership, a religious community, or the brotherhood of diocesan clergy. Yet no one really follows Jesus alone because Jesus calls all of us into community, into the Church.
Some younger Christians are single because they haven’t discerned yet how God wants them to follow Christ in the more definite vocation of marriage, religious life, or ordained ministry. They are called to be faithful and virtuous followers of Jesus as singles. This form of being single isn’t really a vocation, and some young adults—even in their 30s—don’t at all like hearing about the “single vocation” because they see themselves as still searching for the right other person. They’re single for time being, not as a vocation.
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross
modeled the single vocation while living in the world
as Edith Stein, philosophy professor
But some Christians never do discern a more particular calling or vocation. By conscious choice, they dedicate themselves to a career of service to humanity with undivided attention as a doctor or nurse, a civil servant, a teacher, a parish volunteer, etc. I’m sure you know people even in this parish who are single in this way. I know a gentleman who’s single and now in his mid- or late 30s, and in the last 15 years has gone about 6 times to different missionary assignments in Africa and Latin America as a temporary volunteer, mostly with the Salesian Lay Missioners.
Still others become single again, not by choice. They’re widowed or even divorced. This is a vocational calling too, a really difficult one, altho it could eventually turn out to be temporary thru remarriage, priesthood, or religious life. People in this “single” situation might remember what St. Peter says in today’s 2d reading: “If you are patient when you suffer …, this is a grace before God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps” (1 Pet 2:20-21).
In fact, in every Christian vocation there’s suffering because all of us have the basic vocation of following our Lord Jesus. That’s our 1st, most basic, most important calling. When we pray today for vocations, we’re praying that each of us who’s not yet decided will come to know what particular way of following Jesus we’re called to, and that each of us will be faithful in living out that particular vocation we’re called to.