Vocations Awareness Week: Everyone
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
May the continual joy of the Christmas Season be with you and your families. And may every divine grace and blessing shower upon you and yours in the year of our Lord’s Incarnation 2011. We have celebrated a blessed preparation for our Lord’s Nativity during the weeks of Advent, and now still rejoice that God is indeed with us in this Christmas season. Last Sunday’s transferred Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord – a feast very dear to us in this Diocese, because of our Cathedral of the Epiphany – invited the entire world to come with the three Magi to adore our Lord and King. This Sunday’s Feast of the Baptism of the Lord closes the Christmas season and moves us back into “ordinary time.” Our Lord’s Baptism, of course, recalls to mind our own, and the mission we received from Him in those life-giving waters, to preach His Gospel every day in the holiness of our thoughts, words, and actions.
This trajectory of the past few weeks, from preparation to joyful glory, to adoration and mission, is the pattern of each of our vocations. That makes this coming week particularly apt to be Vocations Week throughout the Church in our country. Every single member of the Church has at least one clear vocation from God, and most of us have two or even three! All of us therefore share in the mission of salvation given to us by Christ. In my time here as your bishop, my appreciation for God’s providential sharing out of vocations in the Church, and my gratitude to all those who so bravely and selflessly take up all these vocations, has deepened so much.
The most fundamental vocation comes from Baptism. Just as our Lord Jesus Christ did not begin his ministry of salvation without consecrating for us the holy waters of this first sacrament, so we too cannot accept His grace apart from Baptism. From this comes the most basic and universal vocation: to remain filled with grace, to be perfect as God the Father is perfect, to be holy and without sin as the beloved sons and daughters of God. All the other sacraments, especially Confession and Holy Eucharist, heal and renew this holiness in us constantly, and help us to live out this vocation every day.
The vocation to married life adds two things to Baptism’s universal call to holiness. The first mission is for the family itself. Every husband and wife take on the permanent responsibility to be a means to each other’s sanctification in Christ. Each husband and wife promises do everything humanly possible, and make use of every available grace from Christ, to make both of them together a holy and worthy sacrifice of praise to God. This naturally extends secondarily to any children God gives them, who must be brought up in the Faith, and given that firm foundation for accepting their own vocations.
The second mission is from the family to the world. Every human society is primarily made up, not of towns and parishes, but of families and homes. Holy families form a generally holy and happy society or culture. Faithful Christian families are the leaven of our culture, tempering freedom with love, rights with responsibilities, and prosperity with care for the poor. Without this foundation of commitment and sacrifice among us, our culture’s values will certainly become very sick, and possibly even die.
Two other vocations are indispensable to the life of the Church, namely, Holy Orders and consecrated life. The central vocation of Holy Orders is the diocesan priesthood. Like marriage, this vocation is a great gift from God, for the salvation of others, and demonstrating its divine holiness by permanency, fidelity, and spiritual fruitfulness. Priests receive Christ’s holy power to make the sacraments happen in the Church, most importantly Holy Eucharist and Confession. Only priests can become pastors of parishes, with the full set of tools Christ gave us for the “cure of souls,” the pastoral work of the Church among the baptized. Those who are called to this vocation receive Christ’s priestly gifts, the joy and glory of which will shine in their ministry throughout their lives. Celibacy for us who are priests helps us be more like Christ. Young men are often afraid of this commitment, but fully lived, it helps us as priests grow closer to God as the sole source of our holiness. Young men, “do not be afraid”. Parents, “do not be afraid” to encourage your sons to pursue the priesthood. What a gift your sons can be to our diocese here in Iowa and to the Church.
Another aspect of Holy Orders is the diaconate. This is a separate vocation from the priesthood, though it is still marked with the same reflected holiness in its permanence, fidelity, and spiritual fruitfulness. Deacons proclaim the Gospel of salvation, not only in the Church when they read or teach or preach the Gospel, but also in the world, by the holy witness of their lives and service.
The consecrated life is the most varied vocation of all. It includes men and women, and also priests and deacons, living in large or small communities, or even singly, and following a great number of charisms and rules of life. The special marks of God’s holy love in all these varieties of consecrated life are the “evangelical counsels” of poverty, chastity, and obedience. These vows are taken for the sake of complete freedom to love and follow Christ, and the joy of that freedom is their crowning glory. Please continue to pray for more of our young people to embrace this beautiful lifestyle.
As I like to say in my Confirmation homilies, none of us can be happy until we accept the vocations God wants to give us. And we must accept that gift with matching generosity, making our acceptance an act of total devotion to Him. Just as the Magi gave to the infant Jesus the full gift of themselves, and just as they hurried to obey the sign of the star to find Him, so too must we not hesitate to give all of ourselves to our vocations. I pray for each one of you in your current vocation or vocations, and for all of you discerning a call to married life, to Holy Orders, or to consecrated life. Please remember as well, to hold in prayer our current seminarians in their discernment of God’s will for them. Pray also for me, so that by God’s grace and mercy, I may lead you to Heaven. Happy New Year of grace!
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
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