It's hard to keep up with the Holy Father. You'd think at 77 years old, it would be a little easier, but the Argentine-Italian who became Pope a year ago has the energy and the vision of a much younger man (perhaps that's what happens when the Holy Spirit is leading and guiding you).
In the rush of Ash Wednesday, and a few more interviews and excerpts with Pope Francis that have gotten a lot of attention (and in some places, the customary distortions), a daily Mass homily from early this week might have slipped under the radar for many of us. To be honest, it wasn't until the morning after Ash Wednesday that I even had time to catch up with the Holy Father’s daily homilies that I noticed it.
The Gospel of the day was the story of the Rich Young Man, who had followed all the commandments from his youth and was still restless in trying to discern “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus invites the young man to "sell what you have, and give to the poor then come, follow me," only to have the young man turn away and "went away sad."
This gospel has a way of hitting close to home on a variety of fronts. Despite what people might think, the response to a vocation isn't a "one and done" deal. Just saying yes to The Lord to being a priest, a religious, a married husband or wife doesn't "seal the deal" but rather charts the course of how we've discerned and entered into responding to Gods call in our lives. In my own life, and in the life of every Christian, this gospel challenges us to ask -- are we holding anything back in our yes to Jesus Christ? How is Jesus looking at us, seeing our good efforts in following Him and asking us to go deeper?
But Pope Francis' reflections hit especially close to home for those of us in the ministry of promoting Vocations and assisting those discerning God's call in their own lives: How often we are praying, pleading, almost begging The Lord to send more priests and religious. Yet it's not God being stingy rather, as Pope Francis points out, there are many who struggle as the rich young man does:
"There are many young people today who feel this call. But when their hearts are filled with something else, and because they are not courageous enough to empty them, they turn back. And thus their joy is turned to sadness...We need to pray that the hearts of these young people might be emptied: emptied of other interests, emptied of other loves, that their hearts might become free...This, is the true prayer for vocations: Lord, send us sisters, send us priests; defend them from the idolatry of vanity, from the idolatry of pride, from the idolatry of power, from the idolatry of money...our prayer helps to prepare their hearts to closely follow The Lord."
What the Holy Father is touching on is so important. For a man to go to his parish priest or to contact the vocations office and say, "I've been thinking about this priesthood thing..." - that's a huge deal. It can be scary, it can be unbelievable, there's a whole list of emotions that can arise when they've come to the realization that this restlessness isn't a passing thought and not simply going away.
But God isn't going to force His hand to make a person make that radical decision to move forward, to enter the seminary and begin intensely discerning and pursuing this path that they feel called to. Just as Jesus didn’t force the rich young man to give up all of his possessions, it is a decision, a choice that every person needs to make for themselves. A choice to trust, to believe that the one who created us, the one who knows us, the one who loves us is worthy of being trusted to make that "leap of faith." Knowing that when we do, whether we discern the validity of that call to priesthood or religious life or not, just our willingness and generosity in pursuing an answer will leave our hearts better attuned to the Lord and open to his guidance to find the happiness that eludes the Rich Young Man in his security of the things of this world.