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World Day of Prayer for Vocations 2012

Fourth Sunday of Easter, 29 April 2012

Theme of BXVI's Message: Vocations, the Gift of the Love of God

Pope Benedict XVI's Homily on Good Shepherd Sunday
- in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Ordinands, Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Roman tradition of celebrating priestly ordinations on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday, contains a great wealth of meaning linked to the convergence of the Word of God, the liturgical Rite and the Easter season in which it is placed. The figure of the shepherd in particular, so important in Sacred Scripture and naturally very relevant to the definition of the priest, acquires its full truth and clarity on the face of Christ, in the light of the Mystery of his death and Resurrection. Dear Ordinands, you too will always be able to draw from these riches every day of your life, and your priesthood will thus be continuously renewed. This year the Gospel passage is the central one from Chapter 10 of John and begins precisely with Jesus’ affirmation: “I am the Good Shepherd”.

This is immediately followed by the first fundamental characteristic: “the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn 10:11). So, we are led straight to the centre, to the summit of the revelation of God as the Shepherd of his people; this centre and summit is Jesus, Jesus himself who dies on the cross and rises from the tomb on the third day, rises with all his humanity and thereby involves us, every man and woman, in his passage from death to life. This event — the Pasch of Christ — in which he completely and definitively fulfills the pastoral work of God, is a sacrificial event. The Good Shepherd and the High Priest therefore coincide in the person of Jesus who laid down his life for us.

But let us also briefly note the first two Readings and the Responsorial Psalm (Ps 118 [117]). The passage from the Acts of the Apostles (4:8-12) presents to us St Peter’s testimony before the rulers of the people and the elders of Jerusalem after the miraculous healing of the cripple. Peter says with great candour: Jesus “is the stone which was rejected by you builders, but which has become the head of the corner”; and he added, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (vv. 11-12). Then in the light of Christ’s Paschal Mystery, the Apostle interprets Psalm 118[117], in which the person praying gives thanks to God who has answered his cry for help and has saved him. This Psalm says: “the stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes” (Ps 118[117]:22-23). Jesus lived this very experience: being rejected by the leaders of his people and rehabilitated by God, placed as the foundational stone of a new temple, of a new people that was to praise the Lord with the fruits of justice (cf. Mt 21:42-43) Therefore the First Reading and the Responsorial Psalm, which is the same Psalm 118[117], vividly evoke the paschal context and, with this image of the stone rejected and re-habilitated, draw our gaze to Jesus dead and Risen.

The Second Reading, from the First Letter of John (3:1-2), speaks to us instead of the fruit of Christ’s Pasch: our having become children of God. In John’s words you can still hear his great wonder at this gift; not only are we called children of God but “so we are” (v. 1). Indeed, man’s filial condition is the fruit of the saving work of Jesus. With his Incarnation, with his death and Resurrection and with the gift of the Holy Spirit he has inserted the human being into a new relationship with God, his own relationship with the Father. For this reason the Risen Jesus says: “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (Jn 20:17). It is a relationship that is already totally real but not yet totally revealed: it will be in the end when — if God pleases — we shall see his face without a veil (cf. v. 7).

Dear Ordinands, this is where the Good Shepherd wishes to lead us! It is here that the priest is called to lead the faithful entrusted to his care: to true life, to life in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10). Let us therefore return to the Gospel and to the Parable of the Good Shepherd. “The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn 10:11). Jesus insists on this essential trait of the Good Shepherd who is he himself: that of “laying down his life”. He repeats it three times and at the end concludes with the words: “for this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father” (Jn 10:17-18).

This is clearly the qualifying feature of the shepherd, just as Jesus interprets it in the first person, in accordance with the will of the Father who sent him. The biblical figure of shepherd-king mainly involves the task of governing, keeping united and guiding the People of God. The whole of this regal role is totally fulfilled in Jesus Christ in the sacrificial dimension, in the offering of life. In a word, it is brought about in the mystery of the Cross, that is, in the supreme act of humility and oblative love. Abbot Theodore the Studite, said: “By the Cross we, the sheep of Christ, have been gathered into one flock, destined for the sheepfolds of heaven” (Discourse on the Precious and Life-Giving Cross of Christ, PG 99, 699).

The formulas of the Rite for the Ordination of Priests that we are celebrating give us this orientation. For example, among the questions that concern the “commitments of the chosen ones”, the later, with a culminating and in a certain way concise character, says : “Are you resolved to consecrate your life to God for the salvation of his people, and to unite yourself more closely every day to Christ the High Priest, who offered himself for us to the Father as a perfect sacrifice?”. The priest is in fact the one who is uniquely inserted into the mystery of Christ’s Sacrifice through a personal union with him, in order to extend his saving mission. This union, which happens in the Sacrament of Orders, seeks to become closer every day through the generous response of the priest himself. This is why, dear Ordinands, in a little while you will answer this question, saying: “I am, with the help of God”.

The celebrant then says in the explanatory Rites, at the moment of the anointing with chrism: “The Father anointed our Lord Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. May Jesus preserve you to sanctify the Christian people and to offer sacrifice to God”. And then in the presentation of the bread and the wine he says: “Accept from the holy people of God the gifts to be offered to him. Know what you are doing, and imitate the mystery you celebrate: model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s cross”. It is very obvious that for the priest celebrating Holy Mass every day does not mean carrying out a ritual function but rather fulfilling a mission that involves his life entirely and profoundly in communion with the Risen Christ who continues to realize the redeeming sacrifice in his Church.

This Eucharistic and sacrificial dimension is inseparable from the pastoral dimension and constitutes the nucleus of truth and of the saving power on which the effectiveness of every activity depends. Of course, we are not speaking of effectiveness solely at the psychological or social level, but rather of the vital fruitfulness of God’s presence at the profound human level. Preaching itself, good works and the actions of various kinds that the Church carries out with her multiple initiatives would lose their salvific fruitfulness were the celebration of Christ’s Sacrifice to be lacking. And this is entrusted to ordained priests. Indeed, the priest is called to live in himself what Jesus experienced personally, that is, to give himself without reserve to preaching and to healing man of every evil of body and of spirit, and then, lastly, to sum up everything in the supreme gesture of “laying down his life”, for human beings, which finds its sacramental expression in the Eucharist, the perpetual memorial of Jesus’ Passover. It is only through this “door” of the Paschal Sacrifice that the men and women of all time can enter eternal life; it is through this “holy way” that they can undertake the exodus that leads them to the “promised land” of true freedom, to the “green pastures” of never ending peace and joy (cf. Jn 10:7,9; Ps 77[76]:14, 20-21; Ps 23[22]:2).

Dear Ordinands, may this word of God illuminate your entire life. And when the burden of the cross becomes heavier, know that this is the most precious time, for you and for the people entrusted to you: by renewing your “I am, with the help of God”, you will be cooperating with Christ, the High Priest and Good Shepherd, in tending his sheep — even only one stray sheep, but for which there are great festivities in heaven! May the Virgin Mary, Salus Populi Romani, always watch over each one of you and over your journey. Amen."

Papa Benedict XVI's words at the Regina Caeli
- in Croatian, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear brothers and sisters,
The Eucharistic celebration during which I ordained nine new priests of the Diocese of Rome has just ended. Let us thank God for this gift, a sign of his faithful and provident love for the Church! Let us gather round these new priests in spirit and pray that they may fully receive the grace of the Sacrament which has conformed them to Jesus Christ, Priest and Shepherd. And let us pray that all young people may listen to the voice of God who speaks in the depths of their hearts and calls them to leave everything to serve him. This is the purpose of today’s World Day of Prayer for Vocations. In fact, the Lord is always calling but all too often we do not listen. We are distracted by many things, by other, more superficial voices; and then we are afraid to listen to the Lord’s voice because we think he might take away our freedom. In fact, each one of us is the fruit of love: of our parents’ love of course, but more profoundly, of God’s love. The Bible says: even if your own mother does not want you, I want you because I know and love you (cf. Is 49:15). The moment I realize this my life changes. It becomes a response to this love, greater than any other, and in this way my freedom is completely fulfilled.

The young men whom I ordained priests today are no different from other young men, except that they were deeply moved by the beauty of God’s love and could not but respond with their whole life. How did they find God’s love? They found it in Jesus Christ: in his Gospel, in the Eucharist and in the community of the Church. In the Church we discover that every person’s life is a love story. Sacred Scripture clearly shows us this and the witness borne by the saints confirms it to us. St Augustine’s words are an example of this. Addressing God, he says in his Confessions: “Too late I loved you, O Beauty of ancient days, yet ever new! Too late I loved you! And behold, you were within and I abroad.... You were with me, but I was not with you... But you called and shouted and burst through my deafness” (X.27.38).

Dear friends, let us pray for the Church, for every local community, that it may be like a watered garden in which all the seeds of vocation that God scatters in abundance sprout and ripen. Let us pray that this garden may be cultivated everywhere, with the joy of feeling that we are all called, in the variety of our gifts. May families in particular be the first environment in which we “breathe” the love of God that provides us with inner strength in the midst of the difficulties and trials of life. Those who experience God’s love in the family receive a priceless gift which, with time, bears fruit. May the Blessed Virgin Mary — a model of free and obedient acceptance of the divine call and Mother of every vocation in the Church — obtain all this for us

After the Regina Caeli:

[in Italian] "Cari fratelli e sorelle!
Un saluto speciale rivolgo ai pellegrini riuniti nella Basilica di San Paolo fuori le Mura, dove stamani è stato proclamato Beato Giuseppe Toniolo. Vissuto tra il XIX e il XX secolo, fu sposo e padre di sette figli, professore universitario ed educatore dei giovani, economista e sociologo, appassionato servitore della comunione nella Chiesa. Attuò gli insegnamenti dell’Enciclica Rerum novarum del Papa Leone XIII; promosse l’Azione Cattolica, l’Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, le Settimane Sociali dei cattolici italiani e un Istituto di diritto internazionale della pace. Il suo messaggio è di grande attualità, specialmente in questo tempo: il Beato Toniolo indica la via del primato della persona umana e della solidarietà. Egli scriveva: «Al di sopra degli stessi legittimi beni ed interessi delle singole nazioni e degli Stati, vi è una nota inscindibile che tutti li coordina ad unità, vale a dire il dovere della solidarietà umana».

Sempre oggi a Coutances, in Francia, è stato beatificato anche il sacerdote Pierre-Adrien Toulorge, dell’Ordine Premostratense, vissuto nella seconda metà del secolo XVIII. Rendiamo grazie a Dio per questo luminoso “martire della verità”.

Saluto i partecipanti all’Incontro europeo degli studenti universitari, organizzato dalla Diocesi di Roma nel primo anniversario della Beatificazione di Papa Giovanni Paolo II. Cari giovani, proseguite con fiducia nel cammino della nuova evangelizzazione nelle Università. Domani sera mi unirò spiritualmente a voi, per la Veglia che avrà luogo a Tor Vergata, presso la grande Croce della Giornata Mondiale della Gioventù del 2000. Grazie della vostra presenza!"

[in French] "Chers pèlerins francophones, je vous exhorte aujourd’hui à prier pour les vocations. En Église et en famille, redécouvrez l’importance vitale du sacerdoce ministériel et de la vie consacrée. Chers jeunes, n’hésitez pas ! Écoutez l’appel de Dieu ! Je participe aussi spirituellement à la joie de tous les fidèles du Diocèse de Coutances et Avranches rassemblés pour la Béatification du Père Pierre-Adrien Toulorge, surnommé « le martyr de la vérité ». Que la Vierge Marie, modèle du cœur qui écoute, intercède pour que puisse éclore beaucoup de oui ! Bon dimanche !"

[in English] "I am happy to greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present for this Regina Coeli prayer. Today’s Gospel highlights the figure of Christ the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his flock. Today we also pray for vocations to the priesthood: may more young men hear Christ’s call to follow him more closely, and offer their lives to serve their brothers and sisters. God’s peace be with you all!"

[in German] "Einen herzlichen Gruß richte ich an die Pilger und Besucher deutscher Sprache, heute besonders an die Studentenverbindung Capitolina, die in diesen Tagen ihr Stiftungsfest begeht. Im Evangelium dieses Sonntags begegnet uns Christus als der Gute Hirte. Er sorgt für uns und kennt jeden von uns beim Namen. Vertrauen wir uns seiner guten Führung an, die uns schon auf Erden Momente der künftigen, ewigen Freude kosten läßt. Der barmherzige Gott segne euch und eure Lieben."

[in Spanish] "Saludo a los peregrinos de lengua española, en particular a los alumnos de diversos centros escolares de Blanca, Murcia. En el Evangelio de este domingo, Cristo se presenta como el Buen Pastor, que da la vida por las ovejas. Pidámosle a Él que conceda a su Iglesia abundantes vocaciones sacerdotales, religiosas y misioneras, que ayuden a sus hermanos a acoger su mensaje de salvación. Feliz Domingo."

[in Slovenian] "Lepo pozdravljam ministrante in druge romarje iz Slovenije! Služiti pri Gospodovem oltarju je za človeka velika čast in odgovornost. Radi in lepo sodelujte pri bogoslužju, da bodo vaši mladi dnevi polni Božje milosti, vi sami pa pošteni in navdušeni za vse dobro. Vam, dragi fantje in dekleta, vašim duhovnikom ter še posebej vsem, ki jih Bog kliče v duhovniško ali redovniško službo, rad podelim apostolski blagoslov!"

[in Croatian] "Radosno pozdravljam i blagoslivljam hrvatske hodočasnike, a osobito mlade iz župe Svetog Mihovila iz Drinovaca u Bosni i Hercegovini. Draga mladeži, na grobovima apostola učvrstite svoju vjeru u uskrslog Gospodina kako biste je još hrabrije svjedočili svojim životom. Hvaljen Isus i Marija!"

[in Slovakian] "Srdečne pozdravujem slovenských pútnikov, osobitne z Farnosti Raslavice. Bratia a sestry, milí mladí, prajem vám, aby vaša púť do Ríma upevnila vaše puto s Kristom a s jeho Cirkvou. Všetkých vás žehnám. Pochválený buď Ježiš Kristus!"

[in Polish}"Serdecznie witam i pozdrawiam Polaków. Moją szczególną modlitwą ogarniam dzisiaj Episkopat polski, Arcybiskupa Prymasa i uczestników uroczystości odpustowych w Gnieźnie. Niech święty Wojciech, patron Polski, wyprasza obfitość łask dla Kościoła, zwłaszcza dar licznych powołań kapłańskich i zakonnych, pomyślność dla waszej Ojczyzny i polskich rodzin. Z serca błogosławię wam wszystkim."

[in Italian] Rivolgo infine un saluto cordiale ai pellegrini di lingua italiana, in particolare ai ragazzi di Cuneo e di Casatenovo, ai cresimandi di Tione di Trento, Mozzo, Ciserano e Sorisole, Morro d’Alba e Belvedere Ostrense, e a tutti gli altri numerosi giovani presenti. Saluto i diversi gruppi parrocchiali e i partecipanti al raduno di autovetture d’epoca. A tutti auguro una buona domenica e una buona settimana. Grazie. Buona domenica.

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