Exodus, a fundamental experience of vocation

The Fourth Sunday of Easter has been observed as the World Day of Prayer for Vocations for more than a half century. Pope Francis wrote a message to the entire Church to help guide us in our prayer this weekend, which he signed at the Vatican on Palm Sunday. The pope said that this special Sunday “reminds us of our need to pray, as Jesus Himself told His disciples, so that ‘the Lord of the harvest may send out laborers into His harvest’” (Lk 10:2).

Referring back to the Second Vatican Council, the pope wrote, “Since the Church ‘is by her very nature missionary’ (Ad Gentes, 2), the Christian vocation is necessarily born of the experience of mission. Hearing and following the voice of Christ the Good Shepherd, means letting ourselves be attracted and guided by Him, in consecration to Him; it means allowing the Holy Spirit to draw us into this missionary dynamism, awakening within us the desire, the joy and the courage to offer our own lives in the service of the Kingdom of God.”

As usual, Pope Francis offers us, individually and as the entire Church a challenge. He said that “to offer one’s life in mission is possible only if we are able to leave ourselves behind. I would like reflect on that particular ‘exodus’ which is the heart of vocation, or better yet, of our response to the vocation God gives us. When we hear the word ‘exodus,’ we immediately think of the origins of the amazing love story between God and His people, a history which passes through the dramatic period of slavery in Egypt, the calling of Moses, the experience of liberation and the journey toward the Promised Land. The Book of Exodus is a parable of the entire history of Salvation, but also of the inner workings of Christian faith. Passing from the slavery of the old Adam to new life in Christ is an event of redemption which takes place through faith (Eph 4:22-24). This passover is a genuine ‘exodus’; it is the journey of each Christian soul and the entire Church, the decisive turning of our lives towards the Father.”

The Holy Father said that this is a “basic movement, which is part of the experience of faith. Belief means transcending ourselves, leaving behind our comfort and the inflexibility of our ego in order to center our life in Jesus Christ. It means leaving, like Abraham, our native place and going forward with trust, knowing that God will show us the way to a new land.” In writing this, the Holy Father was not saying that we’re all called to go to a new geographical place, but rather to a new Spiritual one, one in which Christ reigns.

The pope views this move as a positive one: “[T]hose who set out to follow Christ find life in abundance by putting themselves completely at the service of God and His Kingdom. All of this is profoundly rooted in love. The Christian vocation is first and foremost a call to love, a love which attracts us and draws us out of ourselves, ‘decentering’ us and triggering ‘an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus towards authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God’” (Pope Benedict, Deus Caritas Est, 6).

Pope Francis said that “the exodus experience is” a paradigm for all true Christian living, but is especially needed in “a vocation of special dedication to the Gospel. This calls for a constantly renewed attitude of conversion and transformation, an incessant moving forward, a passage from death to life like that celebrated in every Liturgy, an experience of passover. Vocation is always a work of God. He leads us beyond our initial situation, frees us from every enslavement, breaks down our habits and our indifference, and brings us to the joy of communion with Him and with our brothers and sisters, allowing Him to help us leave ourselves and our false security behind, and to strike out on the path which leads to Jesus Christ, the origin and destiny of our life and our happiness.”

Speaking communally, the pope told us, “This exodus process does not regard individuals alone, but the whole Church. The Church is faithful to her Master to the extent that she is a Church which ‘goes forth,’ a Church which is less concerned about herself, her structures and successes, and more about her ability to go out and meet God’s children wherever they are, to feel compassion (com-passio) for their hurt and pain. God goes forth from Himself in a Trinitarian dynamic of love: He hears the cry of His people and He intervenes to set them free (Ex 3:7). The Church is called to follow this way of being and acting. She is meant to be a Church which evangelizes, goes out to encounter humanity, proclaims the liberating word of the Gospel, heals people’s Spiritual and physical wounds with the grace of God, and offers relief to the poor and the suffering.”

The pope dispelled the idea that “to hear and answer the Lord’s call” is just “a private and completely personal matter fraught with momentary emotion. Rather, it is a specific, real and total commitment which embraces the whole of our existence and sets it at the service of the growth of God’s Kingdom on earth. The Christian vocation, rooted in the contemplation of the Father’s heart, thus inspires us to solidarity in bringing liberation to our brothers and sisters, especially the poorest. A disciple of Jesus has a heart open to His unlimited horizons, and friendship with the Lord never means flight from this life or from the world. On the contrary, it involves a profound interplay between communion and mission” (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 23).

Rather than being a burden, “this exodus towards God and others fills our lives with joy and meaning. I wish to state this clearly to the young,” the pope wrote, “whose youth and openness to the future makes them open-hearted and generous. At times uncertainty, worries about the future and the problems they daily encounter can risk paralyzing their youthful enthusiasm and shattering their dreams, to the point where they can think that it is not worth the effort to get involved, that the God of the Christian faith is somehow a limit on their freedom. Dear young friends, never be afraid to go out from yourselves and begin the journey! The Gospel is the message which brings freedom to our lives; it transforms them and makes them all the more beautiful. Your life will become richer and more joyful each day!”

Calling the Blessed Mother the “model of every vocation,” Pope Francis noted that she “did not fear to utter her ‘fiat’[may it be done] in response to the Lord’s call. With the generous courage born of faith, Mary sang of the joy of leaving herself behind and entrusting to God the plans she had for her life.” 

May we reflect upon our own Christian exoduses this weekend and pray that others will join us on this journey.

© 2018 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing   †   Fall River, Massachusetts