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Vol. IV, August 1998

 

The Vocation-Director Part I
(cf. Judg 6,11-24)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

The last texts led us to the final judgment. In the last hour, God’s call reaches everyone. "The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price" (Rev 22,17). But it is not only then that man will be called. Today, we are made more and more aware of the truth that one’s whole life is a call, an invitation of God to join Him in His eternal beatitude. Beyond the general call to salvation, the Catechism teaches, "Angels have been present since creation and throughout the history of salvation, announcing this salvation from afar or near and serving the accomplishment of the divine plan: they ... announced births and callings; assisted the prophets, just to cite a few examples" (332).

1. One call to which the Catechism refers is that of Gideon. We read: "Now the Angel of the Lord came and sat under the oak at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, as his son was beating out wheat in the wine press, to hide it from the Midianites. And the Angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him: ‘The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valour.’ And Gideon said to him, ‘Pray, sir, if the Lord is with us, why then ... and where ...?’ And the Lord turned to him and said, ‘Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian." (Judg 6,11-12).

More commonly, we observe the Angel as a bearer of the Divine Word, of the call of God; we did so with Moses (cf. Ex 3) and will do so with St. Joseph and Our Lady as well as with others. That is the most evident example of the Angel as "actual grace" personified: He approaches man as the first impulse of God; his presence disposes man for the call. Then God Himself, through the Angel, reveals His will. In most of these examples we assist at a dialogue between the Angel and the man who is being called. It might simply be that these vocations are mentioned in Scripture because of the significance or difficulties which were linked with these calls. But this would not deny that the holy Angels do act in all vocations as instruments of God or, we may say, as vocation-directors. The call of Gideon through the Angel helps us to understand our role as priests who have already the mission of the Lord to "bear witness to the light," to be "the voice of one crying in the wilderness," to be "the friend of the bridegroom," who bears witness and tells the world: "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!", so that those who hear us follow Jesus (Jn 1,8.23; 3,29; 1,29.37; cf. Directory ... of Priests, 32).

2. First we have to note that the grace of a particular call comes from God and through divine initiative: At the beginning stands the holy Angel, sent by God! Thus, we may attribute every vocation to the Holy Spirit and to His servants, the holy Angels. To the Father we attribute creation and our existence, to the Son redemption and holiness through sanctifying grace, which we receive through the sacraments of Christian Initiation. To the Holy Spirit we may attribute the work of personal perfection and that of special calls. Such calls are as the call to matrimony, the sacrament of love, as Tobias found help in the Angel Raphael; and as the call to the priesthood, for which "the graces of the Holy Spirit (are) required" (CCC 1597; cf. 1585-1589). Such a call is also that to the consecrated life, for "it is the Spirit who awakens the desire to respond fully; it is He Who guides the growth of this desire, helping it to mature ..." (John Paul II, Vita Consecrata, 19).

All of these calls, inasmuch as gifts of love, reach out beyond the sanctification of those who are called to that of others as well. Further, they are all linked to love and tend towards total sacrificial love. These characteristics manifest the Holy Spirit and the holy Angels, His servants, who always act out of love. We can see this causality in love in the collaboration present in marriage, especially in the task of the education of children. We see it also in the pastoral love of priests, and in the sacrificial love of total donation in the consecrated life. Here we might remember also another saying of Jesus: "The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life" (Jn 6,63): He attributes the efficacy of His words (the call) to the Holy Spirit Who is present with the actual grace ("spirit"), which helps us live out the vocation, and so gives "life." The constant presence and companionship of His Angels is surely not foreign in this spiritual vitality, indeed, this is their ministry.

3. Each divine call is first of all a grace of God, an unmerited gift of God. The holy Angels announce the divine call as servants of the Holy Spirit. They communicate it to man in such a way that he can understand it. This leads us to the question "how" the Angels approach the one who is called. The dialogue between the Angel of the Lord and Gideon, to which we are a party, is a pastoral lesson on vocations.

a) The holy Angel "came and sat under the oak." When we have even an inkling about the power of the angelic nature and are aware of their authority as servants of God, then it surprises us how humanly the Angel approached the young man. The Angel gave the impression of being interested in his work; he sat down and probably watched him for a while. There might be two reasons: God, and with him His Angels, have time; time is theirs! They can wait for the right moment. And, God, and with Him His Angels, respect human freedom: They approach man with kindness and manifest goodness, they invite, they ask and want to be asked. This is quite contrary to the hostile, fallen Angels who compel everyone and know only to act with trickery and force.

b) Further: The holy Angel seems to make use of the circumstances: He comes to plant a seed in the human soul while Gideon is "beating out wheat in the wine press"; the Angel calls the young man to free Israel from the Midianites while he is there "to hide (the wheat) from the Midianites". This circumstance shows that the boy is familiar with the tension and with the need of a confrontation; he is aware of the problem which he is called to resolve. Who does not think of Our Lord who called the first Apostles when they were fishing: "He saw two ... casting a net into the sea ... and said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men’" (Mt 4,19). Starting in such circumstances it makes it easier for man to understand the vocation and the meaning and goal of the call. Whoever is called by God will be separated and set apart from the people. This takes place through baptism and confession; with the sacrament of confirmation one has to discern for what purpose one receives special graces and has to build up a new and fruitful life, for which the Holy Sacrifice and the Eucharist offer him special sustenance and strength.

c) Finally, the doldrums in the everyday life have their meaning too: they give the called person more freedom; they do not awaken the devil and do not attract his attention; nor do they nourish any false expectations on our part: if the circumstances are so simple and poor, then the one called will surely not expect heaven already on earth.

4. All these observations make us reflect:

Since a call is first of all a grace of God and God will certainly never leave us without vocations, then the sincere question remains for man: Do we "pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest" (Mt 9,38)? And more concretely: Do we ask the Lord - and not just ourselves, but do we also invite others to ask Him - to send his Angel with the call to those He wants to call?

God includes the service of the Angel even in the personal grace of vocations. Do we pay sincere attention to how and where and in whom is awake the awareness of a possible vocation?

The Angel called the attention of the young Gideon by his noble and careful way of approach and by the transparence of his angelic personality marked by happiness in God and holy fear before him. Do we inspire through the way we treat people and through the choice of our words such an uplifting atmosphere around us that the seed of a divine call can find an open soil in people’s hearts?

The Angel waited for the right moment; so we too should look forward to when and where and to whom we have the chance to mention the possibility of being called.

The Angel looked for fitting circumstances. Do I carefully provide for circumstances which are more favorable for vocations, particularly in the pastoral care of youth committed to the service of the Church; for instance, the altar boys, or girls leading prayer groups?

As the Angel also elicited the curiosity of Gideon, we might ask ourselves about our personal openness and sensitivity towards the calls of grace.

As the holy Angels never look for their own benefit, so we might examine ourselves, if we look rather to our own personal advantage than to the spiritual good of others.

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC