Message for the 58th World Day of Prayer for Vocations (March 19, 2021)

Omnes-May 17, 2021-Reading time: 7 minutes

Dear brothers and sisters:

Last December 8, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the declaration of St. Joseph as Patron of the universal Church, the Year dedicated especially to him began (cf. Decree of the Apostolic PenitentiaryDecember 8, 2020). For my part, I wrote the Apostolic Letter Patris corde so that "love for this great saint may grow". He is, in fact, an extraordinary figure, and at the same time "so close to our human condition". St. Joseph did not make an impact, neither did he possess particular charisms, nor did he appear important in the eyes of others. He was not famous and was not noticed, the Gospels do not record a single word about him. Nevertheless, with his ordinary life, he accomplished something extraordinary in the eyes of God.

God sees the heart (cf. 1 Sam 16:7) and in St. Joseph he recognized a father's heart, capable of giving and generating life in daily life. Vocations tend to this: to generate and regenerate life every day. The Lord wants to forge the hearts of fathers, the hearts of mothers; open hearts, capable of great impulses, generous in giving, compassionate in the consolation of anguish and firm in the strengthening of hope. This is what the priesthood and consecrated life need, especially today, in times marked by fragility and suffering caused also by the pandemic, which has raised uncertainty and fear about the future and the very meaning of life. St. Joseph comes to meet us with his gentleness, as the saint next door; at the same time, his strong witness can guide us along the way.

St. Joseph suggests three key words for our vocation. The first is dream. Everyone in life dreams of fulfillment. And it is right that we have high expectations, high goals rather than ephemeral objectives - such as success, money and fun - that are not capable of satisfying us. In fact, if we were to ask people to express in a single word the dream of their life, it would not be difficult to imagine the answer: "love". It is love that gives meaning to life, because it reveals its mystery. Life, in fact, can only be has if dais only truly possessed if it is fully given. St. Joseph has much to tell us in this regard because, through the dreams that God inspired in him, he made his existence a gift.

The Gospels narrate four dreams (cf. Mt 1,20; 2,13.19.22). They were divine calls, but they were not easy to accept. After each dream, Joseph had to change his plans and take risks, sacrificing his own projects to second the mysterious projects of God. He trusted totally. But we can ask ourselves: "What was a dream of the night to place so much trust in him? 

Although in ancient times much attention was paid to it, it was still little in the face of the concrete reality of life. In spite of everything, St. Joseph allowed himself to be guided by dreams without hesitation. Why? Because his heart was oriented towards God, it was already predisposed towards Him. To his vigilant "inner ear" only a small signal was enough to recognize his voice. This also applies to our calls. God does not like to reveal himself in a spectacular way, forcing our freedom. He makes his plans known to us gently, he does not dazzle us with shocking visions, but he addresses our interiority delicately, drawing intimately close to us and speaking to us through our thoughts and feelings. And so, as he did with St. Joseph, he sets us lofty and surprising goals.

Dreams led Joseph to adventures he would never have imagined. The first one destabilized his courtship, but made him the father of the Messiah; the second one made him flee to Egypt, but saved the lives of his family; the third one announced his return to his homeland and the fourth one made him change his plans again, taking him to Nazareth, the very place where Jesus was to begin the proclamation of the Kingdom of God. In all these vicissitudes, the courage to follow God's will was victorious. 

This is what happens in a vocation: the divine call always urges us to go out, to give ourselves, to go beyond. There is no faith without risk. Only by confidently abandoning oneself to grace, setting aside one's own plans and comforts, can one truly say "yes" to God. And every "yes" bears fruit, because it adheres to a greater plan, of which we only glimpse details, but which the divine Artist knows and carries forward, to make each life a masterpiece. In this sense, St. Joseph represents an exemplary icon of the acceptance of God's plans. But his welcome is activeHe is not a man who resigns himself passively. He is a courageous and strong protagonist" (Letter ap. Patris corde, 4). May he help everyone, especially young people in discernment, to realize the dreams God has for them; may he inspire the courageous initiative to say "yes" to the Lord, who always surprises and never disappoints.

The second word that marks the itinerary of St. Joseph and his vocation is service. It is clear from the Gospels that he lived entirely for others and never for himself. The holy people of God call him chaste husbandthus revealing his capacity to love without withholding anything for himself. Freeing love from its desire for possession, he opened himself to an even more fruitful service, his loving care has spread through the generations and his solicitous protection has made him the patron of the Church. He is also the patron of the good death, he who knew how to incarnate the oblative meaning of life. However, his service and his sacrifices were only possible because they were sustained by a greater love: "Every true vocation is born of the gift of self, which is the maturation of simple sacrifice. In the priesthood and consecrated life, too, this kind of maturity is required. When a vocation, whether in married, celibate or virginal life, does not reach the maturity of self-giving by stopping only at the logic of sacrifice, then instead of becoming a sign of the beauty and joy of love it runs the risk of expressing unhappiness, sadness and frustration" (ibid., 7).

For St. Joseph, service, a concrete expression of the gift of self, was not only a lofty ideal, but became a rule of daily life. He strove to find and adapt a place for Jesus to be born, he did his best to defend him from Herod's fury by organizing a sudden trip to Egypt, he hastened to return to Jerusalem to look for Jesus when he was lost, and he supported his family with the fruit of his labors, even in a foreign land. In short, he adapted himself to the various circumstances with the attitude of one who does not become discouraged if life does not go as he wishes, with the availability of whom lives to serve

In this spirit of obedience and always solicitous, Joseph undertook the numerous and often unexpected journeys of his life: from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the census, then to Egypt and back again to Nazareth, and every year to Jerusalem, ready to face new situations on each occasion, without complaining about what was happening, ready to lend a hand to put things right. One could say that he was the outstretched hand of the heavenly Father to his Son on earth. For this reason, she can only be a model for all vocations, which are called to be the diligent hands of the Father for their sons and daughters.

I like to think then of St. Joseph, the custodian of Jesus and the Church, as a custodian of vocations. Your attention to surveillance comes, in fact, from his readiness to serve. "He arose, took the child and his mother by night" (Mt 2:14), says the Gospel, pointing out his haste and dedication to the family. He wasted no time in analyzing what was not working well, so as not to take it away from those in his care. This attentive and solicitous care is the sign of a vocation fulfilled, it is the testimony of a life touched by the love of God. What a beautiful example of Christian life we give when we do not stubbornly pursue our own ambitions and do not allow ourselves to be paralyzed by our nostalgia, but take care of what the Lord entrusts to us through the Church! In this way, God pours out on us his Spirit, his creativity; and he works wonders, as in Joseph.

In addition to the call of God - which fulfills our dreams and of our response - which is embodied in the service and attentive care-, there is a third aspect that runs through the life of St. Joseph and the Christian vocation, marking the rhythm of daily life: the fidelity. Joseph is the "just man" (Mt 1:19), who in the laborious silence of each day perseveres in his adherence to God and his plans. In a particularly difficult moment, he "considers all things" (cf. v. 20). He meditates, reflects, does not allow himself to be dominated by haste, does not yield to the temptation to make hasty decisions, does not follow his instincts and does not live without prospects. He cultivates everything with patience. He knows that existence is built only by continuous adherence to great choices. This corresponds to the serene and constant industriousness with which he carried out the humble trade of carpenter (cf. Mt 13:55), which inspired not the chronicles of the time, but the daily life of every father, every worker and every Christian throughout the centuries. Because vocation, like life, matures only through daily fidelity.

How is this fidelity nourished? In the light of God's faithfulness. The first words that St. Joseph heard in a dream were an invitation not to be afraid, because God is faithful to his promises: "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid" (Mt 1,20). Do not be afraidThese are the words that the Lord also addresses to you, dear sister, and to you, dear brother, when, even in the midst of uncertainties and hesitations, you feel that you can no longer put off the desire to give him your life. They are the words he repeats to you when, wherever you are, perhaps in the midst of trials and misunderstandings, you struggle every day to fulfill his will. They are the words that you rediscover when, along the path of the call, you return to your first love. They are the words that, like a refrain, accompany those who say yes to God with their lives, like St. Joseph, in daily fidelity. 

This fidelity is the secret of joy. In the house of Nazareth, says a liturgical hymn, there was "a limpid joy". It was the daily and transparent joy of simplicity, the joy felt by those who guard what is important: faithful closeness to God and to their neighbor. How beautiful it would be if the same simple and radiant, sober and hopeful atmosphere were to permeate our seminaries, our religious institutes, our parish houses! 

It is the joy that I wish for you, brothers and sisters who have generously made God the dream of their lives, to serve it in the brothers and sisters entrusted to their care, by means of a fidelity which is already a witness in itself, in an era marked by fleeting choices and emotions that fade away without leaving joy. May St. Joseph, guardian of vocations, accompany them with the heart of a father.

Thank you.

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