Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and Bishop Donal McKeown addresses at the launch of the Year of Vocation

13 Apr 2008

13 April 2008

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and Bishop Donal McKeown

addresses at the launch of the Year of Vocation

Please see below the address by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, followed by the address of Bishop Donal McKeown, at the press conference in the Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, launching the Year of Vocation on Sunday 13 April 2008:

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin:

City people like myself have very little understanding of sheep and shepherding. Our experience has probably been limited to turning a corner on a country road and suddenly finding a herd of sheep coming towards us and watching as the shepherd guided his unruly flock slightly aside, to allow us to pass on.
The situation for the first hearers of Jesus is quite the opposite. His hearers knew all about shepherding sheep and of how important it was to have some place to offer the sheep security and nourishment in the evening, in inclement weather or at a moment where danger was imminent from beasts of prey or from marauders.
The shepherd in today’s story was typical of the shepherd of his time and culture. He led his flock walking ahead of them and he kept control over them by using special calls which his sheep understand. He knows his sheep by name and they know the sound of his calls, as he brings them each evening into the safety of his courtyard or in the morning back out into new pastures.
The liturgical cycle takes a much longer section on the good shepherd in the Gospel of Saint John and divides it into three parts, to be read on successive years. Whereas this Sunday is sometimes known popularly as Good Shepherd Sunday, the section of the reading that we have heard this year does not get to the point where Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep.
In today’s’ reading Jesus presents himself – probably to the surprise of his hearers – not so much as the shepherd but as the gate. He has already challenged his hearers in presenting himself as the Shepherd, and they fail to understand. Now he proclaims also that he is the gate.
Jesus Christ is the gate of the sheepfold, he is the gate through which the sheep are brought into safety and the gate which opens to pasture when things are safe. The themes of the gate or the door appear elsewhere in the Gospel: they signify a criterion, a judgement, a moment where a decision is taken. We hear of the narrow gate, where each one is checked as he or she enters the city; we are told that if we ask in prayer the door will be opened. The foolish virgins find the door closed and the Lord does not recognise them.
Jesus is the gate. Jesus is the only gate. All others, no matter what other qualifications they have, have no legitimacy. They “are thieves and brigands”. Jesus is the only gate which will open for us a guarantee of protection and safety; he alone is the gate which will open for us pasture and nourishment. Jesus Christ is even more: Jesus alone will ensure that we can go freely in and out; he is therefore the source of our true freedom, of our peace and of our life.
The Church is the community where we have access to the very life of Christ himself. The Second Vatican Council reminds is that the community of all the baptised is called to be a spiritual house and a holy priesthood. All baptised believers participate in what is called “the common priesthood”, a share in the priesthood of the one priest, Christ himself. All Christian are called to holiness. All baptised Christians are called to witness in their lives to the unique message of Jesus Christ. All baptised Christians are called to conform their lives to that of Jesus.
The Church is the place where the presence of Christ’s saving power is experienced in our day. It is the place where the message about Jesus must be lived, transmitted and shared. The first reading recalls that “the promise is made for you and your children and for all those who are far away”.
Evangelisation means passing on the faith and sharing the faith. The reading notes that it is first to be passed on “to your children”. The family is the first place where children learn the reality and the experience of faith in a lived way. The sacrament of marriage is a call, a vocation. It is not just a personal blessing on couples but like all sacraments a gift given for the building up of the Church. We have to do more in our parishes to help parents in carrying out their vocation, to enable them better to speak with their children about faith and belief, to engage their children on questions of what faith means, to help them develop a sense of prayer. Through the sacrament of marriage parents are called to be for their children “Jesus the gate”. The manner in which they carry out their vocation will determine the manner in which the path to true freedom and fullness of life is opened for the children.
The message must reach “those who are far away”. More and more young people have never had a true experience of encounter with Jesus. They wander confused without encountering that gate which can open for them a path to meaning and purpose to their lives. All of us need to engage more in leading our young people to an awareness that whatever option or choice or vocations they will follow in the life’s path, Jesus remain the only gate, the only answer which gives security, freedom and life.
For many young people it is hard to envisage that faith in Jesus and membership of the Church is, to use the words of the Gospel, the only way which will truly allow us “to go freely in and out” of the ups and downs of our life. To many young people the Church seems to be associated more with rules and regulations than with true freedom. Yet there are so many indications that young people are acutely aware of the emptiness of so many projects of life and are seeking something to fill a void, a spiritual void, which does not leave young people free. Many young people are trapped in consumerism, alcohol, drugs, a confusion around real values, and a life which offers them immediate satisfaction, but not long term freedom to be fully themselves.
Jesus is the gate to understanding human existence and the only real source of life. Encountering Jesus enables us to encounter who we are as people and what human life is about in its deepest dimensions. This is the context in which we celebrate Vocations Sunday. This is why the Bishops of Ireland have chosen to launch today the Year of Vocation.
Being a Christian is not a spectator sport. We need to recall to all that you cannot be simply a passive Christian, sitting on the sideline always or watching from the grandstand when the occasion arises. Being a follower of Jesus requires in the very first instance that that we answer his call and change our way of living. When one encounters Jesus today one must ask as the crowd did in our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles: “What must we do”. And the answer is today the same as then: “You must repent”, you must allow yourself to be saved from that “perverse generation” which is a reality present at every time in human history.
All Christians are called. Today in a special way we reflect on the call to ordained ministry, especially that of priests. We need priests. We need good priests. We need them not just to fill gaps caused by the death of older priests. We need priests who can be beacons in our society to what Jesus means in their lives and what Jesus can signify in the life of all of us. We need priests who know the word of God and can break it and interpret it for others, so that they can bring that word into the life of our society. We need priests who live lives which make them apt for celebrating Jesus’ self-giving sacrifice, and therefore whose lives reflect that same self-giving love.
The priest guides and interprets, heals and reconciles acting in the person of Christ, in persona Christi. The life of the priest h must be one which identifies with Jesus, the only gate. In the past there were many who became priests because it was a way of being of service to others. As secular society offered many similar opportunities, vocations to the priesthood began to fall and indeed many priests felt that they could provide such service without their priestly identity.
Today we can see more clearly that the criterion for being an authentic shepherd of Jesus’ flock is that one who enters through Jesus the door. The primary vocation of the priest is that of identification with Jesus, who alone is the Shepherd of the flock. The flock belongs to Jesus; the minister of the flock is just that, minister, the one who makes his own the voice of Jesus, the one whose life becomes the call which the sheep recognise as the authentic call of Jesus, and not that of the thief or the brigand.
In that sense, priesthood is never just a job or a career nor indeed a personal possession or private honour. It is identifying with Jesus. The priest must be the one who knows Jesus, identifies himself with Jesus and thus leads people to a different vision of freedom and life than that of whatever “perverse generation” may prevail in the dominant culture.
The world needs such persons. It needs vocations not determined by a detailed job description as would happen in a business, but in the ability to place one’s life, with all its inadequacies, truly at the service of Jesus and allowing him, the true shepherd, to work through us. The job description of priesthood is not written by the vocations director or the bishop. It has been written by Jesus himself in the hearts of those he calls. If that is the case, let those who hear such a call have no fear. The Lord will open the door which can lead you to the rich pastures of priestly ministry. The Lord will protect you in his sheepfold in the moments of darkness and danger.
The role and the social status of the priests in a particular society may change. But the role of the priest remains essential in any society.
Vocations do not spring out of a void. They come from the depth of the faith of Christian communities. I ask all of you to renew your prayer for vocations. At the same time, I ask you to renew your own commitment to live out the message of Jesus and his love to the full. It is through encountering your witness that young people will moved to ask about Jesus, to discern in their lives what his message means, and to open their hearts to that freedom and life which comes from him alone.

Bishop Donal McKeown:

The idea for this year was born eighteen months ago. At the 2006 annual conference of Diocesan Vocations Directors, a lay speaker suggested two things: 

  • that simply having one Vocations Sunday in the year was not a very effective way of getting a message out: and
  • that something needed to be done if the word ‘vocation’ was not permanently to be associated with the word ‘ crisis’.

From that seed there developed a series of meetings and conversations, all of which led to the conviction that our Western liberal culture finds it easy to understand the idea of choosing – but not the concept of being chosen.

A working group, led by Fr Paddy Rushe – National Co-ordinator of Diocesan Vocations Directors – but consisting of a majority of non clerical members, developed the idea of what is essentially an attempt at a year long proclamation of the core Christian idea that all human being as are called by God:

  • to know God
  • to belong
  • to serve.

That is increasingly seen as a strange concept and quite counter cultural.

In an age where life can be seen as dispensable, this Biblical theme says that all human life is precious, gift, beautiful. Everyone is called into life and loved by God. Thus, God does not know the word ‘scumbag’ or ‘lowlife’.

To a culture that emphasises consumption and entertainment, this year will underline the call that everyone has to seek truth, good and God, the call to self transcendence rather than just to self-fulfilment.

In an individualist and increasingly lonely world we repeat the Biblical call to belong, to take responsibility for one another, to solidarity.

And we will point out the core biblical teaching – and one that lies at the heart of Pope Benedict XVI’s pastoral Deus Caritas Est – that all are called to love and serve one another, not as a peripheral part of being church but as a core element in faith.

The initiative saw it as providential that the Sydney World Youth Day – with its them of You shall be my witnesses – would take place during the thirteen month span of the YOV.

This project – while springing from the Diocesan Vocations Directors – is being supported by a range of bodies, including the Episcopal Conference, religious Congregations, St Joseph’s Young Priests’ Society, Trócaire, ACCORD, the Knights of Columbanus and others. In that sense it is whole Church initiative that has not come from the top.

Clearly church communities would hope that – as in England and Wales – there would be a rise in the numbers of those entering seminary and religious houses. But marriage will not flourish unless it is seen as a vocation. Nor will volunteerism, nor that spirit of generosity and service which has characterised this country.

It has the simple purpose of clarifying to Church members a core element of our identity – and of making clear to others outside the Catholic Church and other faith communities that we the most important choice in life is to choose to be chosen. How people respond to that message is a work of grace, not just of human effort.


Further information:
Martin Long, Director of Communications (086 172 7678)
Brenda Drumm, Communications Officer (087 233 7797)