Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Wednesday in the 4th Week of Easter
Memorial of St. Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
For Whom Do We Pray?

Readings: Acts 12:24—13:5a; Psalm 67:2-3, 5, 6 and 8; John 12:44-50

This past weekend we celebrated Vocation Sunday and many of us must have been praying for more vocations – a very commendable and important thing to do. Today, our Mass readings offer us an opportunity to reflect a little more on what it is that we do when we pray for vocations. Exactly for what and for whom are we praying?
For the most part, I suspect that our prayer for vocations is primarily an intercessory prayer for a very specific result. We are praying that more people will be set apart and sent by God to commit their lives to the priesthood and religious life. And because many of us are probably not in the position to heed such a call ourselves, our prayer is essentially a prayer for others – that they might be called and that they might respond generously. But is the prayer for vocations truly meant to be solely an intercessory prayer – a prayer for others?

Two interesting points in our readings today would suggest otherwise. The first comes to our attention when we consider that it is not only Barnabas and Saul who are called, but that, before them, Jesus himself has a deep sense of being called as well. As we heard him say in the gospel today: Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in the one who sent me… and what I had to speak was commanded by the Father who sent me. If Jesus himself speaks only what the Father commands him, shouldn’t each of us his followers be doing the same? Whether we be priest, religious or lay, shouldn’t we all be filled with the same sense that, in every circumstance of our daily lives, we too are called to speak only the words of the Father who sends us? Isn’t this something we ought to be praying for when we pray for vocations?

The other point is this. Notice how Barnabas and Saul receive their mission in the first reading. Although there are many stories in the bible of people receiving their calls directly and personally from God, in this particular situation, we see something significantly differently. The mission of Saul and Barnabas is received by the Christian community when it gathers to pray. I want Barnabas and Saul set apart for the work to which I have called them. Important as it is for those individuals who are called to hear and heed it, in this case, it is quite clearly the community that is the prime mover. The community receives the call to send people on mission. It then heeds it by commissioning Barnabas and Saul and sending them off. When we pray for vocations, ought we not also be praying that we, members of the Christian community, might have ears and hearts open enough to discern how God might be calling us to mission? Ought we not also to ask for the wisdom, the courage, and the generosity to identify and to commission those among us who might serve as our representatives, not just for the priesthood and the religious life, but also for other no less important roles of ministry and service? In other words, when we pray for vocations, more than simply praying for others, isn’t it crucially important that we also pray for ourselves?

The next time we do gather to pray for vocations, for what and for whom will you be praying?

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