The World Day of Prayer for Vocations is observed on April 26, also known as Good Shepherd Sunday. This year marks the 52nd anniversary of this celebration initiated at the beginning of the Second Vatican Council.
The purpose is to publicly fulfil the Lord's instruction to "Pray the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into his harvest" (Mt 9:38; Lk 10:2). Over the centuries this call has focused on the Lord's call to the priesthood, diaconate, religious life, societies of apostolic life and secular institutes. Today, new responses to this call are being made throughout the world.
This issue of the Prairie Messenger features stories of how different people have responded to God's call in their lives. Many movements in the church have been initiated by religious communities and clergy. They continue to shine the spotlight of God's love and mercy on wounded people in today's society.
In his message for this Sunday, Pope Francis reminds us that Jesus sent not only his 12 apostles, but also another 72 disciples to continue his mission of evangelization. He notes that the church by its very nature is missionary and every believer has the vocation to evangelize. “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.”
Pope Francis ties this mission in with the Exodus experience of the Old Testament, when people were led to experience a new freedom: “The Christian vocation is first and foremost a call to love, a love which attracts us and draws us out of ourselves, 'decentring' us and triggering 'an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self toward its liberation through self-giving, and thus toward authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God" (Deus Caritas Est, 6).
The pope's message challenges not only those already dedicated to the priesthood or religious life, but he challenges all Christians to believe that the path to God is strewn with mercy, love and joy. Despite the obstacles, the journey has its rewards.
Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen will be well-known to our older readers. He was one of the first televangelists to use the media to spread the Gospel. For 20 years Sheen hosted the night-time NBC radio program The Catholic Hour (1930 - 1950) before moving to television and presenting Life Is Worth Living (1951 - 1957). Sheen twice won an Emmy award for most outstanding television personality.
The Catholic University of America, where Sheen taught philosophy and theology from 1926 - 50, recently sponsored a number of events, April 13 - 17, to honour Sheen. According to the university website, the archbishop's “whole-hearted embrace of modern means of communication gave him access to millions of American homes, and made him arguably the most influential American Catholic of the 20th century and a pioneer of the new evangelization.” The events included an April 13 panel discussion on Media and the New Evangelization.
The events also drew attention to the cause of promoting Sheen's sainthood.
A miracle necessary for his beatification has already cleared two of the three stages — first by a series of medical experts, then by a panel of theologians and then by the pope (pending).
The miracle involved a baby boy who was delivered stillborn but who survived after prayers for the intercession of Sheen. The child is now three years old and developing normally. “He was examined three different times by different medical experts and showed no signs of life for 61 minutes,” said Dominican Sister Maria Frassati Jakupcak, co-chair of the university's Fulton Sheen Legacy Committee. “The mother . . . was praying to (Sheen) the whole time. As the doctors were writing the death certificate, he started breathing.”
Last fall, Sheen's sainthood cause was suspended when the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois, became involved in a dispute over where Sheen's body should be kept. Whatever the outcome, his legacy as a media pioneer is well established.