Last week I accompanied more than 100 pilgrims from England, Wales, and Scotland, on a pilgrimage to the tomb of Saint Peter as part of the Year of Faith. The pilgrimage, for seminarians, novices, and those discerning their vocation, was organised by the Pontifical Council for the promotion of the New Evangelisation, and included 6000 young adults from across the world. It was an impressive sight, but even more impressive was a profound sense that – close to Peter – this was a space in which these pilgrims could echo Peter’s words and say, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you”.
In Matthew 16 and John 21, the mission given to Peter by the Lord is as a result of Peter’s own confession of faith: You are the Christ the Son of the Living God; You know all things, you know that I love. So it is in the life of all Christians, that the acceptance of the Lord’s divinity and our openness to his love for us, precedes our true realisation of the vocation he has given us, and so precedes any true hope we might have for happiness. The Christian must first truly follow Christ, in order for the Lord to entrust him or her with the mission and state of life which will bring us to heaven. As others have started to say: discipleship discerns vocation.
The experience of this pilgrimage, led by the Invocation team responsible for the highly successful and popular vocations festivals at Oscott College for the past three years, reflected the overall informal style and relaxed approach of the whole Invocation model: giving young adults the tools they need to deepen their relationship with the Lord Jesus, and to ask – of their own volition – what it is he is calling them to. The Sacred Priesthood and Religious Life are presented in this encounter, but they are not pushed; rather the attractiveness – what Pope Francis keeps calling the ‘joy and courage’ – of such lives is left for the young Christian, seeking to follow to Christ, to find for his or her self. In this a deeper experience of conversion is offered; a more profound commitment to the Lord and his Church is made.
This is also a project of the New Evangelisation. Invocation is not simply in the old pattern of a vocations discernment or promotion group. Rather, it promotes the fullness of faith in all beauty and truth – what Hans Urs von Balthasar terms ‘the symphony of truth’ – as a means of discovering Christ and fulfilling the vocation common to all the baptised: the universal call to holiness which is so much a part of the documents of the Second Vatican Council and the writings of Blessed John Paul II. As I have written before, young people are not interested in making the counter-cultural decision to follow a religion if it does not make a difference to their lives, which in turn trumps the loud cry of society to conform to secularist and relativist ideals. A radical living-out of the Christian religion in the lives of priests and religious is more likely to attract the unchurched and poorly-catechised, than the ‘Catholicism Lite’ of compromise with the world which they desire to escape.
In Rome last week this became clear as many of the pilgrims made a renewed commitment to follow the way of the Lord Jesus, and to open their hearts to his will for their lives. In some cases, we pray, this will mean lives lived consecrated to the Lord in the priesthood or in religious vows; in others it will mean strong families, living the life of Christ in a society which is increasingly distant from this fundamental building block of any civilised society. Whatever vocation emerges, these young people give us all an example to follow. May we, like them, be ready with open hearts to set ourselves aside in favour of Christ, and to say to him – without reserve – here I am, Lord, I have come to do your will.