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HOMILY: Embracing Our Divine Callings

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, President of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC) presides over the opening Mass at SERRA 80th International Convention, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, President of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC) presides over the opening Mass at SERRA 80th International Convention, Chiang Mai, Thailand, June 23, 2023. (Photo by Peter Monthienvichienchai, LiCAS News)

Embracing Our Divine Callings: Stewardship and Shepherding of Vocations

Scripture Readings: 2 Corinthians 11:18, 21-30 and Matthew 6:19-23 

Sermon by Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, SDB.
President of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences

June 23, 2023

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, 

May all the blessings be on you all.   It is a heartwarming moment to see so many of you gathered here in the Name of Jesus, to proclaim his good news and to inspire others to become laborers in his vineyard.  It is a call of the Valley. The Valley of Life. 

I strongly believe this International Convention of Serra 2023  is an initiative of the Holy Spirit.  His presence hovers over this convention as we gather here to reflect on two of the great passages of the Bible on the theme of stewardship and shepherding of Vocation. The feet of those who carry the good news, says the Bible, are beautiful. All of you are beautiful people,  bringing Good News.  May all of you be blessed. 

We need laborers for the Vineyard.  The  World Needs More Vocations. 

I do not need to repeat this: this world faces a multidimensional crisis.  As Pope Francis constantly reminds us the economic and environmental crisis and the wars and displacement continue to pose great danger to the dignity of the human person.  This epoch is a wounding epoch,  the human race is crucified by injustice and arrogance of power. 

This needs to be the epoch of prophets and Evangelizers:  the likes of the Old Testament prophets: to announce the Good News, to denounce the powers of darkness.  We need shepherds like Pope Francis whose heart continues to beat for the welfare of those in the ‘existential margins’ and whose mouth proclaims untiringly the Good News of Jesus.  

Today we hear the clarion call of Jesus: send labourers to the harvest.  He is calling us to take up the challenge of stewardship and shepherding of vocations. 

I am glad Serra has taken up this challenge and mandate.  We need men and women to be witnesses and proclaimers of the Good News. We need more vocations. Urgently in a world of relativism and moral dithering, we need men and women who can guide the world in the stormy seas of indifference, secularization and fundamentalism.   

Today’s readings offer us a guidepost, a road map. 

Our scriptures from 2 Corinthians 11:18, 21-30 and Matthew 6:19-23 shed light on the significance of embracing our callings and the eternal treasures that await those who faithfully serve. As we explore these passages, let us open our hearts to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and discover the profound message hidden within. 

I shall try to enumerate the various elements of the Vocation issue. 

Recognizing the Diverse Tapestry of Vocations:

Vocation is a simple call. In 2 Corinthians 11:18, the apostle Paul speaks of his sufferings and labours in the service of Christ. He emphasizes that even though he may not possess the eloquence or stature of others, his devotion and sacrifice are evident. This passage reminds us that God calls individuals from all walks of life into different vocations to fulfil His divine plan. Whether you are a teacher, doctor, artist, parent, or in any other occupation, your work has the potential to bring glory to God when done with dedication and love

The  Realization of the Transience of Material Wealth:

In Matthew 6:19-23, Jesus urges us not to store up treasures on earth where moths and rust destroy, but to focus on storing up treasures in heaven. It is a gentle reminder that material possessions are temporary and can distract us from our true purpose.  Vocations grow out of inspiration. Of seeing good Christians acting on God’s command. Our vocations should not solely revolve around accumulating wealth, power or achieving worldly success but should instead prioritize the pursuit of God’s kingdom and the well-being of others.

The Cost of Discipleship:

Jesus was candid. Discipleship has its costs. Turning back to 2 Corinthians 11:23-27, we witness Paul’s account of the hardships he endured as a servant of Christ. He faced beatings, imprisonments, shipwrecks, and countless perils for the sake of spreading the Gospel. This serves as a powerful reminder that vocations often require sacrifice and may involve challenges along the way. However, through our difficulties, God’s strength is made perfect, and His grace sustains us.

The Light Within:

Matthew 6:22-23 presents the metaphor of the eye as the lamp of the body. Jesus teaches that if our eyes are healthy, our whole body will be full of light. This metaphor calls us to examine the intentions and motivations behind our vocations. Are we seeking personal gain and recognition, or are we driven by a genuine desire to serve God and others? Our intentions shape the way we carry out our vocations and determine whether we bring light or darkness into the world.

As we contemplate the passages from 2 Corinthians 11:18, 21-30 and Matthew 6:19-23, we are reminded that our vocations are not merely about the work we do, but about the way we serve and glorify God in every aspect of our lives. Our vocations are divinely bestowed gifts, and when we embrace them with humility, dedication, and May God bless each one of us as we strive to embrace and fulfil our vocations, and may our lives become a testament to the transformative power of God’s calling. Amen.

The Catholic church has treated vocation with great respect, recognizing it coming from God.  The theology of Catholic Vocations is reflected in today’s readings.

Catholic Theology of Vocations 

Vocation, derived from the Latin word “vocare” meaning “to call,” refers to the unique and sacred calling that God extends to each one of us. As we delve into the theology behind vocations, let us open our hearts to the Holy Spirit, seeking a deeper understanding of how we can embrace and live out our callings in the Catholic Church.

1.   Created with Purpose:

At the core of the theology of vocations lies the belief that each human being is created by God with a unique purpose. In Genesis 1:27, we are reminded that we are made in the image and likeness of God. This divine imprint on our souls signifies that we are called to reflect God’s love, mercy, and goodness in the world. Our vocations, then, are not merely about a career or occupation but about a holistic response to God’s call to live a life of holiness and service.

2.       Baptism: The Foundation of Vocation:

In the Catholic Church, our journey of vocation begins with the sacrament of baptism. Through baptism, we are initiated into the body of Christ, becoming members of His Church. We are anointed and marked as His own, with a responsibility to follow His teachings and imitate His selfless love. Baptism is the foundation upon which our specific vocations are built, as it empowers us to participate in Christ’s mission and serve as His witnesses in the world.

3.  The Universal Call to Holiness:

One of the significant teachings of the Second Vatican Council is the universal call to holiness. In Lumen Gentium, we learn that all baptized individuals, regardless of their state in life, are called to grow in holiness. This means that our vocation is not limited to priests, religious, or consecrated individuals. It encompasses all the faithful, including married couples, single persons, and those in various professions. Each vocation presents a unique opportunity to sanctify ourselves and contribute to the building of God’s kingdom.

4. Discernment: Listening to God’s Voice:

Discernment is an essential aspect of embracing one’s vocation. It involves actively listening to God’s voice in prayer, seeking guidance from Scripture, the teachings of the Church, and the wise counsel of spiritual mentors. Through discernment, we can discover the path that aligns with our gifts, passions, and the needs of the Church and society. It is through this process that we discern whether God is calling us to the priesthood, religious life, marriage, single life, or a specific professional vocation.

5. The Communal Dimension of Vocations:

Vocations are not solely individualistic pursuits but have a communal dimension. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, we are reminded that we are diverse parts of the one body of Christ. Each vocation has a vital role to play in the overall mission of the Church. The priesthood and religious life provide spiritual leadership, while married couples exemplify the love of Christ and the Church in their union. Single persons and those in various professions have the opportunity to witness Christ’s presence in the secular realm. Together, we form a harmonious symphony, working collaboratively to bring God’s love to the world.

As we reflect on the theology behind vocations in the Catholic Church, let us remember that answering God’s call is not a one-time event but a lifelong journey. It requires a deep sense of humility, trust, and surrender to God’s will. Our vocations are gifts and opportunities to participate in God’s work in Asia.   Asia is still blessed.  May be the sons and daughters of this vast continent may hold great hope for Christianity in the world.   We need to count the blessings and get ready for the challenges. 

 Let me enumerate Asia’s blessings in Vocation Journey

Asia’s blessings. 

  1. Seminary Enrollment: Historically, Asia has shown a growth in seminary enrollment. Countries like India, the Philippines, and Vietnam have been recognized as having a significant number of seminarians. These regions have experience.  There are anxieties but seminaries are still full in our part of the world. 
  • Religious Orders: Asia is home to a diverse range of religious orders and congregations. Some congregations have seen growth, particularly those with a local cultural context and those involved in social justice and outreach programs.
  • Female Religious: Women religious, such as nuns and sisters, have made significant contributions to the Catholic Church in Asia. Many Asian countries have seen an increase in the number of women joining religious orders, engaging in education, healthcare, and social services.
  • Lay Involvement: The Catholic Church in Asia has witnessed an increased emphasis on lay involvement and the formation of lay leaders. This shift recognizes the importance of the laity’s active participation in the life of the Church and its unique vocations in various professional and social contexts.

The challenges to Catholic vocation in the modern world

In the modern world, Catholic vocations face numerous challenges that can impact the response to God’s call. We need to recognize and address these challenges to support and encourage individuals in their vocational discernment. Here are some common challenges faced by Catholic vocations in the modern world:

         I.Secularism and Relativism:

The prevalence of secularism and relativism in contemporary society can create obstacles for those discerning a Catholic vocation. The dominant cultural narrative often promotes individualism, materialism, and moral relativism, which can undermine the call to live a life of faith, selflessness, and adherence to Catholic teachings.

         II.    Misunderstandings and Stereotypes:

There can be misunderstandings and stereotypes associated with Catholic vocation Priests, religious, and consecrated individuals may face misconceptions about their role, celibacy, or the value of their contributions. These misconceptions can deter individuals from considering or embracing these vocations.

       III.    Declining Religious Practice:

The decrease in religious practice and the weakening of faith communities can impact the fostering of Catholic vocations. A lack of strong faith communities and support structures can make it more challenging for individuals to discern and pursue their vocation within the Church.

      IV.    Cultural and Societal Influences:

Cultural and societal pressures can affect vocational discernment. Materialistic and career-oriented priorities often take precedence over spiritual considerations. Social expectations, family pressures, and the desire for financial security can create conflicts and distractions for individuals discerning a Catholic vocation.

        V.    Scandals and Public Perception:

Instances of clergy misconduct and scandals within the Church can damage public perception and trust in Catholic vocations. These scandals can discourage individuals from considering religious life or priesthood and may cause doubt and hesitancy among those already discerning a vocation.

      VI.    Lack of Role Models and Support:

The absence of visible and inspiring role models within Catholic vocations can make it difficult for individuals to envision themselves in such roles. Additionally, limited support and formation programs for vocational discernment and ongoing spiritual guidance can hinder individuals in their journey of answering God’s call.

    VII.    Fear of Commitment:

The modern culture of instant gratification and fear of commitment can pose challenges to Catholic vocations. The commitment required for religious life, priesthood, or marriage can be perceived as burdensome or restrictive in a culture that values personal freedom and flexibility.

Conclusion:  Asia need not despair.  Vocations are strong in many parts of Asia. The challenge is treating this great resource as our stewardship and shepherding vocations to fulfilment, so that the Asian church may become a missionary church, bringing hope and peace to all parts of the world. Let this century become the Asian Century of Evangelization, both inside and outside Asia. For that let us all strive to increase the vocations.

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, SDB.
President of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences

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