Celebrating the Year for Consecrated Life with the local religious on World Day of Prayer for Vocations  during the novena to St Catherine.

On Sunday the 26th April, Good Shepherd Sunday, we were joined by local religious for the celebration of Vespers followed by a get together.

In his message for today’s world day of prayer for vocations, Pope Francis reflects on the Exodus experience for he says “to offer one’s life in mission is possible only if we are able to leave ourselves behind” and he continues: “At the root of every Christian vocation we find this basic movement, which is part of the experience of faith – transcending ourselves, leaving behind our comfort and the inflexibility of our ego in order to centre our life in Jesus Christ. 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 on-going exodus out of the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus towards authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God’ (Deus Caritas Est, 6).”

But this going out of ourselves, leaving all behind in order to put our lives and our whole existence at the service of the Kingdom of Godis only made possible when we have come to know and experience the God who is Love – the LOVE of which our Mass Readings for this fourth Sunday of Easter speak.  St John invites us to “think of the love the Father has lavished on us by letting us be called God’s children” (1Jn 3:1) and in the Gospel we hear Jesus telling us that He is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep…. the good Shepherd who knows his own and his own know him. (cf Jn 10:11f)

St Catherine of Sienaunderstood God’s infinite love for the human race in a unique way and it was this experience of God’s love which enabled her to respond with her whole being to spend herself totally in the service of the Church.  In the DialogueCatherine, speaking to the Father, says: “With unimaginable love you looked upon your creatures within your very self and you fell in love with us.  So it was love that made you create us and give us being, just so that we might taste your supreme eternal good….O depth of love!…..  You, God, became human and we have been made divine! ” (D13).  The knowledge of this love emboldens Catherine in her intercessory prayer for the whole world when she says: “in the name of this unspeakable love, then, I beg you – I would force you even! – to have mercy on your creatures.”

Flowing from her deep understanding of God’s infinite love, her biographer Raymond of Capua tells us that Catherine’s short life was governed by two fundamental maxims. The first was her understanding that she was she who is not and God is HE WHO IS (L 95/6).  And the second maxim follows from the first and is contained in it: “Daughter, think of me; if you do I will think of you.” (L 97).  Raymond explains that Catherine understood this instruction as follows: “once the soul admits that of itself it is nothing and that its all is of God, it must of necessity go on to place its whole reliance not on what it does itself but on what God does.  It leaves it to the Lord to take care of it.  When a soul puts all its trust in the Lord it is not thereby absolved from doing at the same time all that lies in its own power.  Its trust in him springs from love of Him, and it is of the nature of love to kindle in the lover a longing to be with the absent loved-one.  This, however, cannot be unless the loving soul does its utmost to bring it about.  The more it loves. The more it exerts itself, while yet continuing to put its trust not in its own exertions but in the workings of its Creator.  This way of acting it learns through being firmly persuaded of its own nothingness, and of the fullness of being and of truth which exists in its Creator.” (cf L99). 

Perhaps Catherine’s wisdom offers us an answer to the question which Pope Francis posed in his message to us religious at the opening of the year for consecrated life: “Is Jesus really our first and only love, as we promised he would be when we professed our vows?  Only if he is, will we be empowered to love, in truth and mercy,   every person who crosses our path.  For we will have learned from Jesus the meaning and practice of love.  We will be able to love because we have his own heart.” 

As we are gathered here in prayer this evening let us ask for the grace to respond to Pope’s Francis’ invitation to “wake up the world” remembering that if we are what we should be we would set the whole world on fire.”  (cf St Catherine)