Christ, the Beginning and the End

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Cunningham_formal_robes

Christ yesterday and today;
the Beginning and the End;
the Alpha;
and the Omega.
All time belongs to him;
and all the ages.
To him be glory and power;
through every age and for ever.  Amen.

These words, spoken at the beginning of the Easter Vigil, came to my mind on Sunday, April 15th as I was driving home from Washington where Christopher R. Seibt, a seminarian for the Diocese of Syracuse, was ordained to the diaconate.  Shortly after the ordination ceremony, I learned of the death of Msgr. William Kelly a distinguished priest of the diocese, born in 1922 and ordained in 1947. We welcomed Christopher to Holy Orders as he enters his final year of preparation for the priesthood and we celebrated the life and faithful service of a priest who served in our diocese for almost 65 years. For Christopher, it is the beginning; for Msgr. Kelly it is the end of his earthly pilgrimage and a glorious new beginning into eternal life. Privileged to know both men, I could not help but think how our personal “beginning” and “end” and all the time in between depend on Christ “the beginning and the end.” To Him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

   This coming Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday, we celebrate the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. Pope Paul VI instituted the World Day of Prayer for Vocations in 1964 by praying that Jesus, “the divine Shepherd of  the spirit,” would continue to attract “burning spirits and generous young people” to be His followers and ministers of the Gospel.

   The purpose of the World Day of Prayer is to fulfill the Lord’s instruction to “pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest” (Mt 9:38; Lk 10:2). While appreciating all vocations, the Church concentrates its attention this day on vocations to the ordained ministries, (priesthood and diaconate), to the Religious Life in all its forms (male and female, contemplative and apostolic), to societies of apostolic life, to secular institutes in their diversity of services and membership and to the missionary life.

   I once heard a vocation described as the answer of love to the call of love. I was reminded of this description when I considered this year’s theme for the World Day of Prayer for Vocations: Vocation, the Gift of the Love of God. God’s love is gratuitous. It is pure gift. He has loved us eternally “before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4). He is the Good Shepherd who knows us and lays down His life for us.  God’s love “is limitless and precedes us, sustains us and calls us along the path of life, a love rooted in an absolutely free gift of God” (Message for Vocation Sunday 2012, Benedict XVI). From the abundance of His love, God calls each of us in a uniquely personal way to be His disciple.

   So often we hear someone ask a child or young person, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” The question might better be posed, “What does God want you to be?” By our Baptism we are all called to holiness. “This holiness . . . is constantly shown forth in the fruits of grace which the Spirit produces in the faithful; it is expressed in many ways by the individuals who, each in his own state of life, tend to the perfection of love” (The Constitution on the Church, #39).

   The love of God has been poured into our hearts and we, for our part, are called to respond to this gift by loving God and our neighbor. Most people live out this call in the married state through love and fidelity to their spouse and the care of their children; others remain single devoting themselves to a life of charity and service. Some, however, are called to the ordained ministry or to the consecrated life in its various forms. In discerning a vocation the vital question is, “What does God want me to be?” Where is God calling me to respond in love to His invitation to follow Him? “It is to the perfection of the Father’s love that Jesus Christ calls us every day! The high standard of the Christian life consists in loving ‘as’ God loves; with a love that is shown in the total, faithful and fruitful gift of self” (Vocation Sunday Message 2012, Benedict XVI).

   God’s call is often unpretentious and quiet. It invites without fanfare and manifests itself in the ordinary events of our lives. Discerning God’s invitation requires a listening heart that is aware of Him as person who is close to us and loves us. It requires an inner silence that is disposed to hear God’s voice, often uttered as a “small whispering sound” (1Kings 19: 12). It requires a relationship with God developed through prayer and the reception of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.

   For what do we pray on this day? We pray that the Good Shepherd will continue to attract “burning spirits and generous young people” to be His followers and ministers of the Gospel. We pray that young men and women will listen to God’s voice and prayerfully discern what He wills for them. We pray that they will be open to the possibility of a vocation to the ordained ministry and consecrated life.  We pray that parents and family support a son or daughter who chooses the ordained ministry and consecrated life. We pray for the men and women who are currently engaged in formation programs in seminaries and religious communities.

   “Christ, the Beginning and the End; the Alpha and the Omega. All time belongs to him.” As all time belongs to Christ so too does each of us belong to Him. He is our personal beginning and end. We ask Him, “the divine Shepherd of the spirit,” to speak to the hearts of men and women and invite them to the ordained ministry and the consecrated life. In turn, may they respond in love to this call of love. “Love of God, which priests and consecrated persons are called to mirror, however imperfectly, is the motivation for answering the Lord’s call to special consecration through priestly ordination or the profession of the evangelical counsels” (Vocation Sunday Message 2012, Benedict XVI).  

   Please join me in prayer this Sunday, and on many days thereafter, asking the Lord of the harvest to bless the Church and our beloved Diocese with vocations to the ordained ministry and consecrated life. He will provide for His Church. “All time belongs to him; and all the ages. To him be glory and power; through every age and for ever. Amen.”

   If you have an intention you would like me to remember in prayer during the coming weeks, please forward it to me at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.

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