| Friendship with Jesus is what nurtures vocations
For Catholics, the Christmas season officially wraps up with the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord shortly after Epiphany. However, each January the Catholic Church in the United States sneaks in another celebration beginning with the Baptism — National Vocation Awareness Week. NVAW, to be observed Jan. 13-19 this year, is an opportunity for dioceses, parishes and religious communities to promote vocations through prayer and education.
Vocation awareness might not seem like a topic of great interest to young people today, but a recent study found that more than 600,000 youth and young adults in the United States have seriously considered a religious vocation in the Church.
How can we help these thousands of young people to take the next step? Along with prayer, a good way to encourage them would be to talk about vocation in terms that are relevant to them. Pope Benedict XVI does just that.
Our Holy Father seems to understand the pivotal role of friendship in the lives of young people, often telling them that they are uniquely able to reach their peers with the Good News of the Gospel. The pope encourages young people to be missionaries to their contemporaries by inviting them to an experience of faith and remaining close to them on their life journey.
But the Holy Father goes much deeper. He knows that the ultimate friendship is with Jesus Christ himself, and he is not afraid to share this conviction with young people. "There are many people who bring you happiness, but there is also a great friend who is the creator of the joy of all, and with whom our hearts are filled with a joy that surpasses all other, and which lasts throughout our lives: this friend is Jesus," he told a group of university students in Rome in December.
These words echo the Pope's very first homily in 2005, when he encouraged young people to open wide the doors of their hearts to Christ: "If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. … Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return."
As a young girl St. Jeanne Jugan, foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor, sought this friendship with Jesus Christ. It led her from a marriage proposal to the realization that God wanted her for himself; from membership in a lay ecclesial movement to establishing a religious congregation devoted to the care of the elderly poor.
During National Vocation Awareness Week, if you know a young person whom you feel would make a good priest or religious, reach out and tell that person. Share our Holy Father's words about friendship with Jesus Christ with them. Tell the person that if they give themselves to Christ, He will give them a joy that surpasses all others — the joy of being "no longer servants, but friends" (cf. John 15:15).
(Sister Constance Carolyn Veit, LSP, is director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor in the United States.)
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