Today, the Holy Father announced his Good Shepherd Sunday missive on vocations. Singed on 18 October 2011, Benedict wrote this letter for the 49th World Day of Prayer for Vocations that’s celebrated on the 4th Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday. The Pope’s message is exactly what I was trying to teach to the RCIA people yesterday: God’s love is total and our love for Him needs to be an icon –that is, mirrored– to the world. His theme this year is: Vocations, the Gift of the Love of God. A few paragraphs of the text follow:

Good Shepherd icon.jpg

In a famous page of the Confessions, Saint Augustine
expresses with great force his discovery of God, supreme beauty and supreme
love, a God who was always close to him, and to whom he at last opened his mind
and heart to be transformed: “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever
ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was
outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged
into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with
you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they
would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my
deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed
your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted
you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your
peace.” (X, 27.38). With these images, the Saint of Hippo seeks to
describe the ineffable mystery of his encounter with God, with God’s love that
transforms all of life.

It is a love that is limitless and that precedes us, sustains us and calls us along the path of life, a love rooted in an absolutely free gift of God. Speaking particularly of the ministerial priesthood, my predecessor, Blessed John Paul II, stated that “every ministerial action – while it leads to loving and serving the Church – provides an incentive to grow in ever greater love and service of Jesus Christ the head, shepherd and spouse of the Church, a love which is always a response to the free and unsolicited love of God in Christ” (Pastores Dabo Vobis, 25). Every specific vocation is in fact born of the initiative of God; it is a gift of the Love of God! He is the One who takes the “first step”, and not because he has found something good in us, but because of the presence of his own love “poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Rom 5:5).

In every age, the source of the divine call is to be found in the initiative of the infinite love of God, who reveals himself fully in Jesus Christ. As I wrote in my first Encyclical, Deus Caritas Est

God is indeed visible in a number of ways. In the love-story recounted by the Bible, he comes towards us, he seeks to win our hearts, all the way to the Last Supper, to the piercing of his heart on the Cross, to his appearances after the Resurrection and to the great deeds by which, through the activity of the Apostles, he guided the nascent Church along its path. Nor has the Lord been absent from subsequent Church history: he encounters us ever anew, in the men and women who reflect his presence, in his word, in the sacraments, and especially in the Eucharist” (No. 17).

The love of God is everlasting; he is faithful to himself, to the “word that he commanded for a thousand generations” (Ps 105:8). Yet the appealing beauty of this divine love, which precedes and accompanies us, needs to be proclaimed ever anew, especially to younger generations. This divine love is the hidden impulse, the motivation which never fails, even in the most difficult circumstances.

Dear brothers and sisters, we need to open our lives to this love. It is to the perfection of the Father’s love (cf. Mt 5:48) 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. Saint John of the Cross, writing to the Prioress of the Monastery of Segovia who was pained by the terrible circumstances surrounding his suspension, responded by urging her to act as God does: “Think nothing else but that God ordains all, and where there is no love, put love, and there you will draw out love” (Letters, 26).

It is in this soil of self-offering and openness to the love of God, and as the fruit of that love, that all vocations are born and grow. By drawing from this wellspring through prayer, constant recourse to God’s word and to the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, it becomes possible to live a life of love for our neighbours, in whom we come to perceive the face of Christ the Lord (cf. Mt 25:31-46). To express the inseparable bond that links these “two loves” – love of God and love of neighbour – both of which flow from the same divine source and return to it, Pope Saint Gregory the Great uses the metaphor of the seedling: “In the soil of our heart God first planted the root of love for him; from this, like the leaf, sprouts love for one another.” (Moralium Libri, sive expositio in Librum B. Job, Lib. VII, Ch. 24, 28; PL 75, 780D).

These two expressions of the one divine love must be lived with a particular intensity and purity of heart by those who have decided to set out on the path of vocation discernment towards the ministerial priesthood and the consecrated
life; they are its distinguishing mark. 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. Saint Peter’s vehement reply to the Divine Master: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you” (Jn 21:15) contains the secret of a life fully given and lived out, and thus one which is deeply joyful.