This fourth Sunday of Easter is often referred to as “Good Shepherd Sunday” as the Gospel each year is taken from the tenth chapter of St John’s Gospel where Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd. Drawing on the theme of the Gospel this Sunday is often taken as an opportunity to speak about vocations. For the past 53 years the Pope of the day has issued a short letter on the theme of vocations. Thus Pope Francis has done so for today, the theme being “the Church, mother of vocations”.
The purpose of the World Day of Prayer for Vocations is to publicly 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). This Sunday is an opportunity each year not only to pray for but also to bring focus on the need for vocations. This afternoon I am joining the Carmelite Community for a Holy Hour praying for vocations.
However, marriage is also a vocation, a very important vocation. The word, vocation, means a calling (from the Latin vocare to call). As Christians we have a primary vocation and that is to be a follower of Christ. Christ has called us to follow him. Within the general Christian vocation is the calling to a particular path in life – to single life, to marriage, to the priesthood or to religious life. This second calling is the way in which our general vocation as a Christian is to be concretely realised in a particular state of life. The vocation that most Catholics pursue is that of marriage.
At this Mass as we honour those who are celebrating anniversaries of marriage, it is fitting for us to focus on the vocation to marriage.
Last weekend Pope Francis promulgated his Apostolic Exhortation on marriage. It is called “The Joy of Love” and is the outcome of two synods held on consecutive years, where the Pope listened attentively to the experience of the Church across the world in relation to marriage and family life.
He has written a thoroughly modern document. What is noticeable about it is its down-to-earth realism. It is a very readable document – a little long perhaps (250 pages) – but something very accessible and I recommend it to you.
He speaks a great deal about the human experience of marriage and family. He is aware that there is not just one form of family. Thus, there is no ideal form of family. And families will always be a work in progress. He says, “No family drops down from heaven perfectly formed; families need constantly to grow and mature in the ability to love”. He knows well that families are imperfect and that they experience many struggles as well as many joys.
Pope Francis speaks about the love that is the driving force in family. For example, in speaking about growing in a loving relationship, he says that marriage “is an affective union, spiritual and sacrificial, which combines the warmth of friendship and erotic passion, and endures long after emotions and passions subside”. (AL 120)
He speaks about marriage as the “greatest form of friendship” and comments that a marriage will incorporate the traits of good friendship: “concern for the good of the other, reciprocity, intimacy, warmth, stability and the resemblance born of a shared life”. (AL 123)
He speaks about marriage as the “great commitment” which needs a love which is “fought for, reborn, renewed and reinvented until death”. He says, “In marriage the joy of love needs to be cultivated” (AL 126)
The Pope speaks beautifully about the virtue of tenderness in marriage, saying that such a quality reveals a love that is “free of selfish possessiveness”. (AL 127) He encourages married couples to see that their love for each other “involves the joy of contemplating and appreciating [the] innate beauty and sacredness” of the other which, he says, “is greater than my needs”. (AL 127)
My dear couples who are celebrating various milestones in your marriage relationship, we the community here today congratulate you on your journey so far and pray that you may have many more years together.
You are a witness and inspiration to us that the ideals of marriage are indeed possible. You are a sign of the wisdom of God’s plan for human life, expressed in a lifelong union of marriage. I am sure you would be the first to acknowledge that your family life has not been perfect, yet today you can say that you have been faithful; you have walked a path of love within your marriage and in your family life. And this love has been fruitful.
Love within the family context takes on many shapes and expressions, unique to each family. Family is, in fact, as Pope Francis says, a “dynamic process”, adding, “one which advances gradually with the progressive integration of the gifts of God”. I am sure you can identify with these words. Your marriage and your family have advanced over the years and God’s grace has been in evidence.
Pope Francis speaks of couples being united in a richly encompassing and lasting union with a “mixture of enjoyment and struggles, tensions and repose, pain and relief, satisfactions and longings, annoyances and pleasures”. Marriage is a life project which he sees as maturing into the human experience intimacy and love.
Today, we salute you for the milestone you have reached. We pray that God will continue to bless and make fruitful your vocation as husband and wife, as father and mother.
Archbishop Julian Porteous
Saturday, 16 April 2016