One of my favorite works of art is found in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Basilica in Washington DC which covers the entire wall at the entrance to that church. I have included a picture of it for your reference, though seeing it here hardly does justice to its grandeur and imagery. It is called the Universal Call to Holiness. It is a reminder that all of us, by our baptism, are called to a holy way of life. And yet, insomuch as all of us are called to holiness, each of us has a particular path in which we live out such a call. Sometimes, we make comparisons and judge ourselves too harshly; we can feel small next to the greatest of saints, forgetting that it is God who has made us, unique like no one else, and that God put us in the particular time and place that we live in, so that we can do what no one else can. When it comes to holiness, no one particular walk is better than the others, and indeed, this relief sculpture depicts folks from all manners of life of every race and age including – if my memory serves me correctly – the town baker of the artist alongside mother Teresa. All of these figures are drawn into holiness; all of them equally are receiving the grace of the Holy Spirit moving in their particular life. It is the same with us.
Amidst our daily acts of love, our ongoing ministries, the households and relationships that we are a part of, the tasks and jobs and career paths that we embark on – amidst all these things, the Church has long recognized four life states in which holiness is lived out: Holy Orders, Marriage, Religious Life, and Single Life. These vocations, these life states, give definitive shape to the holiness of life that is unique to us in which all these other aspects of life revolve around.
For a moment, I want to draw our attention to Holy Orders. Around this time each year, the Diocese of Buffalo celebrates its ordinations, and over the past few weekends this year, 3 were ordained to the permanent diaconate, 1 to the transitional diaconate, and 2 were ordained priests. Praise God! After much human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral preparation and with approval by the people of God who have walked with them in their discernment, the bishop has consecrated them and sent them to serve after the example of Jesus taking up particular ministries of service and celebrating the sacraments with and for God’s people. It is my 5th anniversary this year; happy 1st anniversary to Fr. Ryan and happy 8th anniversary to Fr. Bryan; Deacon Rick, likewise, is celebrating 10 years of Diaconal Ministry this June! Ad multos annos – to many more years! This life is a joy because I know that I, in who God created me to be, could love in no greater way. I hope that you can say that about your own state of life, that your calling to holiness has allowed you to love others in the greatest possible way. May we all continue to discern how to better live out our callings.
Indeed, this is the task of discernment, to discover and to work towards realizing God’s plan for your life and the holiness God is calling you to. Nothing will bring you greater joy, I promise you.
As you are aware, there are not many responding to God’s call to ordained life nor are there many responding to religious life, and so the life of our parishes and religious communities is greatly affected by this, shaping the spiritual and sacramental life of our churches and parishes for years to come. But it might surprise you to hear that not many are responding to the call to married life either, as marriages in the Church continue to decline even more sharply. Furthermore, not many understand what single life as a vocation is all about. There are many who are looking for greater meaning and purpose in life. Discernment is much needed in our society today. God is calling… each of us… by name. How will we respond? Please work to foster and pray for vocations… all of them.