Good afternoon, and welcome. Thank you for coming. I hope you will find the experience helpful and will be able to carry something from it into your future lives, because it is about learning how to walk with God on the path of life that lies ahead of you.
You will be well aware of the Synod just coming to a conclusion in Rome where the Church has been focussing on how best to serve the needs and answer the hopes of her younger generation. I don’t know if any of you have noticed a slight change in the title of the Synod. It first appeared as Youth, the Faith and Vocational Discernment, but over time it became, Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.
When Pope Francis spoke to the young people gathered in Rome for the pre-synod meeting last March he objected to the term Youth. He said there is no such thing as “the Youth” there are only individual young people, each one with a face, a name, a life. That is how Pope Francis sees people, because that is how God sees people, not as a collective, but as individuals whom he knows by name, and for each one of whom he has a personal love and a loving plan. Obviously, the first and fundamental desire that God has for us is that we should live in close relationship with him, as friends and followers of Jesus. But the quality of this relationship with God is unique to each one of us, and the particular way in which it unfolds in our lives is what constitutes our personal vocation. To discover our own vocation then is what gives the deepest meaning to our existence. It is a gift to be welcomed, because it is the way to the fullness of life and love.
As you know, a vocation is a call, and it has two aspects. Your vocation is a call to become fully the person God created you to be, and it is a call to a particular form of service, of self-giving. First of all, you are called to become fully the person God intended you to be. Do you ever ask yourself, who am I really? And am I becoming the person I am meant to be, or simply the person the culture around me tells me I should be? To walk with God on the path of life is always a journey of self-discovery, a journey into authenticity. It is to walk deeper into the mystery of your own being, and anything worthwhile in life has to be grounded there.
The second aspect of vocation is a call to a particular form of of self-giving, of service to others. We all want to know that our lives have a purpose beyond ourselves; we want to be of some benefit, to bear some fruit for others during our time on earth. It might seem obvious to you that priests and religious offer a service to the Church and to humanity. But married couples also give a form of service, witnessing to the reality of committed love and bringing a new generation into the world. Every career or profession is a service of some kind to humanity. The ways of serving are endlessly varied, drawing on all the gifts and abilities with which God has blessed us.
Do you ever ask yourself: “What is the purpose of my life”? I don’t mean, the purpose of life in general – that is a philosophical question. But what is the purpose of my own life, the one life that has been given to me to live?
The image on the front of your leaflet carries a text from the prophet Jeremiah: I know what plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord… to give you a future and a hope. God knows the purpose of your life, he knows the plans he has in mind for you. And he doesn’t intend that they should remain a secret. He wants you to understand what is his burning desire for you. In order for you to know it, you have only to ask him and he will tell you. Jesus encourages us in the Gospel: “Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will open”. If you ask, God will answer you. Often He will answer through his word in scripture; but he will also answer you in the events and circumstances of your life; he will answer you sometimes through the guidance of others; but above all, he will answer you in the silence of your own heart – if you are listening. But in order to be able to listen to the voice of God in your heart it will be necessary, some of the time, to silence the many other voices that compete for your attention. You will need to find times of silence, places of silence, ways of cultivating silence in a world of endless noise.
During the liturgical prayer that will follow shortly, there will be a period of silent prayer and I will say a few words beforehand about how you might use that time. It is our way of sharing with you something that is central to our own vocation here in Carmel. A Carmelite’s particular form of service to the world around her is to live in continual openness to God on behalf all humanity, and so we spend two separate hours each day in silent prayer. We won’t require two hours of you! Or even one hour. But we would like to offer you a brief experience of the silence and stillness that will allow you to be attentive to God’s presence and to hear what he will say to you in the solitude of your own heart.
We will now sing part of the Divine Office, Afternoon Prayer. You can follow in your leaflet and I hope you will be able to pick up the psalm tone and join in.