As we celebrate Vocations Sunday, much will be written and reflected on the vocation to priesthood and religious life. It is the one weekend in the year when the Church can unashamedly promote the vocation of all who are baptised but also can take the opportunity to speak, preach and pray for vocations to religious life and priesthood. There are many excellent resources available for preachers - Pope Benedict had written an exceptionally fine letter to the church for the 49th World Day of Prayer for Vocations on the theme of 'Vocations, the Gift of the Love of God' - with a very strong emphasis on the importance of being open to the love of God through prayer and living the Christian life, but especially through a deep appreciation of the Eucharist.
Any reflection this weekend as we celebrate Vocations Sunday should incorporate the joy of vocation. If we are merely reflecting on how best to attract vocations, or diluting the notion of the call of God in our lives as religious, then we are missing the essential ingredient - joy.
One of the most important questions for religious life in the 21st century is the witness that we give to others. For so long, we have been concerned primarily with the content of our message - and while this is important it can cloud our visibility as religious.The mission of religious life in our time is to live with a sense of profound hope in the Lord - in essence to live with joy.
It seems to me that joy is an essential ingredient if we are to promote out way of life as a real possibility for following Jesus today and into the future. Religious life has not always been a place of contentment for people. The upheaval in the church in the past decades contributed to a distinct sense of discontentment for many. The polarisation of views on the church currently does not always lend itself to joyful religious life either - however the vocational culture of our communities and congregations must be built on joy. Joy has to be an essential characteristic of religious life today. If we are to invite the young and not so young to consider this way of life - with their many questions and challenges - we must offer them the joy of living religious life. To fail to do so will not encourage them. So we must welcome new entrants with respect and with joy and allow the Lord to influence their decisions and their desires.
For those who lack hope about vocations, our joyful living of religious life can be the greatest witness and invitation to those who wish to follow the Good Shepherd.