On Sunday April 20, over 50,000 people joined together to participate in the celebration of Mass with Pope Benedict XVI at Yankee Stadium in New York. It was an absolutely beautiful event that will forever be etched in my memory. During the procession following the Mass, many of us priests were able to be very close to the Holy Father and kiss his papal ring. For me, this was a highlight of the day, as it was a sign of unity with the Successor of Peter and therefore with all other Christians throughout the world who are in union with him. To kiss the Ring of the Fisherman made me feel the communion that exists between all Christians and filled me with hope for the Archdiocese of Boston.
There is a theme that Pope Benedict repeated several times during his pastoral visit to the United States: Freedom. At the Rally for Youth and Seminarians and Religious on Saturday April 19 at St Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y., His Holiness spoke about the connection between freedom, truth and relativism. He taught us that following Christ makes us free, because he is the Way, the Truth and the Life:
“In some circles to speak of truth is seen as controversial or divisive, and consequently best kept in the private sphere. And in truth’s place--or better said its absence--an idea has spread which, in giving value to everything indiscriminately, claims to assure freedom and liberate conscience. This we call relativism. But what purpose has a ‘freedom’ which, in disregarding truth, pursues what is false and wrong? How many young people have been offered a hand which in the name of freedom or experience has led them to addiction, to moral or intellectual confusion, to hurt, to a loss of self-respect, even to despair and even so tragically and sadly to the taking of their own life? Dear friends, truth is not an imposition. Nor is it simply a set of rules. It is a discovery of the One who never fails us; the One whom we can always trust. In seeking truth we come to live by belief because ultimately truth is a person: Jesus Christ. That is why authentic freedom is not an opting out. It is an opting in; nothing less than letting go of self and allowing oneself to be drawn into Christ’s very being for others.”
By speaking of truth and freedom, the pope confirmed what he said the day he was elevated to the papacy: “If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return.”
Reflecting upon my experiences in doing vocation ministry for the last few years, I have come to see that at the center of discerning each person’s call in life is the question of freedom. We all ask ourselves: How can I find the freedom I desire? What, or who will fulfill this seemingly endless yearning present in me to live in total freedom? Pope Benedict, during his pastoral visit has taught us that the fulfillment of this desire is found in the person of Jesus Christ. When we freely choose to follow Jesus who is the Way the Truth and the Life, when we “opt in” to the life of grace as the saints do, we find a freedom indescribable.
The main theme of the pastoral visit of the Holy Father has been “Christ our Hope.” Today, I am filled with hope because I am convinced that many young people who heard the Holy Father’s message about freedom will also find in his message an invitation to freely serve Christ and his Church as priests.
Joining many others in prayer, I invite you also to ask God to inspire the men he is calling to enter the seminary at this time to apply and enter. The best way to know is to say yes to the invitation, and when we follow what the Lord desires of us it makes us most free.
Father Daniel F. Hennessey is director of the office of vocations of the Archdiocese of Boston.
Heeding the call is presented in collaboration with the archdiocese’s Office of Vocations and is a forum for topics intended to motivate and inspire those considering a call to ordained ministry or religious life.