The word “Vocation”
“Talking about vocation always leads to thinking of young people, since “youth is the privileged season for life choices and for responding to God’s call” (XV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, Final Document, 140). True as this is, we must not forget that vocation is a life-long journey. Certainly, it has to do with the years of youth in terms of the overall direction we choose to take in response to God’s invitation, but it also has to do with the years of adulthood in terms of its fruitfulness and our discernment of how best to do good. Our life is meant to bear fruit in charity, and this entails the call to holiness that the Lord addresses to everyone, each in his or her own way. (Francis, Address to Participants in the Congress of National Vocations Centers of the Churches of Europe, June 6, 2019).
If one listens to it, the word “vocation,” one sees it weaving a dense web of connections and raising in a new light the decisive questions of life: freedom, desire, choice, will, love, the future, death, the person, life, happiness... It is strange to think that young people find it difficult (or impossible) to talk about their vocation! Yet, in them, one can hear the cry of many of these questions, yearning for an answer or, more simply, to be heard. It is the same yearning that inhabits the hearts of all, those who believe and those who do not, those who seek, those who walk in this history, made to fulfil together “God’s gifts are interactive (Francis, Christus vivit, 289).
How can we not recognize that this yearning is an extreme need for meaning within a reality that does not seem to offer it, but almost denies it or makes it die within the many dramas humanity goes through? The challenge to respond to life is immense, and welcoming it to be witnesses of its Meaning is the great vocation to which we are all called. Conscious or not, in the heart of every man burns a question, “For whom am I?” To know it, to be able to answer it, is like finding a treasure in which is contained the secret of all true meaning of living, its happiness. Every person who lives on this earth is a vocational being because the gaze of his Creator is vocational gaze: just as it is true that God-the Meaning, the Love, the Feast, the Joy… is the vocation of man, so man is the very vocation of God, and Scripture tells this from its first to its last page. The Word tells a story of Covenant between God and man, between man and God, a story lived in history, in time and space between desire and reality, between fullness and limit, between finitude and greatness, between relationship and orphanhood. Vocation, and every vocation, is a call to incarnate within the journey of personal histories and the history of the human family with the awareness and responsibility that to respond or not to respond, to choose or not to choose, is the question of life, of its success or failure.
The clear, direct exhortation that our Founder told the first Apostolines to address to people, especially young people, resonates strongly in the heart: “Life is God’s gift. How do you want to use it?” In this time in history when it seems that our dreams do not find their names, what a great responsibility the prophecy of arousing them, sustaining them, helping to name them and realize them together because, as Pope Francis often says, “no one is saved alone.”
Fr. Alberione and Vocation: a look from Notes on Pastoral Theology
We can deepen the theme of Fr. Alberione’s care for vocations by beginning with his basic conviction: God calls everyone and to everyone, without exclusion, it is urgent to get the good proclamation of vocation across and to make different vocations known. Helping each person to understand his or her place in the world and in the Church helps him or her discover its truth for the full development and fulfillment of the whole person.
Several times he addressed the urgency of considering the “vocational problem,” as it was called in those years. His attitude is profoundly evangelical because he does not stop at the problematic aspect of the need for vocations; on the contrary, he finds reason for greater impetus in the commitment to reach out to all men, through what for him is the “fundamental work in the Church”. In the pre-conciliar period, when in the field of vocations there was talk above all of “recruiting” vocations, Primo Maestro had strongly innovative inspirations that anticipated the Second Vatican Council. His thinking was based on a clear theology of vocation, whereby he stated, “Vocation is the work of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in a soul for the good of the Church. I mean not only the call but the correspondence and consummation of us in Christ Jesus to heaven. The Father intervenes: vocation does not begin at twelve or fifteen or twenty years of age, but it is in the mind of God; it is that particular act of love when Father and Son and Holy Spirit agree, shall we say, in eternal counsel. They agree in thought and decision: let us make a chosen soul for the good of the Church and at the service of the salvation of all mankind”.
For us Apostolines, it is spontaneous to recognize Fr. Alberione as a “prophet” in the field of vocations starting from the experience lived with him by the first sisters and from all the teaching he gave us in delivering us the vocational charism. But it is very nice to go and discover how this attention to God’s call in the life of each person, discernment and the need for vocation formation, were present in him from the very beginning of his priestly ministry and, perhaps, the presuppositions of his vocational sensitivity we can already find in his vocational history which, as we know, went through moments of shadows and lights.
Looking at Fr. Alberione as a young priest, we can well see how his personal history and the first pastoral commitments entrusted to him reveal that even his formators and superiors had seen in him the signs of a profound vocational sensitivity: it is significant that he was entrusted, as soon as he was ordained, with the task of spiritual direction in the seminary and the formation of young priests (cf. AD 83; 107).
Reading in particular, Appunti di Teologia Pastorale (Notes on Pastoral Theology), the first text is written in 1912, full of advice and pastoral experience that Fr. Alberione wished to communicate to the young priests of the diocese of Alba, it becomes evident how his great attention embraced all aspects of it, up to and including vocational ministry. With today’s sensibility, we can speak of evangelization, which, in the life of each person, must result in a vocational journey as a path to holiness.
We dwell on a point Fr. Alberione makes about the ministry of the confessor, in which he recognizes the delicate task of vocational guidance. What emerges most forcefully is the call to the commitment of discernment: “Let it be carefully studied whether it is really a vocation: if the result is affirmative, it should be energetically encouraged and supported; if the result is negative will be the duty to dissuade”. Today’s pastoral ministry of vocations is particularly oriented to discernment, thus to a deep knowledge of the person and the signs of God’s action in his life. This dimension, as we see in the text, was very early in Fr. Alberione’s life and is at the heart of his commitment to accompanying young people in particular.
He first learned to work on himself, treasuring what he personally experienced and matured from his earliest years, also with the wise spiritual guidance of Fr. Francis Chiesa and then held it in high regard in his pastoral service and in the journey of his foundations.
Some of Fr. Alberione’s thoughts to the first Apostolines, communicated beginning in August 1961, can precisely be read in synopsis with Notes on Pastoral Theology: “...ability to know vocations; it takes a spiritual “clinical eye,” a vocationist, a supernatural instinct. It takes a gift from God, precisely a new vocation from him. One who wants to be a religious is not always suited to a given institute. It is necessary to distinguish the different vocations, in their various tasks”.
“It is a great science! Well! One can already do some things, but to know the will of God on a soul, the aptitudes, the psychology, the habits she has had, the spiritual state and then the tendencies either to the contemplative life, or to the missionary life, or to the life of schools and studies, etc., because according to the intention for the faith, is to become truly vocationist, Apostoline well”.
The correspondence, in Notes on Pastoral Theology, is the call to live a radical attitude of trust, gratuitousness and freedom, fundamental in those working in the vocation field: “God knows well which and how many priests and religious are needed by his Church. As a foresighted, provident Father he gives a vocation to those who believe: to us the obligation to study who has it, to cultivate it, to help it in every way”.
The vocational dimension in the text is not limited only to the field of orientation and discernment, but also expands to that of vocational catechesis, of evangelization of the “good news” of vocation and vocations, which asks those engaged in it, to have a universal heart to accompany in an all-encompassing search.
The First Master’s love for vocations is inventive, and there are many ways of expression that the Founder’s inspired imagination was able to find, from the most ordinary ones to the foundation of stable institutions such as the Queen of Apostles Institute for Vocations, the Pious Union “Prayer, Suffering and Charity for All Vocations” and the Regina Apostolorum Shrine in Rome.
It is always very timely what he said to the Daughters of St. Paul and then in various ways repeated to the first Apostolines, which is expressed as the fruit of his experience: “The problem of the future... constitutes at the bottom the travail of every soul. It is therefore a beautiful charity to help young people ask themselves the question, “And what will you do?” To make young people understand that while it is important to be able to choose and guess well about one’s career, one’s profession, it is far more important to choose one’s state. To pray and enlighten souls for the solution to this fundamental problem is a great thing, and it is exquisite goodness, it is meritorious charity. To work for vocations is to serve the Church. The vocation problem is the principal problem of every man, it is the most current and urgent problem of the Church”.
The grace of the vocational apostolate in the Pauline Family
Following the path of our Founder in the continuous attention throughout his long life to all vocations, we cannot help but feel a strong ecclesial breath and find a common patrimony that he bequeathed to the entire Pauline Family, beginning with the principles of spirituality oriented to living and communicating to the world Jesus Master Way, Truth and Life. Each Congregation or Institute of our Family finds in his meditations strong reminders of the openness and universality of the vocational dimension in living and expressing the different apostolates. Thus, he told the Daughters of St. Paul: “[...] pray to Mary for all religious congregations and for the vocations of all institutes”. And to the Pauline Cooperators, he wrote: “In particular: Promote the work of vocations. Prepare vocations, from families, from parishes. Cultivate vocations, with gentleness and constancy. Write and enlighten; choose young people, especially on holidays. Today choose the best young people aged 18 to 25”. This vocational passion comes to us Apostolines with the gift of the specific vocational charism, in a fundamental perspective that is love for the Church and esteem for all the vocations that constitute it.
The Founder directly recalls the fundamental references of the Pauline Family as true models for exercising the vocational apostolate in the Church.
“There are countless methods, and teachings regarding the cultivation and search for vocations. In the first place, however, we must look to Jesus, as he did; to the Queen of Apostles, that is, of those called to the apostolate, to all apostolates; and to St. Paul, who imitated Jesus so perfectly and saintly that it can be said: he was truly the model disciple”.
Fundamental is the reference to Jesus Master Way, Truth and Life, the first Called and the first Vocational Animator.
“We invoke Jesus Master and, generally, in invoking him we have this intention: to live his life, so we say way, truth and life, that is, our whole being. In a particular way, this is to concentrate in the thought and in this end: that Jesus is our way, that is, the way of seeking and forming vocations. When we talk about apostolate, first of all, we must do it for ourselves. Let the Divine Master, when he came out of his private life-yes, “I am the Way”-teach us the way he followed. Second, “I am the Truth”: the things that must be said concerning vocation, regarding the height, the nobility, the preciousness of vocation, religious life and apostolate, the truth that persuades. And third “the Life”: that Jesus accompanies us with his grace and that we have so much grace in our hearts as to draw souls to God [...]”.
Mary Queen of Apostles is another essential reference to the Pauline Family’s spirituality and vocational ministry.
“In her total adherence to the Father’s will, in her constant listening to the Word, in her maternal presence alongside the first apostles and disciples of Jesus, Mary is for us apostolines the continual inspirer of our whole life”.
Mary is thus a model for our vocational response and our apostolate.
“Mary is like the mother of vocations, and she is the one who helps in their formation. The vocational apostolate, after that of Jesus, can be said to have begun with Mary... Remember how Mary helped those vocations of which Jesus had made her the mother, and how, what the apostles had not learned and understood in three years, they understood when the Holy Spirit descended, constantly invoked by Mary and themselves”.
“Mary received all that she had of gifts, of privileges to form the First-Called. The First-Called, the first vocation is Jesus Christ. Imitate Mary in her mission. She accepted it when she said, “Fiat” (Luke 1:38) and ordered and translated her whole life into this work of forming Jesus, of accompanying Jesus to Calvary. He translated his whole life into a vocational action”.
Fr. Alberione saw the need to proclaim the “Gospel of vocation” (cf. Pastores dabo vobis 34) according to the spirit and with the tirelessness of St. Paul. He always associated St. Paul with the vocation dimension seeing him precisely as the man of vocations and as the great intercessor for vocations.
“In what way will they hear the Word of God if it is not preached? Here, St. Paul asks (cf. Rom. 10:14-15, 17). And how will it be preached if there are no vocations to go and preach it?”
“As for the whole Pauline Family, so for us, Apostolines St. Paul is a father and teacher, not only in our understanding of and vital adherence to the mystery of Christ, which he, “thought of” in clearly “vocational” terms, but also in his constant search for and formation of men and women called to particular vocations and ministries in the service of the Church”.
As Fr. Alberione said and according to the mentality of St. Paul, “works are done if there are persons, and these produce the more they are grafted into Christ”.
We cannot speak, then, of a vocational apostolate without referring to the necessary formation of a vocational consciousness that is, according to Fr. Alberione, enlightened, profound, and industrious”. “In your case, there has to be created in you a vocation consciousness, precisely a new creation, something that was not there, something that the Lord wants to give, something that responds to the thought of Jesus: ‘pray to the master of the harvest, that he send good labourers to the harvest’ (Mt 9:38). [...] When one has this consciousness, the effectiveness will be clear. “ “Oh! Vocational consciousness to have! And then form it in others...”. These words of Blessed James Alberione resonate with vivid force to reread and always orient our ecclesial mission toward a vocational apostolate capable of understanding new ways and means to carry it out effectively at the service of the life and vocation of each person. The specific commitment of us Apostoline Sisters in vocation pedagogy and pastoral ministry, which are carried out in the animation, accompaniment, orientation and discernment of the recipients of our mission, arises precisely from deep vocational awareness and wisdom, which has at heart fidelity to God’s personal plan for each person.
Regarding the concrete ways of vocational orientation, Fr. Alberione proposed three means of understanding God’s will: prayer, reflection, counselling:
“a) Prayer, so that God’s light may penetrate the soul. [...] b) Thinking about it! The choice of state and the subsequent correspondence is the great problem of life. On its solution depends serenity on earth and ordinarily eternal happiness. [...]. c) Counseling. With a person who knows, who loves, who seeks the true good”.
An apostolic prayer: the Vocational Offertory
To pray is already to perceive humanity’s spiritual need and the beauty of the call: on man’s part, it expresses sensitivity and availability and on God’s part fidelity and grace. When we pray, “O Jesus, eternal Shepherd of our souls, send good labourers into your harvest”, we participate in some way in the action of God who calls and sends, accepting also the ways and times of the Father in the realization of his plan. It is a matter of praying as Jesus obediently and offering himself to the Father, of having his same feeling (cf. Phil. 2:11; Heb. 5:7-10). God answers us first of all by involving us in his passion for the salvation of all.
The Founder also gave the entire Pauline Family an “Offertory Prayer” in which, in parallel with Jesus’ prayer (cf. Mt 6:9-13; Jn 17) and according to the specific apostolate, one offers one’s life to the Father for all. Entrusting to the first Apostolines “the Prayer of Offering for vocations,” Fr. Alberione said that it “includes all the points for which we should most pray and work. “ We can perceive how this Prayer of Offering is really a clear orientation of self-offering for the vocational mission, takes life totally and is rooted in the charismatic legacy left to us by the Founder. It is the “synthesis of our apostolic prayer, a daily memorial of our life entirely given and ‘poured out’ for vocations”.
This prayer of offering invests the whole life making it a “liturgy” lived in the service of all God’s people. It is a liturgy associated with Jesus-the-Host and offered to the Father from whom all good for humanity comes.
By means of this prayer, in the wake of the “Our Father” of the Gospel, after adoring and thanking the God of life for all his gifts, one also asks the Father today through Jesus, for the hunger of young people and of all people, for the “bread of the way” that leads to his kingdom: that each person discovers how to follow Jesus and walk swiftly toward the holiness that is love that welcomes and gives itself. And more than ever our time needs callers who are salt and light of the world (cf. Mt. 5:13-16).
The vocational mission, in its reality of proclamation and offering, is lived in communion with Jesus, the Master with the heart of Shepherd, Way and Truth and Life, as a continuation of his mission. And, as in Jesus’ mission, the dimension of prayer, the gift of life, and reparation are present.
In this prayer of offering, there is attention to the whole people of God, to all vocations and to the whole journey: from the blossoming of the vocational seed to its fulfilment; and there is a clear call to the responsibility and collaboration of all (family, school, Christian community).
The Vocational Offertory is the “daily remembrance” of the beauty and commitment of the vocational mission to which we Apostolines, by God’s grace, consecrate our whole life, but it becomes a handing over to the whole Pauline Family to nurture and live together with the vocational apostolate.
Sister Marialuisa Peviani, Apostoline
 AP 1965, 135.
 St. Paul's Bulletin, May 1949, 2.
 Cf FSP54, 131-133.
 G. ALBERIONE, Appunti di Teologia Pastorale, Ed. San Paolo 2002, 229-230. Da qui in poi citiamo l’opera con ATP.
 AP 1961, 187.
 AP 1963, 153.
 ATP 382.
 FSP57, 207.
 FSP47 421.
 Bollettino San Paolo, Sett.-Ott.-Nov. 1968, 8.
 AP 1958/2, 181.
 AP 1958/2, 181.
 Istituto Regina degli Apostoli per le vocazioni (Suore Apostoline), Costituzioni. Itinerario spirituale – apostolico – formativo – giuridico (da ora Cost.), 11.
 Cost., 94; cf AP VARIA, 292.
 AP 1958/2, 34-35.
 AP 1961, 187.
 Cost., 13.
 Bollettino San Paolo, Luglio 1957, Numero speciale p. 3.
 AP 1961, 299.
 AP 1961,178.
 AP 1961, 79.
 AP 1961, 192.
 Cf Const., 95-98.
 G. ALBERIONE, UPS I, 218.
 Le preghiere della Famiglia Paolina, 28.
 Cf AP 1961, 227.
 Const., 80.