Called to be happy

 Called to be happy  ING-016
19 April 2024

In view of the World Day of Prayer for Vocations (21 April) we asked Cardinal Lazarus You Heung-sik, Prefect of the Dicastery for the Clergy, some questions.

What is vocation?

Before thinking of any religious or spiritual dimension, I would say this: vocation is essentially the call to be happy, to take one’s own life into one’s hands, to live it to the fullest and not waste it. This is God’s first desire for every man and woman, for each one of us: that our life not die out, that it not be lost, that it shine as much as possible. For this reason, He made Himself close in His Son Jesus, and he wants to draw us into the embrace of His love; thus, thanks to Baptism, we become an active part of this love story and, when we feel that we are loved and accompanied, our existence becomes a journey towards happiness, towards life without end. A journey which is then embodied and completed in a life choice, in a specific mission and in the many situations of each day.

But how can one recognize a vocation, and what is its relationship to desires?

In this regard, the Church’s rich tradition and the wisdom of Christian spirituality have much to teach us. In order to be happy — and happiness is the first vocation which joins all human beings — it is necessary that we not make mistakes in our life choices, at least the fundamental ones. And the first signposts to follow are precisely our desires, the things which we feel in our heart to be good for us and, through us, for the world around us. However, each day we experience self-deception, because our desires do not always correspond to the truth of what we are; they may be the fruits of a partial vision, they may arise from wounds or frustrations, they may be dictated by a selfish search for one’s own well-being, or sometimes, what we call desires are, in reality, illusions. Hence, the need for discernment, which is essentially the spiritual art of understanding, with God’s grace, what we must choose in our life. Discernment is possible only if we listen to ourselves and listen to God’s presence within us, overcoming the very present temptation to make our feelings coincide with absolute truth. For this reason, Pope Francis, at the beginning of his Wednesday catecheses dedicated to discernment, invited us to face the struggle of searching within ourselves and, at the same time, not to forget God’s presence in our life. We can thus recognize a vocation when we place our deep desires in dialogue with the work that God’s grace does inside of us; thanks to this dialogue, the night of doubts and questions gradually lightens and the Lord allows us to understand which path to take.

This dialogue between the human and spiritual dimensions is increasingly at the centre of priestly formation. Where are we in this regard?

This dialogue is necessary and perhaps we have at times neglected it. We should not run the risk of thinking that the spiritual aspect can develop apart from the human one, which would attribute a sort of “magical power” to God’s grace. God became flesh and therefore, the vocation to which he calls us is always incarnated in our human nature. The world, society and the Church need profoundly human priests, whose spiritual style is summed up in Jesus’ same style: not a spirituality which separates us from others or makes us cold masters of an abstract truth, but the capacity to embody God’s closeness to humanity, His love for every creature, His compassion for whomsoever is marked by life’s wounds. This is why there is a need for people who, though fragile like everyone else, in their fragility have sufficient psychological maturity, inner peace and affective balance.

There are many priests, however, who live in situations of hardship and suffering. What do you think?

I am above all very moved. I have dedicated nearly my entire life to priestly formation, accompaniment and closeness to priests. Today, as Prefect of the Dicastery for the Clergy, I feel even closer to priests, to their hopes and their struggles. There is no lack of certain concerning elements, because in many parts of the world, priests live in situations of real discomfort. There are many elements to the crisis, but I think that, above all, we need an ecclesial reflection on two fronts. The first: we must rethink our way of being Church and of living out the Christian mission, in effective cooperation among all the baptized, because priests are often overwhelmed with work, with the same encumbrances — not only pastoral but also juridical and administrative — of many years ago when there were more of them. Second matter: we need to review the diocesan priest’s profile because, though not called to the religious life, he must rediscover the sacramental value of fraternity, of feeling at home in the presbytery, together with the bishop, his priest confrères and the faithful, because this belonging can sustain him in his pastoral service and accompany him when solitude becomes heavy, especially in the challenges of today. There is, however, a need for a new mentality and new formative paths, because a priest is often educated to become a solitary leader, a “single man in command” and this is not good. We are little and full of limits, but we are the Master’s disciples. Moved by him we can do many things. Not individually, but together, synodally. “We can only be missionary disciples”, the Holy Father repeats, “all together”.

Are priests “equipped” to face today’s culture?

This is one of the main challenges we must address today in formation, both initial and ongoing. We cannot remain locked in sacral forms and make priests simple administrators of religious rites; today we are traversing a time marked by numerous global crises, with some risks connected to the rise in violence, to war, to environmental pollution, to the economic crisis, all things which impact people’s lives in terms of insecurity, anguish, fear for the future. And there is great need for priests and lay people who are capable of bringing the joy of the Gospel to everyone, as a prophecy in a new world and a guiding compass on life’s journey. One is always a disciple, even if one has been a deacon, a priest or a bishop for many years. And a disciple always has something to learn from the one Master, who is Jesus.

But, in your opinion, is becoming a priest still worth it today?

Despite everything, following the Lord down this path is always worth it, letting oneself be seduced by Him, spending one’s life for His project. We can look to Mary, this young girl of Nazareth who, despite being disturbed by the Angel’s announcement, chooses to take the risk of the fascinating adventure of the call, becoming Mother of God and Mother of humanity. With the Lord, one never loses anything! And I would like to address a word to all priests, especially those who at this moment are discouraged or wounded: the Lord never goes back on His promise. If he has called you, he will not let you lack the tenderness of His love, the light of the Spirit, the joy of the heart. In many ways, He will manifest himself in your life as a priest. I would like this hope to reach priests, deacons and seminarians throughout the world, to console and encourage them. We are not alone, the Lord is always with us! And he wants us to be happy!

Andrea Monda