36. The history of every priestly vocation, as indeed of every Christian vocation, is the history of an inexpressible dialogue between God and human beings, between the love of God who calls and the freedom of individuals who respond lovingly to him. These two indivisible aspects of vocation, God's gratuitous gift and the responsible freedom of human beings, are reflected in a splendid and very effective way in the brief words with which the evangelist Mark presents the calling of the Twelve: Jesus "went up into the hills, and called to him those whom he desired; and they came to him" (Mk. 3:13). On the one hand, we have the completely free decision of Jesus; on the other, the "coming" of the Twelve, their "following" Jesus.
This is the constant paradigm, the fundamental datum of every vocation: whether of prophets, apostles, priests, religious, the lay faithful - of everyone.
First of all, indeed in a prevenient and decisive way, comes the free and gracious intervention of God who calls. It is God who takes the initiative in the call. This was, for example, the experience of the prophet Jeremiah: "Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, ' Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you prophet to the nations"' (Jer. 1:4-5). The same truth is presented by the apostle Paul, who roots every vocation in the eternal election in Christ, made "before the foundation of the world" and "according to the purpose of his will" (Eph. 1:4-5). The absolute primacy of grace in vocation is most perfectly proclaimed in the words of Jesus: "You did not choose me, but
I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide" (Jn. 15:16).
If the priestly vocation bears unequivocal witness to the primacy of grace, God's free and sovereign decision to call man calls for total respect.
It cannot be forced in the slightest by any human ambition, and it cannot be replaced by any human decision. Vocation is a gift of God's grace and never a human right, such that "one can never consider priestly life as a simply human affair, nor the mission of the minister as a simply personal project."(101) Every claim or presumption on the part of those called is thus radically excluded (cf Heb 5 4ff ). Their entire heart and spirit should be filled with an amazed and deeply felt gratitude. an unshakable trust and hope, because those who have been called know that they are rooted not in their own strength but in the unconditional faithfulness of God who calls.
"He called to him those whom he desired; and they came to him" (Mk. 3:13). This "coming," which is the same as "following" Jesus, expresses the free response of the Twelve to the Master's call. We see it in the case of Peter and Andrew: "And he said to them, 'Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.' Immediately they left their nets and followed him" (Mt. 4:19-20). The experience of James and John was exactly the same (cf. Mt. 4:21-22). And so it is always: In vocation there shine out at the same time God's gracious love and the highest possible exaltation of human freedom - the freedom of following God's call and entrusting oneself to him.
In effect, grace and freedom are not opposed. On the contrary, grace enlivens and sustains human freedom, setting it free from the slavery of sin (cf. Jn. 8:34-36), healing it and elevating it in its ability to be open to receiving God's gift. And if we cannot in any way minimize the absolutely gratuitous initiative of God who calls, neither can we in any way minimize the serious responsibility which persons face in the challenge of their freedom. And so when he hears Jesus' invitation to "Come, follow me" the rich young man refuses, a sign - albeit only a negative sign - of his freedom: "At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions" (Mk. 10:22).
Freedom, therefore, is essential to vocation - a freedom which, when it gives a positive response, appears as a deep personal adherence, as a loving gift - or rather as a gift given back to the giver who is God who calls, an oblation: "The call" - Paul VI once said - "is as extensive as the response. There cannot be vocations unless they be free; that is, unless they be spontaneous offerings of oneself, conscious, generous, total....Oblations, we call them: Here lies in practice the heart of the matter.... It is the humble and penetrating voice of Christ who says, today as yesterday, and even more than yesterday: Come. Freedom reaches its supreme foundation: precisely that of oblation, of generosity, of sacrifice."(102)
The creature who more than any other has lived the full truth of vocation is Mary the virgin mother, and she did so in intimate communion with Christ: No one has responded with a love greater than hers to the immense love of God. (103)