Vocations Sunday 2020

The fourth Sunday of Easter, often called Good Shepherd Sunday, is a day when the whole Church prays for vocations. Most often, vocations to the priesthood are meant, although in recent years vocations to consecrated (or religious) life have been included. You might think that this would be a safe topic to tackle in a blog post, but I can assure you, it isn’t always.

In the past, for example, I’ve been scolded for saying that I thought everyone was a vocation, inasmuch as we are all called into being by God and are unique and precious in his eyes. The particular way in which we live out that primary vocation — whether as a single person, married, ordained, a religious — is, I would argue, secondary and may change over time, according to our circumstances or the decision of the Church. What doesn’t change is God’s love for us and our need to respond to his love, whether we be lay, ordained or consecrated. 

Very softly, therefore, may I say that whoever you are who may be reading or listening to these words, you are loved by God and called to be part of his Church, and that is a wonderful vocation. It is, in fact, the most important vocation of all, because it makes you part of the Body of Christ — and we can never be more than that!

I can’t say anything about priesthood except that I pray daily for our priests and those training for the priesthood. You are a great gift to the rest of us. The way in which you live your vocation is humbling and inspiring, and the sacrifices you make are an indication of the generosity with which you serve. May you be blessed and encouraged, and may others join you!

Now I suppose I should say something about monastic life for women, but what? Recent church legislation has made it more difficult because one ends up trying to explain what one does not fully understand oneself. 

What I can say, and say with full conviction, is that being a Benedictine is the joy of my life and if you are trying to discern whether God is calling you to this particular form of service in his Church, then I think what Benedict says in chapter 58 of his Rule is clear, simple and helpful.

Our vocation is always to a specific community. We become Benedictines at X or Y and take on the colour and cast of the community we aspire to join. So, get to know the community. Read their web site (many would-be members of our own community omit this step), see if their way of living the Rule is one with which, over time, you think you could identify. Read the Rule — it will only take you an hour, if that. Ask questions. be prepared to learn. Above all, give the process time. Benedict tells the community not to give anyone an easy entrance but to test the spirits to see whether they come from God. That doesn’t mean putting obstacles in anyone’s way but rather taking seriously the need to discern along with the candidate for admission whether this is the right place for them. Can they grow in this way of life? Have they sufficient health? Are they ready to learn or do they already know all the answers? You get my gist.

What form monastic life for women will take in the future is matter for speculation, but I am certain it will never die out because God will always continue to call people to seek him through prayer, obedience and renunciation of the joys of marriage and children. What I might call the accidentals of monastic life — the clothes we wear, the language in which we pray the liturgy, the work we do — though far from negligible may change. What doesn’t change is our commitment to God and his commitment to us.

Perseverance isn’t a showy quality, but it is a necessary one. We are only gradually fashioned into what God desires to make of us, and at times it can be a messy and painful business. Many a novice has comforted herself with the thought that everything would be all right if it weren’t for the superior and the community, but they are precisely what we need, not just as novices but throughout our lives. We go to God together. Those we find annoying at twenty-five may still be annoying us, and being annoyed by us, at eighty-five. The difference is that we may have begun to see in them what God sees: the image of his Son. Because that is the point of monastic life: being transformed into Christ. Or, as St Benedict says at the end of his chapter on humility, ‘we shall come to that perfect love of God which casts out fear and begin to observe without struggle . . . all those precepts we did not previously observe without fear . . . for love of Christ and through good habit and delight in virtue.’ (RB 7.68, 69)

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4 thoughts on “Vocations Sunday 2020”

  1. I am moved today by your reflection on vocation, and on being Benedictine, in particular.
    Thank you.

    God perseveres with us as we do with him in the long and slow shaping of who we are.

    I will carry with me, today and beyond, this thought: “We go to God together.”

    Again, thank you, and God bless you.

    • Thank you, Margaret. You know, I trust, that the going to God together doesn’t just relate to the little community resident here at Howton Grove, or our oblates or online community. It is my hope that one day all of us, without exception, will be gathered into God’s kingdom

  2. Thank you for this post and its emphasis on the importance of discernment. But sometimes all the discernment in the world matters not. A young woman might discern for religious life yet fail to be accepted by any order. In my own case, I discerned marriage and family and over several decades was unable to find a spouse. God is sovereign in such circumstances, of course. But —even though every vocation is an uphill climb—it’s the extremely distressing on both psychological and spiritual levels when one must make the uphill climb on what definitely seems the wrong hill. It’s hard to trust God when the path ahead seems so intrinsically counter to the individual that God made. It’s hard to summon energy and joy to press on.

    • First, be assured of my prayers for you. I can feel the pain behind your words. I don’t, however, quite agree with your conclusions. You haven’t missed your vocation, or missed out on your vocation, but the one God has chosen for you is much harder than the one you hoped for. You are in the right place, even if it isn’t what you desire. You must be very special to him, though you might have preferred not to be quite so special! Discernment can never be an individual process. I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve said to me over the years, ‘I have a vocation to be a nun’ and who’ve then had to be told, as gently and kindly as possible, that the community also has to discern the same. We pray for all those to whom we’ve had to say, ‘This isn’t for you.’ Most have remained friends with the community but some develop what I call ‘vocationitis’ and go from community to community, seeking what cannot be found.

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