Writing about Vocations Sunday is a little tricky for me. I once pointed out the obvious, that everyone is a vocation inasmuch as we have all been called by God to be whatever it is we are — priest, laity, religious — and was publicly rapped over the knuckles by a Prominent Cleric (who, to be fair, hadn’t actually read the blog post in question). I have mused on what it is that encourages vocations and posed the question, why not you, why not me, why must it always be someone else who answers the call, and ended up being lectured on the need for being traditionalist according to my interlocutor’s ideas of what is traditional. I have analysed the miserable condition known as vocationitis, mulled over statistics, and written some quite thoughtful (in my view) accounts of of religious life; and I must have answered hundreds of vocation enquiries since our community was canonically erected in 2004. I hope I may have helped someone, by my prayer if not by my words, but I cannot comfort myself with the thought of success, as that word is usually understood. And there’s the rub.
When we pray for vocations, as we do today, what are we really praying for? Some people are quite clear: we need priests to provide the sacraments and essential Church services; a few religious to do some hard-core praying would be nice, especially if they dress in olde-worlde habits and inhabit olde-worlde buildings and keep up olde-worlde traditions of music and liturgy, with perhaps a few more to do the odd bit of social work in areas we prefer not to get involved in. Looked at in that way, success is really about numbers and serving our own needs. If that were all there were to it, one can see why many people would find the whole idea of Vocations Sunday uninspiring, and I have to say I would, too. Of course the Church needs people to serve as priests, and possibly as religious, too, but there is more to Vocations Sunday than simply asking the Lord to bump up our numbers.
If we really knew what we were praying for when we pray for Vocations, I think we’d feel seared by the holiness of God. What we are asking is for God to seize hold of us, shake us up, draw us to himself and change us for ever. We can’t do that while playing the numbers game. It is a work we can only do on our knees — one that involves us, each one of us, not someone else, not someone else’s son or daughter, not someone in another parish, not someone anonymous. ‘It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,’ wrote the author of the Letter to the Hebrews. Perhaps we have fogotten that and become a little too cosy in our approach to him. The God of infinite love and tenderness who, in the person of Jesus Christ, likened himself to a good shepherd in search of the lost and stray, is also the God of infinte holiness and utter transcendence. This Sunday every Catholc should leave Mass with a blazing sense of the importance of vocation, a readiness to ask himself or herself, ‘Are you calling me, Lord?’ and a determination to answer, cost what it may.