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)

Audio version

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Monastic Back to Basics and Holy Week

Re-reading RB 58, On the Procedure for Admitting Brethren, as we are at the moment, is an excellent preparation for Holy Week. The text reminds us why we came to the monastery in the first place and examines our conscience on how we have used (and sadly misused) the opportunities given us. It is not a negative process, or at least, I don’t find it so. Instead, it is an encouragement to focus again on the great simplicities of monastic life, to recover something of our initial fervour. I like to think of it as a back to basics programme enlightened by self-knowledge and practical experience.

Holy Week is also an encouragement to refocus on what really matters. The liturgy of the next few days reverts to a more ancient form, the drama and intensity of which shocks us out of our usual complacency. People sometimes ask how to make the most of Holy Week and think they must do more — more reading, more praying, more fasting, etc. My own advice would be to forget about doing extra: just give yourself as fully as possible to the liturgy and allow it to do its work in you. Yes, of course, prepare by reading through the prayers and readings of the day and, if you can, by spending a few moments in prayer before the great celebrations of Holy Week begin; but there shouldn’t be any strain or sense of compulsion. Holy Week will stretch you, make you plunge depths of thought and feeling you did not know existed, leaving you numb or raw by turns. You can trust the Holy Spirit to do his work in you. Like the novice setting out on the monastic way, all you have to do is eat, sleep and give yourself up to this work of transformation.

May God bless you all.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail