In the Name...
Three clergymen, taking a break from their schedules, were chatting and enjoying an early spring day together. “Since all of us get along so well,” said one, “this might be a good time to share our personal issues and ask each other's prayers.” They all agreed. “Well," he said, "I would like to share with you the fact that I drink too much, and I'd welcome your prayers to help me stop." So, they all prayed. Then, another spoke. “I’m really troubled, brothers, because I’m married, but, I'm fond of a woman in my church, so, I'd appreciate your prayers as well.” And they prayed. The third remained silent, however, and looked very uncomfortable. “I just don’t know how to tell you my problem.” he said. “It’s all right, brother. Your secret is safe with us,” assured the others. “Well, that's the problem,” he said. “I’m an incurable gossip.”
Stories like this have shaped our views of clergy as if ordination somehow makes clergy more perfect or less human than anyone else. The fact is that we're just human beings, no more or less perfect than anyone else, who have chosen to answer a particular call of God on our lives.
But, it is important to remember than every Christian also receives a call from God which is no less important or dignified. Priesthood is not the highest or greatest call, it's just a specialized ministry, in the same way as an oncologist is different to a cardiologist. Both are doctors. One is not better than the other. They just have different roles in the overall healing profession. And all Christians have a role in the work of Christian ministry.
Last week, we saw how three people experienced calls on their lives. Peter to be leader of the Church, Paul to preach to the Gentiles, and Ananias to make it all possible. Today, we are invited to consider how Jesus, using the image of a shepherd calling his sheep, gives us our own call, or vocation.
The word "vocation" comes from the Latin "vocare," meaning voice. People living a vocation have responded to God's voice. There was a time when the word was only associated with ordained clergy or those who had taken monastic vows. Nowadays, we hear people talk about their secular jobs as a vocation, but, the truth is somewhere in between those extremes. Everybody has a vocation, but, vocation isn’t about careers and employment. It's something much, much, deeper. It's still about hearing - hearing a reality outside ourselves speaking to our very selves inside. Vocation is about who we are at the deepest level. Discovering our vocation is discovering what God sees in us.
“My sheep hear my voice", Jesus said, "I know them, and they follow me”. His Jewish listeners must have gasped to hear him say that because, for Jews, the image of shepherd for the flock of Israel was reserved for none other than the Lord God himself, as in the famous 23rd Psalm - The Lord is my shepherd. But, in several places we read Jesus just spoke the words, "Follow me", and people dropped whatever it was they were doing and did just that - they followed him. He spoke to something deep inside. They knew his voice and it triggered a response.
The poet William Stafford, wrote of what vocation meant to him in this way. "Ask me whether what I have done is my life." Ask me whether what I have done is my life. This is what vocation is all about. Vocation is the way we take what God has planted in us and use it for the common good - a special task that is ours and ours alone, and for which we have been uniquely and individually equipped. Often we don’t have the courage, or take the time, to discover what it is. But, what it is, is ultimately who we are and, to some extent, not necessarily why we are here, but, what we can do while we're here.
I know of a priest, Fr. Ken Roberts, who has many spiritual gifts and is much in demand as a speaker. He was once speaking at a large Christian Education conference and, as he addressed a morning session with hundreds of people in the audience, he suddenly felt a word of knowledge and announced that he was aware of a young lady present who was struggling with an issue of vocation and he would be available to meet with her after his presentation.
Well, the session ended and Fr. Roberts waited as the crowd dispersed for lunch, and out of all those hundreds of people, one, and only one, young lady came up to him. When he asked how could he be of help, she told him that she felt God was calling her to be a missionary in the Middle East. Wow. So, Fr. Roberts asked her if she had ever been to the Middle East. No, she replied. Okay. Did she speak Arabic? No, she replied, but, she could speak Spanish. Okay. He asked if she had a job and she replied she taught religion at a church day school. Ha, um. I see.
Well, Fr. Roberts is a nice guy, so rather than bluntly tell her to forget it, he suggested she go to the prayer room that was set up for the conference, meditate there for an hour and ask God for guidance. So, off she went, and for the rest of the week he thought nothing more about this encounter. But, as he was checking out of the hotel, the young woman came up to him and thanked him profusely for all he had done for her.
Fr. Roberts was completely confused until she explained that she had gone to the prayer room as he recommended, but, as is often the case at hotel conventions, it was anything but meditative. With all the noise from the hallway and the adjacent partitioned areas, the door opening and closing, she thought she'd just go back to her own room and pray quietly there instead. But, something told her to wait the full hour. She did, but, no message came from God. Then, as she was leaving the room, she was stopped in the hallway by a gentleman who asked directions to one of the sessions.
He explained to her that he had been visiting a friend in the city, seen an ad about the conference in the newspaper, and thought he might show up for one of the programmes.
And he was a pastor who needed a Christian Education director at his mission in Spanish Morocco.
Fr. Roberts says he felt one-inch-tall at that moment. God indeed had a call for this young woman and he, the gifted talker, hadn't recognized the voice of the Shepherd prompting in the background.
She had a vocation - as do we. But, if we're going to find out what ours is we need to be listening for the voice, and open to following Jesus in giving ourselves to the world around us as passionately as he gave himself.
Ask me whether what I have done is my life. Have you heard the voice? Have you turned towards it or fled from it?
It’s your call. Literally. What is your life, and what are you to do with it?
In the Name...