Talking of vocation…

Chris McDonnell CT Friday July 28 2017

When we hear that ‘next Sunday is Vocations Sunday’ we immediately slip into a narrowly perceived view of a world populated by white collared priests and religious in habits particular to their Order.

All of us, in one form or another, have a vocation, a way of life that is peculiar to us, our own special way of being who we are.

I would like to explore that word ‘vocation’ a bit further, to ask a few questions as to its nature and the permanence of a particular acceptance.

Let us look in particular at the monastic vocation. In many parts of our own country and further across European countries, monastic communities of both men and women are greatly reduced in size as the age profile of those remaining rises. On a very practical level, the care of these aging communities is becoming a matter of self-help, for the younger members of the communities are no longer there to assist with the day-to-day chores of necessary care. And will young men and women enter these communities knowing that a critical aspect of their vocation will be one day soon of care in an old people’s home?

Maybe there is a way forward.

Writing in the Foreword to the collection of essays, “A Monastic Vision for the 21st Century”, Br. Patrick Hart OCSO, monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, makes this comment.

“When I was younger in the monastic way I had dreams of a kind of monasticism in the Christian West that would be open to young men and women who, after completing their college work and before deciding on a life situation, would retire to a monastery for several years as part of their growth process, much like Hindu and Zen Buddhist monks of the Far East have done for centuries.”

Patrick Hart was Thomas Merton’s secretary.

Whatever the reason for their leaving and however long the monastic experience might have been, they will have been touched and changed by the daily pattern of prayer in community and that will remain with them in some form during subsequent years.

Our societal pattern is short term in so many ways. No longer is it the norm that there is a job for life from an early age. People move from one city to another, from one country to another. The very idea of stability is a memory. We seek different opportunities and re-train with new skills as the economic climate demands, often interspersed with periods of unemployment.

Our values, and the context in which we try to live them out, have changed radically in the last sixty years and so it should be no surprise given this upheaval across the countries of the West that our Church Community should likewise find itself under stress brought about by this change. It is a society with high material expectations which must add to the pressures on men and women making life decisions.

Retreating into a comfort zone “of what it used to be like”, we can bemoan change and seek only to re-create what we know once existed, the patterns and structures that we (and our parents) felt secure within. It worked then, so why not now? We are surprised and saddened when that backward looking solution fails, as inevitably it will.

Those who see a return to a Church that is pre-Vatican II as a way forward are in fact walking into a cul-de-sac that offers only nostalgia.

We should however seriously reflect on what has been in the past and ask, in consequence, what might be in the future. How can we build on the experience of Christian formation over many centuries from the time of the Desert Fathers, through the Middle Ages and the growth of the great monastic orders of the day to where we are now, in a different world where change is both rapid and radical? The monastic vision of contemplative prayer has to be connected in some way to the current experience of Christian Faith.

The Taize Community that emerged in France under the leadership of Br Roger in the late ‘40s is evidence that there will be a response when a realistic connection is made with contemporary needs. The commitment of the Brothers at Taize is life-long but their pattern of living has broken new ground and young men and women the world over have recognised the integrity of their message and responded to it.

Where new tracks are taken after older walkways appear to have come to an end, the reason for the monastic choice, whether it is life-long or short-term, is to seek and experience the love of God. Only then can the patterns of life be determined and the nature of vocation understood.

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  1. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    I’m in agreement with the above, but we also need to go further.
    Five years ago Wilfrid Harrington quoted Bernard Haring: “The people of God have a God-given right to the Eucharist. On the basis of human law, to deprive the People of God of the Eucharist is, objectively, gravely sinful.”
    The Church is the living Body of Christ. Each Christian community has the right and privilege and duty to have a Sunday celebration. A viable community could perhaps be one of 50 to 100 active members and upwards.They themselves would decide what building they would use for their gatherings.
    The Methodist church has a system of Lay Preachers, with appropriate training. We could adopt a similar idea, so that the Table of the Word of Life would be available. Each such community should have a minimum of three or four people, appropriately prepared. When Paul was establishing new communities, he appointed elders. However, when the need arose in Jerusalem, the newly established community selected candidates, upon whom the Twelve laid hands.
    A similar procedure could be adopted for a community to select three or four candidates who would lead the celebration at the Table of the Eucharist. We would not let the ways we have become used to become an obstacle to fulfilling what Jesus said: Do this in memory of me. There may be some argument about what titles might be appropriate for those in these ministries, but that should not prevent us from dealing with the task, just as did the early church in Jerusalem, even though Jesus had left no instructions that they should do this. He said the Spirit would guide them into all truth.
    The other dimensions of parish life, like administration and pastoral care, would be carried out by the wider community, including those above.
    Bishop Erwin Kräutler of the Diocese of Xingu, the geographically largest diocese in Brazil, called in 2012 for a poll of all the world’s Catholic bishops on the question of who may be ordained. Kräutler states that the issues raised in the Austrian Pastor’s Initiative concern not merely Europe, but the entire Church. Kräutler is originally from Austria. In his Brazilian diocese there are 30 priests for 900 communities with 600,000 people.
    In an interview in a Salzburg newspaper he said, “The question arises whether people don’t have a right to the celebration of Mass on Sundays. I say: Yes, they have a right. In the spirit of the Council, the Church must come up with a plan. I will certainly not say what, but I do say that we must begin to discuss this seriously… The question cannot be brushed aside any more, but presently everything is at a standstill.”
    Bishop Kräutler does not consider a gathering of bishops in Rome to be the appropriate means. He thinks it would make more sense to poll all the bishops of the entire world. “What is your opinion, what do you think of this, what do your people say? Talk to the priests, the religious, the laity. Have a meeting and formulate your opinion.”
    The bishop believes that the “pulse of the universal Church” should be taken, and taken seriously. “We believe that the Spirit of God is with all of us, not just with one person.”
    The Towers Watson 2016 report on Dublin diocese projects that, in our current model, in 2045 there will be 36 priests under 75 for Dublin diocese (28 if religious orders withdraw), plus any ordinations which take place in the meantime.
    As Bishop Kräutler said, “the Church must come up with a plan.” If there is a plan, I do not know of it. Chris McDonnell suggests one possible approach; here I suggest others.
    Since the Church must come up with a plan, the question is: who is the Church? Perhaps the way ahead, unthinkable to us until now, is what Jesus refers to (John 16:12): “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Holy Spirit comes, he will guide you to the complete truth.”

    Pádraig McCarthy

  2. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    Put any group of people anywhere working together for the common good. Make way for this assembly. They could be outdoors in groups without priests, indoors with priests, anywhere collaborating on a common good project will do. Prayers will get you through it and there will be many a celebration because of it.

    I made an important discovery this weekend typing a draft email about a very misogynistic incident involving the business dealings of the Roman Catholic Church in my area. It’s terrible to be honest – there are literally no ethics left in business, even in the Church. Is it possible that the only way for most men to obtain a sense of equality towards women is for them to have a daughter? You know how men can be sometimes.

    Go to where the Church should be and hope it will follow you there. That should be everyone’s motto at this stage. My goodness – funny for this article to mention a petition for all Bishops – that is one of two segments for my contribution to the Season of Creation. It starts with a petition and then ends with a solution. It is tricky because it is both ethical, ties to the urgency Laudato Si’ calls for and creates a new purpose for Church property that reignites a fire in a younger generation.

    Do you want to bet we are going to take care of them?

    There is no question at this time. I hope the ACP/ACI commits to presenting it to all Bishops in Ireland as it was mainly Ireland that inspired my joining this group. I have no reason why you wouldn’t – I represent three provinces in Canada and will be making sure each Bishop gets a copy. The basis of the business platform is a Bishop mandated attempt at enforcing Laudato si’ at a parish level in terms of local divestment and then a sideline development of eco-friendly locations that can help promote wellness routines for all those suffering from environmental/auto-immune diseases, disorders, sicknesses. It enforces Laudato Si’ in that respect also.

    Such a world of opportunity we live in, fortunately. You can’t get any closer to God than fully engaged in solutions for mankind’s dire need – equal non-destructive prosperity with respect to our surroundings and neighbours. It can be attained if negotiated properly by enough people.

    Where to look, where to look..?

  3. Mary Cunningham says:

    This is an interesting article. The thoughtful and constructive comments by Pádraig and Lloyd, brought to mind a lovely memory of the late prophet and pastor, Fr. Sean Fagan.

    While enjoying his wonderful company several years ago, I asked him ‘how do you explain the Real Presence?

    Sean considered for a while and then said ‘I’ll tell you a story’:

    ‘In a remote part of South America the local community had gathered for a Eucharistic celebration. The priest, who usually tried to be present once a month, was unable to be there.
    The community chose a young child to break and distribute the bread.
    ‘Do This in Memory of Me’, was carried out in a simple, loving way.

    I would defy anybody to tell me that the Real Presence of Christ was not truly present in the child, in the community and in that place.’


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