Fr Mike is assistant priest in a small town parish. He lives in the parish house and is kept busy presiding at Masses, administering the sacraments, visiting the sick, advising parish organisations and ministering to outstations. He also devotes time to his own prayer life and spiritual growth.
Betty is a farmer’s wife, living in a small kampong house with her husband Vincent and their three children. While Vincent works on their farm and part time at a local pottery, Betty is busy caring for their children, as well as cleaning, washing, cooking and looking after their vegetable plot.
Dr Peter is a general practitioner whose clinic is busy from morning till evening. As well as examining his patients, diagnosing their illnesses and prescribing medicines, he visits the housebound, serves on the Parish Council and spends as much time as he can with his own family.
What do these three Church members, of different ages, ethnic origins and ways of life have in common? They are all living out in their daily lives the vocation they received in Baptism: a vocation to love, serve and give witness (especially by example) to the Good News. Everyone shares this vocation in different ways, and no one way is more important than the others as St Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 12:12-26, where he compares the Church to the human body, whose many parts are interdependent.
Here in Ireland we are celebrating a ‘Year of Vocation’, from Vocation Sunday ’08 to Vocation Sunday ’09. The special booklet published by my own diocese for this occasion starts by stating, “With its threefold themes, ‘called to love, called to serve, called to witness’ Vocation Year will include all vocations within the Church. Whatever we do, wherever we are – whether we are single or married, young or older, priest or religious, men or women – it will have something to say to all of us in our following of Jesus Christ”.
Unfortunately Church language has tended to restrict the word ‘vocation’ to God’s call to ministerial priesthood and religious life. These vocations are indeed special. They are vital for the life of the Church and must remain the object of our frequent prayers. But to limit the word ‘vocation’ to them is wrong and shows little respect for the God-given vocation which every Christian receives in Baptism and has reaffirmed in Confirmation; a vocation which is lived out daily in the family, the community and society at large. When we use the word exclusively for priesthood and religious life we should say so.
Vatican II refers frequently to the God-given mission of the laity to evangelise the secular world in which they live. Through the witness of their lives they become the leaven which transforms the world from within. We must help the laity appreciate the dignity and challenge of this vocation; to be aware that their engagement in family life, in work and social affairs, like Betty and Dr Peter, are not just ‘secular’ or ‘worldly’ activities but are the means by which they sanctify themselves, loving and serving and building a better world. When in my morning prayer I offer to Jesus “all my prayers, works and sufferings of this day” I am reminding myself of this reality.
Bishop John Fleming of Killala in Ireland expressed beautifully the richness and diversity of Christian vocation when, for his Episcopal ordination, he incorporated his mother’s wedding ring into his bishop’s ring, pointing out that his priestly vocation was first of all dependant on his parents vocation to marriage!
Bro Columba Gleeson