Volunteers have a vocation which they might admit to, if pressed. Here is part of what the London Irish Chaplaincy has to say for itself.
The Irish Chaplaincy today
Today, we continue to meet and walk alongside Irish people, especially those most isolated and vulnerable such as Irish prisoners, older Irish people and Travellers. Our work stems from our spiritual roots, embracing the core meaning of Catholic, which is ‘universal’ and ‘inclusive’. We work with people regardless of their religious background.
Who said innovation was the only route to revolution?
Although the term ‘innovation’ seems to be the buzzword, we’ve found that most of the time it’s the little things that make a big difference. For example, simply talking to someone, holding a Travellers’ forum in a prison to offer someone a voice, or writing a letter to a prisoner are the most effective ways to lift their spirit. We know people’s needs change over time and we’ve carried out plenty of research to be sure we’re offering the most helpful services. But the message is clear, that in most cases simply being a kind friend is powerful enough to change someone’s life. For us, these simple actions have stood the test of time.
Today’s post is from The Imitation of Christ, chapter LI. I thought we might look at a traditional work on the Christian life while developing the subject of ‘my vocation today’. Any of us who carry out even the most cursory examination of conscience know only too well that we must bear the burden of this daily life and suffer weariness and heaviness of heart. And there just is not the time or opportunity to give myself unceasingly to spiritual exercises and divine contemplation. Someone has to do the necessary tasks around the home or go out to work to be able to feed the family. It can get to be drudgery at times, but let’s get on with our humble, outward works, and Christ will come to us and give us peace among the cooking, gardening, washing and nappy-changing; and in the toils of work that is not always fun.
The Imitation imagines what we could hear from
THE VOICE OF CHRIST
MY CHILD, you cannot always continue in the more fervent desire of virtue, or remain in the higher stage of contemplation, but because of humanity’s sin you must sometimes descend to lower things and bear the burden of this corruptible life, albeit unwillingly and wearily.
As long as you wear a mortal body you will suffer weariness and heaviness of heart. You ought, therefore, to bewail in the flesh the burden of the flesh which keeps you from giving yourself unceasingly to spiritual exercises and divine contemplation.
In such condition, it is well for you to apply yourself to humble, outward works and to refresh yourself in good deeds, to await with unshaken confidence My heavenly visitation, patiently to bear your exile and dryness of mind until you are again visited by Me and freed of all anxieties. For I will cause you to forget your labours and to enjoy inward quiet. I will spread before you the open fields of the Scriptures, so that with an open heart you may begin to advance in the way of My commandments. And you will say: the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the future glory which shall be revealed to us.
José Maria Cantal Rivas is a Missionary of Africa working in Algeria. During a sabbatical year he took a qualification as a Life Coach and is putting it to good use among young people. It is not his task to preach with the immediate intention of ‘Christianising’ his students, but to be a witness to Christ’s empowering love among them. Fr José Maria sees his work as a form of inculturalisation – getting alongside the people he is sent to bring the Good News to. He tells about his experiences in the article from which this post is extracted; the link below is to the French language original. How can we be Christ for young people in our own community?
‘My “students” come to realise that very often it is they themselves who are the chief obstacles and brakes impeding their own happiness. They have mentally forbidden themselves the right to imagine that their daily life could be different.
‘Many people seem to think that happiness will arrive one day in the post, in just one delivery, and when the parcel is opened, they will find happiness, all “ready to wear”. Very few are aware that to be happy, like body building, needs time to be given up to it; needs perseverance and discipline, as well as clear priorities and passion. There’s no other way!
The course is given in French and Arabic. Wherever possible I try to use examples, videos, personalities, literature from their Arab-Muslim culture: firstly to avoid any suspicion of proselytism, but above all to confirm that what I propose is practicable and compatible with their culture.
A short presentation by the Algerian women’s Paralympic basketball team, even if the sound quality is poor, has more impact that an excellent video from a similar team from a northen country!
Africa in general is changing and it seems to me that it’s good to know how Africans themselves, with their rich culture, face up to changes such as the spectacular rise in the numbers of women at university and in the world of work; the influence of the internet, demographic changes, new forms of social organisation, spiritual longings divorced from religion, urbanisation and so on.’
The Shakers were North American Christians who lived in big celibate communities in the XIX Century. I happened on Caroline Piercy’s Shaker Cook Book a couple of months ago, and would like to share this passage about the vocation of daily life as they lived it.
According to the Shaker belief, work and worship are intricately intertwined: ‘give your hands to work and your heart to God,’ was their well-known motto. It is by the fruits of their labour that they became known as craftsmen of great skill and complete honesty.
To the Shakers, or Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, as they chose to call themselves, their sole purpose in life was to establish God’s Kingdom here upon earth. Their hands, their minds, their hearts were wholly dedicated to that end, and therefore their vast kitchens and numerous workshops were as sacred to them as were their meeting houses and assembly halls. Their religion taught that man was put into this world in order to establish ‘Heavens on Earth’ where universal peace, genuine brotherly love and complete honesty reigned.
Caroline B Piercy, The Shaker Cook Book, Not by Bread Alone: Crown Publishing, NY, 1953. p13.
This hymn by Sister Mary Xavier was a staple of my childhood. It is worth turning to when life seems pointless or confusing, and ‘Lord, for tomorrow and its needs I do not pray‘ is enough of a motto, enough of a prayer, to see us through every day. A vocation is something to be lived out day by day; sometimes a day can be very different to what we expect, but today is enough for us; we can worry about tomorrow when it comes.
Lord, for tomorrow and its needs I do not pray; keep me, my God, from stain of sin just for today.
Let me both diligently work and duly pray; Let me be kind in word and deed, just for today.
Let me be slow to do my will, prompt to obey; help me to sacrifice myself, just for today.
Let me no wrong or idle word unthinking say; set thou a seal upon my lips just for today.
Lord, for tomorrow and its needs I do not pray; but keep me, guide me, love me, Lord, just for today.
Lyrics by Sybil Farish Partidge (1856 – 1917) – alias Sister Mary Xavier. Public Domain.
Peter (Piotr) Wygnański grew up in Cambridge and was an altar server for 11 years in the parish of St Laurence. He was ordained priest on 25 July 2019 in the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, Norwich, by Bishop Alan Hopes.
Part of the ordination rite has the deacon lying flat on the floor while prayers are said or sung.
In his homily, Bishop Alan said: “Jesus tells us we must be prepared to share in his suffering and death…and at the heart of our ministry must be humility”. Priesthood, he added, “Is nothing to do with status”.
The Bishop told Peter: “Your prostration before God…is an abandonment of yourself to His love and will” and he encouraged him to “model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s cross”.
I’m not sure that these two friends from L’Arche Ipswich were thinking of any of that as they got down close to the tulips, but the flowers are given to us by God’s love and will, and by abandoning their upright dignity to wake up and smell the flowers they got closer to His loving gift of tulips, their colour, shape, texture and scent.
If you wait till July you can look up humbly at 3 metres high sunflowers instead!
Peter Wygnański’s story shared from the East Anglia diocese website; see link above.
I would not have expected to be quoting Dr Johnson on Education Sunday, but he gives us something to think about, especially his final sentence.
‘Sir, the life of a parson, of a conscientious clergyman, is not easy. I have always considered a clergyman as the father of a larger family than he is able to maintain. I would rather have Chancery suits* upon my hands than the cure of souls. No, Sir, I do not envy a clergyman’s life as an easy life, nor do I envy the clergyman who makes it an easy life.’
Boswell’s Life of Johnson, Vol 3.
Pope Francis sees religious vocations as part of the ‘ordinary pastoral life’ of the Church, and his prayer for today asks for each one of us the gifts of boundless compassion, abundant generosity, and radical availability.
Dear friends, on this day in particular, but also in the ordinary pastoral life of our communities, I ask the Church to continue to promote vocations. May she touch the hearts of the faithful and enable each of them to discover with gratitude God’s call in their lives, to find courage to say “yes” to God, to overcome all weariness through faith in Christ, and to make of their lives a song of praise for God, for their brothers and sisters, and for the whole world. May the Virgin Mary accompany us and intercede for us.
Pope Francis, World Day of Prayer for Vocations, 2020.
Prayer for World Day of Prayer for Vocations
Holy Spirit, stir within us the passion to promote vocations to the consecrated life, societies of apostolic life, diocesan priesthood, and permanent diaconate.
Inspire us daily to respond to Your call with boundless compassion, abundant generosity, and radical availability.
Help us to remember our own baptismal call to rouse us to invite the next generation to hear and respond to Your call.
Inspire parents, families, and lay ecclesial ministers to begin a conversation with young Catholics to consider how they will live lives of holiness and sacred service.
Nudge inquirers and motivate discerners to learn more about monastic life, apostolic life, missionaries, cloistered contemplative life, and evangelical Franciscan life.
Ignite our Church with the confident humility that there is an urgent need for religious sisters, brothers, deacons, and priests to live in solidarity with those who are poor, neglected, and marginalised.
Disrupt our comfortable lives and complacent attitudes with new ideas to respond courageously and creatively with a daily ‘YES!’ Amen.
* Chancery Courts were concerned with domestic matters including adoptions, custody disputes and divorces; guardianships; sanity hearings; wills; and challenges to constitutionality of state laws.
Out of six churches in Birmingham, three bear the names of the donors [including St Philip’s, above, now the Cathedral] … The gifts, which the benefactor himself believes are charitable, and expects the world to believe the same, if scrutinized, will be found to originate from various causes–counterfeits are apt to be offered in currency for sterling. Perhaps ostentation has brought forth more acts of beneficence than charity herself; but, like an unkind parent, she disowns her offspring, and charges them upon charity.
Ostentation is the root of charity; why else are we told, in capitals, by a large stone in the front of a building–“This hospital was erected by William Bilby, in the sixty-third year of his age, 1709.” Or, “That John Moore, yeoman, of Worley Wigorn, built this school, in 1730.”–Nay, pride even tempts us to strut in a second-hand robe of charity, left by another; or why do we read–“These alms-houses were erected by Lench’s trust, in 1764. W. WALSINGHAM, BAILIFF.” Another utters the word charity, and we rejoice in the echo. If we miss the substance, we grasp at the shadow.
Sometimes we assign our property for religious uses, late in the evening of life, when enjoyment is over, and almost possession. Thus we bequeath to piety, what we can keep no longer. We convey our name to posterity at the expence of our successor, and scaffold our way towards heaven up the walls of a steeple. Will charity chalk up one additional score in our favour, because we grant a small portion of our land to found a church, which enables us to augment the remainder treble its value, by granting building leases? a man seldom makes a bargain for heaven, and forgets himself. Charity and self-interest, like the apple and the rind, are closely connected, and, like them, we cannot separate one without trespassing on the other.
In contributions of the lesser kind … [we do not] fear our left hand knowing what our right hand doth, our only fear is, lest the world should not know it.
This superb edifice (Saint Philip’s Church, now Birmingham Cathedral) was begun by act of Parliament, in 1711, under a commission consisting of twenty of the neighbouring gentry, appointed by the bishop of the (Lichfield) diocese, under his episcopal seal.
From An History of Birmingham (1783) by William Hutton.
William Hutton seems to have cast a very cold eye over the benefactors of his home town! But perhaps we can learn from the 18th Century about doing good without the trumpets blaring in the market place. The benefactor, Hutton says, believes he is being charitable, when he’s actually showing off. This Lent, how am I kidding myself?
St Philip’s will always have a special place in our family for it was there that my cousin Margaret was ordained deacon and priest. Pray for her and all ministers in this time of uncertainty. Lench’s Trust is still providing housing for elderly people in Birmingham.
Part II of Sister Johanna’s reflection on our generous creator and father in the parable of the workers in the vineyard. Thank you once again, Sister!
Yesterday we were looking at the parable of the labourers in the vineyard (Mt.20:1-16), and we meditated on how God the Father, represented by the vineyard owner, searches for us ceaselessly. Today I would like to look at what happens when the time comes for the workers to be paid. .
Looking at this parable of Jesus strictly from the point of view of how to run a business, it is not a very cogent treatment of the subject, as yesterday’s post pointed out. Economics do not figure, for Jesus. Or rather, Jesus seems to be making the point that the ‘economics’ of the Kingdom are completely different from all others. Likewise, the justice of the Kingdom is emphatically not what we would expect. It was this latter point that always tripped me up when I was younger. The older I get, the less this trips me up, but let’s explore it anyway.
It used to be that when I read this parable, I would feel sorry for the workers hired in the morning, who worked hard all day long (as they are at pains to point out) ‘in all the heat’. Bad luck for them, I’d think, when the late-comers slouch in to receive their salary, and it comes out that the late ones are being paid as much as those hired early in the day. Because if the early group had known that this would happen, they could have slept late, and then strolled out to the marketplace for a few beers, and then pulled a pathetic face when the vineyard owner walked by, begged for a job, worked an hour and made a small bundle.
But I don’t think like that any longer. Age, life-experience, and self-knowledge have changed my perspective. My first thought now on reading the vineyard owner’s question, ‘Why are you envious because I am generous?’ is “Lord, I am not envious because you are generous. Relief is all I feel.” Many kinds of relief. Let’s start with the question of “when.” I learn here that the Lord ‘hires’ into the life of grace according to a timing that is entirely his own affair. This consoles me when I pray for people who do not seem to be in the Lord’s employ. I sometimes ponder the mystery of why some souls do not seem to know the Lord, or even want to know him, cannot seem to see that those who work in his vineyard are blessed beyond telling – the whole thing seems alien to them, even empty, delusional, ridiculous. But, in this parable I find that the question of when is simply not my problem, with regard to other souls. It is entirely the Lord’s prerogative to hire according to timing that only he understands, but is unquestionably right for those whom he hires. The thing to remember, the thing that gives me comfort here, is that he goes out and looks for us, as we saw in yesterday’s post. Repeatedly. Until the eleventh hour.
Then there is the matter of what this vineyard really stands for in the parable*. I like to think of the vineyard as heaven. In this interpretation, our Lord wants us to know that heaven is not a place where its inmates sit around and spend all their time singing alleluias: they work. St Therese used to say, ‘I’ll spend my heaven doing good on earth’. I think she would support this view of the vineyard. So, how wonderful that those who are ‘hired’ late in life, who late in life find the Lord and, late, learn to love him, may hope to be admitted as workers in the heavenly vineyard, along with those who received their working papers as young children. What a relief! I cannot be envious of the vineyard owner’s generosity here.
If the vineyard also stands for the life of grace on earth, which it probably does, well and good. To ‘work’ there is our joy, our greatest joy on earth. This is what makes the complaints of the workers in this parable so wrong-headed. For them, life in the vineyard is one big grind, evidently, its work something they want to do as little of as possible so that they can spend the rest of their time… doing what, exactly? Loafing about? (How boring). Living an exciting life of sin? (How addictive and miserable). Making money, becoming famous, and playing power games with people in order to get ahead? (Ditto). Doing what they want when they want? (Ok for a short time, but ultimately, no). What they don’t seem to get is that the life of grace is itself the ‘payment’. One of our deepest human and spiritual needs, after the need for love, is the need for meaning. A life in the Lord’s vineyard fulfils both needs, gives us both love and meaning. This is our payment – and this is why everyone who works for this vineyard owner receives the same payment.
Finally, there is a third reason why this parable no longer bothers me anymore. You might say that I am in the category of those who were hired early in the day. But how many of us from that category can claim, by the time we reach, let’s call it, a “mature” age, to have been faithful at every moment? Have we all worked straight through the day in all the heat? Really? Or did we occasionally lapse, flake out, slack off, waste time at the water cooler? Perhaps we are still there, in flake-out mode. Are we afraid to return to the vineyard, afraid of what the owner will say to us? This parable allows us to hope that the Lord may be generous with his mercy to us, also.
*Scholarly treatments of this parable usually say that the vineyard stands for the covenant; those first called stand for the Jewish people, privileged since Abraham’s time. The Lord opens up the membership, invites the world in, offers them everything. The first called have no right to be jealous of this.
We think of Christmas as a time of generosity, but do we stop to think what that means? Sister Johanna did not write this reflection specifically for Advent, but it challenges us to go to the roots of generosity, to the creator who gives us everything, in due season.
Why should you be envious because I am generous? (Mt.20:15)
The question, ‘Why should you be envious because I am generous,’ comes at the end of the parable of the labourers in the vineyard. If you are not sure which parable I mean, have a look at Mt. 20: 1-16. Instead of recounting the whole story here in detail, I’d like to take two days to concentrate on only two aspects of this rich and beautiful parable.
The first thing that I noticed on reading the parable of the labourers this time is that the notion of generosity is evident right from the beginning in the way the vineyard owner actually goes out to the busy marketplace to look for workers to hire. He doesn’t sit back and say to himself, “I’m big and important. Let them come to me if they want a job.” He goes out looking for workers, again and again, at different times in the day – once is not enough for him; he cannot seem to rest until he has employed as many workers as possible. Is he doing this for the sake of his business? One would assume so, but the parable doesn’t exactly say this, and I am a bit tempted to wonder why the vineyard owner isn’t organised enough to know how many workers he needs to begin with.
We see him going out repeatedly, and each time finding men ‘standing idle’ in the village square and saying ‘You go to my vineyard, too.’ This suggests to me that the Lord wants us to think that this vineyard owner might be more concerned to provide work for those who need it than to run an efficient business. My theory seems even more plausible in light of what he does the last time he goes out, when it’s “the eleventh hour”. There are still people standing idly in the marketplace, and he asks them why they have been idle all day long. There’s a hint of a reproach here, I think. And their answer is not stellar: ‘Because no one has hired us’ – or in other words, “Not our fault, mate.” The vineyard owner might have written them off as lazy lumps, without a shred of initiative. But he doesn’t. He gives them a chance, too, and invites even this dubious crowd into his vineyard to work with the others.
Although there are some aspects of this parable that have given me problems over the years, this part of the story has always been easy for me to transmute into a description of God’s loving grace. True, on a bad day, I may feel that in my relationship with God, I’m the one who is searching for him, and he’s the elusive one. But when I look more deeply into the events of my life, I see clearly that God is the one who has gone out to the busy ‘marketplace’ of my life and noticed that I was not in his employ. Without hesitation, he offered me a position as a worker in his vineyard. Did I have any qualifications? Not one. This position was given to me in my baptism; with God, you learn by doing. The learning was further strengthened by the other sacraments of the Church, and was made fast by my vocation to monastic life. None of this came about because I made it happen – especially my monastic vocation (which actually took me quite by surprise). God sought me, attracted me, prepared me and made it all possible. And it’s not over yet. I now know that I will always be on the receiving end of the Father’s generosity. My search for him is always wedded to and made possible by his search for me.
What’s more, as a member of the Church, I am a member of a group, a community of other workers who are all objects of the Father’s ceaseless pursuit and beneficiaries of this generosity. I do not work alone in his vineyard. As an ecclesial community, we witness together to this mystery of call and of service. How? In terms of this parable, we can say that each one in our own way is contributing to the “wine-making” business of the Father – which is to say, we are a Eucharistic community. Our response to his invitation, then, contributes to the making of the blood of Christ, the spiritual drink – a heavenly “product.” How blessed is that?
Tomorrow, I would like to look at a second aspect of this parable. SJC.