At this time of year, in cathedrals across the country, women and men are being ordained deacon and priest. So it seems appropriate to think about vocation – that sense of doing something not just because it pays the bills but because you almost feel that something outside you – God – is prompting you, calling you (vocation and voice are linked words) to do this; you wouldn’t be right doing anything else. Perhaps there is also an element of what you are doing being something worthwhile which contributes to the good of others.
I started off talking about vocation to ordination, but I guess many would think of doctors and nurses and teachers as having a vocation. What about the police, or the armed forces, or cooking or serving in a restaurant, or farming or forestry, or refuse collecting, or being an electrician, or serving in a shop or being a secretary? We couldn’t cope without any of these – all of them contribute to our good. And why does any of us end up doing anything except because in some sense God has led us to it, perhaps by giving us gifts which make us able to do that particular job? Perhaps at least some of them are vocations too.
Most of us have several callings: I am a son, a husband, a father, a friend, as well as being a priest. We have to try to make all these fit together and to be faithful to them all – not easy. But I guess that we would think that my experience in my family – as son, husband, father, friend – helps me to be a better priest; and we should recognise that your Christian faith helps you to be a better office manager, neighbour, chemist, bookkeeper…
Vocations have to be tested – it’s not just a matter of you saying to yourself, “I fancy having a go at that”. Your suitability, the rightness of your calling, has to be seen by others – your employer, your colleagues, the wider organisation. In fact, from the Church’s point of view we need to turn this on its head – Christian vocation is not so much about what you want to do as about what the Church needs you to do. These days especially, the Church needs people prepared to say “yes” when asked “would you…?” even if you don’t really feel confident, or that you have the time. It’s alright to be attached to the church by a loose elastic string, to be a Christian on our terms – but the time comes when we have to start being church members on the Church’s terms.
If we don’t feel up to the job, we need to hold on to a couple of things. First, that if someone else sees in us the potential to do something, maybe God has given the gifts to cope, however fearful we may be. Second, that even though it is God who has called us, we don’t have to do all the work at once; a large and out-of-control garden is a huge challenge, but you tackle it by making a start – cutting back one bramble, or weeding one patch.
So – take seriously whatever it is that you do: God is there in your work. And have a think about whether you should be approaching someone to ask them to consider their vocation. Your words, your prompting, may be God’s way of speaking to that person.
God our Father, Lord of all the world,
through your Son you have called us into the fellowship of your universal Church,
and through your Holy Spirit you have given us gifts and inspiration to serve you;
hear our prayer for your faithful people that in their vocation and ministry
each may be an instrument of your love,
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.