Sunday, 14 August 2011

Vocation - knowing who I am in Christ (for the young people in Spain)

For some reason, in my meditation this afternoon, I began to think about the mystery of vocation. I am always a little bit afraid that I am going to stray into heresy, but this is what I was thinking;
a true vocation makes sense of who we are. We can look back over our lives and see some meaning in some of our experiences, sufferings and directions. In fact, if the vocation is true, we can say that we were chosen to be "what" we are from the beginning of time. I suppose I was thinking about Our Lady and how She was chosen before the world began to be the Mother of the Saviour. It must be true for all of us, then. As I look back over my life I can make some sense of so much that has happened to me because I am a priest. I was always meant to be a priest. From being a small child there was something about me that can only be explained through my vocation to be a priest. I am finding my true self (note: finding!) in my priesthood, and in finding myself I am finding all those I love and who have loved me - my deceased parents and friends, my spiritual directors etc. Looking back I can see a "hand" that invited me and led me.

At the same time I began to think about wrong vocations, but I am reminded of a chapter in a book by the great Fr. Gerald Vann o.p - a chapter about living the wrong vocation. This is really mysterious, and opens a whole set of questions about grace. I was trying to understand it all (too much for one afternoon), but came to the conclusion that if a person accepts the wrong vocation, in other words, chooses it, then it becomes the right one. The key is in the response. Is this how we might understand the calling of Thomas Becket to be Archbishop of Canterbury? He was called by the King, and did not want it, but accepted it and embraced it as the Will of God. There is much to think and pray about here, but in general, it occurred to me that the difference between a genuine vocation and one that is false is the informed choice of the individual as well as the acceptance of others, be it the Church, the marriage partner or those we are called to serve. Also, the confirmation of this vocation is that it seems to tie loose ends together and makes sense of a person's life.

I pray for the young people in Spain, that many of them may be open to God's call - whatever it may be, and that they will find their true selves in accepting that call.


  1. At a time when the Priesthood is surrounded with negativity, and being attacked from all sides, I found your excellent post sincere and truly heart warming.

  2. There was a film on tv recently called Monk Dawson--it was filmed at Ampleforth Abbey and I have been told based on someone real( as I suppose most films and books are!) It showed a young man who was a pupil at the school, called Kirkham in the film, who became a priest and was very unworldy and idealistic, but also very sincere.He got into various muddles and "left" the priestood for a while and got married, though I am not sure if that is possible--and then went back to the priesthood, or at least became a Trappist Monk. It was an interesting film to watch from my point, as a Catholic, though it was spoiled a little by the usual hanky panky bits, but the question is did this young man have a true vocation and why had it all to go saw awry before he seemed to find his way? It poses many questions, from whether it was a mistake in the first place, or he was in the wrong order, or it was just God's plan for him to get into such a muddle with his situation in the first place,


  3. "if a person accepts the wrong vocation, in other words, chooses it, then it becomes the right one." - I have to disagree. We have to be humble enough to say we've made a mistake and then only then can God make good of our wrong decision.

    To anonymous, God never plans for us to get in a muddle, we must accept responsibility for our mistakes. This takes humility. It's easy to make mistakes but not so easy to admit it!

  4. Donum Vitae - I agree that my comment was wrong in so far as it does not come anywhere near presenting the case put forward by Gerald Vann - but I found his questions challenging and thought provoking - and probably ahead of their time. I will look out the book and come back with some quotes.

  5. Follow the young blogger in Madrid who looks likely to become a priest-God Willing.
    "Catholic with Attitude".
    Twitter link to Madrid on his blog

  6. Gerald Vann and "The Vocation of Failure".

    This is the title of a chapter in the book, "Moral Dilemmas" which was published in 1964. Here is the first paragraph;

    "Can there be such a thing as having a vocation to choose the wrong vocation? A man adopts a career only to discover too late that it is the wrong career; marries a woman only to find too late that she is the wrong woman; settles down into a fixed, narrow groove only to find that at heart he is a wanderer: perhaps we should see these errors of judgement as being no more than permitted by God; what is certain is that, the false situation once established, the frustration set up, the sufferer must surely see his vocation as being not at an end but at a beginning: something of value has to be made somehow out of the muddle"

    He goes on in the chapter to speak about "frustration" and how we should cope with it, but at the heart of his argument are two words not made really explicit - acceptance and love. Acceptance in relation to the present moment, and love as an act of the will (Aquinas said that love is in the will) in seeking the positive graces in the situation.

    I do not claim to have understood all that Vann's questions involve. I have often come back to this chapter and the questions he asks. There is much nonsense talked about - in the context of my post above - someone who "should never have been ordained" for example. My question in answer to that is - how do we know? We judge so much from the standards of the world, and we see some failures (often serious ones) as pointing to an initial mistake, when sometimes such failures only point to human weakness and fallibility. These are complex matters and can't be easily dismissed. We sweep things (and people) aside because it is easier to do that than deal with complexities, but God's Mercy is at work in those complexities and weaknesses. Still, I have not resolved all of this yet (after nearly 40 years of thinking about it all!) and I suppose I never will. I just wince sometimes at the certainty shown by others, as though they could see into the mind of God.

  7. Father Gerald O'Mahoney, a Jesuit who lectures and has written many books, must have pondered these questions of choice, vocation etc.

    Having had several breakdowns described in his biography, there were aspects of church life that were challenging for his psychiatric condition.
    He remains a priest, but, on the day-retreat he gave locally, some walked out when he questioned the concept of hell as possible for a loving God. Confession was seen as harmful for him.
    Nevertheless, he did not waver in his basic beliefs. Had he chosen to give up, it would not have been because of a wrong decision, an initial mistake, but an action to be pitied through illness.
    The difficulty is in deciding when free-will is influenced by a sick human body and mind. God knows.