Our readings this week all follow a similar pattern. The three readings deal with the notion of vocation. As you probably all know, I am the director of the Vocations for the Archdiocese of Melbourne. Unfortunately, I think this title contributes to a misunderstanding of what a vocation is. My job is essentially to help people who are discerning whether or not to become a priest. Occasionally, I might point someone towards a religious order or to the diaconate program, or even more rarely, someone might be trying to discern between marriage and religious life. But for most people the idea of vocations, especially among Catholics, seems to be that people with vocations are those called to be priests, deacons or religious of some stripe. This is a mistake.
Why is it a mistake? It is a mistake because each one of us has a vocation by the very fact that 1) not only have we been called into existence by a word from God, but also 2) through our baptism, we have been incorporated into the life of Christ.
One way to understand this is to focus on the reality of the Word of God, on which the Australian church focuses today in a special way. The Word of God is key to any understanding of vocation. Every word from God participates in the life of the Son, the Word of God. And because every word from God participates in the life of Son, it looks like the Son. Therefore, not only does it come from the Father, it calls for and creates faith; it also seeks to become incarnate; and in becoming incarnate, it seeks to return to the Father; and it seeks to return to the Father through an act of sacrificial love. We can see all this in our readings.
Each of our readings shows an encounter with God. Each encounter is clearly divine because it manifests the holiness of God. We see this revelation of the holiness of God in the experience of unworthiness on the part of the recipient. The bright light of God’s holiness in each case reveals the relative darkness of the recipient. Both Isaiah and St Peter immediately say they are not worthy. St Paul recounts his persecution of the Church. Each one of them realises that the vocation they have received is purely an act of God’s grace. They deserve it in no way. Indeed, as each one of them shows, the only possible credential one can have is the fact that one is called by God. Only God can do this work.
But this is the next step in the realisation of one’s vocation. One immediately realises one’s unworthiness in the face of God, but more importantly, one must immediately change one’s focus off oneself and back to God. The key person is not me: it is God. And so if God chooses me to do some particular work, that is the end of the story. God can make me able to do this work. So, I have to get over my perceived weakness. I have to get over my fears. Because if I don’t do this, if I keep focussing on my shortcomings, I am in a sense being blasphemous. I am saying that God is not all-powerful. That God does not know what God can do with me. I am being presumptuous or I am despairing. Whatever it is, it is a serious sin to think that God does not know what God is doing.
On that note, I would like to share an episode from my own life. During my fifth year at the seminary, I had to my 30 day silent retreat. At the end of the first week, St Ignatius gets you to focus on your past life and your sins. I remember a very hard couple of days, after which I decided that I was not worthy. So, I left the retreat house and went to the rector of the seminary, and told him that I thought I should leave. He told me that this often happened during the retreat and that I should return and finish the retreat before I made any big decisions.
So, I went back to the house and went to the chapel. In the chapel, the Blessed Sacrament was exposed, so I spent a long time in prayer, in tears, asking God what he wanted from me. What did God expect from me as a priest? But, I had forgotten that were other people doing retreats at the same time. One group was made of men who were recovering alcoholics and drug addicts. Some of them were quite damaged. One of the damaged blokes, though, was incredibly joyful and greeted people all the time. I did not know that he was also in the chapel. He was down the back, asleep on a pew. And when I asked God, what did he expect me to do, the bloke down the back snored.
I knew then that I had to keep going. I thought if that is all you expect, if you really are going to do it all through me, then I have no excuse. I just had to get over the fact that I am a sinner and instead focus on the power of God’s love and mercy.
Each one of us somehow then will have a similar experience because that is how Christ seeks to become incarnate in our lives. God calls us. God forgives us. God empowers us. God sends us out to die for our brothers and sisters. Let’s pray then that as a parish we become a place in which God’s Word resounds, a place where vocations are discovered and lived, and God’s Word of love and mercy takes flesh for the life of the world.