Vocations, New Evangelization and such like

Happy new year, belated though the greeting might be.

The past year has seen a lot of talk, using both ink and air, about vocations, and the culture of vocation, as the Church in this sceptred but Godless isle seeks to repair the damage of the last few decades that has been visited upon the priestly and religious life. For a long time I have been one of those happy to talk of religious and priestly callings as being just two among many possible vocations, such as marriage or single life, or even more narrowly to a range of what are more traditionally termed careers. Some have noted the danger of reducing vocation to career-choice and have changed the rhetoric to centre on vocation as state in life: celibate priest or religious, married, consecrated virginity or the single life. (Yet some die-hards, yea heretics, still hold to vocation being a call away from the normative state of life for humanity as elaborated in Genesis, namely marriage and the raising of a family: marriage is hard-wired into human nature, not a call external to it. Yes – I am a heretic now.)

This rhetorical shift was satisfyingly sensible: job and vocation are not synonyms. Yet still something indeterminate and indistinct gnawed away at satisfaction. Partly it was empirical: all the talk and preaching on vocation, all the initiatives initiated and courses run, the literature and websites produced, the psychology and affective skills employed seemed impressive in scope. Yet if one stopped to look at results, they were meagre. There has been a growth in vocations in the traditional sense, yet it seems to have been almost in spite of the vocations industry than because of it. So many of the vocations that have emerged have come from the more traditional sources, or been inspired by the example and teaching of recent popes. All this feverish promotion of the traditional vocations, situated with an avowed egalitarianism among other states of life now also called vocations, seemed remarkably fruitless.

Perhaps, one thought, the promotion of the New Evangelization was missing link. To promote a culture of faith leading into mission, employing the latest media and insights, going out into the marketplace, and making evangelization (hitherto not a common Catholic word if I remember rightly) a mission, even a ministry, shared by the laity as well as clergy and religious. The implication, and sometimes the assertion, was that this mission flowed from our Baptism, and now it is time to revive it.

However, troublingly, it was easy to detect the emergence of what has all the markings of yet another industry. The industrialization and democratization of vocation and evangelization seems to meet the needs of our 21st century world with its new media, more literate and technologically-savvy laity, especially youth and a revived urge to be doing something.

And here comes my heresy. I just do not see it working, either thus far or in the near future. There is immense goodwill and fervent desire to be righting the listing ship. Yet these positive energies are being directed into what is all too often mere activity. There comes to mind the old tag-line (or was it a poster?): Jesus is coming. Look busy. Busy we are, to what appears no good result.

If we survey the history of the Church, we see readily enough that it had its periods of decline and resurgence, its vigour waxed and waned. At the risk of gross simplification, it seems that most of the decline coincided with the blurring of the necessary distinction between Church and world, with the decay of Christian identity leading to Christians being in the world and all too clearly of the world. Resurgence coincided with the emergence of individuals, men and women, whose initiatives and insights did not emerge primarily from the progress of secular knowledge and its insights. They had a common, unifying thread: a radical, uncompromising return to the Gospel which is ever present in the Church but its lustre too easily tarnished by her members. To put it another way, and to employ the idiom of the Second Vatican Council, it was about the universal (and we must say also, perpetual) call to holiness, of the integrity that comes when the movement of our lips matches the movement of our lives.

All our striving for vocations and for evangelization will mean nothing if they exist merely as techniques and strategies which are effectively the focus of a relentless activism. There is need for relentless activism, but first and foremost it needs to be directed towards prayer, sacraments, the works of charity and of mercy, walking the extra mile, turning the other cheek, offering both our shirts and our cloaks – and these not on some impersonal, macro level. Our Christian living begins on the micro level, wherever we find ourselves, and with whomever: the troublesome relative, the annoying confrere, that hateful colleague, the needy friend, the homeless man sleeping on a busy city street. We are not called to change the world, but we are called to change our hearts by concrete acts empowered by our prayer. This prayer need not be the prayer of the professional religious, or the mystic, but the common, and too often scorned, recitation of set prayers or frequent offering of interior words and aspirations to the God who is ever at our side, or the lighting of a candle, or the tingle in our heart as we read holy scripture.

The more meagre our prayer and our sacramental nourishment, the more tepid our faith, the more anemic our living, the more soulless our activity. Too many like this, and we find our Church in decline, and so too vocations and evangelization. And no amount of talking and self-examination will solve the problem unless they lead to real holiness. Vocations and witness to the faith emerge from a healthy Church, a Church healthy in her members most of all. Too much of our vocations work and evangelization and mission is focused on what are actually symptoms, not causes.

So, most likely, until we rediscover what it is to be Christian both in word and in deed, to be devout in our worship and prayer and brave in our charity and compassion, to be in the world but never one with the world, to value our faith and our sacramental life as more than a conscience salve we compress and cram into an hour before Sunday lunch (or Saturday night on the town) – unless our lives as members of the Church conform more truly to the Gospel call and to the grace ever offered us (and too often ignored by us), then none of these initiatives for vocation or evangelization will ever bear much lasting fruit. At best they may occasionally strike lucky. But is that good enough? Read Matthew 6:33, and think about it a little.

One should never write late at night. The purple passages abound, and perhaps a little perspective is lost. But really, the only activity that God really needs of us now is that daily commitment to conversion that bears fruit in our living, a turning from self to God and to others that ultimately is the gift of God himself. Let us pray that we do not receive the gift in vain. Let us rend our hearts, not our garments. (Cf Joel 2:13)

I do begin to see that perhaps this is what Pope Francis is on about.

Jesus is coming. Be holy.

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12 thoughts on “Vocations, New Evangelization and such like

  1. Fr Ray Blake says:

    Yes, Father, and that is why the monastic life is so vital to a healthy Church.
    Monastic vocations are the canary in the mine, if they flourish then the Church is flourishing, it indicates our liturgy elsewhere leads to prayer and communion, that we teaching asceticism and self denial in our parishes, that we are communicating ‘other’ values.

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    • Fr Hugh says:

      Thank you, Father, for taking the time to comment; I tend to be a taker rather than giver on the blogs of others.

      Your comment itself is so right, and so troubling for us in monastic life. A canary in the mine, indeed! That being so, the Church – in these isles at least – needs some fresh, clean air and soon.

      Pax et bonum.

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  2. Happy New Year Father–good to read a post as I missed your wise counsel. I agree whole heartedly with your words. As one coming from a fellow vocation as teaching is a life’s calling as is the life of the religious– I see much of what you say about, what I call the all that glitters syndrome, in churches here throughout the US with the glitzy mega churches and the use of the technology, the video productions, the theatrics, etc… I’ve witnessed the same happen within the Education field–the mindset being that if we throw technology to it, with the high tech fancy schmancy this and that–the eyes gloss over, people become mesmerized but there is not meat to the message, as the message is mixed, jumbled or non existent.
    I greatly appreciate your honesty Father, as well as for your insight and teaching. As always, thank you and blessing for a joyous new year–julie

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    • Fr Hugh says:

      Thank you Julie! It is no coincidence that the gimmickry of education has bloomed at the same time as the gimmickry of religion. If children and adults are given things “to do” and a little high-tech, cutting-edge razzle dazzle, then perhaps the harder-edged demands of education and faith can be evaded, and we can all feel good affirmed.

      But if there is one thing the saints have taught us, Christ did not come to affirm us, but to show us the way, the truth and the life, and so save us from ourselves. That is why denial of self, in its proper biblical sense, is so important. Christ must increase, we must decrease. And in this we find our true and enduring peace.

      Blessings!

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  3. veronicamelnyk says:

    To quote Perfectae Caritatis 24: “Religious communities have the right to make themselves known in order to foster vocations and seek candidates. In doing this, however, they should observe the norms laid down by the Holy See and the local Ordinary. Religious should remember there is no better way than their own example to commend their institutes and gain candidates for the religious life.”

    Special initiatives have their place in fostering and discerning vocations, but as one prioress told me, we have to get our own houses in order first. Pax! Sr Johanna

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  4. Br. Tony Jukes, S.S.S. says:

    Interesting article and observations.

    Pope Paul VI instituted the World Day of PRYAER for Vocations to the PRIESTHOOD and CONSECRTAED LIFE. So many homilies of Good Shepherd Sunday push aside these “Vocations” in favour of ‘we ALL have a vocation’, as you say: ‘married life, single, etc.’

    Yes, so much time, energy, arguing, fighting even, and enormous financial expense on Vocations’ material, and for so many years.

    The best observation I heard some years ago now was: It’s time to be done with all these talks, conferences, workshops, brainstorming, etc., etc, and, as Religious, get back down on our knees. “Pray the Lord of the harvest”.

    Shall we ever?

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    • Fr Hugh says:

      Well said Tony. We all need reminding of the true reason for the Day of Prayer. Perhaps we are all too used to fashioning things after our own linking when it comes to liturgy and prayer!

      If Pope Francis’ call to simplicity and frugality for religious and clergy especially is to be taken seriously, then perhaps these virtues could be pursued in vocations promotion. Let’s save time, money and forests and let the printing presses roll on other matters. As you say, on our knees is the best strategy. Let’s not spend so much time promoting prayer for vocations; let’s concentrate on the praying itself.

      Peace upon you!

      [image: logo] *Fr Hugh Somerville-Knapman OSB* Douai Abbey Upper Woolhampton Reading, Berks, RG7 5TQ, UK *Tel: 0118 971 5339 | Mobile: 0780 0780 567* [image: Facebook] [image: WordPress Blog Posts] Fr Hugh’s latest post:Vocations, New Evangelization and such like Read more| My blog [image: Share on Facebook] [image: Share on Twitter] Get this email app!

      On 22 January 2014 23:01, Dominus mihi adjutor

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  5. ChrisK. says:

    A seminarian colleague of mine said, and I think rightly, that it is pointless and counterproductive to tell young men that they must discern whether they are called to be a priest, religious,or to be married. As if they can be equally interpreted. Since a longing for marriage is hardwired into all (most) of us, even into those who do choose to live a celibate life, all that young men need ask themselves is, am I or am I not called to be a priest or religious? Simple. If not then go down the marriage path, that’s good too.

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    • Fr Hugh says:

      Exactly. The discernment is about whether God is calling you away from the normal way of being Christian in order that you might serve Him and His Church in a more particular and direct way. If He is, He will give you grace for all that this entails.

      The way you began your comment reminded me, for some reason, of Margaret Thatcher’s infamous: “God once said, and I think rightly, …”. :-D

      Pax.

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  6. GOR says:

    Very true, Father! I am a latecomer to your blog and see that I have missed a lot.
    Your post reminded me of similar goings-on in the business world – endless meetings, programs and projects designed, supposedly, to increase productivity and the bottom line. Some people only felt ‘fulfilled’ when their calendars were replete with meetings and ‘busy-ness’. My take was: “Just do your job!”
    I think many priests and religious would admit that one thing that initially inspired their vocations was the example of a priest, religious brother or sister they knew or had read about, saints included. Yes, God’s grace would have been central, but God also works through people.
    So the burden does come back to us – each of us – in how we live our Faith and the example we show. “See how those Christians love one another!” was said of the Early Church. Can it be said of us today?
    If the world has not been converted to Christ – and the laborers are few – we don’t need lots of programs to figure out why. A look in the mirror will suffice. And if the image we see is not what it should be, then there is the challenge: “The good that I would, I do not…”

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    • Fr Hugh says:

      Welcome! No visitor is ever too late. :-)

      You pin-point out another way to view the programatization (sorry! but you get the idea) of the Church’s evangelical outreach: the business model of consultants and strategies, all of which seem to distract from the core work and, as you say, just doing it. Is it out of fear of rejection, or of the demands it will make of us? Is ti because we do not have a strong faith in our own essential and timeless teaching? If so, how sad, and how much we have lost.

      And again, you are spot on about the importance of personal example. My original examples were not Benedictines but the Jesuits who taught me, and did it so well. I remember those days (1977-86 of all times!) and those Jesuits with great fondness.

      May we all be a good Christian example to at least one person in our lives.

      Peace upon you. And do come back!

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