Vocation is wrapped up in the particularity of your life. You see the need there in front of you, you know what can be done, and what you can do, and you respond: this is the essence of vocation.  We are always being called to build the kingdom in response to the Spirit’s promptings and empowered for what is needed by the Spirit. There is no vacation from vocation. What it calls us to do is ever changing.

Abbé Pierre (d. 2007), the legendary French street priest, would chastise those Catholics for whom the “presence” of Christ was “real” in the consecrated host but only “symbolic” in the poor person with whom Jesus identifies in the Gospel of Matthew.

Spirituality has its full place in this time of renewal. Let us abandon the negative term “non-believers” and open ourselves to the diversity of the spiritual aspirations of our contemporaries. The sharing of convictions, beliefs and faith requires each community to strive to be understandable and credible.

Let us not remain confined in old theological and pastoral approaches. Let us not remain enclosed behind our walls!

April 2020, La Croix

God speaks to us through the events of this world. It is up to us to read the signs!

We believe the current crisis is an opportunity for Christianity to find its full domestic dimension and live the grace of fragility in a creative way.

As the Czech priest and theologian Tomas Halik says:

“Maybe we should accept the present abstinence from religious services and the operation of the Church as kairos, an opportunity to stop and engage in thorough reflection before God and with God… Maybe this ‘state of emergency’ is an indicator of the new face of the Church.”

Far from polemics, the baptized have invented new forms of community life during this time of pandemic: gathering together through broadcast or live-streamed liturgies, video-linked prayer groups, Bible study sessions…

Catholics, like others in our society, have also continued to serve their neighbors through many associations and various solidarity initiatives.

Being in community is constitutive to our faith. But for what sort of worship and to what sort of God?

In the Eucharist, Christians remember the death and resurrection of Christ and of the gift of his life. In the same spirit, they commit themselves to give absolute priority to the service of their neighbor. It is a question of combining “interiority and commitment”, “struggle and contemplation”…

Abbé Pierre (d. 2007), the legendary French street priest, would chastise those Catholics for whom the “presence” of Christ was “real” in the consecrated host but only “symbolic” in the poor person with whom Jesus identifies in the Gospel of Matthew.

Spirituality has its full place in this time of renewal. Let us abandon the negative term “non-believers” and open ourselves to the diversity of the spiritual aspirations of our contemporaries. The sharing of convictions, beliefs and faith requires each community to strive to be understandable and credible.

How can we fail to notice that much of our Catholic discourse seems foreign to our contemporaries. Even more serious has been the silence over sexual abuse of minors and the slowness of the Church’s process of reform.

Once they are back inside their church buildings, how will our Catholic communities reexamine this need for transparency, integrity and truthfulness? Certain ways the Catholic Church functions should also be up for discussion.

What can be done to make sure that our communities, parishes and dioceses move forward in a more collegial way? How can we better articulate the diversity of ministries, those already existing or those yet to be created? How can we better include women in Church governance and decision-making?

Also, what will be the concept of the priest or the role of the parish priest? What about our relationship to the sacred and the rites? And what kind of discussion can we have about the liturgy?

Let us not remain confined in old theological and pastoral approaches. Let us not remain enclosed behind our walls!

Let us set out on the roads of our wounded world and make our churches, not storehouses of customs or fortresses of truth, but places of openness and freedom. Places that are truly freed from lockdown.

Guy Aurenche, former president of the CCFD-Terre solidaire; Laurent Grzybowski, journalist and singer; Monique Hébrard, former Panoramajournalist; René Poujol, former editorial director of Le PèlerinJean-Pierre Rosa, former general delegate of the Semaines sociales de France (Social Weeks of France); Gérard Testard, former chairman of Fondacio.

**

The Didache: it is about a small-sized Church – less than a hundred people – who had a sense of belonging within a covenant as a community, it calls them to a moral lifestyle, and they have to look out for one another.  Christianity is the opposite of an ethical individualism.

While the world is up-side-down

Perhaps the greatest discovery about vocation is that capitalism’s values cut right through the Christian view of life as vocation. The sense of vocation is the belief that we are called to exercise our skills for the building up of the whole people.

Before the crisis how many of us had slipped into the view that human importance is derived from earning potential?  The value we give to a job is a direct consequence of the amount of salary that it can attract. In this view, the more I can generate income, the more I am worth in salary, and so the more I am worth in the economy, and so the more significant I am.

It seems so logical that we do not question it, normally. But this time is not normal.

We realize that nurses – and nursing is often seen as a demeaning job because it involves service to others – are the difference between life and death, then we see that this is what is really valuable rather that they ability to generate cash.

We have discovered that we need those who empty bins, drive delivery lorries and do a hundred other humdrum jobs.

Called to serve

I am not a dreamer who imagines that this realization will last: capitalism has been too successful over centuries at bringing material progress (despite its costs) for it to be abandoned now – it will return!

But right now, let us see this inversion in our values as mirroring the inversion of values that is part of the Jesus vision. Right now we can read this account of an early Christian dispute and actually hear it:

A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors.

But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves (Lk 22, 24).

We could also take notice that for John the Evangelist, the main happening in his Last Supper narrative is about mutual service. Jesus – the Lord and the teacher – takes on the task of a lowest female house slave and washes their feet.

This is an inversion of the world values, gender roles, and social order. Needless to say it was controversial – Peter wanted nothing to do with it – and has remained so.

Cardinal Robert Sarah, head of the Congregation for Divine Worship at the Vatican, recently pointed out that the feet washing ritual on Holy Thursday is never anything more than optional!

But it was not optional for Jesus and he did not intend it to be optional for any of us who call themselves disciples. It was not a display of humanity (‘big boss nice to little people’) as it is often caricatured in our liturgy, but a display of the world of Christian relationship.

More challenging vision of discipleship

Moreover, Jesus did not tell those there to wash the followers’ feet, but that each person who wants to belong to Jesus and wishes to ‘have a share in him’ should wash the feet of others.

During this crisis we have found ourselves doing all sorts of small acts of service for one another. Are we discovering in this process that this is part of our Christian vocation?

In this situation we might be able to hear this even more challenging vision of discipleship:

And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.

Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”

Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.”

For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord — and you are right, for that is what I am.

So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them (Jn 13:3-17).

Vocations Sunday

The Fourth Sunday of Easter is usually referred to as “Vocations Sunday” because the shepherd/flock imagery in chapter 10 of John’s gospel is interpreted at an image of the pastor (clergy) and his people.  But I believe that “Vocations Sunday” is a misnomer. It should be called “Recruitment Sunday”.  Calling it “Vocations Sunday” when the aim is to pray for more unmarried men to volunteer to be presbyters (in most places we never even think about nuns or religious brothers) has two effects.

First, we think that a vocation is equivalent to becoming a full-time religious person: someone who takes on all that is associated with “a priest”. How often have I heard a man say, “I have no vocation”, when what he meant was that he did not want to be a cleric.

Second, it forgets that every formal ministry – such as that of being a presbyter – is but a part of an individual Christian’s vocation.

Let’s try to unravel this.

Every Christian has a vocation – it is wrapped up in the particularity of your life. You see the need there in front of you, you know what can be done, and what you can do, and you respond: this is the essence of vocation.  It is constant in that we are always being called to build the kingdom in response to the Spirit’s promptings and empowered for what is needed by the Spirit. There is no vacation from vocation, but what it calls us to do is ever changing.

Discovering one’s calling

A friend of mine now has discovered that he has the skills of a teacher because he has to help in home-schooling his two kids during this crisis. I know someone else who led prayer, i.e. presided at a liturgy, in their family for the first time on Easter Sunday.

Another has discovered the skills of the listener as lonely people need to talk, and this list goes on and on. As I move through the demands of my life I am called to use my gifts to build the kingdom of holiness, grace, justice, peace and love.

Then there are fixed ministries: skills we need as a Church.

We need those who can read, interpret and preach. We need people who have the skill to gather a community around them. We need those who can lead people in prayer.

We have to identify people who show these skills, and then help them to develop them and make them better in their tasks. Instead of recruitment for a special corps of clergy, we should think of finding ministers more in terms of a job-search or skills audit in a community.

If we believe that the Spirit is moving in the community of the baptized, then a ‘vocations crisis’ is nonsense. It is only a crisis of us failing to look, train, and empower.

Or maybe – just as in so many other areas of life – we have got it all so confused that we cannot see the wood for the trees.

This coronavirus crisis is throwing all our assumptions into the air! Where they will land we do not yet know, we do not know if things will really change or slip back to “normal”.

But after this latest “Vocations Sunday” we might make a start on a new way of living. Our focus today would not be on clergy recruitment, but on helping each Christian to see that she/he has a vocation as they respond to needs in their community.

This is a hard process of listening and then there is the challenge of doing. Then later we might find that individuals also have skills in the communities’ worship.

These people would be identified by a process of community discernment (can this person lead prayer and interpret the demands of discipleship for us?), rather than by a willingness to accept a priori criteria from a bygone age (e.g. male, celibate, full-time and willing to belong within a clerical corps).

If we moved to that, then we could really call this Fourth Sunday of Easter: Vocations Sunday.

Thomas O’Loughlin is a priest of the Catholic diocese of Arundel and Brighton and professor of historical theology at the University of Nottingham (UK). His latest book is Eating Together, Becoming One: Taking Up Pope Francis’s Call to Theologians (Liturgical Press, 2019).

**

Closed churches are foretaste of the future, warns Tomas Halik

2014 Templeton Prize winner predicts catastrophe if Catholicism is not reformed

Christa Pongratz-Lippitt
Germany May 1, 2020 in La Croix

Monsignor Tomas Halik, the renowned Czech intellectual and former Communist dissident, has warned that the temporary closure of churches due to the coronavirus should actually be seen as a wake-up call for the very future of Catholicism.

In a five-page guest article for the Christ & Welt supplement of Die Zeit, a major German national weekly, he said more and more churches would be closed for good in the not-too-distant future – not because of outside forces like the current pandemic, but because of an unwillingness to reform.

“Have we not been warned enough by the developments in many countries where churches, monasteries and seminaries continue to empty and close?” said the 71-year-old theologian and philosopher.

Don’t blame outside forces for empty churches

“Why do we keep on blaming external factors like the ‘tsunami of secularism’ instead of acknowledging that yet another chapter of the history of Christianity is coming to an end and that it is thus necessary to prepare for the next chapter?” he said.

Halik, who was clandestinely ordained to the priesthood in 1984 during the former Czechoslovakia’s harsh Communist dictatorship, said the Church should be what Pope Francis wants it to be: namely, a “field hospital”.

“What the pope means by that is that it should not withdraw from the world in comfortable ‘splendid isolation’, but venture out beyond its own limits and help those who are being physically, psychologically, socially and spiritually hurt,” he said.

Among other things, this could begin to atone for the fact that, until recently, it allowed its representatives to violate people – even the most defenseless among them, Halik added.

Diagnosis, immunization and rehab

Besides offering medical, social and charitable assistance – as it has done since its foundation – the Church must now go further. Like every good hospital, he said, it must offer a diagnosis.

The Czech priest, who was the 2014 recipient of the Templeton Prize for science and religion, said discerning the signs of the times also includes offering a type of “preventative medicine” aimed at immunizing society against the deadly viruses of fear, hatred, populism and nationalism.  And, finally, it also entails “rehab”; that is, healing the traumata of the past through forgiveness.

Return to the heart of the Gospel

Halik suggested that the churches standing empty right now because of the coronavirus lockdown might symbolically show us what the future would be like if the Church did not seriously try to present the world with a totally different form of Christianity.

“We have been far too convinced that the world – that is “the others” – must convert. And we have not thought about the need for our own conversion,” he said.

“But not only that. We didn’t only fail to think of how we could improve ourselves, but above all of how to become ‘dynamic’ Christians rather than ‘static ones’,” he continued.

Halik proposed that we use the present time, when the churches are closed because of the pandemic, to think far more deeply about Church reform.

He said that cannot be a return to a world that no longer exists or a mere modification of external structures. Rather, it must be a more profound reform that turns decisively to the core of the Gospel message, “the necessity of which Pope Francis is always speaking about”.

Seekers of the new wine

Halik, who is currently professor of sociology at the Charles University in Prague, said sociological studies show the number of those who feel at home in a traditional religion is in decline. So, too, is the number of convinced atheists.

Conversely, the number of “seekers” and those who are apathetic to religious issues is growing.

He said seekers could be found among believers and non-believers alike, who “feel a longing for a source that will quell their thirst for the sense/meaning of life”.

The seeker’s time has now arrived, Halik insisted. But that means Christians must stop proselytizing.  “We must not try to ‘convert’ the seekers as quickly as possible and confine them to the already existing institutions and mental limitations of our Churches,” he pointed out.

He noted that when Jesus did not seek out the lost sheep to try to bring it back into the then existing structures of the Jewish religion, because Jesus knew that new bottles were needed for new wine.

Halik said Christian communities, parishes, movements and religious orders should try to achieve the same goal that led to the founding of the European universities – “that is a School of Wisdom where free disputation and profound contemplation is sought”.

“A healing power for our sick world could flow from such islands of spirituality and dialogue,” he said.

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