The Rector writes …
“Justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of God, sanctified and called to be saints, Christians have become the temple of the Holy Spirit. This Spirit of the Son teaches them to pray to the Father, and, having become their life, prompts them to act so as to bear the fruit of the Spirit by charity in action”. In these words the Catechism (section 1695) describes the vocation which is common to all the Baptised. It is a profound calling which underlines the dignity intrinsic to the being of every person of whom God can say: “before I formed you in the womb I knew you: before you came to birth I consecrated you” (Jeremiah 1:4). It is our belief that there is purpose in every life and that not only has God made each of us with the potential for an intimate communion with himself but that, in some sense, he needs every one of us in his plan for universal redemption.
The archetypal example of co-operation is offered in the Annunciation to Mary. The Holy Spirit has prepared the moment so that a vocation is set out within a context and is made in terms of a proposition. As with the Mother of Jesus so with each of us: God yearns for the response for which he has prepared us, but our free will is intact: he will ask but he will not force; he will request but he will never compel. The Letter to the Romans rightly reminds us that “those whom God has foreknown he has also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son“, but the mystery of that predestination hangs on our willingness to give genuine assent. These thoughts are preparatory to continuing the theme of the past few weeks’ newsletters concerning the need for a new evangelisation, at the heart of which is the pre-condition that each of us should re-assess our personal vocation. That we have an individual part to play in God’s masterplan is not in question, but what is that part, and might it be changing or evolving? Rightly, we challenge our young people to think in terms of what God may be asking of them but vocational questions continue throughout the human journey, and there is a growing need for an older generation (now that life expectancy is increasing) to put the experience and wisdom of age at the service of the Gospel.
All that being said, priestly vocations remain central to the life and witness of the Catholic Church, and it is here we need to establish a new emphasis. Rightly in the years after the Second Vatican Council there has been a deepened understanding of the role of the laity and a rejection of a negative clericalism which stultifies the gifts of the whole People of God, but the time has come for a rebalancing. The Cure d’Ars talked of the priesthood as nothing less than “the love of the heart of God” and it is this vison of compassionate service that has to be explored further. The priest’s role is to enable the vocations of the rest of the community to flourish: he provides the sacramental means by which everyone else is strengthened in their own particular calling. His is the responsibility to teach within the authentic tradition of the Church and to guide those committed to his care. It should be said of every priest what was said of Jesus that “he taught as one who had authority” (Matthew 7:29) – in the priest’s case, of course, with a wisdom derived not from himself but from the Holy Spirit.
Last summer we had the great joy of Father John Warnaby’s ordination – a priestly vocation nurtured and accepted within Spanish Place: may this moment come to be seen as a watershed as we begin to build a culture of vocation. The abuse crisis has left the priesthood with so much of which to be ashamed and penitent, but the forces of evil must not be allowed to undermine the very means to renewal. We must pray and work for fresh and strong priestly vocations from our own community so that the whole Body of Christ may be able to function as it should. The Biblical witness in both Old and New Testaments is to the few who are called out to pastor and guide the rest. “Priestly ordination is administered as a means of salvation, not for an individual, but rather for the whole Church” (Saint Thomas Aquinas). Any ideas for a new evangelisation cannot be separated from the seeking out and encouragement of fresh priestly vocations.