30 April, 2012

Homily for Vocations Sunday - Fourth of Easter (B) 2012

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11).
A couple of weeks ago my sermon focused on the commission which Jesus gave to his Church to become the instrument of redemption for the whole of creation. You may remember we read in St John’s gospel how the risen Christ stood among the disciples and said to them, As the Father has sent me, so I send you (John 20:21).
As Christians we ought to keep always before us the call we have all received to become members of the Church, members of Christ’s body for the unity and sanctification of humanity. We must remember that we have been called by God to grow daily in the likeness of Jesus.
However, we must also remember that this is not a call that can be expressed by everyone in the same way. So a particular vocation – secondary call, if you will – is needed to bring the first one to fruition.

This Sunday, sometimes called “Good Shepherd Sunday”, we are invited to pray for particular vocations and ministries within the Church in what is called “Vocations Sunday”. I would like to reflect briefly with you on three particular calls that are indispensable for the life of the Church.
First, some individuals have been called by God to leave most worldly affairs behind and consecrate themselves to a religious life. Through the centuries there have been many different expressions of this vocation; monks, nuns, lay brothers, hermits, anchorites, stilites etc. All of these people responded to a precise vocation from God to lead a contemplative life, to dedicate themselves to constant prayer, and to the service of others. Indeed, one of the marks of the spiritual renewal of Anglicanism in the 19th and 20th centuries has been the flourishing of religious houses everywhere in our worldwide Communion.
We could say that consecrated people become the ever beating heart which powers the Church’s mission in the world. Just consider this, at whatever time of day or night, somewhere in the world a monastic community is interceding for the Church and for the world.

Secondly, some people are called by God to become the servants of the whole body of Christ and the spiritual bridge between the world and Church. These are the deacons; men and women conformed at their ordination to the servanthood of Our Lord Jesus who girded himself with a towel and washed the disciples’ feet. Deacons are commissioned to search out the poor and weak, the sick and lonely and those who are oppressed and powerless, reaching into the forgotten corners of the world, that the love of God may be made visible (Declarations, CW Ordination Services).

Thirdly, some other individuals are called to feed and provide for the Church; to resist evil, support the weak, defend the poor, and intercede for all in need (ibid.). They are called to offer the Sacrifice of the Eucharist with and on behalf of God’s people; they are called to absolve sins. These are the priests, or presbyters. The very character of Jesus the High Priest, the Good Shepherd is branded on their hearts as their very identity (ref. needed).

At this particular time we could say that we are in a desperate need of priests and we would be right. Our deanery is suffering greatly from the lack of priests wholly devoted to the ministry of the Church. However, this is only one of our vocational problems. For example, there are no permanent deacons in our diocese and no specific mechanism in place to discern any such a call among the people of God. As in my case, the diaconate is merely seen as an apprenticeship before ordination to the priesthood.
There are no Anglican religious houses left in this county. There are no consecrated people left in this diocese to pray alongside our missionary efforts; the well of monastic spirituality seems to be dried up in Cornwall.
Finally, there are too many noises, and worries which our society imposes on us all and these distract us from generously responding to God’s call.
Let us pray to God that His call to these ministries may be heard again in this land. Let us pray for more vocations, not just this Sunday but every day until the current spiritual draught of the Church will be stayed.
May Our Lady – who said to the servants at Cana, ‘Do whatever He tells you’ (John 2:5) – pray for us and for those discerning a vocation to the ordained ministry and the religious life.

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