Meditation on a Seminarian’s First Call

A Meditation on a Seminarian’s First Call – and Homily For Vocation in Daily Work

Shared with (and addressed to) a homelitics class at the General Theological Seminary, April 26, 2012
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 Ecclesiastes 3:1, [8-12], 9-13, [14-15]

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
[a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.]

What gain have the workers from their toil? I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover, he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil. [I know that whatever God does endures for ever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him. That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by.]

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The wisdom teacher in Ecclesiastes writes:
“I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with.  He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover, he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” . . .
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Vocation.  Think back for a moment over the years you’ve probably spent interacting with this idea of vocation. . . Sensing vocation — Waking up to a sense of vocation  – Becoming aware of God’s call.  Discerning vocation – looking for clarity in vocational direction.  Or maybe you’ve had periods of avoiding vocation or running away from the call – perhaps just putting it off . . . turning away from the inner voice that may have been calling you to live into your deeper truth.

Did you ever go through a struggle in defining your sense of vocation?  Spending time with friends and your faith community sifting through the various directions a religious vocation might take you —  trying to bring your individual vocational call into focus.

Then, did there come a time when after much prayer and much reflection you came to peace with your understanding of your call?  After that, perhaps, it became a matter of defending vocation?  Trying to convince an uncooperative Commission on Ministry and a stubborn Standing Committee that your call to a religious vocation was really authentic?

Sensing vocation, discerning vocation, avoiding . . . defining . . . defending vocation. Do any of these phrases ring a bell for you . . . bring to mind your past interactions with vocation – your struggles with vocation?

By the time I had jumped through all these discernment hoops, when I was finally made a postulant to Holy Orders and found myself here at GTS as a junior in seminary, I remember being so very tired of discerning . . . defining . . . defending that call to vocation!  So very tired of being tied up with self questions, self examination, self definition, self defense . . . and so very ready to get on with the next stage of formation for vocation . . .

The wisdom teacher says:
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven . . .”

For me, when I arrived at seminary I was over-ready for the season of self-centered vocation discernment to come to an end . . .

Discerning . . . defining . . . defending  . . .These are all part of my memory of the drama of discernment past.  And in reflection on this past, the words from Ecclesiastes ring true:
“I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with . . he has put a sense of past into our minds, yet we cannot know what God has done from the beginning . . .”
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Let’s fast forward to the present moment – and beyond – to our projections of vocation into the future

Many of us are looking ahead with expectations of how our ideas of vocation may take shape in our future lives in parish ministry.  We’re now living into a time of transition – looking to “a future hoped for” — and at the same time to “a future unknown”.  For some of us there are feelings of insecurity in not yet having received a call – waiting to hear about applications that we have submitted – or interviews entered into with prayers for the possibility of a right fit. If a call has already come and been affirmed, this time of transition may still be filled with feelings of insecurity – wondering if we’re really prepared for the ministry that lies ahead.

Again the words from Ecclesiastes ring true as we project into the future – as we reflect on hopes and fears – doubts and joys – about the challenges that lie ahead of us after graduation. . . The wisdom teacher writes:
“I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with . . he has put a sense of the future into our minds, yet we cannot know what God will do in the end . . .”
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Now back to the present moment – and again to the wisdom of the teacher in Ecclesiastes:
“What gain have the workers from their toil? I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover, he has put a sense of past and future into our minds, yet we cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for us than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we live.”

… How easy and human it is to let our minds be filled with disconcerting memories from the past and anxieties about what lies in the future.

… How often our minds churn and labor away in the past and in the future – consuming our creative energy, masking the face of the present moment.

… How often we get caught up in the past and the future and totally miss God’s call to vocation in daily work.
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Vocation in daily work happens just then and there, I believe: Vocation in daily work happens daily -and more specifically it happens in the present moment – in the here and now.  The present moment is actually our only reality – and it’s the only place where we encounter the living Christ. The present moment is the only place we encounter Jesus Christ in each other. The present moment is the only place we can serve each other as Christ.

For many of us there is a special sense of vocation as a call to ordained ministry.  And in this regard, there can arrise a tendency for the Sacrament of Holy Orders to divide the world into the “religious” and the “secular”. But vocation in daily work is the call of every Christian to ministry and discipleship – the call to live into our baptismal vows to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ” and to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourself.”

This is the vocation of the “priesthood of all believers ” lived out in the context of all forms of work.  To be a farmer, a craftsman, a teacher, a banker, a lawyer is just as much a Godly vocation as to be a preacher.  All forms of work participate in God’s work – all forms of work are ways of serving others.
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The Good News in the message of the wisdom teacher in Ecclesiastes is this:  that discovering and embracing vocation is pure gift.

The wisdom teacher writes:
“I know that there is nothing better for us than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all our toil.”

In truth, seeking vocation is not an act of self-will . . . not a goal to pursue.  Rather Christian vocation is a gift to be received. . . a voice to be heard and followed . . .   . . .   and a blessing to be shared in service to others and in the service of all creation.
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The wisdom teacher writes:
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven . . .”

The voice of vocation changes with the seasons of our lives – ever-changing yet ever present. Vocation is a gift of the ever-constant present moment – a gift of the ever-constant Presence in the person of Jesus Christ.  As we gather at the Table, come in the eternal present to the eternal Presence — receive the gifts of God for the People of God.
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Let us pray:
Almighty God our heavenly Father, you declare your glory and show forth your handiwork in the heavens and in the earth: Deliver us in our various occupations from the service of self alone, that we may do the work you give us to do in truth and beauty and for the common good; for the sake of him who came among us as one who serves, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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