Today was a strange day. Vocations Sunday.
Strange because as I sat listening to a sermon calling on the congregation to pray for more priests and vocations to the religious life, I realised that this was the kind of sermon which had been pivotal to my own calling to discernment. And because for the first time hearing this sort of sermon, I had already done what was necessary to be recommended for training.
But hearing it made me realise that we can’t sit still. Being called to train for ordination is a truly wonderful thing. As Christians, we all have vocations to be disciples of Jesus Christ. And priesthood is a very singular expression of that. We are desperately short of people in the ordained life in the Church of England. But I firmly believe that we shouldn’t take this to mean a lowering of standards across the people we decide to train just in order to put people in parishes. Better teaching and reaching those with the gifts is key.
And above all, a humility from our priests. The clergy today must be approachable, never on a pedestal, but they should also be unimpeachable. That might seem a lofty aspiration for any potential ordinand. But apostolic ministry means following the path of the unimpeachable one.
Please pray for those in training, those who select the next generation of clergy, those who train them, and those considering taking the plunge. To the greater glory of God!
The week following Easter is always a tough one. There’s an immense comedown following the emotional roller-coaster of the Triduum. And suddenly, despite the odd “Alleluia” being thrown into the Mass, you’re back to where you were. Say your daily prayers and keep going until Advent.
But of course there’s so much more to it than that.
The post-Easter season is one for us to glorify and exult in. This is something we’re not good at as Anglicans, especially not as diffident English Anglicans. We tend to think celebrating is awfully gauche and not in the Spirit of things. Yet of course, the Spirit is rejoicing with us as we remember that Christ rose from the dead and burst the gates of hell. Isn’t that something for us to celebrate loud and long?
The words of the hymn echo in my mind: “Yet who am I, that for my sake, my Lord should take frail flesh and die.” Easter helps us to put Christmass into perspective, just as during the Nativity we see the Lord born in a manger with the shadow of the Cross already over him. Easter should always remind us that this is exactly why this man came into the world. The agony of Mary tempered with the fact that it had to be like this. It was always going to be this.
This is something for us to think upon during the following weeks. The glorious mystery that what we have just celebrated was destined to happen. Without the birth of Christ, there is no road to Calvary. Without the pain of the Cross, there is no resurrection. And without that there is no eternal life. The sacrifice is what matters. That is why Good Friday is so called. That is why it needs to happen. That is why we venerate that instrument of death. That is why Christ embraced his Cross. It is why it remains the most potent of Christian symbols. And remembering that all these things are linked is the only way to the true faith. Being a Christian is not all sweetness and light. We celebrate because of suffering. But it should be as much for our own suffering as that of Our Lord. Following in his footsteps means understanding that our own crosses are there for us.
That’s what has kept me going since the end of the Triduum. The fact that the Cross impacts us all and never goes away. And we should be grateful for that fact.
And so we come to it: the climax of the faith. Three months ago we were celebrating the birth of a child. A child born in a manger with the shadow of his instrument of death already over him.
The Triduum is an especially thought provoking time for those training for the Priesthood. There’s little doubt in my mind that many a vocation is tested, proved, and wobbled by these three days. How on earth can we hope to follow a man who gave so much and died in such agony? How can we be better disciples than those who abandoned him at the last? What sacrifices do we need to make in order to be Christians?
The good thing is, we ask these questions knowing we can’t live up to Christ, or to the Apostles. But we know that it matters not. God loves us all, in our frailty and our weakness. And his Son dying for us is a reminder of that. We are called. We have no choice but to respond.
Keeping discipline in Lent is supposedly something we might feel good about. How rewarding is it to know that you can train yourself to not have a pint, or to not eat chocolate? Or conversely, when taking something on, to go to an extra mass a week? Aren’t we gaining good points in the eyes of God? Look at how virtuous we are!
Yet this misses the point. Lenten discipline shouldn’t be about self-satisfaction, but about walking more closely with Christ. “Christ the Lord was tempted and suffered for us.” Is it not better to think about the suffering we see around us every day? When Christ walked the earth, he spent time with those in need. Whilst we might not always be able to do that, shouldn’t a reminder at this time about the inability of some people to have what we have prick at our consciences?
To my shame, I get annoyed with people who talk through their disciplines and say “I can’t wait for Easter Day.” It’s a focus too much on the self and misses the reasoning behind fasting and abstinence. The Son of God fasted 40 days and only then began his great work. For us, should our thoughts more readily turn towards the work we can do for the outcast and dispossessed during this period?
One of the things which has recently struck me is how difficult it is to keep hold of friendships whilst you’re training. By that, I mean with people you were friends with before you started. This week I realised I’d not spoken to two or three good friends of mine since the start of term. A few hasty calls later and the error was rectified, but it felt like a sticking plaster.
I’d always thought that life in a training establishment would be somewhat of a fresh start. That’s a ridiculous way to think about it of course – it’s another step on a journey with God. But I do feel as though part of my old life got left behind in the autumn. In the maelstrom and madness of the institution I’m studying at, it’s all too easy to feel a little lost.
It’s been extremely useful to have patient friends on the outside. But I’m blessed to have made some good friends here too. A deepened relationship with God is helping too. And that’s partly what it’s about.
Being back at home after a busy first term is a strange thing. Having been surrounded by the madness of a lot of people pulling in the same direction, one gets a reminder of what life is like when you’re outside the college door.
You find yourself talking a lot less about God, and a lot more about yourself. Everyone wants to know how you’re settling in, what the food’s like, have you made any friends.
It’s nice to be able to give positive answers to all of those questions.
A good friend of mine said she could already see a change in how I was behaving. She described me as being much more calm than she’d ever known me. I’m not so sure I’ve changed as much as she claims, but it’s nice to see some changes being picked up on.
Christmas is always a busy time for Christians, but it feels as though a little has been added to me this year. It’s not that I’ve done more in church than normal, but rather that I’ve been seemingly more aware of what’s going on. Writing that down doesn’t do the feeling justice.
But it’s been lovely to be with family and to leave the books behind for a brief moment. I’m sure that next term will be a busy one.
Arriving at a new home is always a stressful time. There’s always so much to do and fears nag at you. What will my neighbours think of me? Will I feel happy? How will I do in my new role?
And when that move is to a place meant to form you for ministry in the church of God, those fears multiply exponentially.
Therefore, it was with more than a little trepidation that I faced up to moving to theological college. So much to cope with – study, prayer, changing sleep patterns. And all the while surrounded by people like you who are training for the same thing, but who come from so many different backgrounds.
How refreshing it has been to have the support of that community.
One of the joyous things about being here is that everyone’s willing to answer a question if they can. And so many different stories exist about how people got here. In many respects it is wonderful.
Having said that, it’s not all gone completely swimmingly. But everyone mucks in and gets their hands dirty as necessary. There’s a lack of sloth among the whole group and I feel privileged to be here amongst such dedicated man and women.