hey christians, get out into the world!

For me, the sign of a good book is if it keeps you pondering long after you finished the last page. Karen Armstrong`s book, Through the Narrow Gate – A Memoir of Life in and Out of the Convent has done this for me. In response to my previous post our friend, Ray, summed up the old school thought of religious life,

Over time religious life had drifted into a kind of personal devotion to personal salvation. The male religious in this project entered religious life at a time when the essence of religious perfection meant a separation from the world. 

I believe there is still a place in this world for women and men who devote their lives to the discipline of prayer. Thomas Merton comes to mind. Though a brilliant intellectual, he chose the hermit life of a Trappist monk. He promoted the value of contemplation as not only a means of union with God, but of spiritual union with the world. His prolific writings came from this grounded spiritual life.

But after Vatican II, many religious orders opened the doors of convents and monasteries and began to share their gifts with the world. I have many friends who are religious sisters or brothers. These women and men are passionate about living the Gospel, not just meditating on it. Their action is grounded in prayer. Their prayer leads them to action. What a loss it would be if they were all locked up in their religious houses, seeking only their own salvation!

As Catholics, we do not believe that things of the spirit equal good, and things of the world equal evil. We got rid of this dualistic philosophy a long time ago. But it still lingers. It yanks my chain when I hear any Catholic spout that holiness can only be found within the four walls of a church or religious community. What nonsense!

Think of it this way. Most women and men who are drawn to committed parish life or religious life are pretty serious about their faith. These are, for the most part, good people. And, the world needs good people. Isn`t it stupid to gather good people together and keep them separated from the world? We need prisons for the bad folks, for the safety of society. But, we shouldn`t be imprisoning our good folks, using all their energies and talents for the church or community. We need good women and men bringing their goodness into family life, schools, the work place, our streets and shelters.

As Christians, we need to be with like-minded souls. We need the gift of community to be formed, to pray, and to find support on our life`s journey. But our faith community or church should never be an end in itself. A wise friend once said that `community is the vehicle, it`s not the destination`. This is so true. Whether we are in a parish, a small faith community, or a religious community, we need to embrace our faith and then go out into the world and put that faith into action. God knows the world is in need of some serious goodness!

World Day of Prayer for Vocations

Pope Paul VI instituted the first World Day of Prayer for Vocations, on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, in 1964. The inclusivity of the term vocations varies. Most Catholics were raised to think of vocations in terms of the ministerial priesthood or consecrated (vowed religious) life. Benedict XVI`s letter for the 48th World Day of Prayer for Vocations reflects this definition. Others use the term more broadly to include the laity and our life commitments.  All are vocations and all need our prayers.

As I get older I have a new appreciation of the word, vocation. I`m at the age where peers and friends are firmly established in their professions and careers, or contemplating retirement. My own children are at the other end of the spectrum – still discerning life choices or in the early years of their careers. Discernment in the midst of uncertainty is difficult work and often a long, winding journey before all the pieces fall into place.

Because of our stage in life, we have had many discussions with friends and family about the difference between a job and a vocation. A job is an obligation and responsibility. We drag ourselves out of bed in the morning to face the daily grind of family tasks and paid work. Children must be looked after. Wages must be earned. There is little incentive to do more than the minimum requirement to fulfill our obligation.

A vocation is a calling. It identifies our gifts, talents, and passions, summoning us to use them for the greater good of others. In doing so, we find our own lives fulfilled. Do you know a doctor, nurse, or other health care provider who practises medicine as a vocation as opposed to a job? What about a teacher or professor? What about an emergency responder, fire-fighter, or police officer? What about the server, clerk or cashier who makes your day brighter by their professionalism and pleasant manner? What about the parents or grand-parents who selflessly care for and nurture young ones to their fullest potential? Our world is made better by those who live their daily lives as a vocation, and not just a job.

Our Church is made better by women and men who live faithful lives that honour commitments made to themselves, others, and to God. In a time of soaring divorce rates, women and men continue to pledge their life-long love to each other. And many celebrate silver, golden, and even diamond anniversaries.

With scandals making head-lines around the world, it is a difficult time for young people to contemplate vowed religious life or ordination. Yet contemplate it they do, and with amazing courage they answer the call to a religious vocation. They have as their mentors and models women and men who have joyfully celebrated silver, golden and even diamond jubilees in religious and ordained life.

On this World Day of Prayer, we pray for all young people that they may be open to God`s Spirit calling them to the fullness of life – in whatever vocation they are summoned to. We pray in thanksgiving for all the women and men we know who live their vocations with integrity, commitment and passion. They are our models and our mentors. And we pray that we, too, may be faithful in our own vocations that we may be models and mentors to others.

freedom 55…not for all!

Here in Canada, fifty-five is becoming the retirement age for the lucky few who have secure pension plans. Meanwhile, some unions are fighting against mandatory retirement at sixty or even sixty-five, much to the frustration of younger workers seeking employment or an opportunity to move up in their careers. For those who are self-employed, the age of retirement is not so clear cut. And in professions that are experiencing a shortage (such as health-care), there is pressure to work for as long as one is able to.

In our local church, our diocesan priests can ask to retire at sixty-five. With the current shortage, many continue full parish and administrative duties past this age. Bishops can look forward to `freedom 75`, the canonical age at which they must retire. Cardinals have voting rights within a papal conclave until the age of eighty.

I have friends who are religious sisters, brothers and priests who continue to serve their congregations in leadership roles well into their sixties and seventies. Their work requires extensive travel to oversee mission projects and visit foundations in all corners of the developing world. It exhausts me just to think of the fatigue and jet lag. Many vowed religious `retire` from professional careers only to give their time and energy to social justice work.

My own parents retired early, but never stopped being active. My father is an inspector of home-built aircraft. He mentors other home-builders while working on his own plane. My mother turned to art in her fifties, and is now an accomplished artist. They are both voracious readers and love a good discussion. They are my model and inspiration, showing me how to nurture and support our creative potential throughout life.

Retirement can be a misnomer. How many retired friends do you have that say they`re busier than ever? My husband is turning fifty-five next week. No, there is no retirement in our near future. Our game plan is to continue working as long as we can provide a service to our community. But we are learning to slow down and enjoy more holy leisure along the way!