There is only one Christ in whom dwells the fullness of the Godhead and indeed the fullness of humanity. Christ is the complete summation of all vocations because he lives the perfect relationship with the Father in the Holy Spirit, and the Father’s relationship with Christ in the Spirit is complete and perfect. Thus, in Christ, all vocations are fully and completely present and lived. The Gospels try to bring us to this realisation by telling the Jesus Christ, God-Man, story, They do not aim to be biographies in that sense of a specific literary genre, but rather lay before us, the readers and hearers, the complete story of Christ-service in obedience to the will of the Father.
All vocations are present and perfect in Christ for the sake of the kingdom of God – teacher, preacher, healer, servant, forgiver, bridegroom, married, single, priestly, consecrated religious, celibate, obedient, poor, consoler of the downcast, gentle, mourning, hungry and thirsty for righteousness and justice, social activist and liberator, merciful, one who makes peace by living it absolutely, the one who accepts persecution and suffering for the sake of the Gospel and the kingdom (see Matthew 5), the one who prayers ceaselessly in complete abandonment with and to the Father, and so forth, not forgetting all the works of mercy which are specified in Matthew 25, the parable of the last judgment which could also be seen as the parable of the kingdom present.
In this sense we can say that all vocations in the Church are Christological – they say something about Christ and Christ gives them their true content and meaning. Without Christ they cease to be vocations and stand simply as ways of life or life-style choices.
If all vocations are Christological, that’s to say, a participation by the person in the person of Christ Jesus, then all vocations must be ecclesiological and ecclesial, since in Christ the Church is already perfectly realised and made manifest as supreme means for the making present of the kingdom of God, and all vocations stand at the service of the making perfect of the Church, here and now, and the realisation of the kingdom in the here and now and, eschatologically, in the perfection of the age to come. A vocation, then, reveals the Church in some way, and the Church’s mission and purpose – why the Church was founded and why God continues to sustain her. In the same way, a vocation is fed by being an expression of the Church’s very nature – she is mission, in herself, sent out into the world in order that the Gospel be preached and all humankind be given the means to attain the salvation which God has prepared and revealed in Christ. This makes vocation – any vocation – a very powerful reality: it reveals Christ, and makes the Church visible. In a vocation which is freely chosen and freely lived, Christ is made present, working, in the world through the Church. By its nature, then, a vocation is a dynamic, evangelical, purposeful and charismatic means for the conversion of our world and society.
So far in our teachings we have thought about the nature of vocation in some gathered thoughts, looked at the pivotal stories of the calls of Moses and Samuel, and considered the enormous task which is the search for self and self-realisation in both of these stories and especially then in the story of Jonah. Now we need to take some time to situate the discussion around vocation in the person of Jesus Christ, since he, ultimately, is the content, origin and end of any vocation.
Christ, in the Gospel accounts and in the other New Testament writings, is presented to us as living three very distinct and yet clearly related roles. They are characteristics of his very person and are revealed to us in his words and deeds. They are already ancient for the people of his time and are embedded in the psyche of those who heard him. For us, they can appear distant and disconnected from our way of living and thinking – but it would be a fundamental mistake to omit them from our thought about vocation. Christ, in the Gospels, is revealed as the archetypal Priest, Prophet and King. Each vocation lived in answer to his invitation to deep discipleship and service of the Church is defined by the presence of these three charismatic realities.
Priest, the one who consecrates and who, by his actions, bridges the gulf between us and God. A great deal of the Letter to the Hebrews is given over to discussing Christ’s high priestly role, and as such, how he has brought to completion and superseded the old priestley models and forms associated with the Old Testament rites. Essentially, Christ’s priesthood is one which brings priest and offering together to achieve a momentous happening – the sacrifice which replaces all other sacrifices because it is Christ himself who is the sacrifice and the consequent new covenant, the new relationship which is established in him, between God and humankind, is a once and for all reality – it has no need to be revised or renewed, it suffices for all time.
This priestly action of Christ’s brings about a totally new reality – the consecration which it effects consecrates a people and invites them to participate in this character and consecration. This participation is precisely the grounds for the exercise of a priestly office, a way of being ‘priest’, for all the children of God.
We need to take a moment to consider what St Paul says to the Romans in chapter 12 of his letter. Here he begins to bring the letter to a close, but with a long peroration which, far from offering a few platitudes and words of general encouragement, sets out a plan for Christian discipleship. At the very outset, Paul says this:
“Think of God’s mercy, my brothers, and worship him, I beg you, in a way that is worthy of thinking beings, by offering your living bodies as a holy sacrifice, truly pleasing to God. Do not model yourselves on the behaviour of the world around you, but let your behaviour change, modelled by your new mind. This is the only way to discover the will of God and know what is good, what it is that God wants, what is the perfect thing to do”Romans 12:1-2
Paul speaks to the Romans, and us, here about the kind of worship which we can offer, which reflects who we truly are, and the kind of models that are to provide the basis for just such a sacrifice. And the sacrifice is to be our very lives – the whole content of who we are, lived in conformity with God’s will, shaped by a new mind – this new mind is the mind of Christ: we must think and behave according to the example that Christ gives. This is a pivotal text for us, both considering vocation and considering the consecration which is reflective of our priestly character. We offer sacrifice – of ourselves – in service, as Christ did.
This consecration comes by way of the prayer which we offer, always a part of the worship which we give to God. Christ is the example always of prayer – he does not simply pray, he is the prayer constantly being made to the Father for us and the world. He invites us to do something similar – to become a prayer, not simply one who says prayers. Undoubtedly, our practice of prayer – whatever form it takes – can be an extraordinary invitation to others to find ways of praying. Of course, it takes time, patience and a desire to find the way of praying which is mine. Is it the most frequently asked question – how should I pray? What should I do when I pray? Possibly! But we don’t ask one another how we should speak to our mothers, or fathers, or partners or friends? We relate to each in an utterly personal way. Christ relates to his Father in an utterly personal way. And so for each of us – don’t pray as I pray, speak to God as you yourself must speak, as yourself and not someone else!
We can become a means of blessing for others and for the world. Our charity, our faith, our hope, our joy, our peace, our patience, our perseverance, our gentleness, our goodness, our tolerance, our kindness… all these speak to the world and those around us of our own consecration.
Elsewhere we have taken some time to look at the role of the prophet. Christ’s prophetic model is never separated from the presence and proclamation of the kingdom of God. This is really the role of the prophet in the New Testament – to be the announcer without parallel of God’s presence which definitively changes human history for ever. In Christ, that event takes place – in his very person! His is the Word which proclaims and makes present. In prophecy this is vital – the word which is spoken, the message which is given, is not about something only to happen in the future, but rather about something which is taking place now – it is a happening which is happening before our eyes and in the midst of us. Christ’s life given to us in the Gospels is testament to this – the very things which he does, the miracles which he works, the signs which he offers, transcend the very damaged reality which is his – and our – world, and make present a new reality, a world yet to come and yet present. Men and women are in fact healed by him, forgiven by him, raised from the dead by him – it is not mere appearance, nor the power of suggestion, nor a clever matter of mass hysteria. Something new overtakes these people, and others are witness to it. Christ’s prophetic word and deed make present – and so with us: to be prophet is to say that I am a place, I am a moment, in which the kingdom of God is being made present!
In vocation terms prophecy then is a deeply personal attribute – this kingdom happening, this intervention by God in my life, has to be seen by me and acknowledged by me and accepted by me as radically transforming. Personal experience is the bedrock of my being able to proclaim God’s word – from this point of view, our own awareness of our salvation history, how God makes himself manifest in my life, is vitally important and needs time so that I can realise and accept its magnitude for me. It need not be all trumpets and bells! The Spirit of God is a wind who blows where She wills, and, if we are to listen carefully to the story of the prophet Elijah’s encounter with God (I Kings 19:9), it could be a very soft, almost silent voice which speaks to us about all this.
In any case, vocation as prophecy means facing the world as I am, with my own voice, speaking words which have their origin in the soul of my soul, God’s Holy Spirit.
Understandably,the idea that part of our vocation is to be king doesn’t exactly sit well with us! But it is, nevertheless, a startling part of Christ’s example and gift to us. As with most things which Christ challenges he also transforms and presents in a new and startling way. The kingship which he exercises profoundly changes the idea of leadership, power and authority in his day and continues to do so in ours. Buried deep within all of us is a desire to control, to exert a certain power over others and over situations in which we find ourselves – we crave control, and for some, this becomes their ultimate downfall, as they are consumed not just by the power which they gain but buy the desire for an ever greater power.
Central to Christ’s overturning of this philosophy are two, perhaps related, texts. The first, in chapter 13 of John’s Gospel, shows us Christ lowering himself to the role of a slave. Washing the feet of others was a job reserved for slaves who generally were also Gentiles, it was considered such a lowly act to have to perform. And yet at this point – John’s central Last Supper act before the Passion proper begins – Jesus makes the washing of feet the characteristic, even defining, action of the one who imitates him perfectly. In this quintessential christological moment, kingship and authority are distilled into service, and a service which is complete. There is nothing to be gained here by this action – it is entirely selfless. In this way it prefigures the absolute selflessness of the Cross, which Christ will soon complete. It’s good to remember that Christ in John’s Gospel, and especially in the chapters which take us through the Passion, the interview with Pilate, and the crucifixion and death, is supremely the triumphant one, in marked contrast to the other Gospels. Christ, the Selfless Servant, transforms utterly and entirely replaces the accepted and well-worn criteria for authority, power and leadership.
If we then look at the hymn which St Paul gives us in the Letter to the Philippians, 2:5-11, we see a corresponding explanation of what we have just heard in John 13. Christ, who is the Father’s equal, leaves aside this equality freely (in John, he takes off his outer garment); he humbles himself completely, becoming man and a slave (in John, he bends down and washes the feet of the disciples, as a slave would) and even going to death on a cross; then God raise him up and gives him a name above every other name, that of “Lord” (in John, Christ rises, questions the disciples, saying that they rightly call him “”Lord”). It is often said that this hymn – probably one which was sung by the early Christians in their worship and gatherings – is a theological hymn, and indeed it is – it speaks of the kenosis, a Greek word meaning “emptying” which Christ, the Word of God, freely achieves to become man and die on the Cross. But we should look closely at the verses which precede the hymn in Philippians 2 – Paul here is telling the Philippians that, in their own lives, they should behave as Christ did, and have his mind among them! So this hymn is a moral exhortation – it’s about how Christians should behave, one to another!
Kingship, then, is nothing if it is not wholly concerned with service in imitation of Christ. That brings with it a profound level of personal renunciation for the one who would really follow Christ Jesus and make him the only criterion for his life.
Vocation – being one with Christ. Beginning the journey to say that, whoever I am, if I am ready to answer the call to live God’s will for me fully in my life it will be shaped by the consecration which I accept from God in my own life and which I wish to live; the prophetic proclamation of God’s kingdom presence because I acknowledge it already present and growing in my own life; the overwhelming desire to serve by giving my life for my brothers and sisters!