Sunday, February 4, 2018

Vocation: no spectators allowed

I love this Sunday's reading from Mark's gospel (1:29-39). It shows us that Jesus was a busy guy, doing what he was called to do. He went to synagogue to pray with his community, healed Simon Peter's mom in the afternoon, and cured people of illnesses and cast out demons later that evening. Then I'm guessing he snatched a few hours of sleep before getting up while it was still dark to converse with God in a deserted place before continuing his efforts to spread God's love. He lived his vocation, his God-given call to love and serve, to the fullest, and he encouraged his own disciples to do the same. They weren't allowed to be spectators very long before he sent them out to do as he did.

I think we all know what it is to be busy, but how often do we recognize our busy-ness as part of God's plan for us? Do we see it as our vocation, or is it just how life is? Are we living our vocation to the fullest, using all our gifts and talents the way God wants, or are we weekend spectators?

I don't know about you, but I often feel that, while I am doing my best to live my vocation during the week, balancing busyness with prayer, I am often relegated to being a spectator when it comes to my participation in church.

That's not the case at the Emmaus Inclusive Catholic Community I belong to, which continues to meet monthly even though we lost our Roman Catholic Woman Priest, Ruthie, to cancer on Easter Sunday last year (for a simple version of Ruthie's story, click here). Ruthie's vocation inspired us all to commit to the Emmaus community, to make it part of our own vocation, our God-given call to love and serve through a deeper participation in liturgy itself.

When Ruthie joined the heavenly Easter Celebrations a year ago, our Emmaus Community faced many questions -- the main one being, how will we continue without our Roman Catholic Woman Priest friend? Ruthie had tried to plan for her succession, but none of her community felt called to the priesthood as she was. So we had to come up with an alternate plan for our monthly Sunday gatherings. And what has happened is that we've all been called to live our own vocation to the priesthood of believers more deeply.

One of our group wrote a beautiful agape liturgy of thanksgiving. Agape is a Greek word referring to the love of God for us and our love for God, the highest kind of love that exists. So now we share a simple liturgy of the word (using Sunday's scriptures) and a liturgy of thanksgiving with unconsecrated bread and wine. I like to think that what we are doing is what the earliest Christians did in memory of Jesus; to tell the stories, break the bread, pour the wine, and celebrate our relationship with God and those God calls us to serve.

What I appreciate most is that our agape, while it incorporates basic traditional liturgical prayers, is much simpler than what happens in most Catholic churches on a Sunday. We use the Sunday readings, and one person offers a 'homily' that invites others to share as well. We pray the prayers of the faithful, asking God for the world's needs and our own. Before we break the bread and share the wine, we participate in a simple giving of thanks to God -- we each name those things and people in our lives for which we are grateful. We pray the Lord's prayer. No theological training or liturgical expertise is required for our prayer service -- anyone can 'preside,' and everyone else can respond. We take turns.

And it strikes me that perhaps this is what Jesus was trying to show us with his life -- that our God-given call to love and serve requires us all to use our gifts, and none of us should be held back from living our vocation because we aren't one specific gender or have a specific education. Each of us carries certain wisdom, gifts, and talents from our own lives, and we are meant to share them in community. Some of us like to sing, some like to preach, others bake delicious bread, and everyone has ideas about and experiences with the scriptures. We know our gathering is not a full mass, but it feels richer when we all actively share our own vocations through participating more fully in different aspects of the liturgy. No spectators allowed.

February has long been designated as Vocations Awareness month, and this year, I would like to challenge the Church to broaden its understanding of vocation, to do more to incorporate the priesthood of all believers into Sunday liturgies that could be far more participatory and much less a spectator sport. Present liturgy, while it holds a certain familiarity and comfort for many, allows for too much passive participation. Annie Dillard said we shouldn't wear hats to church, but crash helmets. Just think what might happen if the people of God were invited to step out of their pews, time-worn habits, and prayers to answer their God-given call to love and serve -- as Jesus did in the Gospels -- on Sunday mornings and beyond.

No spectators allowed, and maybe the world would change!

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