There are so many misunderstandings about the Ordinariate, that we need to seize every opportunity for explaining ourselves. Such a chance came to me last week when the Catenians in Bournemouth asked me to say a Mass and preach for them.
By Divine Providence, the day chosen was that of St David. The theme I was asked to address was Vocation. So this is what I said:
"The Upward Call of God in Jesus Christ" Phil 3.14
In the little Welsh coastal town of Llantwit Major are the ruined remains of monastic buildings attached to the ancient parish Church. Legend has it that two great Saints received their education in that place: Patrick of Ireland and David of Wales. Some of our family live very near Llantwit, and it was a great joy to be able to say Mass in the Church of St Illtyd at Christmas last year. Though the church is modern the people of the place are descendants of the very folk from whom St David sprang.
In that austere sixth century David was revered for his special sanctity. The rule he established for his monks would make a modern monastery look like a five-star hotel. Yet he was, and is, greatly loved in Wales. The Celtic people have always honoured those who brought them the Gospel; go to Cornwall or Brittany and you will find the names of Saints who are entirely local to that place, probably the first priest who preached there about Jesus. People like Enodoc and Erth, Budoc and Gybbi. Among them is Nonn, who was the mother of David — and of course David himself, Dewi Sant in Wales.
Last week, in Rome, some of us from the Ordinariate went to the church of St Gregory the Great. We were giving thanks for our part of Christendom — for it was Gregory who saw the blond haired boys in the slave market and said they were better called angels than Angles. He was inspired to send Augustine and his companions, all of them monks from that same community. From them we received not only the first Archbishop of Canterbury, but the first Bishops of London and Rochester, and the first Archbishop of York.
Now what is the connexion between these early Saints, and our concern for Vocation? That is what we are praying for tonight — so why celebrate David? Surely the link is plain; no one becomes a Saint of God, no one becomes a bishop, or a priest, a monk or a nun, unless they hear a call. Paul wrote today in the epistle about ‘the upward call of God in Jesus Christ’. For Paul, that call came at a dramatic moment, when he encountered Christ himself in a vision on the road to Damascus. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” the voice asked. But for everyone who hears the call, there must be a voice. When we pray for vocations, we are not just praying for the men and women who might respond; we are praying for everyone who might become for someone the voice of God.
“What, me?” you ask. “How on earth could I speak for God?” If you ask that question, you are in good company. It is just what the prophets said when they had to speak up. “Woe is me for I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips” protested Isaiah. “I don’t know how to speak; I am only a youth” said Jeremiah. Now your task may not be as hard as Isaiah’s or Jeremiah’s; but for someone it might be quite as important.
For eight years I was the Principal of a Church of England theological college — the Rector of a Seminary, you might say. Speaking to those young men beginning their formation I would ask when first they became aware of God’s call to them. So often, it happened in their early teens — as early as twelve many of them became aware that something was expected of them. And so often, that call which started as a vague feeling became crystallised when someone asked them “Have you ever thought about being a priest?”
So, friends, I am not asking you now if you have thought of being a priest, or a religious, or a Deacon. Rather I am suggesting that it is a question you should be ready to put to others; maybe your own sons or daughters, or your grand-child. But more likely you will discern something in a young altar server, or a girl in the Church choir; it may take a bit of courage to ask the question “Have you ever thought of the religious life?” — better perhaps to suggest that they might like to go to a youth event put on by the Dominican sisters at Sway, or some other occasion where vocations can be nourished.
For we have all received the Faith ourselves; and it is our responsibility to pass it on to future generations. Without vocations, the Church could wither. What the Holy Father has done with his provision for former Anglicans gives us who are Catholics in the Ordinariate a special responsibility; we must constantly encourage our Anglican friends to consider if they are being called — perhaps not to the priesthood, but certainly to the Catholic Church. And you who have been long-time Catholics also have a responsibility; to be God’s instrument in helping people discern this call.
“How shall they hear”, asks Paul, “unless someone preaches to them?” And we might say “How can they hear a call to vocation, unless I speak up and ask them to consider their calling?” David’s influence has lasted for more than fourteen hundred years. Yet someone, maybe his mother Nonn, will have first asked him, “Dewi, have you ever thought of being a monk?” Not only for the Saints, but also for all who have ever inspired a man or a woman to consider their vocation, thanks be to God.