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Vocations Are Gifts from God

by His Grace Bishop John, The Word, March 2016

Hear the Word of the Lord, you nations; proclaim it in distant coastlands: 'He Who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over His flock like a shepherd.' + Jeremiah 31:10

"I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing," declares the Lord. + Jeremiah 23:4

As a bishop of the Antiochian Church, I marvel at the very thought of this gift of shepherds that God calls and sends to tend His sheep. These shepherds or priests are those whom God calls to live among the people and encourage them in their lives. This is a noble and holy vocation. When clergy and faithful understand each other and each other's vocations better, I believe we can all benefit from our holy relationships. I have come to understand that theses shepherds are men who come from varied backgrounds. They come from families of every economic level. They also come after surviving sometimes horrible experiences, which left them with scars and wounds. They come as well having enjoyed grace-filled events and experiences that gave them joys, talents and accomplishments. These men were not born and reared in a vacuum, free from the real world which is fallen and sinful. They come from the same fallen world to which we send them back after seminary. They come from the same broken world as all of us. These men will use their life events and experiences to relate to others and help those they will serve and for whom they will care.

When men believe that God is calling them to service, and the Church discerns this call as well, we send them to seminary to understand better God's revelation and the life of the Church. There the seminarians struggle to accommodate the vision presented by the theologians with their own life experiences and understandings which come from their personal walks with God. They are immersed in the prayer life of the Church and are required to serve the community in practical ways. This builds relationships as well as keeping our costs down. They find priests to hear their confessions and mentor them as they grow in understanding. We assign them to parishes where pastors share their ministry, parish councils, organizations, visitations and struggles. We then attempt to discern God's will for each man who has answered God's call and submitted himself to the Church. I tremble at the very thought of this responsibility.

The men are ordained and assigned to serve in parishes. The shepherds continue their spiritual walk once in the parish. They continue to learn from mentors, bishops, brother clergy and the parishioners that they serve. As parishes, we support them as they serve us, so that they will be free to journey with us into the kingdom. We gather around them, as we do the bishop, to receive God through His Word and in the Eucharist. These men are true servant-leaders. They lead us by serving us and help us discern our own vocations.

God has given each of us talents and opportunities to serve Him. We call these opportunities vocations. Christians understand their jobs and lives as vocations, for every job carries opportunities to witness to God and to serve God and His people. The vocation of the priest parallels the vocations of the parishioners he serves. So the priest can use his understanding of his own vocation to support the vocations of the faithful. For example, a lawyer, like a priest, must always advocate on behalf of his client.

Discerning what is best can be difficult, so like a priest, a lawyer often laments over the circumstances of his clients. A teacher, like a priest, is given the awesome responsibility of preparing young people for life. The teacher worries about the struggles of her students and patiently nurtures the student, attempting to guide him to understanding. A businessman, like a priest, worries about the people who rely on him to do their jobs. He can anguish over providing a safe, healthy and productive establishment that can support the employees and their families. A postman, like a priest, sometimes has to deal with adversity in delivering the messages that his customers need to carry on their lives. He pushes through his personal emotions, and perseveres to get his job done. The artist, like the priest, needs to put personal cares aside to understand the meaning of the studied object and present it to the world in a new way. The medical worker, like a priest, strives to do no harm as she cleans wounds, offers sympathy, and accompanies the patient on a difficult part of his or her journey. She may cry with her patients when things go badly, and rejoice with them in their successes. A parent, like a priest nurtures his children, cares for them, and shares his life with them. Like the priest, the parent anguishes over the decisions and well-being of his or her children.

Understanding each other will help us appreciate one another and be joined in the common ministry of Christianity. Christians stand in Christ and in Christ praise the Father and take care of one another. Christians also gather to be the Church, which feeds us and allows us to minister to each other and the world. Without each other, we would not be able to see the Church that Christ has established and given as a gift. In Ephesians 4 we read:

He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

God has given each of us talents to use and vocations to follow, in and outside the Church, for the building up of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let each of us use the talents that he or she has been given to support each other in our common ministry and to support each other in our ministries or vocations that are beyond the limits of our churches. By respecting and understanding each other, we can all do better.

In Acts 20:28, the clergy are cautioned, "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood." This is an awesome responsibility. The clergy need to be careful not to scandalize the flock. Young people today in particular are very sensitive to hypocrisy and are easily scandalized. We must do what we can not to disappoint each other.

In return, our dear people would do well to understand the complexities of the particular vocation of the priest. He is like the parent, artist, postman, businessman, teacher, lawyer and health professional. When offended, he hurts, and such hurts make it even more difficult to serve. We must build each other up to serve God better.

Those who hear God's call should explore it. Be forewarned that this vocation carries all of the pains, but also all of the joys of other vocations altogether.

Bishop John