Year of Vocation Conference on Religious Life and Call


Dublin, February 13th -15th 2009

Disturbed by the Spirit – Called to be Sent: Religious Life, Discipleship and a Vocations Culture

Vocations Ireland held a weekend conference on Religious Life and Call as part of the Irish Church’s Year of Vocation (13th April 2008 – 3rd May 2009). The Conference Title was “Disturbed by the Spirit – Called to be Sent: Religious Life, Discipleship and a Vocations Culture.” The fundamental premise of the Year of Vocation is that the Lord continues to guide and direct, God continues to call. God calls us to live lives of witness for one another. God calls us all to communion with him and each other – calls us to love. God calls us to a life of service. Year of Vocation is, therefore, a way to return God’s love.

The opening address on Friday evening was by John Waters, a well-known Irish journalist. The remaining sessions were led by Tony Gittins, CSSp, Professor of Mission & Culture at the Catholic Theological Union, in Chicago.

John Waters spoke of our present day culture and its deluded and bogus idealism of freedom without cost or consequence. Through the honest telling of his life’s journey through faith, agnosticism and back, he critiqued and de-constructed our materialistic culture, largely controlled by the mass media, which is interested in telling us who we are and what is acceptable. Personal crisis and despair led him to discover the extraordinary majesty of our world; that human beings are dependent and created by God. His premise is that we need to redefine, rediscover that we are a culture that longs for Christ as the meaning of our reality, but we have lost the ability to speak Christ’s name.

Tony Gittins first talk followed directly.

Talk 1. “Wine, Wineskins and a world on the Wane: Reflections on Faithful Stewardship.”
Wine or no Wine; filled up or emptied out? New wine calls for new skins, which are flexible and will not burst during powerful fermentation. Old skins on the other hand have absorbed fermentation but have lost their flexibility. Gittins compared and contrasted the four Evangelists on new wine and wineskins. We were left with the question “Where is the wine? Is it running dangerously low? Has it turned sour?”

At Cana, in Galillee, the wine had run out...Jesus’ hour had not yet arrived... Mary told the servant to “do whatever he tells you..” “Do whatever He tells you” requires us to listen and to act. Are our lives a clear example, a confusing signal, irrelevant, or a scandal?

Hope is a non-negotiable for Christians, it is never to be surrendered. We are called to live resurrection faith, living with fierce faith, passion, and sustained by the wine of joyful commitment.

We are called to be sent to the ‘least’, the forgotten, the marginalised.

We are called to an inviting, embracing, collaborating ministry

We are called to make a deep commitment, risking all.

We are walking by faith and not by sight. There is an urgency in the call, we walk by faith into tomorrow. We cannot see clearly but hear God’s voice in the muted sounds of God’s poor.

Talk 2 “Disturbed by the Spirit, Called to Be Sent: Fostering a Vocation Culture.”

Gittins outlined the stages of discipleship as:
Call or Encounter- the initiative is God’s, not ours: God disturbs.
Displacement or Disturbance- The response is ours: we can be willing to be disturbed and take up the cross, or resist.
Sending Forth or Co-Missioning- If we are disturbed by God, we must become a Godly disturbance (Mission).

We are called to co-operate with the Spirit, not speaking for but listening to the Spirit; not leading but following the inspiration of the Spirit.

True believers in God’s Spirit:
Actively seek out those troubled in body, mind or spirit
They seek to be disturbed/displaced by the cries of victims, women, the poor etc
They are united in spirit, those different and diverse in character or nationality
They are convinced they are called and sent to change the world
They live exciting, meaningful and worthwhile lives, focused on transcendence.

Jesus called his followers to conversion...what does it mean to be human? True humanity, as Jesus explains is having ears and using them. He calls for listening. Failure to listen is the loss of vocation. Our deepest commitment must be to the person of Jesus, not to an Institution. Jesus’ original invitation “Come follow me” was always inclusive. He invites us to ‘listen’ and then ‘come’. If his disciples hope to make anything useful of their lives, they are to listen, discern and act accordingly.

Gittins then took a brief look at culture... Culture is a meaning-making system, a work in progress, is people, is we... A vocation culture must build a Jesus community of “we.” We are given the light to carry it into the darkness. We must not be turned in on ourselves and isolated. The great tragedy of the late 20th century is that religious have become invisible. Yet, there has been a growing search by people for true meaning-making. As religious, we are lacking in imagination, not in faith. Our faith must be like fire, not cooling coals. We become bad religious if we are not called to accountability in our communities...we have become so liberal. The Jesuit theologian, Karl Rahner, pointed out that if we are not mystics, we are nobody. We religious need to have a contemplative dimension...(faith-s
haring, spiritual direction...)
Authentic religious life needs a level of contemplative prayer, more so today as we have to do more on our own. Are we developing a personal relationship with Jesus? If we are not seen to be people of prayer, we have failed. What is the culture of my religious community and what rules do we practice/how am I/we accountable? We are not free spirits/isolated, I am responsible to let others draw on me and I on them.

Talk 3 “Do This in Memory of Me: Do What?”

A community consists of:
The unborn
The living
The dead

The responsibility of the living is to ensure the new generation and then their duty is to die.

Jesus is asking to be remembered. At the Last Supper he solemnly said to “Do this in Memory of Me.” Do what? Do all I did, not just with the bread and wine, but a whole life to be remembered. The sacrifice of the Mass, what does this mean? You cannot just live upon the liturgy of the Eucharist. It must be lived out in the daily events of our life. .. GO, you are sent from the Eucharist to be eucharist. Jesus’ whole life was about sacrifice (Mt 4). Sacrifice is not making something holy, but doing something holy, doing holy things. Jesus disciples did not go to Eucharist every morning, but did eucharist every day. Sacrilege, or ‘stealing the sacred’ is the opposite to sacrifice. The Tempter is the great sacrilege- the 3 temptations of Jesus in the desert.

Discipleship is about:
Learners, not big shots
Reversals...the daily cross, persecutions, teacher/learner, first/last, master/servant.
Characteristics of disciples of Jesus are that they are always asking questions, they speak the truth...learn from me...

How do Disciples do “This?”
Encounter - (Koinonia) To love means to be people of encounter...we need to go out of our way to meet people. The higher you are in hierarchy, the less you meet people.
Table fellowship – (diakonia) Jesus took his disciples to low places to teach them to ‘do this in memory of me’. The scandal in our Church is the deep fault line of division running through our table. The act of eating IS the reconciliation between enemies.
Foot-washing – (kerygma) The Incarnation is Jesus coming down to my level. We are called to foot washing ministry.
Boundary crossing / breakthrough ministry – (leitourgia) We have to identify our own comfort zone and break through it. If we don’t, we will never be involved in foot washing. Unless we do foot washing, we cannot call ourselves disciples.

Where are We to Do “This?”
Boundaries: class, economics, race, gender, religion, family
Righteous / unrighteous
In principle, anywhere and everywhere we are.

Eucharist, therefore, cannot only be a Sunday or daily ritual. Eucharist must be a part of the fabric of our lives. We are gathered in order to be scattered – and gathered again. So do this – all of it. Then you will remember (re-member) me, and I will be with you always.

The final talk from the conference will appear next month.