The Greek word for Church is ekklesia, which means those who are ‘called forth’ by the Lord or those who are ‘called from all nations’. Together we become, as St Paul says, the “Body of Christ” with Christ as the head. This image helps us to understand that, just as God is a community of three persons, so we too are created and called by God to live in community, to seek salvation together and not individually. As Christians we are to live our lives not like a solo-round the world yachtsman but as a pilgrim people, helping and encouraging each other on our journey with and to God. This is the mission of the Church – to be a living sign of God’s kingdom here on earth and to continue Christ’s own mission of leading humanity to eternal life with God the Father in heaven.
This means that our unique vocation is given to us so that we may build up the Church and so be living cells within the Body of Christ. To serve the Church we must love the Church, with all its human weaknesses and sinfulness, and seek through the power of the Holy Spirit to be agents of its renewal and sanctification. In the Church we come to know Christ in his Word and Sacraments, in the presence and service of others and in prayer and silence. Through coming to know Christ we are able to know better our true self. And, as Pope Benedict told the young people in front of Westminster Cathedral during his visit to England, “… in discovering our true self we discover the particular vocation which God has given us for the building up of his Church and the redemption of the world.”
Below are ten ways in which we can truly be ‘living cells’ in the Church and so be helped to discern and live out our vocation:
1) Commit yourself to a particular Church community – Many people today, especially in a huge city like London, live rootless, almost nomadic lives in which they struggle to put down roots in any particular community or neighbourhood. It is possible to live an anonymous, solitary life while surrounded by great crowds of people. The same is true of many Catholics today who float from one parish to another or attend Mass infrequently. This inevitably means that such a person has little or no sense of belonging to or of personal involvement in the Church. If we really want to serve the Church, we need to make a definite commitment to a particular community, which for some may be a university or ethnic chaplaincy, but for most people will be their local parish. It is here that we gather as the People of God to be nourished and formed by Christ in the Eucharist, to receive his forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and where we live out our calling to love one another through acts of service. If we truly want to serve the Church, then we must be known by the Church in the shape of a particular community with its priests and congregation. It is often these people who will see in us our unique gifts and deepest calling – the vocation through which we are to serve God in our lives.
2) Go to Mass as often as possible – The Eucharist is our most powerful encounter with Jesus Christ in which he gives himself fully to us so that we may become ever more strongly united to him. In the Eucharist we are formed by God’s Word and learn how to love as God loves – unconditionally, with compassion and total self-giving. Go to Mass as often as you can and you will grow in your relationship with God, with others and in your own self-understanding. It is important to prepare well for Mass by reading the readings beforehand so that God’s Word is already alive and active within you and by arriving in good time so as to be concentrated and really present to God just as he will be fully present to you during the Eucharist. Make the Eucharist the centre of your life and your life will be transformed.
...and find time for Eucharistic adoration – Most parishes offer a time of Eucharistic adoration at one or several times every week. Seek out such a time whenever you can and simply be in silence before our God. This experience of Christ’s presence in the Blessed Sacrament draws us ever closer to him and helps us to know a deeper peace and clarity in our lives.
3) Be faithful to the Sacrament of Reconciliation – To know God’s deepest desire for our lives, we need to stand in the truth. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation we are invited to live in that fullness of truth which can only be found in God. We are invited to take off all our masks and pretences and receive the forgiving, healing presence of Christ so as to become our true selves. The priest is Christ’s instrument in helping you to know God’s mercy and to understand your deepest self. Through regular celebration of this sacrament we learn to recognise those patterns of sinfulness and self-centredness which hold us back from becoming the person we have been created to be.
4) Read and pray with God’s Word - We can often take for granted the extraordinary gift which is God’s Word spoken to us every day during Mass. This is a Word which is alive and active, revealing to us the truth of our human nature and of God’s desire to reveal through us his love for the world. In the Scriptures we hear about those who have been called throughout history to be God’s prophets and poets, we hear in the Scriptures how Jesus called and formed the disciples so that they could continue his mission on earth. In these individuals we encounter our own story and if we allow God’s Word to find its home in us then we too can be shaped by its power. Many parishes have Bible study groups or faith-sharing groups – for many people such small communities have helped them to discover that God’s Word is a word spoken to us personally today, a word which can illuminate and transform our lives.
5) Live a life of prayer – Prayer is the lifeblood of friendship with God. Make a commitment to daily prayer and be faithful to it. Choose a time and place where you can simply be in silence before God – if possible start and end each day with such a time of heart to heart communion with God. Different forms of prayer speak to different people – so keep asking Jesus to teach you how to pray, as he did the first disciples. It is good to experience both individual, personal prayer and also communal prayer, which once again should be on offer in your parish – the rosary, adoration, novenas, charismatic prayer, the Stations of the Cross during Lent… Prayer is always a journey – sometimes it can be dry and hard-going and other times it brings us great inspiration and consolation. The heart of prayer is desire, so seek out this precious time with God where he is waiting to lead you step by step into his deepest desire for you.
6) Go on an annual Retreat – the
7) Talk to your priest – Every priest is called to be a good shepherd to his flock in imitation of Jesus Christ himself. He is there to guide and support you on your journey, to help you understand how God is at work in your life. Priests come in many forms and character types, some more approachable than others (!) but, be assured, there is nothing more encouraging for a priest than when someone comes to him in all sincerity to ask how they can live their Christian life more deeply. Make an appointment to talk to your priest and explain to him in all humility and truth the journey you are travelling so that he can know how he can best support you on the journey ahead. He can, at the very least, put you in contact with others, such as your diocesan Vocations Director, who can help you to move forward.
8) Find a Spiritual Director
9) Get involved – It really is true that the more we give the more receive. Parishes are not businesses which employ people to get things done, they are communities of faith which rely on the generosity of their parishioners to share their time and talents so as to bring that community to life. When you are settled in your parish, ask your parish priest how you could best contribute to the life of the community through your own particular skills and gifts. Whether it’s through cleaning the church or helping to pass on the faith to others, helping with the parish administration or the ministry to the homeless, you will come to live out your faith in practical ways which will help you to understand better what God’s particular plan is for how you are to serve him in the Church and in the world. It is through working together that we really come to know each other and ourselves better.
10) Through the parish, come to know your diocese and the universal Church – Finally, every parish is not meant to be an island - inward-looking and disconnected from the wider world. On the contrary, the parish is to be a community through which we can also experience the universal Church. Parish notice boards and newsletters are usually packed with activities and opportunities to help you enter more deeply into the life of your diocese. Seek and you shall find! Every diocese has a Vocations Director who will be organising various initiatives to help young Catholics live out their faith more deeply – such as a monthly Vocations Discernment Group and regular retreats. Your diocesan Youth Services will also be organising different events to bring together young people from across the diocese. Check out your diocesan website (for Westminster this is www.rcdow.org.uk) for news of all that is happening in the diocese and, once again, do not be afraid to get involved. From time to time there will be an opportunity through your parish, through your diocese to be a part of an experience of the universal Church such as a local group travelling to participate in a pilgrimage to Lourdes or to a World Youth Day. Such an opportunity to experience the Church in its fullness, gathered in prayer and celebration around the Successor of Peter, is one which has led many to understand God’s calling for their life and how they are to live out this calling within the Church, whether that be in foreign fields or back in their local community.
These reflections were prepared by Fr Richard Nesbitt, Vocations Director for Westminster Diocese. For further information and guidance please write to firstname.lastname@example.org