Lockdown Discoveries: What ‘Vocation’ Really Means

Jul 9, 2021 | 9 comments

Are most of us without a ‘vocation’ to ‘the Christian life’? Dr Thomas O’Loughlin protests this mistaken understanding of ‘Vocations Sunday’ – as revealed by the global Covid-19 Crisis of 2020-21 – and calls for a different way of understanding and celebrating the day.

A couple of Sundays ago we marked ‘Vocations Sunday’ – and in this crisis it raises some important questions. Right now, most of us have now had more than a month of lockdown. Most of us are longing for it to be over, and (apart from ending every call or email with ‘Stay safe!’) we like to complain about the problems caused by lockdown. But, perhaps more quietly, we have to grudgingly admit that we have experienced many positives during this time and discovered things about ourselves and our relationships to the people around us.

Professor Thomas O’Loughlin, University of Nottingham

Lots of people have discovered that we live in communities: we need each other and we depend on others. Some people have made a basic moral discovery: we are responsible for one another. There are things that I do that can damage you, there are things that you do which may damage the others: every act, maybe as simple as keeping 2m apart when shopping, is part of a moral universe. This discovery led to a friend emailing me that she had discovered that ‘morality was not about rules laid down by the church, but a matter of being responsible in the group I am part of.’ Hurray!

I was saddened that the notion that we are creatures in society, with a duty of mutual care, came as a discovery and as the opposite of what she took to be the morality preached by the church, but I was overjoyed that this was a major step on her pilgrimage of faith, her path. She had discovered part of her own humanity and what that called on her to do. This is vocation in the deep sense. In this crisis period, the task of the pastors – those intended to help their sisters and brother along the way – is to foster and affirm such vocational discovery. All I could do was to send her a copy the Didache: it is about a small-sized church – less than a hundred people – who had a sense of belonging within a covenant as a community, it calls them to a moral lifestyle, and they have to look out for one another. I hope she will read it and it will help her recognise that Christianity is the opposite of an ethical individualism.

While the world is up-side-down

Perhaps the greatest discovery about vocation is that capitalism’s values cut right through the Christian view of life as vocation. The sense of vocation is the belief that we are called to exercise our skills for the building up of the whole people. Before the crisis how many of us had slipped into the view that human importance is derived from earning potential?  The value we give to a job is a direct consequence of the amount of salary that it can attract. In this view, the more I can generate income, the more I am worth in salary, and so the more I am worth in the economy, and so the more significant I am. It seems so logical that we do not question it, normally.  But this time is not normal. We realise that nurses – and nursing is often seen as a demeaning job because it involves service to others – are the difference between life and death, then we see that this is what is really valuable rather that they ability to generate cash.

Not a ‘vocation’? This crisis says: think again!

We have discovered that we need those who empty bins, drive delivery lorries, and do a hundred other humdrum jobs. I am not a dreamer who imagines that this realisation will last: capitalism has been too successful over centuries at bringing material progress (despite its costs) for it to be abandoned now – it will return! But right now, let us see this inversion in our values as mirroring the inversion of values that is part of the Jesus vision. Right now we can read this account of an early Christian dispute and actually hear it:

A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them,  “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves (Lk 22:24).

We could also take notice that for John the Evangelist, the main happening in his Last Supper narrative is about mutual service. Jesus – the Lord and the teacher – takes on the task of a lowest female house slave and washes their feet. This is an inversion of the world values, gender roles, and social order. Needless to say it was controversial – Peter wanted nothing to do with it – and has remained so: Cardinal Sarah recently pointed out that it is never anything more than optional! But it was not optional for Jesus and he did not intend it to be optional for any of us who call themselves disciples. It was not a display of humility (‘big boss nice to little people’) as it is often charicatured in our liturgy, but a display of the world of Christian relationship. Moreover, he did not tell those there to wash the followers’ feet, but that each person who wants to belong to Jesus, ‘have a share in him,’ should wash the feet of others. During this crisis we have found ourselves doing all sorts of small acts of service for one another – are we discovering in this process that this is part of our Christian vocation? In this situation we might be able to hear this even more challenging vision of discipleship:

And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.  He came to Simon Peter, who said to him,  “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered,  “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him,  “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered,  “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him,  “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him,  “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said,  “Not all of you are clean.” After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them,  “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord — and you are right, for that is what I am.  So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them (Jn 13:3-17).

Vocations Sunday

How often have I heard a man say ‘I have no vocation’ when what he meant was that he did not want to be a cleric.

The Fourth Sunday of Easter is referred to as ‘Vocations Sunday’ because of the link between the shepherd / flock imagery from Jn 10 – this chapter supplies the gospel in all three years of the lectionary: Year A (this year) has 10:1-10; Year B has 10:11-18; and Year C has 10:27-30 – and the pastor image used by clergy. But I believe that ‘Vocations Sunday’ is a misnomer: it should be called ‘Recruitment Sunday.’  Calling it ‘Vocations Sunday’ when the aim is to pray for more unmarried men to volunteer to be presbyters (in most places we never even think about nuns or religious brothers) has two effects. First, we think that a vocation is equivalent to becoming a full-time religious person: someone who takes on all that is associated with the word ‘a priest.’ How often have I heard a man say ‘I have no vocation’ when what he meant was that he did not want to be a cleric. Second, it forgets that every formal ministry – such as that of being a presbyter – is but a part of an individual Christian’s vocation. Let’s try to unravel this.

There is no vacation from vocation, but what it calls us to do is ever changing.

Every Christian has a vocation – it is wrapped up in the particularity of your life. You see the need there in front of you, you know what can be done, and what you can do, and you respond: this is the essence of vocation. It is constant in that we are always being called to build the kingdom in response to the Spirit’s promptings and empowered for what is needed by the Spirit. There is no vacation from vocation, but what it calls us to do is ever changing. A friend of mine now has discovered that he has the skills of a teacher because he has to help in home-schooling his two kids during this crisis. I know someone else who led prayer, i.e. presided at a liturgy, in their family for the first time on Easter Sunday. Another has discovered the skills of the listener as lonely people need to talk, and this list goes on … … . As I move through the demands of my life I am called to use my gifts to build the kingdom of holiness, grace, justice, peace and love.

Then there are fixed ministries: skills we need as a church. We need those who can read, interpret, and preach. We need people who have the skill to gather a community around them. We need those who can lead people in prayer. We have to identify people who show these skills, and then help them to develop them and make them better in their tasks. Instead of recruitment for a special corps of clergy, we should think of finding ministers more in terms of a job-search or skills audit in a community. If we believe that the Spirit is moving in the community of the baptised, then a ‘vocations crisis’ is nonsense. It is only a crisis of us failing to look, train, and empower. Or maybe – just as in so many other areas of life – we have got it all so confused that we cannot see the wood for the trees.

This coronavirus crisis is throwing all our assumptions into the air!  Where they will land we do not yet know, we do not know if things will really change or slip back to ‘normal.’ But we might make a start on a new way of living, and for many it will be the start of a life with a sense of vocation. Our focus on future ‘Vocations Sundays’ should not be on clergy recruitment, but helping each Christian to see that she/he has a vocation as they respond to needs in their community. This is a hard process of listening and then there is the challenge of doing. Then later we might find that individuals also have skills in the communities’ worship. These people would be identified by a process of community discernment (can this person lead prayer, can this person interpret the demands of discipleship for us), rather than by a willingness to accept a priori criteria from a bygone age (e.g. male, celibate, full-time, and willing to belong within a clerical corps). If we moved to that, then we could really call this Fourth Sunday of Easter: Vocations Sunday.

[Thomas O’Loughlin is a Professor of Historical Theology at the University of Nottingham]


  1. Pascal O'Dea

    Tom O’Loughlin in his article is observant and comforting. It’s important to acknowledge our varied contributions, in caring, intellectual, emotional , artistic and business endeavour – just a few of the many that go to make for a coping community. We are really blessed when we experience compassion,consolation,and humility those invaluable attributes accompanying all human endeavour. Tom’s acknowledgment that the COVID pandemic is a clear call, reminding us of Christ’s core message of the innate decency present in us all, as we all experience the “clear and present danger” of this global threat. Whether our Church opts for a vocation or a recruitment Sunday is similar to the question, will lessons from the pandemic be soon forgotten?


    What I find annoying is the high visibility and level of celebration at the ordination of a priest and yet in many parishes, nothing is done to celebrate the vocation of those trained and initiated as Ministers of the Word, Ministers of the Eucharist and members of the church choir. In that, we could learn a lot from some of the other Christian denominations.

  3. Neil Bray

    In one sense Thomas O’Loughlin’s article does articulate an aspect of the vocation of lay people as set out in the Catechism of the Catholic (CIC) in paragraphs 897-903. But his notion of both the lay vocation and that of the ordained priesthood is inadequate. The article mistakenly equates and confines the lay vocation to actions or services such as reading, distributing Holy Communion and participation in choirs. These are sometimes provided by people of other faiths and by some who openly defy aspects of Catholic teaching and promote practices accordingly. These non-ordained ministries are not in themselves the fruit of personal vocation, of a vocation to a state of life.

    CIC Article 898 provides a much broader reality:

    “By reason of their special vocation it belongs to the laity to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will. . . . It pertains to them in a special way so to illuminate and order all temporal things with which they are closely associated that these may always be effected and grow according to Christ and maybe to the glory of the Creator and Redeemer.” (Based on Lumen Gentium 31).

    Jesus put emphasis on faith (Mark 6:1-6) and on repentance (Mt 11:20-24). The lay vocation is a vocation to a state of life, with central characteristics of fervour, prayer and good works, witness, evangelisation – all forms of Gospel-based love .

    Pope Francis highlights this in Evangelii Gaudium, par 107:

    “Many places are experiencing a dearth of vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. This is often due to a lack of contagious apostolic fervour in communities which results in a cooling of enthusiasm and attractiveness. Wherever there is life, fervour and a desire to bring Christ to others, genuine vocations will arise. Even in parishes where priests are not particularly committed or joyful, the fraternal life and fervour of the community can awaken in the young a desire to consecrate themselves completely to God and to the preaching of the Gospel. This is particularly true if such a living community prays insistently for vocations and courageously proposes to its young people the path of special consecration.”

    Contrary to the spirit of this quotation Thomas O’Loughlin’s article belittles the vocation to ordained priesthood. On foot of such dumbing down the assertion in his article which reads: “Our focus on future ‘Vocations Sundays’ should not be on clergy recruitment, but helping each Christian to see that she/he has a vocation as they respond to needs in their community” is inadequate. One of the central purposes of laity seeking to respond to the graces of their lay vocation is to create a culture wherein vocations to the ordained ministry germinate. Having a Vocations Sunday where the faithful are reminded to petitions God in the Sacrifice of the Mass to “send labourers into the vineyard” is thus entirely logical, since this “sending” is the only way vocations to the ordained priesthood materialise.

    It is not a matter, as Thomas O’Loughlin asserts, of recruitment. As an institution The Church has to recruit people to provide some services. But the office of the ordained priesthood cannot simply be created by the Church but has to wait on God’s call. So priests are not volunteers as Thomas O’Loughlin claims. Neither are they merely unmarried as he asserts. Their priesthood is formed in the image of the priesthood of Christ. Their priesthood thus functions in a manner of that of bridegroom to the Church.

    He is right of course to emphasise the need for laity to live life with a sense of vocation. The lay vocation is a vocation to a state of life in which they have their own assignment in the mission of the whole Church. There exists among all Catholics a true equality with regard to how they all co-operate with the building of the Body of Christ. (CIC 872) We are “made to share in the priestly, prophetical and kingly office of Christ.” (CIC 873) The apostolate of the pastors cannot be fully effective without the laity. (CIC 900). But Christ established differences between members of his Body to serve its unity and mission (CIC 873). Christ has entrusted the office of teaching, sanctifying and governing in his name and by his power to the successors to the Apostles, the bishops, and to those ordained ministers they send to minister to groups of laity. (CIC 873).

    Today in Ireland Catholicism is in a cultural minority and has a very diminished cultural significance. This was a situation faced by both the early Christians and later on by those who initiated European Monasticism. How did the promises of the Gospel ultimately become influential on foot of the efforts of both the early Christians and Early Monasticism? How did both movements became influential from a cultural minority position? That is a broader question but it is highly improbable that the approach proposed in Thomas O’Loughlin’s article would have achieved it. He can do better.

    • soconaill

      Every Christian has a vocation,” insists Thomas O’Loughlin.  He makes clear in the first part of his article that in discharging his calling responsibly that even the person who collects our refuse faithfully, in a pandemic, is discharging an honourable Christian vocation. Were you reading the same article, Neil, if you say that Thomas O’Loughlin ‘confines the lay vocation to actions or services such as reading, distributing Holy Communion and participation in choirs’?

      Article 873 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church does not quote a Gospel teaching of Jesus in defence of the assertion that ‘Christ established differences between members of his Body to serve its unity and mission’. Can you please do that, Neil? (I believe we may already have been over this ground without getting to that.)

      In light of the clear but hidden absence of sanctity (i.e. holiness, integrity) in the exercise of the episcopal office in the critical matter of child safeguarding – now globally notorious – you cannot be unaware that the claim of both teaching and governing authority for any church office per se has also now as much teaching traction with most of us as fingernails on plate glass. In his insistence that authority rests only upon service Pope Francis has obviously seen that also.

      To take the Roman imperial clerical system – and Catholic canon law – as a faithful ineluctable extrapolation of Jesus’s intentions for his church cuts so little ice now with those who have been awake over the past three decades that I really wonder at anyone supposing it could be credible in 2021. Still scandalously we lay people are dependent even yet upon injured parties and secular agencies to impose accountability (belatedly) on bishops who endanger children – as proven by ongoing events in e.g. Germany, Poland and Italy.

      As holiness (including the necessary requirement of integrity) is the universal vocation of all of us, the clear unavoidable fact that duplicity in the matter of child protection was the agreed obligation of Catholic bishops – until we, the laity, discovered this – needs to become the starting point for all honest discussion between clergy and people on Christian vocation.

      To quote CCC 873 (1992 CE) as the final word on differentiated ‘vocation’ is as persuasive now as the medieval claim that the pope inherited by right the European imperial territories of Constantine the Great.

  4. Neil Bray

    Sean, my piece actually asserts that Thomas O’Loughlin’s (TOL) article is based on the notion that there is a lay vocation. My purpose was to express the view that his article does not live up to the promise of its title –“What Vocation Really Means.”

    I was surprised at your appeal to “Sola Scriptura.” TOL uses plenty stuff not in the Bible. Even more surprised at your request that I produce a quotation form the Bible to show Jesus defending a piece of Church teaching. That in the light of John 16 – ““I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” And also John 14:26 – “But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

    The teaching re the ordained priesthood is contained in the Biblical material on the interactions between Christ and the Apostles, and in Tradition based on such material. The “differences” you disagree with are outlined in Lumen Gentium 31 and 32.

    Sean, our respective difference in attitude pertaining to the significance of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a fundamental difference between us. This is particularly so in the context of the ordained priesthood. My piece seeks to say that we laity have a distinctive and challenging vocation to attend to. CIC 898 really implies that we are called to become leaven for society, through in our daily interaction with the secular world. That’s our area of endeavour. That’s what our vocation really means. (LG above). That’s the challenge thrown down by Pope Francis. When tempted to opt instead for elements of the sacred ministry of the ordained priesthood we may find it sobering to read a text from 1 Samuel: 13: 5-13, and 1 Samuel 15, 22.

    Secular intervention has often been necessary in the history of the Church. The latter is founded by God but with human membership is always prone to the wiles of Satan. God’s people a have always failed Him to some extent. Some of us at least still do. “When the Son of man comes will he find faith on earth?”

    Your valid reference to the enormity of the scandal of clerical child abuse justifiably calls out the abuse inflicted by those in ordained ministry. However the vast bulk of such abuse by Catholics is by lay people. Any act of abuse is horrendous, but society normally confines its condemnation of abuse occurring in Catholicism to those in the ordained ministry. Which implies that when committed by those of that vocation the sin is particularly enormous. Which in turn implies the vocation to the ordained ministry is very special, perceived even by many even outside the Church as sacred. Pope Francis’s references to priests, both positive and negative articulates that also. My quotation from him bears that out.

    When it comes to talking about religion we all ultimately reveal our experience which may be positive or negative. Personally since 2005 when watching nightly programmes on RTE about JPII during the week of his death, I found myself, out of nowhere, being challenged uncomfortably to be more responsible about my faith. Since then I have benefitted greatly from those in ordained ministry. Living has changed and improved. I would consider a small number of priests as candidates for P45s. But the more I have studied the faith, and in this context, the ordained priesthood, the more I have come to appreciate and be grateful for the gift of the said priesthood. When attending a Sacrifice of the Mass celebrated by a priest I don’t like I find it helpful to remember that Christ uses that priest’s vocal chords to interact with me. I have spent a lot of effort trying to understand the Sacrifice of the Mass. But the best insights have been provided by my parish priest, not on the basis of anything he preached but by the simple orthodox manner he prays the Sacrifice of the Mass himself.

    I can see a need some Catholics have in the context of any discussion between laity and clergy to address the issue of child abuse. But structures are already in place to prevent similar abuse in the future, insofar as that’s humanly possible. Lay Catholics should be constant in prayer and sacrifices for the intentions of the abused, who are rarely mentioned. Apart from that the primary question would be “what is our telos as a Church, our mission, what are we about?”

    The historical reference in your last paragraph is beyond my experience of learning. A history lecturer I benefitted from in Trinity College characterised historians, among other things, as people capable of surveying the same data and drawing different conclusions therefrom. Who knows but that some historians would justify the medieval claim you refer to!!??

    Lastly, is Canon Law not based on Church Teaching, not vice versa?

    • soconaill

      Why, Neil, do you judge that my position is ‘sola scriptura’ – when a thorough historical understanding of Tradition reveals that the latter is NOT necessarily established forever by the endurance of any teaching or practice, even over a period of centuries?

      A case in point is St Augustine’s interpretation of Luke 14: 23 – Jesus’s words ‘compel them to come in‘ – to justify state coercion of the Donatists. That teaching of 408 CE became the standard justification for the Inquisitions and the denial of religious freedom until 1965 when the Vatican II Declaration of Religious insisted that the truth can convey itself only by its own truth. It was undoubtedly also a powerful part of the teaching context that justified the Christian European expropriations and enslavements of modernity, beginning c. 1450 – and the horrific incarceration of indigenous children in Canada in Catholic-run residential schools in the last two centuries – now causing renewed anguish in the Americas.

      You need to get your head around the epochal demise of Christendom now well under way, and to reassess also the clericalism that underpins your attitude to the necessary relationship between clergy and people. Take this from Cardinal Mario Grech, recently:

      “Theology and the value of pastoral care in the family seen as domestic Church took a negative turn in the fourth century, when the sacralization of priests and bishops took place, to the detriment of the common priesthood of baptism, which was beginning to lose its value. The more the institutionalisation of the Church advanced, the more the nature and charism of the family as a domestic Church diminished.” (Secretary General to the Vatican Synod of Bishops, Bishop Mario Grech, Civilta Cattolica, 16th October 2020.)

      Quite obviously the rehabilitation of the domestic church is also involving lay people in both a teaching and sanctifying role – especially in educating bishops to their responsibilities in regard to children. You must know that the passages from the Catechism that you quote in such awe were drafted before the revelation that bishops were at that time sworn to protect the reputations of clergy before the spiritual lives of children, so why are you impervious to the obvious obligation to learn from subsequent events – and to relativise even the governing authority of clergy? That the latter cannot override the conscientious obligation of lay people to be guided in the end by their own prayerful conscience is now part of that education for the rest of us.

      If Cardinal Mario Grech can get this, can’t you?

  5. Neil Bray

    My principal point was that TOL’s article was inadequate and see no reason to change that on the basis of the latest points you make.

    1. Donatism which sought to quash Divine Mercy from Christianity has nothing to offer in relation of the vocation of the laity. The Donatists set the first precedent in the Church for referring a spiritual cause to the decision of a civil magistrate.

    2. Whatever about Bishop Mario Grech’s historical speculation regarding Church Institutionalism, his statement on the charism of the Catholic family is totally invalid given that the wellbeing of the Church has relied on the contribution of millions of Catholic families over the millennia in terms of teaching and inspiration. And this is implied in the quotation from Pope Francis in my first submission.

    3. Regarding conscience, The Pope in a speech on Feb 27, 2020 warned priests against an “individualized conscience” – a feeling of being “more special, powerful, more gifted.” He would hardly countenance such as foundational to the lay vocation either. However all of us have to take on board your idea of the prayerful in the formation of conscience.

    4. Regarding your comment on the timing of the passages I quoted from the Catechism, which I subsequently showed were in turn from Lumen Gentium 31 and 32, – does this comment not imply that no catechism should be put together until it is certain that members of the Church will commit no further serious sins? That of course is not your intent.
    5. As regards the dilution of what you call christendom, well we ain’t seen nothing yet in the Anglo Euoropean American world. Is the Pope’s move into that hotel just a prelude to the Papacy’s move out of the Vatican due to eventual economic insolvency?

    As the spokesperson for the ACI one of the issues you nail firmly to your mast is that of clerical sex abuse. Many Catholics share your indignation and condemnation of the abuse itself and of the way it was mismanaged. Catholicism lost credibility among some but the real damage was to the victims, both that initially suffered and that which in many cases is continuing.

    What is not clear however is what difference the ACI would make to the procedures the Catholic Church uses in relation to child safety, and how the ACI initiative would work. All this given that the vast bulk of cases of sexual abuse that continue in the Church are perpetrated by lay people, and also given the activities of state institutions such as Tusla (in The Republic).

  6. soconaill

    In response to Neil Bray ‘My principal point’ etc.

    1. Does it follow that if the Donatists got it wrong on the question of the efficacy of sacraments when performed by an erring priest or bishop, St Augustine of Hippo was necessarily correct in arguing that the Donatists should be coerced by the Roman state (e.g. by imprisonment) until they conformed to that position? As these are obviously quite different issues it would be helpful if we could avoid such non sequiturs.

    2. This also involves a non sequitur, I fear. If it follows that because the clerical church has always depended upon the domestic church there could never have been any imbalance or injustice in that relationship, then it could also be argued that since menfolk have always depended upon womenfolk, allegations of male abuse of women will always be fabrications.

    [As the Ferns report of 2005 recorded an instance of an Irish mother insisting that a priest who had shared her young daughter’s bed could not have abused her, we should now be well past the point of arguing that Irish Catholic clericalism could never have traded on, or encouraged, trustful Irish lay naivety. (Ferns Report 4.4.6)]

    3. Pope Francis also insists in Amoris Laetitia 37 that pastors are “called to form consciences, not to replace them”. This too implies a respectful dialogical relationship, as also promised by Lumen Gentium (1964).

    4. Did you know that Catechisms arrived very late in the story of the church’s pedagogical experimentation – with the 16th century Lutheran Reformation, in fact? Or that the Church’s General Directory of Catechesis now insists that a Catechism cannot replace life experience and dialogue as a means of faith development? To regard the CCC of 1994 as an ultimate ‘clincher’ is to forget that it was a late twentieth century product of clerical perception, as time-bound and subjective as any other text produced in that era. Idealisation of clergy – the convention of writing as though what clergy will ideally always do will necessarily always be done – was on the verge of being undone by harsh reality. We have still to meet – clergy and people – for honest acknowledgement of that reality – the simple globally-established fact that sanctity and inerrancy are not automatic consequences of sacramental ordination.

    5. Would a papal abandonment of the Vatican, a Renaissance palace, be the worst possible historical scenario for an office dedicated to the following of a good shepherd who had ‘nowhere to lay his head’?

    ACI’s position on the problem of abuse within the church is amply documented on this site. In particular you need to read our 2019 submissions to the Irish Bishops Conference, including the request that the ICBC would:

    ‘Implement in Ireland what was clearly foreshadowed by article 37 of Lumen Gentium (1964) – diocesan and parish church structures for regular, respectful and open dialogue between the ordained and unordained priesthood’

    Not for nothing did Pope Francis’s chosen point man on the clerical abuse issue in Chile, Monsignor (now Archbishop) Charles Scicluna, advise that bishops should be accountable directly to their own people on the issue. Just to be clear, accountability must be a mutual obligation, as the common priesthood of the faithful must also obviously follow the Lord in being centred on justice, both within the church and in wider society.

    As you correctly observe, most abuse occurs within the family – as was recognised by the Irish bishops’ Lenten reflection of 2005, ‘Towards Healing. Calling as it did for a whole Irish church response to the issue, that document set an agenda that still awaits open discussion. Who or what might be the cause of the delay, do you think –  given that the convening of the Irish church for open discussion has never been a lay prerogative, at any level?

  7. Cornelius Bray

    I have to say that still nothing has been produced in this thread to justify Tom O’Loughlin’s assertion that ‘Vocations Sunday’ is a misnomer: it should be called ‘Recruitment Sunday.’

    Towards the end of the apostolic era in the writings of the New Testament an explicit theology of New Testament priesthood gets completed. This theology is based on the priesthood of Christ as he elucidated it to the apostles and is further developed by Sts Paul and Peter, and in the Apocalypse of St John. It treats of both the ordained priesthood and the common priesthood of the laity. This theology was then entrusted to the faithful hands of the Church and constitutes the core of every theology of Christian priesthood for the rest of time. The definition of the Council of Trent was reiterated by the Second Vatican Council.

    It may well be possible for the community to identify someone who as Tom O’Loughlin says has “skills in the communities’ worship” who could “be identified by a process of community discernment.” This identification is not on the basis of sacrament. Since TOL never mentions the sacrifice of the Mass the vocation of an ordained priest may not arise.

    Based on the message and works of Jesus in the New Testament, Church usage calls ordination to the ministry of priesthood a sacrament. The fact of sacrament means that the man in question is in no way performing functions for which he is highly qualified by his own natural ability nor is he doing the things that please him most and that are most profitable. On the contrary: the one who receives the sacrament is sent to give what he cannot give of his own strength; he is sent to act in the person of another; to be his living instrument. He is not an unmarried man simply volunteering for something as TOL asserts. For this reason no human being can declare himself a priest; for this reason, too, no community can promote a person to this ministry by its own decree. Only from the sacrament, which belongs to God, can priesthood be received. Mission can only be received from the one who sends – from Christ in his sacrament, through which a person becomes the voice and hands of Christ in the world. That is assuming he cooperates with the grace of the sacrament. Otherwise he may do severe damage.

    No evidence of awareness of the said theology appears in this thread. In my first submission above I supported Tom O’Loughlin’s promotion of lay vocation and I would support a vocations Sunday being dedicated to it. Indeed that’s all TOL is advocating. Why? At the end of TOL’s article ordained priests are seemingly described as “male, celibate, full-time, and willing to belong within a clerical corps” – earlier regarded as people to be “recruited!” This falls well short of a true representation of the vocation of a Catholic priest and a Vocations Sunday should not be devoted to it not to speak of being confined to it. What remains in TOL’s Vocations Sunday project is the lay vocation. Bravo! The responsibilities of the lay vocation as outlined in Lumen Gentium 31 make such a day necessary.

    But a huge catechetical requirement pertains to the vocation of the ordained priest per se and on how it differs profoundly from its lay counterpart. Comparisons are odious. Differences are real. Confusion is not a gift of the Holy Spirit. The intensive attention Christ gave to the apostles and the work he did with them establishes the particular importance he paid to creating the ordained priesthood in the mode of his own priesthood. This vocation cannot be dumbed down to a process of recruitment. Repeated focus by the Church on the vocation of the ordained priesthood is imperative and a special vocations Sunday is both justified and necessary.


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ACI’s Campaign for Lumen Gentium 37

The Promise of Synodality

What we have experienced of synodality so far gives ACI real hope that a longstanding structural injustice in the church may at last be acknowledged and overcome.

As all Irish bishops well know, the 'co-responsibility' they urge lay people to share - as numbers and energies of clergy decline - has been sabotaged time and again by canonical rules that deny representational authority and continuity to parish pastoral councils.  ACI's 2019 call for the immediate honouring of Lumen Gentium Article 37 becomes more urgent by the day and is supported by the following documents - also presented to the ICBC in October 2019.

The Common Priesthood of the People of God and the Renewal of the Church
It was Catholic parents and victims of clerical abuse who taught Catholic Bishops to prioritise the safeguarding of children in the church

Jesus as Model for the Common Priesthood of the People of God
It was for challenging religious hypocrisy and injustice that Jesus was accused and crucified. He is therefore a model for the common priesthood of the laity and for the challenging of injustice - in society and within the church.

A Suggested Strategy for the Recovery of the Irish and Western Catholic Church
Recovery of the church depends upon acknowledgment of the indispensable role of the common priesthood of the lay people of God and the explicit abandonment by bishops and clergy of paternalism and clericalism - the expectation of deference from lay people rather than honesty and integrity.

For the full story of ACI's campaign for the honouring of Article 37 of Lumen Gentium, click here.


"Come Holy Spirit, Renew Your wonders in this our day, as by a new Pentecost. Grant to Your Church that, being of one mind and steadfast in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and following the lead of blessed Peter, it may advance the reign of our Divine Saviour, the reign of truth and justice, the reign of love and peace. Amen."

Saint Pope John XXIII, 1962 - In preparation for Vatican Council II, 1962-65.

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