Luke Miller reflects on priesthood, how God equips priests for their ministry, and the joy that results from offering one’s life in response to God’s call
here is a story of a nervous curate who had to read the passage about the suicide of Judas. It is very gory: he hanged himself and his guts spewed forth. Being nervous he turned over two pages at once and read on the description of the call of Matthias: His guts spewed forth, and the lot fell upon Matthias. The lot fell upon Matthias: it was the sign of God’s choice. Our vocation – and this is not just Father’s, but the call that every baptized person receives – may well have been discerned by others; it may be a longing of our own heart; but above all things it is the call of God. His choice for us. The Psalmist reflected on his vocation and sang: the lot is fallen to me in a fair ground. The place which God has chosen for me is a good place for he is a good and loving God who wants for me what is right and best: a fair and lovely place. The place of my vocation is Eden – the garden where God sets me.
Here in this fair place, this corner of Eden which we call Tottenham, we raise the roof from time to time with Amazing Grace. God gives us amazing Grace to do his work. If he calls us to something then he equips us for it. He sustains us in the work. And he allows us to focus on the work by not giving us a contrary vocation. Now we might not feel as though any of these things are true.
St Paul said that it felt as though the treasure had been put in earthenware vessels, meaning that he felt as though he could not do it. Too right: none of us can do it on our own; but the Lord equips us.
Then He sustains us. On a wet Friday in November trudging through the rain on the Home Communion round we may not feel very sustained: but do you remember the manna? There was only just enough each day. If you tried to store it, it went off and went to mush. We need our daily bread, and we pray, don’t we, ‘give us today our daily bread,’ just enough for each day. So you are sustained, though you may always be at your last gasp.
Sustained by God
He does not give a contrary vocation. There are times when I rather wish God had called me to be a merchant banker. A winter cruise every now and again would be nice. But I know I would not be happy. That would not be a fair ground to me. Nor, more seriously, would the things I would have done had the Lord not got me. There are many things that the Lord will call you to do, Father, and your life will have many things in it; but none of them will be contrary to the vocation confirmed in you today. The Lord will not call you away from this fair ground, and all that he will ask of you will serve to strengthen you in the priesthood, the primary vocation of your life.
As I have said to the colleagues I have been privileged to nurture in the priesthood, the priesthood of the Catholic Church is not a job done, it is a life led: and it is true of the priesthood, as it is true of the other calls that the Lord has for the baptized. Our life is to be hidden with Christ in God. The paradox of Christian ministry is that the greater the sacrifice, the greater the joy. Good Friday is followed by Easter Day. The joy of the priesthood, the joy, Father, of your vocation, is to know that amazing grace is conforming the soul specially to the High Priestly work of Christ.
People of God, some of you may be being called to the ministerial priesthood. Do consider that; is this for you? It may not be. But you all are called to be members of the priestly people of God.
Accepting the sacrifice
George Herbert reflected deeply on the priesthood, and in one of his poems, ‘The Collar’, he describes how sometimes the soul can rebel against the following of the call and the working out of the sacrifice. For though this life is what makes you happy, though it be a fair ground, it is hard. ‘I struck the board and cried No More! I will away! … Have I no harvest but The thorn?’ But in the end the gentle call of the Lord brings him back to his senses. ‘But as I rav’d and grew more fierce and wilde, At every word, Me thoughts I heard one calling, Childe: And I reply’d, My Lord.’
Father, the lot has fallen to you in a fair ground. Some days it may not seem so, but you will always know the joy which comes from offering your life in response to the call you have received. People of God – accept this sacrifice and do not abuse it. Consider whether you are called to offer it yourself, and always remember, priests and people of God, that the lot has fallen to us in
This sermon was originally preached at the ordination to the priesthood of Father Christopher Trundle at St Paul’s Tottenham on Saturday 13 May 2011