Reflections from Saint Gregory’s

17 September 2007

My retreat at Saint Gregory’s went very well.  I was there from Thursday afternoon until Saturday afternoon, spending one full day there and half of two days.  The one full day happened to be the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

The initial reading from Compline —which I have found to be frequently taken from a Church Father or theologian in both Episcopal and Roman Catholic communities— was taken from a sermon foe the feast of the Holy Cross by John Henry Newman.

The gist of the sermon —from what I can recall— was the contradictory nature of the cross, the cruciform dynamic of simultaneously bringing up and taking down, the exaltation of things that (in worldly eyes) ought not be and the humbling or humiliation of things that (again, in worldly eyes) are much esteemed.

While this retreat was intended as a contemplative and prayerful getaway for recharging the mental, emotional, and spiritual batteries, I inevitably thought about my vocational discernment.

While at Saint Gregory’s, I realized something about the nature of vocation.  My first service at Saint Gregory’s was Thursday Vespers, which features the justly celebrated Psalm 139.  Psalm 139 (138 LXX) reminds that God

created my being, knit me together in my mother’s womb.
. . .
Already . . . knew my soul [and]
my body held know secret from [God]
when I was fashioned in secret
and moulded in the depths of the earth.

[God’s] eyes saw all my actions,
they were all of them written in [God’s] book;
every one of my days was decreed
before one of them came into being.

Most often we interpret these verses as dealing with God’s ultimate determination of the length of our lives, with the divine decree that dictates if, when, where, and how we die.  The irony here, of course, is that this psalm is primarily referring to life: “my soul, . . . my body, . . . my actions, . . . my days,” all things, while pertinent to the ever-after, are primarily things of the here-and-now in our experience.

As I sat down to await the dinner bell after Friday Vespers and about 20 minutes of meditation, I began thinking about vocation.  In the last year, I have become progressively more relaxed about my vocation and its formal recognition.  Providence landed me at MyChurch, where my services at the altar and in visiting the sick and homebound were needed, much as listening to the movements of my heart landed me at All Saints’.

Both of these churches and my roles within them are part of my vocation, at least right now.  One of the lovely things about monasticism is the spirituality’s implicit understanding of mutual ministry; within the context of the monastery somebody has to be the confessor to the abbot, somebody has to serve supper to the refectory: while we serve someone in someway right now, that same person will serve us later, and perhaps even at the same time we serve them.

While at MyChurch I am primarily of service, I am also served, whether I realize it or not; the same goes for All Saints’: while I primarily see it as the parish where I am ministered to, I no doubt minister to some while I am there, even if I don’t realize it.  While consciously or rationally, I am aware of a clear distinction between the two parishes, I recognize that the spiritual reality is probably much different.

Already you knew my soul;
my body held know secret from you.

In the end, this post is a kind of prayer, a prayer of thanksgiving.  While at Saint Gregory’s I came to the conscious recognition (I may have already known or recognized this subconsciously or implicitly) that my vocation already is.

My vocation to being a husband and father.

My vocation to being a teacher and poet.

My vocation to being a minister and even a priest of the Church of God.

All these vocations already are:

Your eyes saw all my actions,
they were all of them written in your book;
every one of my days was decreed
before one of them came into being.

There is great relief in this.  While the formal status of my vocation has not been a source of anxiety lately, it certainly is a source of impatience.  I wish so earnestly to not merely be in communion with the Episcopal Church but to be an actual member of the Episcopal Church, not just to be a member but a minister of that church and of service within it.

All this already is, in a sense.  While I am not an Episcopal priest, I am a priest within the priesthood of all believers and minister to my brothers and sisters in Christ.  Just this past Sunday, for example, I bore the intinction cup at MyChurch.  I am already a minister of the Sacrament, even if I am not a  Minister of the Sacrament or the Minister of the Sacrament.

My vocation already is, and I am not alone in this.  Every person’s ministry and vocation already is.  In every case, each vocation/ministry is possible without formal or public sanction or recognition.  While its complete fulfillment and realization (in Spanish, desarrollo) may necessitate outside approbation, its fundamental reality and existence is independent of any formalization.

While I am exercising some modicum of patience toward my discernment and ultimate vocational journey, it is heartening to come to the realization that God’s call already is, and that all it needs is to be recognized —incarnated, if you will— by human institutions.

Ultimately a vocation needs both the divine ordination and the human recognition —what we normally call ordination— to be fulfilled, but it is important to note that the human recognition is not the end nor is it the beginning of the vocation.  After all:

Already [God] knew my soul [and]
my body held know secret from [God]
when I was fashioned in secret
and moulded in the depths of the earth.

[God’s] eyes saw all my actions,
they were all of them written in [God’s] book;
every one of my days was decreed
before one of them came into being.

One Response to “Reflections from Saint Gregory’s”

  1. […] swimmingly as usual.  The organically emerging theme of the meeting was “knitting”: my time at St. Gregory’s, Blending Offices (which he called a kind of “knitting”),  and my sense of vocation […]

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