Sunday, 7 August 2011

Vocations and fiction

I’ve just finished one of my summer novels, Ken Follet’s 1989 epic drama, The Pillars of the Earth. Set in the twelfth-century, it tells the story of the building of a priory cathedral in a fictional town in Wiltshire. It was a really good read, and I look forward to reading the sequel one day, but I would warn those who have not read it themselves, that it is quite risque and violent in places! I’ve now run out of novels at home, but waiting for me at Oscott is the first of the Matthew Bartholomew Chronicles, which is a historical crime fiction series, a little like Cadfael, but set in out very own Cambridge, which was recommended to me when I was on placement in Cambridge in January. 

Like any good novel, there is a web of intermingling story-lines and characters in The Pillars of the Earth, which was recently adapted for television on Channel 4, which I have not seen. Because of my history background and pedantic nature, I wear a tiara of skepticism when judging historical-fictional drama, which clouds my overall judgement of the story. The liturgical scenes, even in the book, were horrific, but most of the story was beautiful in its humanity. One of the principal characters, Philip, is the Prior of Kingsbridge, who commissioned the cathedral. A conversation between him, and a young monk, Jonathan, who was brought to the priory as an abandoned baby, brought a smile to my face as I read it, and so I’ve reproduced it here. Brother Jonathan is talking to Prior Philip about vocation, and asks him: 

“What do you think my task might be?” 
“God needs monks to be writers, illuminators, musicians and farmers. He needs men to take on the demanding jobs, such as cellarer, prior, and bishop. He needs men who can trade in wool, heal the sick, educate the schoolboys and build churches.” 
“It’s hard to imagine that he has a role cut out for me.” 
“I can’t think he would have gone to this much trouble with you if he didn’t,” Philip said with a smile. “However, it might not be a grand or prominent role in worldly terms. He might want you to become one of the quiet monks, a humble man who devotes his life to prayer and contemplation.” 
Jonathan’s face fell. “I suppose he might.” 
Philip laughed. “But I don’t think so. God wouldn’t make a knife out of wood, or a lady’s chemise out of shoe leather. You aren’t the right material for a life of quietude, and God knows it. My guess is that he wants you to fight for him, and not sing to him.” 
“I certainly hope so.” 
“But right now I think he wants you to go and see Brother Leo and find out how many cheeses he has for the cellar at Kingsbridge.” 

While all Christians have a vocation to holiness (the universal vocation), as explained by the Second Vatican Council, and by many saints, each individual Christian is called to perform some ‘definite service’, as Blessed John Henry wrote about his own vocation. A large part of vocational discernment is trying out ‘what fits’. If something feels like the right thing to do, after prayer and, importantly, discussion with others, it is probably a big divine push in the right direction! As Prior Philip suggested in his conversation, different vocations are not ‘more important’ than other vocations. They are different in expression, but equal in dignity: from bishops to builders, even counting cheeses! All are works of service to the Lord, and equal in value. It’s also important to remember that we actually have to do something about it; discernment is a process, not a destination. 

We are called, as members of Christ’s Mystical Body, to emulate the life and virtues of Our blessed Lord, but that is always partnered with God’s sanctifying grace working within us. He is the Vine, and we are the branches. The branches are the bits of the plant that we see working: the fruit and leaves grow on the branches, but the branches themselves are fed by sap from the Vine itself. How gloriously humbling it is to freely accept that we are mere instruments of the all Holy God. Recall what happened to Peter, walking on the water, when he took his eyes off Christ the Lord. We are fools to think that we can try to live our vocation without beseeching the Lord to feed us with the means to do it! 

Veni Creator Spiritus!

No comments: