The vocation to love, part 6: remembering Dorcas

Filed in Spirituality by on May 13, 2014 8 Comments


I began this series of posts, you may remember, by talking about the Vatican II’s radical idea that every single Christian is called to a unique and irreplaceable mission. I then had a look at the sacrament of baptism as the moment that marks that call. Over the next few posts I took you on a journey through scripture, looking at the vocations of Old Testament prophets, of Mary and of Paul. The vocations I described there were all pretty dramatic – the burning bush, the dazzling light over the road to Damascus.

Drama equals good story, so we’re never told the stories of more discreet calls. We don’t even know how some of the twelve – Bartholomew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, for example – first encountered Christ. What we do discover is what all Christian vocations, dramatic or discreet, share in common. We learnt from the Old Testament that individuals are called to a demanding task that they did not seek for themselves; that this may well arouse opposition; that they are answerable to God for their mission; and that their task is to further the reign of God among his people.

In the New Testament, the reign of God is revealed as the presence of Christ, and a major part of the mission is precisely to build that presence by building the community of the Church, the body of Christ. That is why the twelve are called as a group, not as individuals; while Paul is immediately sent to Ananias as his teacher and guide. The task that Peter, Paul and the others are then given is to found and support communities.

These communities are full of ordinary people. It is one of the joys of reading Acts that it tells us not about kings and heroes, as most ancient literature does, but about normal life. One of my favourite figures in Scripture, for example, is Dorcas, who appears in Acts, chapter 9. I remember her name from my childhood, from my mother’s box of pins. I didn’t know then why they had that name. She, if you remember, was a lady who lived in Jaffa, ‘full of good works and acts of charity’. These included making clothes for the poor, and when she died, and St Peter came to the rescue, her grieving friends showed him the lovely tunics she had sewn.

Nowadays we are used to novels and films and soap operas that deal with ordinary people. It’s hard to remember how extraordinary it was in his world for Luke to bother to bring to life, and show as  loveable, a character that no one before would have thought worth the pen and ink. Christianity turned everything upside down. The ordinary has become significant; the daily gentleness and generosity of a poor widow, doing the work of a ‘mere’ woman, has hit the headlines.

In this new world, even sewing can be vocational, because it can be done with love. In the rest of this series I want to explore different aspects of vocations, both lifelong callings such as marriage and religious life, and the vocational aspects of so-called ‘ordinary’ work.

Click here to see other ‘Vocation to Love’ articles in this series by Sr Margaret.

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Sr Margaret Atkins

About the Author ()

Sr Margaret is an Augustinian canoness from the community at Boarbank Hall in Cumbria. She is also a Research Fellow at Blackfriars, Oxford.

Comments (8)

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  1. mags says:

    Peter was called to marriage and to be our first Papa. His vocation was not one or the other. Women were called to vocation by giving their lives to their community in deepest Love and vocation with the apostles and one another as a family ~ they Loved in a profoundly wholesome way ~ male and female. If you are a women today, you have to leave your parish to join an order because there is no structure to be vocational women in our parishes. Why should our parishes miss out on the beautiful warmth and wealth of female vocations. Why should we as woman miss our vocations because the model that Christ gave us was changed?

  2. mags says:

    Women’s vocations active/contemplative need to be at the very heart of our communities ~ they are the women who will be nurturing within themselves the holy gentle space that is in deepest communion with Christ. It is a paradox that that secret treasure within, then shines out and becomes treasure for others. They are the role model that other faithful women/children will aspire to. I have male female twins. My son has his parish ‘vocational/religious’ role models and structure to be inspired by, to follow, my daughter doesn’t because it isn’t there .

    Vocation is so much more than choosing a singular path, and eliminating the other paths ~ and living by those choices ~ it is about the giving of your whole being and life to God for Love, whatever other paths bring you there.

  3. Anne Harriss says:

    Mags’ comments interest me. I have long noticed the very holy women who people the parish, and all the good turns they do from their individual sphere. The tendency in many cases is to live within walking distance of the church, and they always make themselves available for the unseen forms of service, done cheerfully, etc. Honestly, if they all lived in the same blocks of flats,they would form themselves as something equivalent to the Beguines of old! Perhaps modern Beguines are just on the cusp of effectively being born?

  4. mags says:

    Ann there are indeed ‘holy women who people the parish, and all the good turns they do from their individual sphere.’ ~ Our parish is small and the work is often carried out discreetly, efficiently and often by the same few committed souls ~ who love the ‘jobs’ they do for Our Lord, and want to continue doing them. Quite often these tasks are carried out, I am sure with great joy, and often when no one else is present ~ not much shadow learning going on. These holy women and men are dedicated lay people, who are regular Mass attenders and happy with the time they give. And we treasure them and their gifts.

    And our young girls could follow suit.

    But if we want to promote vocations as a deeper response to Gods call ~ then we need a vocational route, role models, and a presence in the parish. We need to re-look at todays needs, and the requirements and spiritual desires of our age, which frustratingly aren’t always being met. There need be a formal structure for women, towards a contemplative/active vocation, within a secular context (as secular priests can choose) as apposed to male religious choosing enclosed or in a brotherhood elsewhere.

    The people that inspire us, touch our lives, and are a visible example and witness to us, even often without them knowing are the people that are quietly planting seeds. If there is no contemplative-active vocational-secular Sisterhood or presence to inspire our young women, then we will continue to see women’s vocations decline and like so many have already, convents will continue to close.

    See below for the last beguine!

    • Anne Harriss says:

      Well, various Institutes that have arisen since Vatican II have been flexible enough to open up to lay people, to couples and families, etc, and not just to the canonically committed. Since, in the present world, people are so wary of commitment, and since also people are determined to develop their own individuality, it is difficult to attact them to a commont timetable or to make the jump to a common discipline where this “shadow learning” becomes possible for the young – in this case, for young girls and young women. The link ot teenage/young people’s catechesis and their Young Vincent de Paul work is important here, I think, for them to develop a sense of integration.

      Difficult as this would be to establish, one can see that some constants would be needed: a stable place where people are always happy to come, at almost any time of the day, and where it feels good just to be there…; a constant presence of a team of some sort, where there is both contemplation and action, and where prayer time is regular and sufficiently formal so as to be effectively observed, etc. It needs prudent people whose particular gift is always to make people feel welcome and valued, for this creates an attraction necessary for the spread of the Kingdom and all its values and virtues. So far, I have only met individuals with these qualities, but have never seen a team of such people at parish level. I don’t know if it’s realistic to expect that to exist. Perhaps it is a grace that is just about to come to flowering among us?

  5. mags says:

    Agreed Ann :O)

    ‘Perhaps it is a grace that is just about to come to flowering among us?’

    Wildflowers and Grace. Perfect †

  6. mags says:

    Maybe as a Catholic Church we should look to the future ~ back at Tradition ~ at there being a parish ‘postulancy programme’ for people with a deeper calling. Or a formal discipleship programme.

  7. mags says:

    ‘various Institutes that have arisen since Vatican II have been flexible enough to open up to lay people,’

    Third/tertiary orders are on the increase since Vat II ~ however still this does not often make for a visible vocational presence IN THE PARISH ~ often people who are members of a third order remain completely anonymous or disguised by their lay ‘appearance’ to the rest of the parish ~ with their vocation being lived personally and often outside of the parish with their association.

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