Monday, 10 January 2011

An ongoing call

In my spiritual life, I am always waiting to be approached by others. This is largely a deliberate choice based on a belief that others will be better able than myself to judge my gifts, my potential, and my worth. But I have to acknowledge that it fits comfortably with my own underlying shyness and a sense, not so much of unworthiness as of inadequacy: an unwillingness born of an assumed – and possibly wholly imagined – disqualification which makes persistent attempts to manifest itself as a fear of finding myself out of my depth. I have no such fear or sense of inadequacy in any other area of my life, though the underlying shyness does reach into most corners.
But, having made a conscious decision to respond willingly if and when approached for some form of assistance or involvement, when somebody did ask me to do something, the request concerned what may have been the only task for which I felt completely unqualified and to which I felt unable to answer ‘Yes’.
My immediate but unspoken response was the thought, “Dear Lord, are you doing this on purpose?” Of all the things I could have been asked, I had never anticipated the words, ‘Eucharistic Minister’.
I had to say that it was the one thing I really could not take on, explaining that I felt it to be essential that anyone receiving communion in a Catholic Church could correctly make the assumption that the person from whom they were receiving fully believed in the true presence of Christ in the bread or wine being offered. As that has always been something I have doubted and pondered (struggling with it ended long ago), I felt I was not the right person; and though the priest by whom I had been asked did not seem deterred, saying he frequently came across those doubts when talking to people about Catholicism, I had to insist that my conscience left no room for a change of mind. After a brief pause he asked, “What about reading?”
So, not only are there tugs that continue to draw me to people I know in one parish: people who already know me far better than anyone else, but I am also slowly but surely being drawn deeper into another community elsewhere. I have told myself for years that if and when I am asked to do something, I shall do it. But why did it have to restart with the one thing I would have to decline?
I have just searched my own blog for something completely unrelated to anything here, and was struck by the following words in one of the posts that came up (20.7.08 Loosely bound). ‘A sense of belonging is at the heart of the experience of being a Christian. The initial understanding of that fact – being part of a supportive group of similarly minded individuals, … down through parish and otherwise local communities, to small intimate groups of close spiritual friends – is valuable and valid, but the belonging goes further than that. … it ends where in fact it truly begins: within ourselves. When we find ourselves alone, without any form of human support from within that community, we still belong to it, and we must hope to become aware of the truth behind our collective sense of belonging: that each one of us belongs to Christ; He has claimed us as His own, not ‘en masse’ as what we see and feel as the Church, but individually: He has claimed you, and He has claimed me. We each belong to Him.’
I continue to enjoy the experience of finding my own words speaking back to me in this way, but though my first reaction was to feel the above would help me to resolve the choice which seemed to be formulating in my mind – even before I had become fully aware that a choice was involved – reading through those words again has dissolved not only the choice but even the thoughts and reasons behind my writing of this post. Looking back has distracted me from the train of thought which brought me here today, but in so doing I now feel that it has put me back on the right track. There is a choice which could be made; I could choose to be an exclusive and definite part of either one parish or the other, but perhaps that is not what I am being asked to do. Why should I not be equally seen and known in more than one place? Not through choosing to visit another church merely for a change of scene, or style, or preacher, or because of past connections, or convenient mass times when something clashes with one’s usual Sunday routine; not even through more persuasive effects such as some form of discontent or particular attraction; but through an awareness of belonging which is not restricted to the manmade and functional boundaries of parishes.
It is certainly not unusual to belong to, or to be involved in, more than one form of spiritual community today. As John Finney writes in his book ‘Emerging Evangelism’, this is an “important point which is likely to become more important with time. Many people are members of more than one community. It is possible to be a member of the Franciscan Third Order and also a member of the local church community. It is also already the case that many Christians look to their engagement with New Wine, Soul Survivor, a retreat centre or Walsingham as an important part of their spiritual life which goes alongside their membership of a local church.”
While not necessarily finding different facets of our spiritual (as well as social, psychological and emotional) needs catered for – as they may well be in combinations of involvement such as those mentioned above – through a lack of rigidity and exclusivity in our allegiance to a particular church or parish community, it does allow us to see ourselves more clearly as the essential individual building blocks of Christ’s Church. Nothing can alter or in any way dilute the fact that we are the Church. Those four words are some of the most important and relevant for every Christian today. ‘Church’ is the collective noun for a group of Christians: and for the worldwide body of all Christians. For as long as the varieties within Christianity remain expressions of fragmentation, divergence and disagreement, instead of the Spirit filled diversity which should be echoing the praise and worship of all man and womankind around the globe, Christian unity will continue to be a calling inseparable from our individual and collective calls to holiness. Quoting Archbishop Rowan Williams’ words, that church is “the community that happens when people meet the living Christ”, John Finney also points out that, ‘that should not be restricted to only one form of community, however hoary with history it may be.’
Recognizing ourselves as essential and equal parts of the body to which those calls are directed, is to know something powerful about ourselves. Each one of us is called to respond to that power from within: from within ourselves while within the Church. This is our calling; this is our place; this is our identity. We are not the docile, unquestioningly obedient and subservient space-fillers who are apparently essential to the Church’s continually increasing irrelevance in the eyes of so many of today’s people. We are essential as obedient, faithful and courageous members of the Church as it is meant to be: the Body of Christ. We follow, and are true to Christ. We should regard no other allegiance as being completely inflexible. We are God’s. We are not the priest’s, or the bishop’s, or the Pope’s. We are Christ’s. We are not the congregation’s, or the parish’s, or the diocese’s or the Church’s. We are a part of each of these tiers of community, no less and no more important than any other part. Without us these tiers, the community, and the Church itself does not exist.
Ultimately we are all there is. We are it. We are the Church. And that is not the terrifying thought that it may at first appear to be. We have only to see ourselves and the Church through the eyes and the mind of Christ. God’s Word is there for all to see, every day of our lives. And this is where we all need our priests to be the priests Christ is calling them to be. They are all included in that one all-encompassing ‘We’. They are not separated from it; they are not above it, or ahead of it. Nor are they at the centre of it by any appointment or form of recognition other than that received from God in their vocation; a calling confirmed and manifested through the respect, reverence, spiritual intimacy and true fellowship found in the needs of the people among whom they are called to minister.
 ‘Ministry is for all and those who are ordained have a special role and function. However, their ministry is validated and truly productive if they are affirmed and respected by those to whom and with whom they minister. Clergy, as I see this, only have a function within a local community that recognizes their ministry and gifts and is willing to share that ministry with them. ... Whether we have a high or low view of ordination, the body of Christ gives to all who are members an identity, a calling and gifts to offer for the good of all.’ (Alan Abernethy. Fulfilment and Frustration.)
We are back at the beginning, to know that place in ways that were previously impossible. We are conscious once again of being among The Named, as we were when I first wrote those words (06.01.07 … for the journey).
'You have called me by my name. I hear you Lord.'

About Me

Who I am should be, and should remain, of little consequence to you. Who you are is what matters; who you are meant to be is what should matter most to you. In coming closer to my own true self, I have gradually been filled with the near inexpressible: I have simply become "brim full", and my words to you are drawn from those uttered within myself, as part of an undeniable overflowing that brings a smile to my every dusk, and to my every new dawn.
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