Read for what it is worth the scripture of the binding of Isaac has got to be one of the scariest in the Bible. Beginning with the call to leave homeland, relatives and his father’s house and ending with the call to sacrifice his dearest son as a burnt offering Abraham endured ten tests of faith in realizing his vocation. The first trials are met with questions and evasions but this the last is met with silent trusting obedience. But why would God ask Abraham to sacrifice the son through whom God’s promise was predestined to be fulfilled? This is a riddle that shakes us to the core.
If God deals that way with Abraham, will God deal that way with me? What if I am asked to sacrifice what is most dear to me? There is no logical way to solve this riddle. What we need to do when we feel that we can’t bear what we called to is to practise the silence and trust of Abraham.
Don’t focus on the sacrifice. Focus on God. This story is meant to teach us that we must focus on God and put into practice the obedience of faith trusting that God is greater than our idea of God and that sometimes our fears, anger and shame are what need binding and burning up.
The following is an invitation to embody this scene in a practical way: Enter into prayer and consider what you most dread that God will call you to. In silence and in as much stillness as you can try to explore the feeling. Not with your mind but to try to feel it physically and emotionally. It will not be a pleasant feeling. Feel it anyway. You will want to get away from the feeling. Stay put and lean into the feeling you dread. As you sit the feeling will burn you, let it. Don’t run away. Let your stillness be your altar. Your discomfort is the Ram of distortion being burnt up. You are becoming the promise. Keep this practice up and you will grow in freedom and peace and you will be a blessing to the Nations.
A Canadian police chief was interviewed by a reporter for a Christian publication about the high level of violent crime in his city. He said that we can’t just “police away” the problem of crime. Then he said that prayer had a role in the solution. Then the media pounced on him critically. They distorted his comments and shamed him for linking spirituality to public peace. All the scrum around this issue points a sensitive spiritual issue: can we be good without God? Very secular people are offended that they are not complete in themselves and they are angered when told they should pray. Jesus prayed and grew in his consciousness of his belovedness and ability to serve God. This is what consistent prayer does: it opens our minds to God, it softens our hearts to love and stimulates us with impulses of action. So personally we can’t find peace without prayer and the same applies to a community. Many of us are called to be teachers of prayer and there is no better way to grow in that art than through practice where mistakes provide excellent lessons and disappointment offers great wisdom.
A vocation depends on prayer for completion which is another way of saying that our well being depends on spiritual practice. In prayer we are doing a yoga of the spirit of God’s children. Prayer stretches us, makes us hold a position and experience discomfort for our good. It makes us give of ourselves which is the essence of sacrifice. Sacrifice is the most powerful medicine available to cure us of fear and craving. These are the two horns of the monster that pursues us beneath the surface of where we live. Prayer is our shield and prayer is what puts that monster to sleep.
So let us pray for our personal peace and the peace of our communities and God’s blessing on those who have been called serve and protect us.
When the wedding is over you’ve got the marriage to worry about. In my opinion truer words have never been spoken. I had my own experience of this reality earlier this month. As I was traveling from Kenya then en route to Rome and final spending two weeks at home with my family, I was feverishly and sometimes haphazardly preparing for the celebration of my perpetual commitment to the Oblates.
Since 2007 I have been waiting for this moment. In my mind on the weeks leading up to my vows I thought things like “My aspiration to become a full-fledged Oblate was now becoming a reality.” Or “All that hard work and perseverance finally coming to fruition.” I couldn’t believe it, after almost 5 full years I could profess my undying love for Jesus and the congregation… and that’s what the celebration on September 8th represented. The high ideals, the lofty expectations, and all of the other things that people associate with an event like that. It really isn’t all that dissimilar to a Wedding. I may or may not have had a bride-zilla moment or two in the months and weeks leading up to the celebration…but I’m not going to say on this blog.
But after the fanfare, the beautiful liturgy and all the congratulatory remarks were over there was only one thing left to do. LIVE IT EVERY DAY!!!! I guess what was left out, as it usually is with weddings, was the reality that you live after you commit to something big. I don’t feel any different, I’m just trying to organize my week, to get ahead of my studies and maybe clean my room every once and a while.
That’s the thing about vocations to religious life or any life changing commitment, after the celebration life sets in. I don’t think this is a negative thing as much as it is a humbling thing. As a Sister that taught us in Novitiate said, “There is a reason why the liturgical calendar has more weeks in ordinary time than any other season.” We all live in ordinary time. Admittedly my ordinary isn’t anything like my brother’s ordinary as he is married with five kids. But ordinary in the sense that Religious life has a certain rhythm that you get used to. Yes a curveball can come your way every once and a while but for the most part life goes on. So whatever you decide to do in life as far as your vocational discernment goes, remember ordinary time will be most of the time.
Br. David MacPhee OMI
I remember when I was leaving to go to Kenya last year my confrere Bradley making fun of me because of how much stress it was to say good-bye to everyone in Ottawa. He laughed as I recounted to him all the people I had to visit, what they said, and how emotional I got. Granted I can be a bit over dramatic sometimes but I still view saying good-bye as one of the most difficult things about religious life. And the reason why I say this is because this is a website about vocations and I don’t want anyone to think about vocations to religious life without first knowing the difficulties.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux believed that her vocation was to be God’s love. I think that statement is at the core of any religious vocation. If you’re not in it to love then don’t bother coming out. The problem with love, however, is that in order to love you must be vulnerable. Being vulnerable isn’t easy and you risk being hurt by people much easier. Essentially, the problem is the more you love the more you hurt. The more you love the more you get into the messiness of people’s lives. Their deepest hurts, their fear, their longings and pain.
The upside to love is that connection with other people can do positive things for you. The more you love the better chance that you will feel true joy and happiness. A type of happiness that doesn’t come from an episode of Big Bang Theory…well maybe it does if you’re watching it with someone you love. The point is the risk of being vulnerable and open can lead to some pretty amazing moments that will lead you to a better understanding of yourself and what you value.
I can honestly say that I have tried to live out my vocation by St. Thérèse’s ideal. Yes, in some cases I haven’t done it perfectly, but being perfect is boring. Love is all about being open to the possibilities of the moment. If I could only recount the difficulties that some of the people I love have shared with me I’m sure you’d feel the sorrow that I have felt intensely here in Kenya. Likewise, I have stories of laughter and joy with the people I’ve shared with here.
That brings me back to saying good-bye. As Shakespeare wrote “Parting is such sweet sorrow.” All I can say is that I know this feeling well because of religious life. On one hand saying good-bye has left me in sorrow. The last days at every place I’ve been have been filled with sadness at letting go and fear of the unknown that lurks somewhere in the future. On the other hand, there is something to be said about the sweet part of it. The sweetness is the immense gratitude that fills your heart having been able to share and be part of people’s lives no matter how short a time. There are people that I will never forget, even if it was only a couple of hours that I spent with them, because I could feel the love of the other person.
I’m sure I will feel lost when I go back to Canada because of leaving behind my friends here. But their memory is like chocolate cake to my soul.
So if you’re thinking about a vocation to religious life, think about how you say good-bye.
In 2005 I was seriously thinking about the priesthood. I was a youth minister at Bl. Pope John XXIII Parish in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia (now known as the home of Sidney Crosby). I had been journeying with Fr. Gilbert Bertrand OMI in spiritual direction. On my birthday that year I received a card from Fr. Gilbert. It had a picture of a young St. Eugene on it with the caption, “St. Eugene Wants You!” I had to laugh at the card because I was indeed thinking about the Oblates but I really didn’t want to say yes to missionary life yet.
My hesitations about missionary life were that it would take me away from my family, my home town, and my friends. That is why I decided to study with the Archdiocese of Halifax first. How could I leave my family? How could I say yes to a vocation that might send me half-way across the world?
Finally, I had to resign to the words of Jesus “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundred fold now in this age – houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children and fields, with persecutions…” Mark 10:29-30. Wow! Boy has this scripture been right!
I have been all over Canada, the United States and now I’m in Kenya meeting Oblates, being in parishes and communities. I have acquired more than I could have ever expected…and I’m just starting my journey. I even have started becoming friends on facebook with Oblates I’ve never met but because we are in the same religious community we still have so much to share.
All the fear and anxiety that I faced in making the decision to join the Oblates has been replaced by the promises held in that scripture from the Gospel of Mark.
So what are you waiting for?
I met a young man several years ago that moved about from community to community discerning a vocation to religious life. Finally he said he wanted to start his own community named “Our Lady of Perpetual Discernment.” It was a funny way of saying he knew that he had thought enough about it but he couldn’t settle on what he wanted. But you never know a vocation unless you try it on, unless you start living it. It will do you no favours if you never try and see if it’s for you.
My life with the Oblates has blessed me in the most amazing ways, but I can’t expect you to take my word for it. Try it on and see if it fits.
Br. David MacPhee OMI