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The “O” Antiphons: O Key of David…

o_key_of_david

From December 17-23, I’d like to share with you these antiphons, that you will pray with them and they will help you continue to prepare for the Advent of our Lord. May they become part of your Advent tradition as they are becoming part of mine.

For December 20, the antiphon is based on Isaiah 22:22, Jeremiah 13:13; 51:19, Matthew 4:16; 16:19 and Luke 1:79

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel, qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperuit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel! You open and no one closes, You close and no one opens: Come and lead out of prison the captive who sits in darkness and the shadow of death.

From Evening prayer
O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel,
controlling at your will the gate of heaven:
Come,
break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.

From O Come, O Come Emmannuel:
Verse 5:
O Come, Thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heav’nly home,
make safe the way that leads on high,
that we no more have cause to sigh.

Key of David
Jesus, our Lord possesses the royal power of His ancestor David in a far fuller and higher way. What he commands is done. By His death on the Cross, He broke open the gates of death and led the souls of the just into everlasting life. He broke the power of the devil who had helped all people captive in sin and the fear of death. We pray Him to come and free us from slavery to sin and to the fear that sin brings with it.

-
(Reflection taken from Bible and Liturgy, a Sunday parish bulletin published by the Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minn. Edited by Rev. William Heidt, OSB. Published with the approval of Bishop Peter W. Bartholome of St. Cloud. Printed in 1959 by the North Central Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota (c) 1959 by the Order of St. Benedict, Inc.)

The “O” Antiphons: O Stock of Jesse…

o_stock_of_jesus

From December 17-23, I’d like to share with you these antiphons, that you will pray with them and they will help you continue to prepare for the Advent of our Lord. May they become part of your Advent tradition as they are becoming part of mine.

For December 19, the antiphon is based on Isaiah 11:1, 10, Isaiah 52:15 and Romans 15:12.

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

O stock of Jesse, set up as the rallying sign for the nations! In Your presence rulers are silent and the peoples make supplication: Come deliver us; do not delay.

From Evening prayer
O Flower of Jesse’s stem,
you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples;
kings stand silent in your presence;
the nations bow down in worship before you.
Come,
let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.

From O Come, O Come Emmannuel:
Verse 4:
O Come, Thou Rod of Jesse’s stem,
from ev’ry foe deliver them
that trust Thy mighty power to save,
and give them vict’ry o’er the grave.

Stock of Jesse
In His human nature, Christ is the descendant of Jesse, Father of David, the great king of God’s people.

Our Lord is the King of kings. His power extends to all peoples and to their rulers. In the desperate perils of our age, we pray Him to come quickly and deliver us, to establish in all hearts His kingdom of truth and of life, of justice, love and peace.

-
(Reflection taken from Bible and Liturgy, a Sunday parish bulletin published by the Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minn. Edited by Rev. William Heidt, OSB. Published with the approval of Bishop Peter W. Bartholome of St. Cloud. Printed in 1959 by the North Central Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota (c) 1959 by the Order of St. Benedict, Inc.)

The “O” Antiphons: O Adonai…

o_adonai

From December 17-23, I’d like to share with you these antiphons, that you will pray with them and they will help you continue to prepare for the Advent of our Lord. May they become part of your Advent tradition as they are becoming part of mine.

For December 18, the antiphon is based on Exodus 3:2, Isaiah 33:22; 63:11-12, Micah 6:4 and Acts 7:30-31.

O Adonai, et dux domus Israel, qui Moyse in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

O Adonai and Leader of the House of Israel! You appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave the Law on Mount Sinai: Come, and redeem us with outstretched arm.

From Evening prayer
O Adonai,
Sacred Lord of ancient Israel,
who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain:
Come,
stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.

From O Come, O Come Emmannuel:
Verse 3:
O Come, O Come, Thou Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times didst give the law,
in cloud, and majesty, and awe.

Adonai

Adonai means Lord (thus the translation, “Sacred Lord of Ancient Israel). It was one of the titles used when speaking of or to God in the Old Testament. It was Adonai who led the Chosen People out of captivity in Egypt “by the mighty arm of his power” and gave them His law on Mount Sinai.

Similarly Christ, the Lord led us out of our captivity to Satan by dying “with outstretched arms” on the Cross of Calvary; and He has given us His law of love. We beg Him to come at Christmas and redeem us completely from slavery to sin; and to vie us the power to live more fully in obedience to His law.

(Reflection taken from Bible and Liturgy, a Sunday parish bulletin published by the Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minn. Edited by Rev. William Heidt, OSB. Published with the approval of Bishop Peter W. Bartholome of St. Cloud. Printed in 1959 by the North Central Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota (c) 1959 by the Order of St. Benedict, Inc.)

The “O” Antiphons: O Wisdom

 

o_wisdom

I vaguely remember my mother telling us, during the Season of Advent, while growing up, about the “O” antiphons. I never really understood what these were. Even as an adult, she would occasionally send me various reflections on the “O” antiphons. I must say, with regret that while I thought it to be an important part of our Advent Tradition, I didn’t really see them as part of my tradition.

Until I began praying the Office of the Church.

As a Deacon, I have made a promise to pray the Liturgy of the Hours: Morning prayer (laudes) and Evening prayer (vespers). This prayer of the Church allows us to pray with (and through) the Psalms. They have been part of the prayers of the Church since very early in our history. As we pray the psalms, each one is introduced by an antiphon (not unlike the refrain we pray at Mass during the Responsorial Psalm). Added to the Psalms, which are different every day, there are two canticles from the Gospel of Luke that are prayed every day: The Canticle of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79) in the morning for laudes; and the Canticle of Mary (the Magnificat: Luke 1: 46-55) in the evening for vespers.

On the last seven days before the Vigil of Christmas, December 17-23, our Church sings antiphons that are slightly different than the rest of the year. For evening prayer, before the Magnificat, each of these antiphons begins with the word, “Oh” (or in Latin “O”), thus the short-handed name, the “O” antiphons.

Each of these seven prayers-songs consists of
a) an invocation addressed to Christ, using one of his prophetic titles (O Wisdom; O Key of David etc.);
b) a development of that title reflecting passages in the Old and New Testaments;
c) an ardent request expressed by the word “Come”;
d) the reason why we want Christ to come.

Not only are these antiphons prayed during vespers, but they have also been placed in the daily Liturgy as the verse of the Gospel Acclamation. With the new translation of the Roman Missal, these are sometimes summarized or even repeated, but, in their essence, they are the same. If you go to daily Mass between December 17 – 23, you’ll hear them.

I recently discovered that, not only are these found in the Liturgy of the Hours and in the daily Mass, but they are actually, also the verses to a song that all of us know very well, O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

All of us can make use of these anthems in our family and personal prayers for they sum up everything that we want our Lord to be toward us and our world, to do for us and our world in His Christmas coming.
For the next seven days, I’d like to share with you these antiphons that you will pray with them and they will help you continue to prepare for the Advent of our Lord. May they become part of your Advent tradition as they are becoming part of mine.

For December 17, the antiphon is based on Wisdom 8:1; Isaiah 11:2-3; 28:29, Proverbs 8:1-36 and John 1:1-5.

O Sapientia, quæ ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiæ.

O Wisdom, you come forth from the mouth of the Most High. You fill the universe and hold all things together in a strong yet gentle manner: come to teach us the way of truth. (Isaiah 11:2-3; Isaiah 28:29)

From Evening prayer
O Wisdom,
O holy Word of God,
you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care:
Come
and show your people the way to salvation.

From O Come, O Come Emmannuel:
Verse 2:
O Come, Thou Wisdom, from on high,
and order all things far and nigh;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.

Wisdom
In the ancient civilizations of the Near East, “wisdom” was first understood as the science and art of managing men. It meant the principles involved in “getting along” successfully oneself and in making the whole state function smoothly. In Israel, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the search for human wisdom became more and more oriented toward the supreme Wisdom of God by which He creates and governs all things, His hidden design for mankind and its mysterious ordering of everything to achieve His plan.

Christ our Lord is this eternal Wisdom incarnate. He clarified and carried out God’s plan to re-establish everything in Himself as head. May He come more fully to each of is and to the whole world this Christmas, to show us how we may take our part in carrying out that plan for our own happiness and for the happiness of all people.


(Reflection taken from Bible and Liturgy, a Sunday parish bulletin published by the Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minn. Edited by Rev. William Heidt, OSB. Published with the approval of Bishop Peter W. Bartholome of St. Cloud. Printed in 1959 by the North Central Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota (c) 1959 by the Order of St. Benedict, Inc.)

Deacon-structing Vocations: Ordained life part 2

Holy Orders

Last week we looked at the Vocation to the Ordained Life and the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The tradition of the priesthood is not specific to Christianity and our tradition dates back to the early days of Judaism.

God’s chosen people, the people of Israel, was considered a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation”, but within the people of Israel God chose one of the twelve tribes, that of Levi, and set it apart for liturgical service. God said to Moses: “Consecrate your brother Aaron and his sons Nadab, Abihu, Eleazer and Ithamar, to be priests, to minister to me.” (Exodus 28:1) Part of their job was to take care of the Tabernacle, the holy place where they kept the Ark of the Covenant, which contained the Tablets of the 10 Commandments. Jewish people believed that the Holy of Holies (God) resided in the Tabernacle. The priest’s job was to act on behalf of the people in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. When Jesus came, he became the ultimate priest, who offered the ultimate sacrifice. So, we see Aaron’s priesthood as the priesthood of the first covenant and Jesus is the priest and only priest of the new covenant. All priests participate in this one priesthood of Jesus Christ.

As you know from your Grade-8 catechism, Sacraments are outward signs instituted by Christ, of inward Grace. So when did Jesus institute the Sacrament of Holy Orders?

There are many places in the scriptures that could be used to show Christ instituting the priesthood: the sending out of the 70 (some translations say 72), when he sent them two-by-two (Luke 10:1-17); then there’s Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13), which is definitely the birthday of the Church, when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles like tongues of fire; but I think that the passage that best describes the institution of the priesthood (and diaconate) is this one: The Washing of the Feet: After he had washed their feet, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you?  You call me teacher and lord- and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I your lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you should also do as I have done to you.” (John 13:12-15) So, a priest is first a servant (a deacon), a foot-washer, and his job is to serve the Church.

Just as those living the Religious Life can belong to an order, so can a priest or bishop also belong to a contemplative order, like the Franciscans or Benedictines. Or they can be missionaries like the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. There are many Religious Congregations that also have priests, but a priest can be consecrated to his Bishop, in which case he would be a diocesan priest (belonging to a diocese as opposed to a religious congregation). All permanent deacons make a vow of obedience to the diocesan bishop. Priests who belong to religious congregations take the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Diocesan priests make promises of celibacy and obedience.

Next week, let’s look at the promise of celibacy and also the idea of ordination of women.

Deacon-structing Vocations: Ordained Life Part 1

Ordination

One main difference between the Vocations to the Single and Religious life and the Vocations to the Ordained and the Married Lives is that Ordination and Marriage, in the Catholic Church, are Sacraments. Let’s look at the Vocation to the Ordained Life and the Sacrament of Ordination.

It is very common to hear about the Vocation to the Priestly Life. But the vocation is not necessarily to the Priesthood, but to the Ordained Life. When we talk about the Ordained Life, we are not just talking about priests. There are three orders: bishops (the Episcopate), priests (the Presbiterate) and deacons (the Diaconate).

In the times of the Apostles, as the Gospel was proclaimed and churches (Christian communities) began to be formed, elders were appointed to lead them. When the churches became too large, a supervisor of the elders was appointed. This person was usually appointed by one of the apostles when they visited the various churches and was called the “episkopos” which means overseer, in Greek. The episkopoi, or overseers, became the bishops. When the churches grew even more, these bishops began to need assistants to represent them in different churches. These are what we call today, “priests”. The word priest comes from the Greek word “presbyteroi”, which was the word used for elder. The word in Latin is “sacerdos”.

There were also other ministers known as “diakonoi”, what today we refer as deacons. The word diakonoi, literally means server, as in the ones who served the food. The first deacons were chosen to beg for food for the Greek-speaking Jewish widows – in those days, they were the most marginalised group (see Acts 6:1-6). Deacons originally had a very specific function in the Church: serving the most marginalised- separate from the priesthood, but as things evolved, slowly the diaconate disappeared as a separate ministry and became merely a step toward the priesthood. The permanent diaconate as it existed in the first couple of centuries was renewed after the Second Vatican Council and so now many dioceses have married men who are ordained as permanent deacons.

St. Paul, in his first letter to Timothy, chapter 3, speaks about the qualifications for the overseers (episkopoi) and for deacons (diakonoi).

In the first centuries, in addition to bishops, presbyters and deacons, there were also other ministers in the church who were not ordained. These included subdeacons, who helped the deacons with their duties; exorcists, who assisted at rituals of initiation and repentance; lectors, who read the scriptures during worship; porters, who had janitorial and guard duties; and acolytes, who accompanied the bishops and acted as secretaries and messengers. As clergy began to perform many of these functions, they began to disappear as separate from the priesthood.

In 252 Pope Cornelius listed these, as well as the order of priest and deacons, as the seven ranks of the Church of Rome. When the Permanent Diaconate was restored, the structure was changed to what we have today: The Orders of divine institution: the Diaconate, the Presbiterate and the Episcopate. Paul VI did away with the subdiaconate, whose functions were given to lectors and acolytes; these two were kept but no longer considered Orders, but ministries conferred by installation and not ordination (all deacons are installed as acolytes and lectors first, before being ordained as deacons; all priests are ordained as deacons first; all bishops are priests.)

According to the Vatican II document, Presbyterorum Ordinis, The Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priest, the primary duty of a priest is to proclaim “the Gospel of God to all,”(4) to bring the Sacraments to the people (5) and to teach and lead the people of God (6).

In a way, these are the same duties of a Bishop and a Deacon, however the deacon has very specific limitations to his Sacramental ministry and how he is called to lead the people. In particular, the diaconate has a charitable function. Deacons are called to minister to the most marginalised. Bishops, on the other hand, are literally the successors of the Apostles. As such, they constitute the Episcopal body. In this sense, the Bishops are still overseers, with their main role being the teaching and pastoral direction. (For more information, see the Vatican II document, Christus Dominus, Decree Concerning the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church)

In the “What is a Sacrament” series, I explained that every with every Sacrament, what I call a “metaphysical occurrence” takes place. Every Sacrament effects a change to those who receive it, and it is more than just a physical change (the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ; the husband and wife become one flesh, etc). We call these changes “mysteries.” In the Sacrament of Holy Orders the metaphysical change that takes place is that the person ordained becomes the person of Christ when he officiates the Sacraments. This is what we call “in persona Christi”. The bishop represents the fullness of Christ for the Church. The priest shares in the bishop’s office and the deacon is ordained to the ministry of service (Christ the servant), not to the priesthood of Christ.

Clearly there is more to Ordination, and so I will dedicate a few more weeks to this Vocation.

Deacon-structing Vocations: The Single Life

SingleLife

If there is anything that we learn from reading Scripture is that God calls people. Consistently, every story in the bible, involves a call: Abraham, Moses, Noah, Gideon, Jonah, Samuel, Ruth, Esther, Mary, Paul. Everyone gets called.

God may not ‘call’ us the way He called Moses or St. Paul, or the specific way that Jesus called his disciples, but the bottom line is that no matter what, God will not ask you to do something that you are not capable of doing.

The last couple of weeks we’ve been looking at ‘The Call‘ and ‘Discernment‘; that is, the process of prayerfully making a decision according to God’s plan.

God calls everyone to holiness. That means that all of us are created for Heaven. That’s our final destination. Our Vocation is the best way that each one of us, individually can respond to God’s call to holiness.

Catholics can consider the following vocations: single life, married life, religious life and ordained life. Each one is a special and unique way in which we can know, love and serve God and work towards holiness. God can call us to any job or career, based on the gifts we have, what we are good at doing and what we like to do, but the best way that we can become holy, which is what really matters in life, is by one of these four ways of relating to God and to those around us.

The Single Life

The single life is probably the most misunderstood vocation and the one that gets the least attention. Part of this is due to the fact that all of us are single at some point in our life and so being single feels like a transitional stage. But being single is different than living the ‘Single Life’.  Living the Single Life doesn’t mean you’re waiting to get married or can’t find a girlfriend. It doesn’t mean you’re not sure if you want to be a priest or a sister or brother. The Single Life means that you are committed to a life that’s full of serving others and God, with lots of energy, because there is lots to do.

There is a lot of pressure in our culture to be married, but not everyone is called to be married, nor should everyone be married. Not everyone is called to be a parent and many people who don’t have a desire for marriage or parenting feel that this must mean that they are called to the religious or ordained life. But that may not be the case. If you feel that this is not where you want to be, maybe that is an indication that you are called to the Single Life.

People who live the Single Life have a different disposition towards others. If someone asks me whether I can help them, say on a Friday night, I have to check with my wife. I have to see what my kids are doing. Even people in the Ordained or Religious Lives have specific commitments to their religious communities and are accountable to their superior or their Bishop. But a single person can drop everything and go. They do not have the same family commitments that married people have. This can be a great gift to others. This is why people living the Single Life spend a lot of their time involved in volunteer activities in the Church and in the community.

We learn that in married life we best live out the love that God has for us, a love that is free, faithful, fruitful and total. But this type of Christ-like love is lived in every Vocation. People living the Single Life are able to live a direct reflection of this love in a very specific way with a freedom that is not found in the other three Vocations.

Ultimately it has to do with holiness (read Pope Francis‚ General Audience – Wednesday, November 19). As in all Vocations, if you are called to the Single Life, that means that this is the best way in which God is calling you, personally to respond to his call to holiness. This means that the Single Life is the best way for you to be holy. It is possible that for some, this may be a stage in life and it is possible that you do not choose the Single Life but rather, your circumstances determine that this is your state in life.

Still, even if it is not your first choice to be single, you can have a rich and fulfilling life, serving Christ and others. No matter how you end up there you will find that you are free to do this because you are single. Single people can give all of themselves to God without reserve or distractions.

Next week, let’s look at the Religious Life.


Photo credit: CNS photo/Sarah Webb, CatholicPhilly.com

Deacon-structing Vocations: Discernment

TheThinker

Last week we looked at what Vocation is and what it means to “be called.” Everyone is called to one of four vocations and so at some point in our life, if we want to respond to God’s call, we have to think about where God wants to take us.

Figuring this out may not be easy, but it’s doable. It takes time, prayer, trust, patience and love. Catholics call this “figuring out,” discernment.

Discernment has to do with decision-making. It has to do with distinguishing between several options. We could say that discernment has to do with detecting or perceiving the distinctions between things. It has to do with defining or discriminating between things.

Catholics use the word discernment to describe the process of making important decisions with God. There are many definitions of discernment, but this is my favourite: “A process of prayerful reflection which leads to the understanding of God’s call. It involves listening to God in all the ways that God communicates with us: in prayer, in the Scriptures, through the Church and the world, in personal experience, and in other people.”

God speaks to us in different ways. As the definition above describes, God speaks to us in prayer, through Scriptures, through the Church and the world, through our personal experiences and through those around us. I think that God has a preferred way to communicate with each one of us. In my case, God very clearly communicates to me through other people, through Scriptures and through my past experiences.

God gives us our talents and our desires. God also gives us opportunities. If you have a talent for something, say music, and you also have a desire for that one thing; you desire to play music; you love playing music – and then you God gives you opportunities to play music, then it’s likely that this is an area where God wants you.

At the same time, I don’t know if it matters to God whether we play a guitar or a violin, or whether you are a music conductor or a music teacher. He simply has given you certain gifts and desires, and has given you certain opportunities. What we do with that is up to us.

When you are discerning something, you have to begin by looking at your talents, your desires and the opportunities you’ve had in your life. If I look at my talents and gifts; if I look at what I love to do and what I’m good at doing, those are all indications of what God wants for my life.

Another way to see what God wants for you is to see what opportunities you have. Let’s say that you want to attend a particular university but you win a scholarship to another one – or you have a chance to travel to a different country – maybe God is trying to tell you something. What really works for me is seeing how God has been working in my life: Where have I been? What opportunities and experiences have I had? How has my prayer life been? How do I best hear God communicating with me? These are also good indicators of where God is taking me.

Discernment also involves listening to what others are saying to you. Listening to my family and friends is very important to me. We don’t make decisions on our own and the people who know us, love us and want the best for us can be of great help in finding out what’s good for us. If you have many people telling you that you’d make a great deacon, that should count for something.

Most importantly, you need to be prayerful. (This is why a good spiritual director always asks, “How’s your prayer life?”) After all, discerning is about listening to God’s will. In discerning, we need to speak with God, but most importantly we need to listen to God in prayer.

One way we listen to God is by reading or listening to his Word. Read the Bible. Study the Bible. Learn what God’s plan for humanity and the world is. There’s a good chance that his plan for you has something to do with that.

We also learn about God’s will by learning what the Church teaches. We are not alone in our journey towards Heaven. There is a wealth of information, history, tradition and wisdom that belongs to the Catholic Church. We need to be part of that.

So next time you have to make a big decision, ask your friends and family what they think, pray about it, read the Bible, see what the Church teaches about that particular issue, and see how you feel about it. And take your time. One of Pope Francis’ favourite saints is Peter Faber who said that “time is God’s messenger.” If you follow these guidelines and take your time, you’ll be sure to make the best decision possible.

Discerning our vocation involves the same process. But our vocation is much more important than figuring out whether we’re going to learn a musical instrument or grow up to be a music teacher or conductor. As we said last week, your vocation is not a career or job. It is the best way that each one of us, individually, can respond to God’s call to holiness. There are four ways in which we can respond to the call to holiness. These four are what the Church calls Vocations:

  • Vocation to the single life
  • Vocation to the religious life
  • Vocation to the ordained life
  • Vocation to the married life

Next week we’ll take a look at the Single Life.

Deacon-structing vocations: The Call

2_TheCallVocations
I am in Chicago for the 2014 National Religious Vocation Conference. The NRVC is the association of all religious vocation ministers in the United States. The Conference promotes vocation awareness, invitation and discernment to life as a religious sister, brother or priest. This year is the 25th anniversary of the Conference and the theme of the convocation is “It is good that we are here!” from Matthew 17:47 Yesterday I ran a workshop on tips to using media to promote religious vocations and vocations to the ordained life. Needless to say, I have been thinking a lot about vocations.

In fact, I’ve been thinking a lot about vocations for about three years now (since my own ordination to the diaconate) because I spent the good part of a year working with the Dufferin-Peel Catholic School Board to produce three videos to compliment their religious education curriculum on the theme of vocations. The videos are titled Make the Call and are a great asset to any Grades 1-3, 5-8 elementary classes, grade 11-12 high school religion classes or even for parish First Communion or Confirmation preparatory classes.

I remember when I was much younger hearing about “the call.” I don’t think I ever understood what that meant, although I didn’t think that I was going to get a phone call. But I did think that this call from God would be clearer. Little did I understand how God speaks to us in our lives.

The sad reality is that most people don’t feel called. Most people (and I’d say especially young people) don’t even know what they want to do with their life and don’t feel any calling to anything. Part of that may be this idea that we just have to sit idly by the phone waiting for it to ring, when in reality, “hearing” the call is an active process.

Now, I am not speaking about your career or finding a job. I am speaking about what the Church defines as Vocation. Our job or career has to do with our skills and things that we like to do. They have to do with making money and gaining experience. If you’re lucky, you may end up in a job that you really enjoy, that uses your skills and talents and that you feel is contributing to society.

A Vocation may include all that but it is not a job; it is a lifestyle. You can have a job and you can have a career but you are still called to a Vocation. Your Vocation is your life and, specifically it has to do with the call to holiness.

So we can say that a vocation is how we can best live our lives as Catholics and Christians. It’s about service, relationships, community and holiness.

The word “vocation” comes from the Latin word “vocare”, which means “to call.” So a vocation is something that we are called to (which is why we all learned about “the call”).

Through our Baptism and Confirmation all of us have a very important call to represent Christ and we do that by living out our vocation.

This is why we’ve been created: not for our jobs or our careers. Not to make money or to have fun; not even to make the world a better place. We’ve been created to know, love and serve God.

In 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, St. Paul writes: Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

St. Paul is saying that even though there are many ways to serve, it’s all about knowing, loving and serving God and it’s God who activates these within us. That means that it’s God who gives us our gifts and they are to be used for the good of everyone. Our vocation is how we can best get to know, love and serve God by using our God-given gifts for our good and the good of everyone.

As Catholics we believe that our Vocation is how we live the life that’s been created specifically for us. Our Vocation is the best way in which we can respond to the universal call to holiness. This is the best way that each one of us can be holy: It is our means to arriving in Heaven.

There are many ways we can live out our vocation. We can respond to God’s call as a priest or deacon (Ordained Life), a sister, a monk (Religious Life), a wife, husband (Married Life) or as a single person (Single Life). There are lots of possibilities, but that’s not so important; how we figure it out is what’s important.

Next week we’ll look at how we can figure it out.

Deacon-structing: All Souls

Adoration-of-Lamb

Yesterday we looked at the Book of Revelation and how it is a powerful reminder to those who too easily compromise their beliefs. This message is clear right from the beginning of the book with the letters to the seven churches.

After the letters to the seven churches, and after the first vision of the Throne Room of Heaven (Rev 4:5), we arrive at Chapter 5. There is a scroll and no one can open it, except the Lion of Judah (Rev 5:5). Anyone of Jewish origin at the time would have recognized the Lion of Judah to be the Messiah. But when John turns to see the Lion, all he sees is a Lamb (Rev 5:6). Again, I think that most Christians at the time would know who “the Lamb” is. The Lamb proceeds to open the seal and there are seven seals and the opening of each seal sets in motion a series of events that are described (Rev 6).

Just before the seventh seal is opened, we have this heavenly interlude, which is the first reading on the Solemnity of All Saints. All of the sudden we hear about these “servants” of God who will be marked with a seal on their foreheads (Rev 7:3). This is an echo of Ezekiel 9:4-8 where there is a similar marking to spare a group of people from death (not unlike the marking with the blood of the lamb on the doorposts for Passover in Exodus 12:7, 13). In Ezekiel, they are marked with the Hebrew letter “Tau”, which is very similar to the shape of a cross. It is possible that for early Christians, this comment in Revelation would have been clearly referring to those who are marked with the Sign of the Cross.

Then John hears the number of those sealed: 144,000 (Rev 7-4). That’s 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel. Those verses are usually omitted in yesterday’s reading, but verses 5-8 actually tell us from which tribes these people come. The twelve tribes are the army of Israel. That was the promise to Abraham. It’s possible that the number 1000 merely meant infinite, and so 12 x 12 x 1000 just meant to say an infinite number of the descendants of the tribes of Israel. It could also be 12 x 12 because there are twelve tribes of Israel and twelve apostles. Later on in Revelation we hear about the New Jerusalem: twelve gates with the names of the twelve tribes (Rev 21:12) and twelve courses of stones on which are inscribed the names of the twelve apostles (Rev 21:14). At any rate, it doesn’t mean that it’s a literal number of 144,000; it’s a prefigured number.

We know it’s not a literal number because John never sees 144,000 people. He hears about them and then he looks. What does he see? Not 144,000 people, but a great multitude that no one could count (Rev 7:9*). They are not from Israel, but from every nation. Not from just the twelve tribes, but from every tribe, and not just those who speak Hebrew, but from every language.

And who are these countless people? They are the saints. They are standing before the throne. They are robed in white -– white is the colour of joy and victory. (Note how many times this colour is mentioned in Revelation.) They have palm branches (an echo of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem?) and they are singing, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb.” And then the angels (that we’ve been told are myriad) and the twelve elders (the apostles, perhaps?) and the four living creatures respond with seven acclamations (again the number seven): “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God forever and ever!”

A very similar scene was described in Revelation 5:12. This is what happens in Heaven. This is the heavenly liturgy. And we are told who these people are: they are the ones who’ve come out of the great ordeal (Rev 7:14). It’s easy to conclude that these are the martyrs, but since they’ve “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb,” it could also be that they are merely all who have been baptized — all who have died in Christ (Rev.14:13); Those whose names are written in the book of Life (Rev 21:27); Those who are witnesses (Rev 6:9); Those who’ve been ransomed (Rev. 14:34);  Those for whom the Lamb was slain (Rev 5:9). That’s all of us. That’s all souls.

And this is good news. Seats are not limited in Heaven. Everyone is welcome. Later on we hear about these “servants” of God — the great and small (Rev 19:5). That means all can be servants of God. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, young or old, male or female. It doesn’t matter if you’re struggling with living a virtuous life. And all of them are blessed and invited to the wedding banquet of the Lamb (Rev 19:9). They are blessed! No one is perfect, but everyone is created to be blessed, to be holy. Everyone is created for sainthood.

There is one last tip that you need to know when reading the Book of Revelation. It could be read as a chronology of events — all these things happen sequentially. But perhaps a better way to read it is as if all these things happen simultaneously: the seals are opened at the same time that the plagues are sent. The letters are read as all of this is taking place. All the while, around the throne is the Lamb, who is God, surrounded by the twelve elders, the four living creatures and the myriads of angels and the countless multitudes of people like you and me, who worship continuously. And maybe this doesn’t describe what is to take place in the future for us, but something that happens right here, right now. The heavenly banquet is right here, right now. The wedding feast of the Lamb is right here, right now.

Every time we gather around the Eucharistic banquet, we gather around the throne, with all the souls in purgatory, with the multitudes from every nation, every tribe and people and language, and we say, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And every time we do so at Mass, the twelve elders, the four creatures and the myriads of angels fall on their faces and worship God singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”


* Note: In the same way that John hears about the Lion of Judah and then sees the Lamb, here he hears about the 144,000, but he sees a multitude that no one can count. What he hears is the promise; what he sees is the fulfillment. One is not a replacement of the former, but rather a reinterpretation. Some scholars suggest that these two groups (the 144,000 and the great multitude) are a single group, which John sees from a different perspective.