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Perspectives on God's calling

09 May 2014

Jonathan Ewer finds gems in a collection of Roman Catholic seminar papers

The Disciples' Call: Theologies of vocation from scripture to the present day
Christopher Jamison, editor
Bloomsbury £18.99
Church Times Bookshop £17.10 (Use code CT654 )

THIS is a collection of papers delivered to a seminar convened by the National Office for Vocation of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, et al., edited by the director of that office, Fr Christopher Jamison OSB.

The collection is divided into three parts: Foundations of a Theology of Vocation, Conversing with the Tradition, and Discerning Vocation Today.

The first part includes chapters on biblical examples of the call of individuals and their responses, on the monastic tradition and its silence on the matter of discernment, and on the Church's findingits identity and purpose in mission.

Part 2 begins with a chapter on Aquinas which is repetitious and dull. But Sister Gemma Simmons, of the Company of Jesus, contributes a short but profound examination of aspects of St Ignatius's Exercises which contribute to a theology of vocation. Equally profound (though longer) is the essay by another member of the same community, Sister Gill Goulding, which reveals more of the Jesuit tradition given to us through the mind of Hans Urs von Balthasar. There is wonderful stuff here on love, freedom, and self-worth.

Separating these two gems is another: an examination of how the Reformation set out to get rid of the distinctiveness and privilege of the clergy, but ended up educating them to be a class apart after all. This essay is scholarly, and beautifully written with a lightness of touch - by the (Anglican) Dean of Bristol, David Hoyle.

In part 3, there are chapters about the variety of forms of religious life today, and about how the vocation of a diocesan priest is to be foundin the tension between the claimsof interior consecration and apostolic mission. There is also an essay that looks at marriage as a vocation and its relationship to the clerical state.

The best wine was kept until last. The second last chapter is a psychologist's imaginative examination of the 12th-century Romance of the Grail. Dr Peter Tyler draws out the metaphor of the young man in the springtime of life, without father or role-model, looking for his name, his authentic self, needinga guide to help him through hisfirst encounter with the transcendent.

The last chapter, by the editor himself, is on the need for a new culture of vocation. The old embracing cultures (including the Catholic one) have all gone, leaving a culture of indecision and lack of commitment. We need to work on the midi-narrative that members of generation Y value, the community of their friends and family - and their strong desire to be free to make their own decisions. Vocation has to be about discernment, not recruitment.

Some of the book will be of interest mainly to our Roman Catholic friends, but the chapters on the Jesuit tradition and the last two chapters are full of insight and inspiration for us all, however old we are, as we face the question "What kind of person would you really like to be?"

Fr Jonathan Ewer is a member of the Society of the Sacred Mission and a resident member of the Well Community.

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