Tuesday, March 07, 2006

vocations: recruitment or discernment?

This is in part a false dilemma. We do have something of the responsibility to 'recruit' vocations, in the sense that if no one asks a man to consider religious life, he is not often likely to hear the call in some other way.

On the other hand, there are some who believe that we can up the numbers of priests and religious simply by better salesmanship, better marketing, and better follow-up. this seems problematic to me in so many ways. First of all, if the goal is stricly numbers and the 'success' that they supposedly indicate, then the process of discernment seems short-circuited. Secondly, as I attempt to follow the one who promised His Apostles expulsion from the synagogue, public humilation and the cross, I'm not sure how better to sell discipleship as we practice it. St. Benedict says that we have a duty to tell the candidate right away about the dura et aspera via, the hard and bitter way, by which we go to God (RB 48).

Am I saying that monasticism is all gloom and bitterness? By no means! St. Benedict ends with hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love, but this comes from the hard way of mastering oneself by means of grace. This has nothing to do with marketing and everything to do with personal witness. When visitors come to our monastery, to our website and to this blog and others we produce (check out the kind comment at the end of this homily), if they sense something different about us, that somehow Jesus Christ is truly alive to us monks, then perhaps God is calling them to monastic life. The Holy Spirit will have far less difficulty in such a case, and so will the community, than if we try to figure out how to frame ourselves with slick pictures and slogans, and then run the risk of disappointing men who get the wrong impression.

Jesus did 'recruit': He went out and asked men to follow Him. But all He had was His word and His reputation: no consultants, photographs or glossy brochures, no advertising budget. He did have something of a slogan, which I am happy to take up today: The Kingdom of God is at hand! Repent and believe the Gospel!

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If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
preach the Word of God, If I do something against the discipline of the Church
and the Rule of the Gospel so that I become a scandal to you, The Church, then
may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
throw me away.

Origen of Alexandria
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