The first time I ever spoke about vocations was twenty-six years ago, as part of a panel of six priests. I was very much second string, due to the fact that the person they had originally asked had broken his leg skiing.
Sadly, in all the last minute manoeuvring they had forgotten to send me the outline and materials ahead of time. I thought I was just going to show up and answer questions, and was shocked when upon arrival I discovered that I was to have chosen a Scripture passage which was for me illustrative of some element of vocation, and speak for five to seven minutes about how an understanding of that passage would aid in vocational discernment. I hadn't even brought my Bible. I asked if I could go last, to give me a little more time to think, and the moderator - a nun who smiled way too much - agreed.
It probably would have been better had I gone first. Hearing the other five expound knowledgeably upon carefully-chosen passages just made me all the more aware that I hadn't prepared. And to add to this, the person right before me had chosen the passage that I had settled on. I felt like I was in a slow-motion car crash.
My turn came, and it was pretty disastrous. I chose the passage from St. Luke about Jesus healing a man after that man had been dropped through the roof of a house. The problem was, I wasn't entirely sure where to find the passage. In retrospect I suppose I could have asked one of the other priests for his Bible and looked it up, but I was in front of a large group and doing so would have certainly called me out as an ill-prepared muttonhead.
Of course, my muttonhead-ness was pretty evident when I began speaking. "The passage I've chosen is from one of the Gospels. Or maybe three of them. You can look it up when you get the chance. It's not in John. I'm pretty sure it's not in John, but I don't really remember to be honest. Anyway, it's about this guy who needs to be healed. I think he was paralysed, but who knows? Well, I'm sure lots of people know, I just can't think of it at the moment. Anyway, he can't get to Jesus because there's a massive crowd around the house where Jesus is. So someone drops the guy through the roof and he gets healed."
One of the other priests actually laughed and shook his head. "Anyway," I continued, "this is a good passage to think about vocations because while everyone is concentrating on Jesus' healing, the fact remains that someone had to drop that man through the roof to get him to Jesus in the first place. Maybe we can understand vocation in that sense: making sure people who need to be healed by Jesus actually get to Jesus." I sat down.
The nun, smiling nervously, shot me a look that said, "Please continue, Father" and I shot a look back that said, "That's all I got, Sister - move on." We continued with a question and answer bit, and no one asked me any questions. I wasn't too terribly offended, because I hadn't exactly demonstrated a keen understanding of the subject.
At the coffee break which followed I stood munching biscuits, smiling as much as that manic nun, to show that everything was just fine and that I really hadn't just laid a giant theological egg in front of a large group. I heard the priest who had laughed at me say not-so-quietly. "Now we know why he sings so pretty: he's got an empty head for the sound to reverberate around." I wasn't too fussed, really, and thought, "Awww! He thinks I sing pretty!"
And then a guy with a facial scar like a James Bond villain came up to me and said, "I like that image a lot: making sure people get to Jesus. It's simple, but that doesn't take away from its truth, does it?"
I smiled and thanked him. Even if he was being kind, I think he was right: there is something to be said for simplicity. And though I would most definitely be better prepared to give that talk if someone were to ask me today (Matthew 9, Mark 2, Luke 5!) I stand by what I said: people need Jesus, and it's every Christian's vocation to figure out how they get to him. And the ways that we do that can be as creative and varied as we are.
I leave you with that very simple message. I have to say, that I personally find thinking of different ways to get people to come to Jesus terribly exciting. I hope you do too.
Take it for what it's worth, from this empty-headed singer. It is simple, but it doesn't take away from its truth, does it?