The Epistle. Ephesians iv. 1.
I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
One of my most vivid and now treasured memories comes from something that happened many years ago, when I was in my early twenties. At that time, St. Paul’s was meeting in a township hall not far from Grand Rapids, and Bishop Lewis was our rector. We were preparing for a Holy Saturday service, complete with the Blessing of the New Fire, the Blessing of the Paschal candle, and the singing of the Exultet. And of course, the Bishop had “asked” me to serve as the Subdeacon.
So there I stood with the Bishop and the rest of the Sanctuary party, waiting for the service to start. Even though I was a layman at the time, I was still vested in amice, alb, cincture and tunicle. No doubt I looked somewhat “clergy-like”. It was at that point that the Bishop took a long look at me and finally said, “when are you going to realize that you have a vocation?” Some twenty years later, those words would still be with me as I finally decided to answer God’s call.
It took me that long because I foolishly reasoned that I wasn’t worthy of that vocation. However, now that I have been ordained, I know that I have a responsibility to conduct myself in a manner that befits the priestly vocation. I am a recipient of Gods Sacramental Grace, and I have to behave accordingly.
But as we see in St. Paul’s lesson to the Ephesians today, the rules of conduct don’t pertain just to priests. They pertain to everyone who has received a vocation from God. Of course this means, quite literally, all of us, not just clergy.
You see, the word “vocation” means, “a summons or strong inclination to a particular state or course of action”. Usually, we interpret this to mean a call to Holy Orders. However, when St. Paul writes to the Ephesians about their vocation, he’s not implying that they’re all ordained; he’s talking about God’s divine invitation to salvation, which they have received and accepted. And because they accepted the invitation, because they are now Christians, they must behave in a particular way.
Likewise, we too have received an invitation. And just like those Ephesians, we believe that we have accepted, and we call ourselves Christians. And now, as a result, we are also called to a certain standard of behavior. St. Paul tells us, as he often does, what that standard is; to walk with humility and patience, in unity and harmony with our fellow Christians. However, I submit to you that the standard of behavior doesn’t end there. Really, it doesn’t even begin there.
You see, just saying that we are Christians, just maintaining our humility and patience, doesn’t mean that we have completely answered that call. If we are to walk worthy of our vocations, it also means that we must first examine whether we have truly acknowledged our vocations in the first place. Let me give you one example;
Every year on the 30th of September, the Church celebrates the feast of St. Jerome. And even though we are now well past the date of that feast, I think the story of St. Jerome is one that deserves further reflection, because it exemplifies what it means to acknowledge a vocation and to walk worthily in it.
At first glance, St. Jerome appears to be just a pretty decent guy. He was born around A.D. 345 into a Christian family and educated in Rome. He was a scholar with a passion for learning, and particularly for classical poetry. But one night, in a dream, God asked him to identify who he was. When Jerome replied “I am a Christian”, God says, “no you’re not; you’re a Ciceronian”, which was another way of saying that Jerome cared more for his study of secular literature than he did for Holy Scripture.
From that moment on, St. Jerome undertook a life of austerity and he immersed himself in religious studies, in particular the study of the Hebrew language. Eventually, he was commissioned by the Pope to write a Latin translation of the Old Testament, which until that time was known to the Church only through the Greek Septuagint.
St. Jerome eventually made more than a few enemies in Rome because of his frank and constant criticism of those whom he felt were corrupt. He also engaged in disagreements with other people over Scriptural interpretations. One can imagine that his considerable skills for writing and sarcasm caused many to be uncomfortable. Jerome eventually produced quite a large body of scholarly works; however to this day, he is known primarily for one thing; the Latin translation of the Bible known as the Vulgate.
St. Jerome never aspired to greatness, nor did he appear to have any thought of being anything other than an academic and an ordinary Christian. It was only when he answered God’s call, when he acknowledged his vocation, that his true path became clear to him. His actions after that set the standard for Biblical scholarship and for future translations of Holy Scripture.
And so it is for us as well. We may not necessarily be destined for greatness in this world. But if we open ourselves to God, if we acknowledge that each of us has received an invitation, a vocation, from Him, then we become His tools, truly His servants. Greatness will follow. Not ours, but Gods.
Remember, a vocation is “a summons or strong inclination to a particular state or course of action”. If we find ourselves so inclined to call ourselves “Christians”, then we likewise commit ourselves to a standard of behavior that is worthy of that designation.
That standard of behavior starts with having the humility to give ourselves up to God; to be willing to be used as His tools. To have the patience to accept that we won’t always understand why or in what fashion He will use us. To bend over backward to promote the furtherance of God’s Kingdom.
Each of us has received a vocation from God. It is now up to us to open ourselves to Him so that we may recognize and accept that vocation and to walk in that way that is worthy of our calling. If we are to call ourselves “Christians”, we can do nothing less. I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called