Lent and Vocation

Daniel Siedell, in the course of discussing the Russian film The Passion of Andrei Rublev (1966), about an icon maker who returns to his craft when he helps a child, makes some important connections between Lent and Vocation.  (Notice too how Luther’s doctrine of vocation–with his focus on loving and serving the neighbor–is different from that of other theologies.)

Lent is an observance that reveals our weakness and failure in remarkable ways. Each year we vow to “keep” it better, each year we fail, often in unexpected ways—either in the mounting sense of pride we experience in our self-sufficiency, dedication, and discipline or in the despair that our failures somehow reveal God’s true assessment of us.

And so it is appropriate to consider vocation during this most sensitive time of the year, a time in which are reminded that we are unable to set aside those things that so easily ensnare us, like food, drink, Twitter, and sin. Lent reminds us that the Christian, as Martin Luther says, “lives not in himself, but in Christ and neighbor,” in Christ through faith and in the neighbor through love. Lent reminds us just how much we live in ourselves. And our work is one of the most explicit ways in which we do so. [Read more...]

Leaving a vocation

In yesterday’s post about some cardinals complaining about Pope Benedict XVI leaving his calling, I asked about when it’s permissible to leave one’s vocation.  We didn’t really talk about that much, but I think it deserves consideration.  Set aside the question of the pope and let’s discuss this as it relates to the various vocations that Christians hold.  At what point should we leave a vocation for another one, and how do we know that we should do that?  First, let me give some preliminary thoughts. [Read more...]

Your boring job

The blogger who goes by the name of Josephus Flavius quotes the 20th century Orthodox saint St. Nikolai of Žiča  writing to a railroad engineer who complained about his boring job.  He was writing about vocation and how seeing one’s work in relation to faith can transfigure its meaning:

You complain that you are tired of your job. All other activities seem more interesting to you, and you, and you are troubled and anguished about not being able to find something better. I thought about this for a long time before picking up my pen to answer you.

I tried to put my self in your place, and to play your part. I imagined myself at your worksite, in the locomotive car, in the midst of the roar of the machine and the pounding of the wheels. Sweaty, covered in soot, I cheerfully looked ahead. Behind me was arrayed an entire little people: old people, parents and children, nobility, diplomats, officials, peasants, workers, and day laborers.

They had all been thrown together by circumstance, and they all depended on me. Some talked among themselves and some were lost in thought, but each was mentally striving to get to his final destination. Whether he gets to that station depends on me, and I depend only on God. [Read more...]

“Public displays” of faith

Mollie Hemingway writes about the way the media addresses the late Stan Musial’s religion.  Most of the obituaries ignored it completely, but she focuses on how it’s handled in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  Here we are told that, yes, Musial was religious, but that he practiced it privately, never pushing it on anybody, and avoiding public displays. But Mollie (I can call her by her first name because I know her) then raises a question that transcends baseball:  What constitutes a public display of faith? [Read more...]

Vocation as sacramental

A paragraph from a piece by Peter Berger, via Anthony Sacramone:

The Lutheran understanding of the Eucharist implies a view of creation itself being a sacrament. All of nature, the world as perceived in ordinary experience and in empirical science, is sacramental—in the words of the Book of Common Prayer, displays “outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace.” In one of my earlier ventures into unauthorized theologizing, I adumbrated this proposition by the phrase “signals of transcendence”: God, as it were, hides in the universe, but here and there we can find signs of his presence. In their understanding of the Eucharist, Lutherans used the phrase finitum capax infiniti—“the finite can contain the infinite.” The finite, perishable elements of bread and wine can, invisibly, contain the infinite, eternal presence of the risen Christ. But so can the finite, perishable reality of the empirical universe. George Forell, one of the best American interpreters of the Reformation, opined that the phrase finitum capax infiniti expressed the very core of Lutheran faith.

via Luther vs. the Proto-Pentecostals « Strange Herring.

I would just observe that the Lutheran doctrine of vocation is also sacramental in this sense.  Not a sacrament, I hasten to add, but an example of how God works through and by means of the physical world.  Vocation, according to Luther, is all about how God works through human beings (giving daily bread by means of farmers and bakers, creating and caring for new life through parents, protecting us through lawful magistrates, granting healing by means of the medical professions, teaching through teachers, expressing beauty by meaning by means of artists, proclaiming His Word and administering His sacraments by means of pastors, etc., etc.).  other gifts

Is the purpose of work leisure?

The New York Times published an online column arguing that the purpose of work is leisure.  (We work for the sake of the weekend; we have a career so we can retire; we try to amass wealth so we can stop working.)  That is also the view of Aristotle (we need to leisure to fully exercise our intellects) and of medieval Catholicism (the contemplative life is more spiritual than the active life).  Luther’s doctrine of vocation, by contrast, challenged this view, teaching that the purpose of work in all vocations is to love and serve one’s neighbor.

The folks at the Gospel Coalition blog asked me to pen an answer to the New York Times piece, which was by Notre Dame philosopher Gary Gutting.  I did.  Go here to read my response, which includes a link to Prof. Gutting’s essay:

The Purpose of Work – The Gospel Coalition Blog.

 


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