Posted September 08, 2014:
My Priestly Vocation as a Lay Person

by Mark Schlingerman, director general of MH laymen.

I was young once, and now I am old, and I have never seen the righteous forsaken…. They are guarded forever. (Ps 36:25, 28)

Now that I am becoming old, I find myself reflecting on the time years ago when I cast my lot with Madonna House and formally consecrated my life to God. And I consider how the Lord has guarded my vocation.

This is a reflection on only one part of my layman’s vocation to Madonna House and a growing life in Christ which is vital to it.

In this article, I am omitting my conversion in Christ except to say that, at a mysterious and unexpected time some years before I arrived at Madonna House, the love of the Lord Jesus Christ overtook me. And since that time, I have wanted to be overtaken by the Lord again.

This unexpected and life-changing experience of the Lord was an entry into a love different from the love I had been tasting and testing up to that time as a young and restless man.

Before that encounter with Christ, I was basically in love with being in love. Really it was my family, a few friends, and the whole wide wonderful wounded and broken world that I loved.

I traveled the world a lot in those years and found great pleasure in moving on to the next meeting with people and their culture.

My unforeseen encounter with Jesus did not distance me from the world but instead seemed to insert me into it at a deeper level. The reality of the love of the Trinity, One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit "everywhere present and filling all things" expanded my world exponentially.

I thought, "What am I supposed to do with this spiritual deepening?"

I was a Catholic layman in my late twenties, newly touched by God, and I was looking at the single life. Suddenly, a novel question arose: Was I being called to the priesthood?

Though I felt no call to the ordained state, the sacramental priesthood, the idea of a priestly calling would not go away.

It wasn’t until later that I learned about the priestly function of the laity from Lumen Gentium (The Constitution on the Church), a document of Vatican II.

It said, "Jesus Christ gives the laity a share in his priestly function. All the works of the laity, if carried out in the Spirit, are spiritual offerings acceptable to God. Thus, as those everywhere who adore in holy activity, the laity consecrate the world itself to God" (Part 4, The Laity, Priestly Function of the Laity).

I was much encouraged by this document. Still, I knew I could not live this out by myself.

In a mysterious fashion, Our Lady, the Virgin Mary, introduced me to Madonna House. What did I find in a community I’d never heard of out in the Ontario bush country?

Why did I stop my travels in Combermere, staying here without taking formal leave of my family?

What sign was given me that Madonna House could be my spiritual and temporal home, the place to participate, in a priestly way, in the healing of the world?

And what gave me the courage and confidence to ask, "for the Glory of God," (in the words of our promises), to live a life in Christ with others, "according to the Madonna House spirit and mandate forever?"

This is how it happened as I remember it.

One day, when I was a guest, and not long after my arrival at this unusual place in the woods, I stood before an icon screen in the recently completed Russian-style chapel of Our Lady of the Woods, and took stock of what I saw of my outward and inward life. I believe I saw a sign. In that icon screen, heaven appeared united with earth.

Then later, Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Joseph Raya, newly arrived from Haifa, Israel, called us, during a Byzantine Divine Liturgy, to be attentive to what was happening and to be aware of the fact that, together with the Lord Jesus, and on behalf of the whole world, our Divine Liturgy gathered the four corners of the universe to return it in thanksgiving to God the Father.

This action stunned me, and it still takes my breath away. If this liturgical gathering of the elements of the cosmos is true, and I have staked my life on it being true, then that action of the liturgy gave meaning to the desire of my heart to participate, in a priestly fashion, in the spiritual healing of the world.

In Madonna House I have been given a way of life and companions for the journey.

I am a Roman Catholic by rite, and I find in our Mass, another moment that takes my breath away and calls me to my priestly vocation as a layman.

There is a point before Communion when the celebrant priest, elevating the host and the chalice, addresses the people saying: "Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sins of the world."

I find these words earth-shaking, if they are true! Can I say "yes" to this proclamation with awareness and with full mind and heart? Continuous healing for the world, and me in it, is available through Christ’s sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin.

I think priestly work is first and foremost an act of faith. Yes, I believe that sins are taken away; help my unbelief.

The Lord is taking away the sins of world. Whose sins they may be are not ours to know. I only know I am a sinner and need God’s mercy.

In fact, the taking away of sin has to be happening or, in my view, the weight of our accumulated sins would have crushed the world to the size of a pinprick a long time ago.

I participate in the taking away of sin by believing that sin can be forgiven and by seeking sacramental forgiveness myself.

We participate directly with the Lord in the Liturgy of the Sacraments by using them for our own healing and, through us, for the healing of the nations, by believing in them.

As Scripture says; doing the work of God is to believe in the One he has sent (Jn 6:29).

Perhaps this too is my vocation, the vocation of every Christian: to believe on behalf of the unbeliever.


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