Posted October 21, 2014:
My Priestly Vocation as a Lay Person (Part 2)

by Mark Schlingerman.

A relationship with Jesus Christ must be the heart of any vocation, and in my Madonna House vocation, one of the main things that has been forming this in me is the liturgy of the Catholic Church.

And it is the presence of Christ through the liturgy of the Mass that has given me not only food for the journey, but also a deeper sense of Christ’s relationship with me and with his people.

It was while I was serving at our mission house, Marian Centre Regina, that I gained a new insight into the Mass and my place in it.

There I came to know a retired Anglican priest, a volunteer in our soup kitchen, who was a blessed friend of the poor. He was received into the Roman Catholic Church at our house before there was a protocol for a less complicated movement from Anglican orders to Catholic ordination which, in any case, he did not seek.

At his reception into the Catholic Church and from then on, he attended Mass as a lay person sitting in a pew. Asked if he felt the loss of no longer being able to celebrate the Eucharist, he said that we didn’t really understand what we were asking.

He told us that he did still celebrate the Eucharist. Although his participation in the Mass now was different, it was no less deep than when he was the celebrant at the altar.

Fr. Gilbert taught me that we, the laity, called and enabled to participate fully in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, are in fact invited to celebrate the Mass. ("Celebrate" does not mean "consecrate.") There are just different levels of doing this.

We can simply attend Mass or, with awareness of the mystery that is happening, we can assist at Mass. And in a truly priestly fashion, we can celebrate the Mass—even as a lay person.

Fr. Gilbert’s secret of celebrating the Mass from the pew came not so much from his call and training but from his deep identification with Christ. It was clear to all who knew him that his life was lived in Christ.

I aspire to that way of life myself. But can a life in Christ be acquired?

In order to live a life in Christ, we need to allow ourselves to be formed in our relationship with him.

In my hopes of acquiring this relationship, I heard the words "look to the liturgy."

In the Mass, the part called the Final Doxology is surely the place where we are invited to join our offerings, our work of the day, in a priestly fashion, with Jesus’ offering of himself to the Father, "for us and our salvation."

It is at this time that the priest elevates the host and chalice and says for us all, "Through Christ the Lord, with him, and in him, O God Almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor are yours, forever and ever." To which we sing, shout, proclaim, "Amen!"

The words, "through him, with him, and in him" mean complete identification with the Lord. Each descriptive step in the Doxology can be an opening to a growing relationship with the Lord; to acquiring that life in Christ which must be the heart of any vocation.

For example: Within the two great commandments: love God and love your neighbor as yourself, I asked myself what is the work of the day for the laymen of Madonna House?

An incomplete answer is: to provide food and shelter, hospitality, and a protective presence, materially and spiritually, for this family and for our guests. Especially in our mission houses, that includes outreach to those in all kinds of need.

Moreover, our understanding is that we also do this for the healing of the world.

I remember Albert Osterberger, my predecessor as director general of men who died some years ago, quoting Scripture to me: By yourself you can do nothing (Jn 15:5).

That can be hard news if you have a call to offer your work for the healing of the nations. Yet Isaiah reminds us in 26:12: It is you, Lord, who accomplishes all that we do.

Work that is good and true and beautiful is accomplished through the Lord Jesus. Whatever we do as an offering, knowingly through Jesus, is sure to reach heaven.

Catherine Doherty used to say, "What you do matters—but not much. What you are matters greatly."

This helpful observation by the foundress of Madonna House points us forward to a yet more intimate life in Christ. Christ wants this intimate relationship with us through our doing what we do and our being who we are with him.

I am not trying to fit a growing life in Christ into a constructed pattern. Rather events happen in day to day life, and a person can wonder, what’s going on here?

As human beings, we search for meaning, and as persons pursuing a life in Christ, we search for the hand of the Lord in many events.

For example, my first assignment in Madonna House was to Marian Centre Edmonton where we serve the very poor in a soup kitchen. I said to myself, "I am not trained for this type of work. Surely it’s a matter of time until another staff worker who knows the work will come to replace me."

That awaited "other staff worker" never came. God had another plan for me in my growing relationship with Christ. Then I understood. My intuition about "another person" was correct, but my expectation of who that person would be was not.

What I came to realize was that the other person was the Lord. He wanted to work with me and was asking that I be willing to work with him.

This experience was a step forward in my relationship with the Lord—my learning that I am not alone in whatever is asked of me.

This illumination has also played an essential part in the fact that I am most often at peace with the demands of this Madonna House life and with decisions I have to make as director general.

Still more is offered. The Lord says to us, as Catherine Doherty put it, "Come higher, friend." Coming higher concerns our relationship with Christ as he takes us to the Father. We are invited both to live in Christ and to recognize him as already living in us.

This is a mystery into which I wish to step sooner rather than later. I seem to stand on the threshold.

I can only illustrate for you what being in Christ is with words from the earliest days of the Church. They are words from the Liturgy of the Hours for Holy Saturday morning.

The attention-getting first words of one of the readings are, "Something strange is happening."

What that reading says about Christ’s life in me and mine in him through his Resurrection is beyond telling.

In those words I can hear the Lord saying to me in my holding back from entering into the eternal mystery, what he said to Adam and Eve when He descended to Hades to set them free:

"Rise from the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise up. Let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you. Together we form only one person and we cannot be separated."

I will end this two-part reflection where I began it. Forty-some years ago, I was visited by the love of the Lord. I still hope to be overtaken by him again. I pray to be completely overtaken by him with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, at the end of my days.

In the meantime, the liturgy as it is lived out in the Catholic Church, is my principle catechism and guide to the life in Christ which, by the mercy of God, continues to become the heart of my vocation.

May Christ be our life and may our lives in him be for our brothers and sisters, near and far, now and always.

Part 1 was in the September Restoration and can be found online at under "Archives."

The End

By liturgy (since I have been formed by both Eastern and Western traditions within the Catholic Church), I mean the work of Christ through the Christian Mysteries: above all, the Divine Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist (the Mass), the sacraments, the Liturgy of the Hours (the Divine Office), and entry into the mysteries through the reading of icons and use of sacramentals.


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Notes From Near and Far: MH Roanoke



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