The Vocation of the Disciples



There can be no vocation without a mission. People feel called to do something specific with their lives. And what peace and sense of purpose there is when they find their calling and are satisfied with it. In today’s Gospel reading there is described the vocation of the seventy two disciples. It reports their happiness with the results of their first experience of mission. The text further recounts how Jesus had to temper their enthusiasm.

The Mission of the Disciples

The first reading from Isaiah sets the tone for mission: Peace was flowing like a river. A vocation should foster peace. The instructions to the disciples were precise. They were to greet people with a greeting of peace, and then help them in every way. They were to eat what was put before them. They were not to look for better lodgings. They were to make no demands and not refuse what was offered as food. They took themselves to be successful in following these instructions. The Devil and his power were overcome. But sober realism was restored to them when they reported their successes to Jesus. He was on the way up to Jerusalem (Lk 9:51ff.) for the last time. A very different scenario would be unfolded there, and that was the decisive one. Here they were only at the beginning of their mission. Gradually the entailments of vocation would be revealed.


A prolonged experience of any vocation is necessary to appreciate its implications. In today’s second reading from Galatians St. Paul fleshes it out, and the example of the some of the apostles can help us. They experienced the ups and downs of life in their own experience. The evangelists have recounted the background and work of a few of them. Fishing on the Lake of Galilee would probably have given a reasonable living to those who were first called by Jesus. Being a toll collector like Matthew would also have provided a very comfortable living but since it was expected to be corrupt and corrupting he was a social pariah. Then there was Simon a zealot; he would have had to renounce violence had he been committed to his nation’s liberation by force of arms. Whatever Judas did before his call we can appreciate that he was not a weakling even if he were a traitor. It took enormous nerve to approach the highest authorities in order to hand over the man who had called him, the very man who had given him his vocation but whose mission he misunderstood. Vocation can change direction and attitude but the personality remains the same. We can all speak realistically from our own experience here. Those who are married will know just what it takes to keep the relationship in marriage what it should be. It is the same with priesthood and religious life. It is the same with a single way of life that is not lived under vows. It takes us some time to find our balance and keep going on our chosen path. Unexpected commitments may come upon us through sickness and death, and we may feel our freedom has gone. How many have cared for relatives at the cost of their own advancement. This belongs to mystery.

Do we ever get it totally right? The apostles quarrelled among themselves, they were jealous, even while Jesus was with them (Mk 10:35-45). After the Resurrection at least some of them had problems with St. Paul and he with them about the understanding of their mission. Paul had made his own very distinctive journey, having had his own call. In today’s second reading he talks about conversion as turning the believer into a new creature. It means taking distance from any aspect of life that would ignore the way that Christ lived, and he denotes this through the symbol of the cross. The cross is unselfish love. And such selflessness brings peace (Gal 6:14-18).


So we all make our journey wherever it takes us, with our personalities such as they are. Experience teaches us that we always have much to learn. For example, it was once normal to accept that sons and daughters would care for aged parents. Society’s demands however have affected all that. Health and safety and economic necessity restrict the possibilities of honouring what we would most like to do. More is asked of all of us all the time. But the vocation and the mission remain integral to our vision. What is right must be done- but there is a cost. Love can be under constant strain. This is true of priesthood and religious life too. The communities we thought we were entering were not always the ones we entered. We have to grow up. Just as the apostles had to grow up.

The vocation of love in marriage is no different. Realism daily tells us of both great generosity and of awful selfishness in family life. But surely in the household of the faith we must expect to find help to honour our commitment and to honour that of others. We are grateful when we are able to do what is right, grateful for what we can do and hopeful for what we would do if we could manage it. Love is my vocation- said St. Thérèse of Lisieux, but surely we would all like to say this, even if not in those words. Do not couples say that to each other, at least before they are married?!


Vocation and mission find very different expressions in life. At the moment we are experiencing a nation that is badly in need of internal peace. In the year of mercy and reconciliation we find ourselves torn apart with different options that affect the peace of the country, the peace of Europe, and the peace of the world. We hope that we all are acting to further the common good. We would like to think that politicians are not just in it for themselves, that they see their election as a vocation for promoting values that are in the interests of all. The public utterances that we have been exposed to recently by some of them are really appalling. The Church should be different; it is the contrast society. And here at Mass we profess our values together in creed and prayer, and with the kiss of peace. A happy Sunday to you all. Amen.


Richard J.Taylor

Spiritual Advisor

Boarbanhall, Cumbria, UK