A Sermon for Lichfield Cathedral School on its Patronal Festival
St Chad’s Day 2 Feb 2020
Sometimes our careers take an unexpected turn. As a teenager, I was absolutely convinced that I was going to be an Army Officer. Then, finding myself in Japan, I thought I’d come back and take a Masters in International Politics. As an atheist back then, I certainly didn’t think I would ever be a priest (though being a Dungeons and Dragons playing Goth, I did rather admire the black robes). Our careers don’t always go the way we think they will.
You may still sometimes hear careers described as “vocations”: for my Latinists, this comes from the Latin verb voco, vocare, “to call,” and so it means, literally, a “calling.” So my question for you to ponder on this St Chad’s Day, in the first week of Lent and at the beginning of national careers’ week is, what is your calling – and how does it match up with your career aspirations?
St Chad is another one who’s career did not go as planned. He had been raised as a monk on the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne in the North East. Admired for his holiness, he was first made an Abbot, and later Bishop of York, the second most senior bishop in the whole country. But when a new Archbishop of Canterbury came along, because of various intra-church political disputes, questions were raised over whether his consecration as bishop had been valid, and he was ordered to step down. This he did with such humility and obedience that the Archbishop, impressed, made him the first Bishop of Mercia, the old name for the Midlands: and so he came here, and near a fresh spring where he could baptise the natives, he set up the church just over Stowe Pool that now bears his name. So humble that he refused to ride, he walked barefoot around his whole diocese, gently teaching the Christian Way to his people. He died on this day (2 March) in AD 672, and our cathedral was raised where his bones were kept.
I wonder to what extent Christ, too, being both wholly divine and wholly human, knew the precise details of his calling. The first thing that happens in his public, adult ministry after his baptism is that he goes out into the wilderness for this calling to be put to the test. He is challenged to think through and articulate what it means to be Messiah and Son of God. Ultimately, his intense sense of calling will confound the expectations of even his closest friends, as he does what he knows he must do, all the way to the Cross.
But notice one thing that Our Lord and the saints have in common: however hard their calling, there is no sign that they resent it. Christ was called to suffer and to die, St Chad to stand down from high office. The sign of a saint is not just obedience to a higher power, but a certain peace and happiness in whatever comes: because their career, their path, their pilgrimage in life, is at one with the calling sown in their innermost heart.
How do you define career success?
There are people who make money the sole object of their lives who are desperately unhappy. Maybe you’ve met some. And there are people who have turned away from what the everyone else expects them do, looked deep inside themselves, and found that quiet voice “calling” them to what they are made to do. Sometimes that does come with money; sometimes it comes with hardship, trial and testing; but if we get it right, it also comes with peace.
As my own career, my pilgrimage through life goes on, I am still listening even now, trying to discern where I am meant to be, what I am made to do. My careers advice for you is to look to Our Lord, look to St Chad, listen deeply – and let yourself be called down unexpected paths.