Do I Go To Nineveh Or Tarshish?

Image by Jeff Jacobs from Pixabay

On the feast of the Holy Trinity following my reading at Mass I was approached by my parish priest. Nothing could have prepared me for his invitation to apply for the diaconate. He had already met with the vocations director who will soon call me to discuss my possible application further.

It was weird because during the mass something ridiculous happened. As a reader I was told I needed to stay on the altar for the duration of the Mass because of Covid19. I don’t know, strange rules they come up with you just got to obey I guess. I didn’t mind as I quite like the idea of sitting close to the tabernacle.

During the priests homily I began to see a vision of myself giving a homily. I snapped out of it fairly quickly reminding myself that I’m a married man and should not entertain such egotistical devilish suggestions. After the homily came the Nicene Creed. As I faced the tabernacle when the words “and I look forward to the Resurrection of the dead” etc my eyes filled with tears and my heart became warm.

It was uncontrollable and I knew I was not in control of my emotions. I was embarrassed it would escalate further but thanks be to God it died down and managed not to draw attention to myself. Then after Mass Fr.X approaches me and pitches me the invitation to become a deacon and so the vision I had of myself suddenly made sense.

I knew in my heart of hearts that I’m not prepared for this. I had thought about it years ago but felt I was too young and that it’s mostly something retired old men do when their kids have all grown up. That was my initial impression of it all. I had even given up on interacting with the Church on any meaningful basis at all preferring to live a quiet life in the faith with my sons, work hard at something and die with some dignity.

He had also approached me at a crossroads in my life. I had just passed my Bus exams and preparing for a new career in Bus driving. Along came my wife’s parents who want us to leave Ireland and come back to America. I know they’re not thrilled at having me there and I’m less than optimistic about going too if only to please my wife and sons giving them some sort of opportunities they may not avail of in Ireland.

Everyone likes to depict America as this sort of land of milk and honey, but I know that while it may have been true in the 1950’s, the face of the country has drastically changed since then. Even so, it’s a lot better than where I am at the moment and there’s much more economic and social freedoms.

In the end I agreed as long as we could do it right. I’ve got some friends over there and my cousin lives in New York and is director of a major corporation that I won’t mention here for reasons of granting her the privacy she deserves.

That happened quite literally the day before the priest approached me about the diaconate. Along comes Fr.X and throws an absolute spanner into the mix of all such works. I knew that an invitation was much better than presenting oneself and an indication of God directly calling me which is why it frightened me a little.

Some people asked to request some sort of additional sign from God that this was a calling. I left it alone for the day except the thoughts that I was not prepared for this and my sins weighed heavy on my soul. All I could think of was my failings and how people may be surprised to see such a sinner like me on the altar.

I thought about how the Church is full of right wing fundamentalists and left wing progressives at the minute and that as a well balanced theological person that sees them for what they are they would absolutely hate me. I thought that I’d do more damage than good. In the end the very next day I decided to do something. As I sat on my armchair I thought about asking God for a sign.

But who am I to ask for a sign? I thought, “I’m not one to put God to the test and demand some sort of sign, that’s inappropriate. Surely he will reveal to me somehow and it would be nice to get some sort of reassurance.” I then asked my wife to hand me down the messages of True Life In God through Vassula Ryden. They were sitting on the shelf screaming at me to pick them up.

As she fetched them and handed them to me I had an interior conversation with myself that if I opened them and God spoke to me through them to reassure me he was calling me then that would be enough to know. I opened them to the message of 15th of October 1998. It was a short message and would you Adam and Eve it the message happened to be one of reassurance to Vassula that God was indeed calling her to such a vocation.

Here are two quotes that stood out to me:

“My beloved, let the treasure I have entrusted you with be the salvation to many souls; by My Divine authority I have called you and commissioned you, in spite of your failings, to restore My House and My honour;”

“the signs of My Graciousness I have shown you are many; be reassured, My beloved, that I have indeed called you at My royal banquet;”

Then He goes on to encourage her not to refuse the call and then ended the message by saying true theology is contemplation of Him. It’s one of my favourite sayings mostly attributed to Evagrios the theologian.

It was then settled and I knew God was calling me. I wanted to explain to my boys who a deacon is and where such a calling all began with St.Stephen the martyr and first deacon of the Church. I used YouTube to do this and then I stared into space. The YouTube was on autoplay so it moved on to the next video which was that of the prophet Jonah. I looked up and there he was on the boat and the storm around him.

God had called Jonah to go to Nineveh, but he refused and went instead to Tarshish preferring to do his own thing over and above Gods. Upon doing this Jonah encountered a major storm while on the ship. The men soon figured out he was the reason for their trouble so they threw him overboard and he got swallowed by a giant whale and then spat out in the direction of Nineveh where he was supposed to go in the first instance.

I felt it was God talking to me again. Will you answer my call and go to where I’m asking you, or will you choose the good life in America and risk being swallowed by its toxic environment? Hmmm Tarshish or Nineveh, eh? Where do I go? Tarshish doesn’t just represent America but the world.

Will I go in the direction of comfort safety or choose to be crucified here? The tempting thought of going to America overwhelmed me as my desire for all things Church had gone south in recent years. I was slowly walking away from any interaction with the local parish churches because I felt that the quiet life St.Benedict led when the Church was going through a bad time happened to be a good one.

I don’t know what to say, I just wanted to avoid all the hassle involved with the whole Church theological and liturgical politics thing. I was even reluctant and not altogether pleased with being a reader of the word never mind the diaconate.

Then along comes the Lord and throws a really difficult life decision at me and calling to answer on the Feast of the Holy Trinity. I’m like oh…no….please don’t do this to me. I had thought the whole Church ministry thing was dead in the water years ago. I was getting prepared to be that average Joe and starting to like it I’m ashamed to admit.

I arose from my chair and went to Church. I stood before the tabernacle and said, “Here I am Lord, your servant is listening. You have called and I’m here to answer that call. As long as the call is genuine and it’s your voice I’m hearing, my answer is Yes. But I ask nothing of you only that you give me the grace to see it through to the end. And one other thing, don’t let me off lightly, Crucify me, I really want that. If we are going to do it, lets do it the right way.

Even though I gave my yes I’m still hesitant and full of fear and doubt. One person says doubt is a sign you’re not called while another person says eagerness to do it is a sign you’re not called. I think I need to stop listening to the rabble and just accept the fact that God wants me to get dressed and attend the Royal Banquet and walk in the direction of Nineveh. Lets see how that goes shall we?

Please pray for me.

Stephen

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