Lay Vocation

December 1987Steffen Richards

Steffen Richards is a painting contractor in Berkeley.

When I was baptized into the Catholic Church (along with my three-year-old son) at Christmas in 1976, I had little idea of how different a person I would become. I had tried to reassure my friends: "Don't worry," I told them, "I'll still be the same Steffen, except that, on Sundays, I'll disappear for a while." But this was before I began to investigate more fully just what it means to be a Christian. I discovered (among other things) the injunction, "Pray constantly," and knew I had run up against something I could not ignore.

Not having been religious at all, I was unfamiliar with prayer. I did not take to it naturally and, if left to myself, I could blithely neglect it. But I was absolutely convinced that the new life I had stumbled upon was the only life worth living, and I had to do something about suppressing what was old in me and nurturing what was new. Under the press of everyday circumstances, I found the going rough. The culmination of the week - Mass on Sunday - often occurred as a molehill instead of the mountain I so longed for. I came to realize that my spiritual life, if it was to be, had to have a daily - not simply a weekly - foundation.

During the course of the process that led to my conversion, I read a biography of Eric Gill (by Robert Speaight) and was struck by the life he was trying to live within a community of fellow craftsmen, a life which included the presence of a priest, Mass, and morning and evening prayer. At the time I was reading, I paid little attention to the fact that this priest (and indeed the way of life) was Dominican.

The time I am writing about was about four years after my conversion. Where I heard of the idea of a "Third Order" (a life for lay people based on principles of the religious order to which it is dependent), I do not know. I did not know that Eric Gill had been a Third Order Dominican until after I became one. Nevertheless, it entered into my mind that I should anchor myself in a daily regimen of spiritual practices and that I should cling to these practices against all the secular forces that seemed so easily to detach me from my Lord and Savior. To this end I conceived three possibilities.

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