Image above: sunrise over the Sea of Galilee
Thirty years ago today I was ordained priest by Bishop Denis Hanrahan in the church of St. Thomas the Apostle in Timaru.
I remember well my first formal meeting with Bishop Brian Ashby when I applied to enter seminary. He asked what kind of work I would like to do as a priest. I knew that the right answer was “parish ministry” or “whatever my bishop wants me to do” but, since he had asked, I added that I had an interest in retreats and teaching. I also had a desire to see the world, but I was wise enough not to mention this!
I knew it was strange for me to give the retreat / teaching answer since in the Christchurch diocese it was only the Redemptorists who did the retreats and the Marists who did the teaching but, at a much deeper level, I sensed that God was not calling me to be a Redemptorist or a Marist, but a diocesan priest of the diocese of Christchurch.
When I gave my answer Bishop Ashby laughed out loud and responded that as a diocesan priest I certainly would not be doing retreats or teaching. When he said this I remember being overwhelmed by a great peace and calm. It was clear that my step along the road to diocesan priesthood was a move away from usual vocational guidance where talents and interests would be matched with a career. But, even as an 18 year old applying for seminary I knew that something, no – SOMEONE else was at work. I was embarking on a journey with Jesus and the steps on such a journey do not always follow the rules of secular logic.
In the years since I have served in parishes on the West Coast, (Greymouth and Ngahere), Christchurch city (Burwood, Riccarton and Sockburn), Darfield, and currently I am the Parish Priest of the parishes of the Good Shepherd Hurunui and St. Therese of Lisieux, Chatham Islands. My priestly work also includes teaching and retreats not only in New Zealand but in many other parts of the world, and I have been privileged and challenged with the opportunity for ongoing formation and study. I am happy also now to serve in the diocese in a variety of other ways, including the privilege of being Vocations Director.
Before I entered seminary in the months after I left high school I was working in an office job in Timaru. The job was secure and already promotional opportunities were opening up. But the thought of working behind that desk for the next fifty years was not the way that I wanted to live a life. Almost forty years after leaving that job I have no regrets and can even say that if I had known then what I know now, I would not have hesitated as much as I did before taking the step towards diocesan priesthood in the diocese of Christchurch.
Today as I mark this anniversary I am grateful to all the people God has used along the road to help me to a greater maturity of faith. Many of you have challenged me and been very forgiving of my many mistakes. Many wise teachers, fellow priests and parishioners have helped me to appreciate that priesthood is not a job but a life lived in love with Jesus who is God among us, especially through the sacraments of the Church.
A few years ago I had the privilege of leading a pilgrimage of parishioners from a Christchurch parish to the Holy Land. One morning very early I was sitting on the shores of the sea of Galilee knowing that Jesus two thousand years ago did the same. A few weeks later I was as far as one get from Galilee on an early morning walk on Pitt Island where I am parish priest. As I gazed out over the Pacific as the sun was rising I was overwhelmed with the reality that Jesus was with me in that place and moment, and whenever and wherever I live the relationship with everything that becomes present in the routine and extraordinary events and encounters of every day.
Tonight I will celebrate Mass at St Raphael’s Church at Hawarden where I am living. You are welcome to join me if you are able, or at least please offer a prayer for me.
In Friendship in Christ
“To be good priests, you first of all have to be men, to feel what men feel. Live the relationship with everything that becomes present. Live the truth of your humanity. Cry because you need to cry – or you are afraid, because the problem is difficult and you feel the inadequacy of your strength. Be human; live your humanity as an aspiration, as a sensitivity to the problems, as a risk to face, as a faithfulness to what God makes urgent in your soul. In this way, reality will appear to your eyes in a true way”. Luigi Giussani