It was a delight to spend time last night with five of our six seminarians for the diocese of Christchurch at Holy Cross Seminary in Auckland, and later in the evening for a catch-up in a local bar. From left in the pic above beside me, Huong, Glen, Connor, Jose and Monty. Tang is on pastoral placement in the parish of Our Lady of Victories, Sockburn.
Earlier in the evening I had joined the seminary community for Evening Prayer and for dinner. The diversity of the young men is both refreshing and inspiring. The prime aim of the seminary community and the formation process is to form disciples of Jesus who will (God willing with their co-operation) go on to be ordained priests for the six diocese of New Zealand.
Last night we must have looked like a strange group to those who noticed us sitting around the table; a group of men, young and healthy looking, happy and clearly enjoying each others company. I remember as a first-year seminarian being out one night with my 14 classmates at the Henley pub south of the Mosgiel seminary on the Taiere Plain in Otago. Curiosity got the better of a group of women at a neighbouring table and they came over to ask who we were, perhaps a group of farmers they asked? After keeping them guessing for a bit longer we admitted that we were seminarians in formation for priesthood. They were stunned into silence before one of them told us: “you should be out watching your flocks by night!”
At some moments last night the conversation was visibly deep and intense, with moments when we were seriously considering what another was sharing. At other moments the banter and the laughter was whole-hearted, loud and contagious. I am sure some of the others in the little restaurant were curious about who and what we were.
I am privileged to serve as Vocations Director for these young men. It’s a role of accompaniment and fatherly friendship as each of them strive to live more abundantly in relationship with Jesus and discern where He may be leading them.
There’s a lot of comment around our Catholic parishes and communities about priesthood being a difficult, challenging and a busy life. While my life as a priest is certainly full and there are many challenges, so too are the lives of my friends, family and parishioners. The life of a priest is certainly no more difficult than the life of a married person who juggles work and family commitments with uncertainties and anxieties about the future. We are all really in the same boat regardless of our life situation and the challenges we have are not as much about our particular paths as about the nature of human existence on earth. We are united by much more than we think, and we realise this when we share honestly and openly with each other.
I suppose its a matter of doing our best to discover our hearts desire, making a commitment, then getting on with it knowing that God will work miracles with our timid and weak desires and our fumbling efforts.
The wonderful thing is that if God was trying to nudge me towards priesthood and I chose marriage, God would then lead me to live fully in marriage. If on the other hand God was leading me to marriage and I have been ordained as a priest, then God enables me to live fully as a priest. As I have reflected before, human life lived with God is a journey of God writing straight with our crooked lines.
The central task in life is to discover ones heart’s desire and to follow this. My “heart’s desire” is another way of saying “God’s will.”
We tend to think that its all up to us, but life with God is not so tough. In today’s gospel reading the sick man explains to Jesus that he cant get well because he has cannot get quickly enough into the waters when they are stirred up. The man understood that the human method had to be followed (getting into the water at the right moment) if he was to be healed. Jesus’ response cuts directly to the man’s heart’s desire which was not to get into the water, but to be healed. “Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.”
Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked.”
Take a moment to pray this prayer of Cardinal John Henry Newman, praying for yourself and for your family, and also remembering those discerning a call to priesthood.
“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.
He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work.
I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place,
while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments.
Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.”