Saturday, June 8, 2019

My Vocation Story: a Homily for Good Shepherd Sunday 2019

My parents were practicing Catholics all their lives. We always went to Mass, every Sunday. The Faith was important to them. Somehow in the years prior to leaving school I had lost hold of my faith and I felt lost.  It was through two school retreats with the Marist Fathers that I began to find the light of God returning to my life.  A booklet on Fatima given to me by a priest was the vehicle for God's grace in my life. I began to pray, read the bible, went to confession, (a real confession) and started attending daily Mass.  
Curiosity, the cause of so many of my downfalls and of so much shame, unexpectedly bore the fruit of grace and I went along one night to see a prayer group for myself.  I liked what I saw.  For a few weeks I went to a quiet, reflective, nourishing, a barely ‘charismatic’, little prayer group in my home parish.
In the Charismatic Renewal I found a community, a sense of belonging, filled with joy and freedom, especially in prayer and ministry, and sincere in their search for, and encounter with, the Lord.  The Lord.  Yes, it was the Lord that I found.  Or rather, He found me and He caused me to grow, slowly, gently, at my own pace. From there I joined a local youth prayer group.  
Over the next few years I was a part of bible studies, and various prayer groups.  Then the Lord asked me for something.  Through retreat work, street ministry, working with Camp Jesus, I came to realise that I would have to move on, grow up. One evening a guy had prayed with me and suggested I might have a vocation to the priesthood. Me? A priest? No way!  But the question lingered in my mind and over the next few years I began to enquire whether or not I was ‘called'.   I had an itch I had to scratch!  So I searched. 
I looked at various orders and even went to a vocations weekend with an order and decided not to apply (deep down I KNEW they weren't for me). Then a Capuchin, in confession, asked me "what about us?"  Typical of a Capuchin not to lose an opportunity!  I declined the offer.  At that time I had some contact with the ‘Caps’ and to tell you the truth I thought they were a nice bunch of lads but it just never crossed my mind to think of joining them.  I was walking home one day with a friend and started moaning about the future. He suggested the Caps.  I made lots of excuses until he said that I should stop ‘talking about it and do something.’  The suggestion stuck in my mind.  I had to give it a try and so I went along to two vocations days. These brothers had something of the same spirit I had found in Renewal. The vocation director interviewed me and shrewdly gave me six weeks to apply. I figured I had nothing to lose. I applied and I was accepted. I told my parents a few weeks before I left home.
It was tough leaving home for the first year in Carlow and I shed a few tears that winter when it came to seeing the folks off on the train to Dublin but I got over it. I was one of six guys living with the friars that year in Carlow and we studied theology at the seminary as well as classes in the friary. I got a little anxious during the summer holidays about whether I should apply for novitiate in Kilkenny but I figured that I hadn't seen enough to be sure and re-applied.  They accepted me.  Novitiate was very different.  You wear the habit, work in the friary, and take classes in prayer, Franciscan History and Spirituality among other things. One year later, on the 9th of September 1990, I vowed to live for three years in obedience, without property, and in chastity according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Rule of St Francis. Here in the Capuchins, in the spirit of St Francis of Assisi, I had found the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I then moved to Dublin. My first year was a ‘Franciscan year’ just living our life in community, praying and working. There followed three years of philosophy, and then a year on a ‘pastoral leadership’ course preparing for final vows. I made my final vows in 1995 and then spent a further three years studying theology.  I was ordained a deacon in 1998. I spent my diaconate year in a parish in Cork before being ordained a priest on September 11th, 1999.  After ordination I spent two years in a parish in Dublin before being transferred to work in a Secondary School where I spent twelve quite happy years. I came away with a great respect for teachers. Like the nurses they do not get the credit they deserve.
After that I was moved to Cork to work as a chaplain to the University. That was a mixed experience. I really enjoyed working with young Catholics who wanted to know and live their Faith but let’s just say I did not take to University life. I only spent a year and a half there before a bad car accident changed all my plans. There was a silver lining in that I got time to do a Masters in Scripture. 
The priesthood, especially within religious life, is varied.  A priest should have a prayer life but he does not spend his whole day in prayer even among monks.  He is there to a spiritual father to others, to lead, guide, teach and defend the people of God. He is supposed to be there in good times and bad, especially when he’s needed.  Most of a priest’s work is unseen.  He is not a social worker.  He is not a counsellor.  He is an ambassador for Christ.

No vocation is easy. There are ups and downs for everyone. The reason there is a shortage of vocations is not that the Spirit stopped calling. It’s because people stopped listening. Not just those called to the priesthood or religious life but all the people of God. Here and across the civilised world people have decided to have fewer children with huge consequences for the world but also for the Church. The answer to the vocations crisis lies with young Catholics, not just those called to priesthood or religious life, but even more so with those called to marriage.  We need large and committed Catholic families. We need committed Catholics who know and believe the Faith and put it into practice.

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