Priests must speak more about the joy of ministry

Priests must speak more about the joy of ministry The Domine Quo Vadis chapel on the Via Appia in Rome
Fr Bernard Healy


There is a chapel known as ‘Domine Quo Vadis’ on the Via Appia, the old road that leads southwards out of Rome and there is an unusual tale dating back to the 2nd Century about the site that it’s built on.

It is said that during a time of persecution St Peter was making his escape out of the city when he had a vision of Christ walking against him at that place. A surprised Peter asked Him, “Lord, where are You going?” (in Latin, Domine, quo vadis?) Christ replied: “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.”

St Peter got the message and made his way back to Rome in order to be with his flock as their bishop, and to face his own martyrdom.

I’ve been thinking about that chapel and that story quite a lot over the past few months. Last July our diocesan changes were announced in Kerry and included the news that I was being sent to Rome for further studies. I’m delighted to have this opportunity for intellectual renewal and I’m excited about this new chapter in my priesthood, but the joy is not without a tinge of sorrow and trepidation.

Even though I did my seminary studies there, that was over a decade ago, and I can’t be totally confident about hitting the books again, so I sometimes jokingly ask myself whether I’m heading back to Rome to be crucified again by my professors!

More seriously, it’s always a wrench for a priest to leave a parish assignment. Perhaps we don’t take the fact that we’re called ‘Father’ seriously enough but when it’s time to say goodbye to a parish family we strongly recognise the bonds of connection that we have built with so many people.

My former parishioners in St John’s gave me a great send-off last month, and seeing them gathered together for that was a genuinely moving experience.


One of the great gifts of ordination and of parish ministry is that the Lord entrusts us to be the ministers of his care and his compassion in so many circumstances. That means a lot to people and it means a lot to us priests as well!

I know that the loneliness of clergy and the struggles of priesthood tend to make headlines and are a reality for many priests, but I think we clergy should also speak more of the joy that ministry brings. Our people deserve to know that we love being with them!

What hope do we have of inspiring vocations if we are not loud in our thanks for the blessings of our ministry?

Anyway, the Quo Vadis story has a message of encouragement for me these days. Even though the main thrust of the narrative speaks of the challenging themes of martyrdom and sacrifice, I’ve always thought that it has a comforting dimension as well.

The Lord cares enough about us to point us in the right direction and invites us to serve him in the way that he knows best.


The ‘perfect time’ just doesn’t exist

Bishops from all over the world are gathered in Rome at the moment for the Synod on Young People, The Faith and Vocational Discernment.

In the run up to the Synod there were some voices calling for the Synod to be postponed in order for the Holy Father, the curia and the Church to deal with issues arising from recent abuse revelations in the US and other places.

Now, given our own history in Ireland I’m sympathetic to the argument that more decisive and visible action from the Holy See is something we have a right to expect. However, I’m also reminded that when it was first announced, there were plenty of calls for Dublin’s International Eucharistic Congress to be cancelled because the time was ‘not right’ for the battered and discredited Irish Church to host such an event.

I remember an experienced vocations director telling me that he was often told by his fellow clergy that the time ‘wasn’t right’ for him to do his work. He said that this taught him that if he waited for the ‘perfect time’ to do his work, he’d never get anything done. That’s an important insight and I think it applies to the Synod too.

Waiting for some mythical ‘perfect time’ to tackle questions of importance means we’ll just keep spinning our wheels.