The decision to become a priest

The decision to become a priest

“Why did you become a priest?”

Brendan lives not too far from Washington DC and is the middle of three children. I baptised him a short few years ago and each week with his parents and sisters, he joins the parish of Kilmovee for Sunday Mass via webcam. This led him, on one occasion to “concelebrate with me” – setting up a little table, candle and his own version of the missal. I know he did this because his dad sent me a photo after Mass.

Brendan asked me – via his father’s WhatsApp, why I became a priest. The question pleased me and the search for a child-friendly answer put me thinking. I told him that I grew up liking Mass and things that happened in the church and that my parents took my two older brothers and myself to Mass each week. It was important to them and became important to us. We had a garage at home and, amongst the customers there were many priests and they always seemed to be decent people who were happy in themselves and brought happiness to our home. Something in me thought I would like to do the same for others. I told him that I asked God to help me become a priest and that God seemed to think that was not a bad idea either! He thanked me for the answer and hopefully it was enough to satisfy his wondering. I liked the idea that he was wondering.

Why did I become a priest? Much of the answer is found in the answer to Brendan. I never had a blinding, falling off my horse, thunder-clapping moment. It just seemed to grow with me and grow in me. Somewhere and somehow, God called me to it, though I cannot pinpoint any specific moment. There was a belief in me that it was the road I should travel, and I was and am supported daily on that road. Initially by my parents and brothers, my relatives and friends and through the years in the parishes and appointments to which I have been assigned.

What sort of a priest am I? I hope that I am an effective one, compassionate and non-judgmental. I believe in the Church and that it has a vital message. Over the years I have come to a place where I see things less in black and white and more in varying shades of colour that reflect the reality of people’s lives. I still value the collar but do not see it as the be all and end of all of being a priest. Am I liberal or conservative? Probably a bit of a mix but I am not trying to rebuild a past that I never lived in. Rather I want to connect with people and take my cue from a recent Sunday Gospel passage that saw Jesus come ashore to a waiting people with whom he connected, a people he loved. No lectures, no begrudgery – just a feeling that he had something to share with them and share he did, “at some length”.

I like Pope Francis. I wrote in this space before how my heart sank when I saw him come to that window in St Peter’s and I thought how old and lost he looked. I was wrong! Far from lost, he knew that he had a job to do and far from old, he found a connection with people of all ages. Sadly, for some, that connection no longer exists but there is something in Francis that reassures me that priesthood continues to have a central role in the story of faith and the sharing of faith.

I enjoy people, parish life, celebrating the sacraments, sharing the Eucharist and being me. Priesthood has allowed all of this, maybe even demands all of this and, thanks be to God, I am happy.

In the coming weeks, I move parish and I am very lonely at leaving people that have meant so much to me for the past dozen years, but hopeful that the people in the new parish will continue to remind me that I made the right choice in life.

Brendan, thanks for asking!


Parting Words

A priest spoke to his congregation at the end of Mass. “Years ago”, he told them “Jesus asked me to become a priest. He knew that I had many gifts and talents and asked me to use them through the years and I have used them to the full. Jesus asked me to move to different appointments and I never said no. Everywhere I went, I did amazing work for him. Ten years ago Jesus asked me to move to this parish and I have worked tirelessly and achieved so much. Jesus is so grateful to me and now, Jesus has asked me to move to another parish and so this is my last Sunday here”. The choir sang “What a friend we have in Jesus!”