Sunday, 20 September 2009

25th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - YEAR OF THE PRIEST

As you will be aware the Holy Father has dedicated this year as a Year for Priests. A time when we are asked to pray specifically for priests. But this time something slightly difference. The Holy Father asks us to pray not for new vocations and new priests (but that would be very welcome) but to pray for those who have already answered the Lord’s call to serve him as priests.

With that in mind I thought I would share with you to-day some thoughts about the priesthood and in particular my own journey to the altar of God.

I suppose I first become conscience of the stirrings of a vocation to the priesthood was in I was in my teens aged about 14. In those days we had to choose options in High School – the subjects that we wanted to study at O level in the last two years. Not sure which subjects I needed to study or should study I went along to talk to my local vicar.

You may surprised when I say I went to talk to the local Vicar to discuss a vocation to the priesthood. It didn’t seem strange to me for at that time I was a practising Anglican and it was ministry within the Anglican Communion that I was contemplating.

The Vicar encouraged me to do well at school and said ‘The diocese would like you to be as educated as possible. If it is possible for you to study A Levels, then you should. If it is possible for you to read for a degree then you should before you apply to the diocese to accept you as a student for ministry.

I politely thanked the Vicar for his time and advice but went away with a heavy heart. I did not consider myself to be a gifted academic or bright boy so the prospect of A levels and university filled me with fear. I tried to put the thoughts of ministry out of my mind.

This I almost successfully managed to do until the last year of high school when the possibility that the Lord was calling me to serve him as a minister came to the fore again.

As I was preparing to leave high school – the school chaplain – himself an Anglican minister asked if anyone in Year 11 wanted to go to Lourdes in the summer as part of a youth group. As a boy I had heard and read about Lourdes, its miracles and the apparitions of Our Lady to St. Bernadette but I thought only strange people called Catholics went there!!! Curiosity however got the better of me and I decided to go on the pilgrimage. That was in 1986 and I was 16 years old.

Whilst in Lourdes the thoughts of a possible vocation to the priesthood became stronger than ever but I hoped that they would go away once I went back home!!! And for a while they did.

But during my third visit to Lourdes as I was sat before the grotto saying my rosary – Tom Arkless our Chief Brancardier came up to me and asked me if I had ever considered becoming a priest? I looked at him and said I had, but there was a slight problem – ‘I’m not actually a Roman Catholic’ said I and I thought being a Roman Catholic might be a prerequisite to become a Catholic Priest. Tom asked me to think about it. That question ‘Have you thought of becoming a priest?’ prompted me to have a word with local Catholic Parish Priest when I got home.

I then embarked on a series of instructions in the Catholic faith. Every Tuesday night after Novena in a cold, damp presbytery – the Parish Priest sat at one side of the table, me at the other and the penny catechism between us. ‘Who made you? God made me, Father. I said. ‘Why did God make you?’ God made me to love him and serve him in this life and to be happy with him for ever in the next’ After a course of instruction lasting a year and a half I was received into full communion with the Catholic Church in 1990.

On my next pilgrimage to Lourdes I met a Father Paul Clarke, a Franciscan Priest. During that pilgrimage I was able to talk to him about the possibility of a vocation to the priesthood. Through Fr. Paul’s encouragement I made application to the Franciscan Order as a Postulant and in 1991 moved to the Franciscan International Study Centre in Canterbury to beginning a course of training that would last for 7 years and result in me being ordained to the priest in the Franciscan Order.

My first appointment as a priest was to the Franciscan Parish of St Clare in Blackley where I served as Assistant Priest for three years. However during that time I felt the Lord hadn’t quite finished with me yet and was calling me to serve him as a secular priest in the diocese of Salford. And so on the 11th February (the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes) I went to see Bishop to discuss the possibility of being incardinated into his diocese as a secular priest.

After a series of meetings, many letters and much prayer and reflection the Bishop decided to accept me as priest of his diocese and appointed me to the Sacred Heart in Accrington – for a fortnight – Sadly the priest I followed had dropped dead at the crematorium only a few days before I took up my appointment. That fortnight turned out to be 2 years!!!

From there I moved to St Kentigern’s, Fallowfield to serve as Assistant Priest with Father Thomas Connolly. In appointing me here the Bishop said I would be there for at least three years. However 18 months later the Bishop moved me to St Ann’s Ashton as PP and Hospital Chaplain. After four happy years there the Bishop was to appoint me to St. Marie’s here in Bury and as you know to take on the parish of St Joseph upon the retirement of Father Morrow.

What happens next is in the hands of God.

I share all this with you – not in a way of making me look good so that people will marvel at my achievements– that is not what the priesthood is about. I and my brother priests share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ and it is Him we are called to make known and not ourselves.

I share with you in the hope that it might inspire someone here or someone you know in your own circle of family and friends to think about the possibility that God could be calling them to serve him in the priesthood.

When I am asked to give thanks to God and bless couples who have celebrated 25, 30, 40 or 50 years of marriage I always ask – tongue in cheek if they would do it again and pray they say yes.

If someone asked me if I would do it again I would say YES. Why? Because It’s worth it. It is worth the years of study worrying if you are going to pass the exams. Its worth being called out of bed at 4:00am to attend to the dying and ease their passage to God with the words ‘Go forth O Christian Soul…’ It’s worth it to pronounce to the sinner those words ‘I absolve you from you sins.’ It’s worth it putting up with parishioners who disagree with something you have said or are trying to do. It’s worth it to stand between God and man at the altar and plead the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the living and the dead and utter those words Hoc est enim Corpus Meum. This is My Body.

My dear people pray for your priests. Pray that we will be worthy to minister to you and before the Most High God. But please don’t leave it till I am too old and past it to carry on ministering. Pray for an increase in vocations. Encourage members of your family and friends to consider if God is calling them to be priests.

Pray for priests, but above all pray for holy priests because Poor Jesus – He deserves better than us. Amen.

2 comments:

Victoria Mildew said...

Hello, Fr.,

Thanks and Bless you for sharing the insight on your continuing journey of Faith.

You were a student at the Franciscan Study Centre in Canterbury. Did you know Philip Holland or Philip French, OSB by any chance?
Pax
VM
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Fr. Francis Wadsworth said...

Yes I did know Fr. Phililp Holland O.Praem. I heard he is now a priest of the Nottingham Diocese. Didin't know Philip French.