I have, as far as I can remember, always wanted to be a priest, however, the Secondary School I went to was a technical school, which meant that when I left school, at the age of 16, my dream seemed impossible, for being a technical school, my school taught no Latin, and in those days all our Catholic services were in Latin and to be a priest Latin was required. However, somehow I clung on to my dream, even though, at times, I would get very depressed about whether it could ever come to be.
I was in such a depressed state one Saturday morning, when I was about 18 and met, by accident, my Parish Priest. I used to attend Mass on Saturday mornings and as I was walking home, that Saturday, from Mass, my Parish Priest got out of his car and went to enter a house, just as I was passing. I said, “Good morning, Father,” and he looked up and said, “Oh, good morning, Terry” and went on towards the house; I also walked on, but he called me back and said, “Terry, if you ever have thoughts of a religious vocation, you will come and see me, won’t you?” I do not remember what I said in reply, but I do remember that whereas I had been walking 12 inches below the surface of the pavement before he spoke to me, afterwards I was walking 3 feet above! For what he had said showed me that my dream of becoming a priest was still possible, even though I had no Latin.
I have pondered that and similar incidents in my life and resisted the temptation to label them as mere “coincidences” – for how was it that my Parish Priest came along at just that precise moment? Had he arrived thirty seconds earlier or thirty seconds later, that conversation would not have happened, but the fact that he did come along just then made that short conversation possible – a conversation, which, two years later, was to lead me to enter the seminary and become a priest. Because such “coincidences” have had such important consequences, I tuck them away in my memory, for they reveal that it is not so much I who am seeking God, but rather God, who is seeking me. For instance, in my desire to be a priest, I had never thought to ask myself where that “wanting”, which so hurt at times, came from. All my attention was on what I wanted, aggravated by the fact that it seemed it could never come to be. It never occurred to me that this “wanting” was the “The Hound of Heaven” – as Francis Thompson calls God – calling me, chasing me and leading me on until the time was right for things to be able to happen – and when that time did come, he also sent someone to give me the courage to apply to Mill Hill and so began my journey to the priesthood.
The same kind of experience, I now see, has followed me all my life and, is part of my daily attempts to follow the Lord, for I often experience failure in this and have to face up to the fact that the way I want to walk with the Lord is not the way I do walk. However, the Lord sent me someone, a confessor, who helps me see that what is important, in my life, is not the failure, but that I go on trying. He has helped me see that even though I may be consumed with what I want to be – and my failure to become so – I have not been asking, “Where do those desires come from?” The fact that I still want to grow in the love of Christ for the world means that I will one day come there. The frustration I feel comes from looking at the road ahead and knowing that I am not yet there, but the very fact that I want to be there is a promise from the Lord that one day I shall arrive there – for what he calls us to be, he always brings about by his grace and in his own time. The pain of the wanting and the pain of the failure is necessary for without it I would not even try to walk.
My memories help me here also, for they not only show me how the Lord has always been – calling me, urging me and helping me along the road, but they also show me where I have come from. When I “remember” the past, I realise with wonder that I can now do things that, at one time, were beyond me. In this way, I no longer feel shame in my heart at my failures – although I do painfully still recognise that they are failures – for I now know that these desires, frustrated though they may be at the moment, are the voice of the Lord pointing out the next section of the journey and holding out his hand to journey together with me. They are, thus, the promise of that which Julian of Norwich expresses as: “All will be well, all will be well, all manner of things will be well.
I have had a busy time since I last wrote a blog – and that is also why I have not written for a while. I went to Bali for Christmas and visited the Jail, where amongst others I met Andrew, who, unless a miracle happens, will be executed in the next week or two. Please pray for him and his family. I also took Matthew, about whom I have written before, a lot of English Readers, for the small school he runs inside the prison.
Then I received news from my nephew that my sister-in-law, Mary, my late brother’s wife, was dying. So, just after Christmas I took a plane home and then on to Ireland to see her. When I first saw her, she seemed very close to death, but after the anointing she seems to recover slightly and we had a lovely week or so together before I had to come back. She phoned me last Sunday to say that the cancer had begun to grow again, but that she is good in herself and is ready to go – even looking forward to go and meet her husband – when the Lord sees fit to call her. Please pray also for her, for all the dying and also all their families, who can only stand and watch.
When I came back, I went to Sabah for a vocations’ seminar. There were about a hundred lads there and fourteen were chosen to enter seminary formation, but I caught no fish for Mill Hill, my own Missionary Society. I told a Religious Sister about that and she said, “Later!” and sure enough last week a young man phoned me from Sabah and said that he would like to join Mill Hill.
So, now the College has started again and we have 22 students – the top three years being out on pastoral assignments this term. So, I have enough to keep me busy. On top of this, I have begun organising the next Bali Retreat cum Tour, which will be from 8th – 14th May. I have six applicants already.