Last Tuesday I had to go to Maynooth for a meeting. Before the meeting I met the three men we have studying for this diocese—one of whom will be ordained a priest in two weeks time—and they invited me to stay on after the meeting for evening prayer and supper; so I did. In the evening I found myself in the chapel praying evening prayer with 80 young men who are studying to be priests and it was wonderful to hear all these men singing to God and praying the Psalms, knowing that they are dedicating their lives to serve God. I was thinking that in one way you would want to be insane to study to be a priest at the moment, so what on earth could draw them? The answer of course is God. The Spirit of God inspires people and moves people when we don’t expect it and often in ways we don’t expect either. But the Spirit doesn’t shout aloud like the news papers do. The Spirit works quietly, but very powerfully.
I am often asked, especially by younger people, how come I didn’t want to get married that I went on for the priesthood? Actually the way they usually put it is to say, ‘did you not like girls?’ And I always say, ‘of course I was drawn to get married, but the call of God was the stronger one.’ The year I applied for religious life was the year the first major scandal in our Church broke. That was eighteen years ago and there have basically been scandals ever since. During my time in the seminary it was very disheartening with all of the stories about child abuse in the papers for the first time. But it made all of us think carefully about why we were becoming priests and it still makes me think about why I am a priest. The reason more or less remains the same: I believe God called me and continues to call me to serve him in this way. Most of the time I’m not even sure I understand the calling or even what exactly the Lord wants me to do, but the ongoing call is unmistakable and very powerful.
When I was nineteen I was invited to go to a prayer meeting here in Galway. At the time I wasn’t practicing my faith, but I was searching. At this prayer meeting I saw 50 or 60 young people praying the rosary, singing hymns and reading Scripture. This was completely new to me and I was drawn to it. I could see that their faith was real and I was intrigued by it. These young people basically taught me how to pray and taught me that it was good to start the day by giving 10-15 minutes to God. So I began doing just that. Shortly after I began attending this prayer meeting they held what is known as a ‘Life in the Spirit’ seminar. This is a series of about 8 talks on the reality of the power of God’s Spirit—the Holy Spirit—and how that same Spirit is just waiting for us to be open to him so that He can set fire to our faith, so to speak. Well I began doing this seminar and was curious to know what would happen. On the fifth night the people there prayed with each of us—just like the Apostles did—that we would receive a fresh outpouring of the Spirit. I remember being a bit disappointed at the time, because nothing particularly amazing seemed to happen to me. I felt peaceful, but not unduly so. However, in the days and weeks that followed I began to notice all kinds of things happening. It was as though someone had flicked a switch and turned on the power. Suddenly my faith became alive in a way that it had never been before. The Scriptures began to speak to me in a profound way and I had a great desire to spend time in prayer. I also noticed that I began to hear the words of the mass as though I had never heard them before and I was completely blown away with it. Other people who did this Life in the Spirit seminar had similar experiences, the most common being that their faith became alive as never before. That was 22 years ago and the experience really changed the course of my life. A few years after that I began studying to be a priest.
Today when I look around and see all this apparent chaos in our Church, which is very disturbing, I think back of what the Lord has led me through and I am reminded that our Church is in good hands, because it is not in the hands of human beings but in the hands of the Most High God. The Spirit continues to move and cleanse and purify, which is what we are seeing at the moment. But it is not something that we need be afraid of. On the contrary it is a sign that the power of God is very much at work in the Church; and of course, since it is the Lord’s Church. Those of us who try to serve in it are only instruments, and often not very good instruments, but it doesn’t matter as God does not depend on us to get everything right. The Lord is the One who is in charge and who will continue to lead us his people in the direction we need to go. God will bring about the changes that need to take place. All we have to do is to stay focused on the Lord and do our best to serve him.
The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name
will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you.