Friday, January 27, 2017

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time yr A (Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12) Why I am priest

St. Patrick's Seminary, Maynooth, Ireland, where I studied.
Today I would like to share with you something more personal than I usually would. I would like to tell you why I am a priest. Not how I became a priest, but why I am a priest. I suppose it’s something you probably don’t think of very often, but people often ask me why I became a priest.

First of all I believe that God called me to be a priest. There was a real sense of God calling me in this way and it was a persistent call. Although it was something both exciting and wonderful, it was also something scary and painful. I knew it would mean that I would not get married, which was a natural attraction for me. But what I always say to people is that the calling to be a priest was stronger than the calling to be married, even though both were there.

The year I entered the seminary was the year when all the scandals began to break in Ireland. It started with my own bishop having had a child and it got steadily worse with all the sexual abuse scandals. This made all of us in the seminary think a lot about why we were there. After I was ordained the scandals continued and the atmosphere in our society was very difficult. I know it was the same here. Because of the way the media presented it, almost every priest was considered a pedophile, which was very difficult, as you can imagine. Why would I want to be part of an organization that tried to cover up such horrific scandals? The reason is simple. I believe.

The high cross at Clonmacnoise 
I believe that Jesus Christ is Lord; that Jesus is the Son of God. I believe that Jesus is present in the Eucharist, not in a symbolic way, but really and truly present. The bread and wine really and truly become the Body and Blood of Jesus. Since I believe that is true, there could be no more extraordinary miracle and I always consider it the greatest privilege that I have as a human being and as a priest. It is always an honor and a privilege to be allowed go to the altar and celebrate the mass, even when I’m half asleep on a Monday morning, or when I humanly don’t feel like doing it. Sometimes it scares me when God reminds me that I am a sinner and struggle like everyone else and yet He allows me to do this for you his people, because He wants us to be able to receive him in Holy Communion. For all of us that is an incredible gift. I do not understand it, but I believe it. I also believe that God speaks to us through the sacred scriptures. God actually speaks to us personally and God has much to say to us. The scriptures were written by human hands, but they were inspired by God and that is why we never replace them with anything else. That is also why I continue to read them over and over again.

I consider being able to hear confession as a great privilege. To be God’s instrument to bring his forgiveness and mercy to people is something wondrous. That people will come to me as God’s instrument is both humbling and wonderful to me.

As a priest I am called to people when they are sick and dying, right to their bedside even though I do not know them and they will tell me things that they will not even tell their own families. I am asked to be there when families are going through great joys and sorrows.

Is it difficult? Yes. I have struggled with it every day since I was ordained 18 year ago. Twice I almost left. In fact one time I thought it was all over and I had even told people that I was leaving, not because I wanted to, but because I thought that I couldn’t handle the stress of it any more; the daily hostility I was experiencing and the sense of isolation I felt in some of the places I was working. Yet each time the Lord called me back and showed me that He would take care of it and He did.

In the second reading today it says:

God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise,

and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong,

and God chose the lowly and despised of the world,

those who count for nothing,

to reduce to nothing those who are something,

so that no human being might boast before God.

8th Century monastery off the West coast of Ireland
  In a mysterious way God seems to delight in calling and working through the nobodies of this world, so that it is all the more obvious that it is him at work and this is something He continually shows me. My faith keeps changing and growing and the path is often difficult, but I believe it is the most important path we will ever be asked to follow and so I will continue. I would like to finish with this quotation where St. Paul is talking about his own life.

I believe nothing can happen that will outweigh the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For him I have accepted the loss of everything and I look on everything as so much rubbish if only I can have Christ and be given a place in him. (Philippians 3:7-8)

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