|St. Patrick's Seminary, Maynooth, Ireland (Est. 1795)|
Every so often I come across someone who is very critical of Maynooth seminary—where I studied to be a priest—and how awful it is, etc. This is usually from things they have heard about it, as opposed to direct experience. Just before I began my studies there I had heard a lot of bad press as well. However, what I found there was something quite different. Essentially Maynooth offered us a pretty good formation, or training, but all they could do was offer it. It was completely up to us whether we took it on board or not. Needless to mention it was far from perfect and there were plenty of problems there too, but that is normal. However, the staff there were continually reminding us that our formation (or training) as priests was basically in our own hands. They could not force us to comply with what they taught and if we decided to just have a great time while we were there, there was not a lot they could do about it. A few guys did have a great time and didn’t take their time there seriously, but inevitably they were the ones who hit a major crisis either just before or just after they were ordained.
While most of us are not going to be in a seminary, but just getting on with our lives wherever we find ourselves, the same holds true for our spiritual life. If I want to grow as a Christian it is essentially in my own hands. God offers us everything we need and more, but it is up to us whether we make use of it or not. It is the Lord himself who guides us, and that’s what today’s readings are all about. Even if the shepherds He sends don’t do their job properly, the Lord is saying that He himself will look after us, and He does, sometimes in extraordinary ways, to remind us of how real He is and how much He is present to us, but mostly in less dramatic ways.
I’d like to share two stories with you, which both show the extraordinary lengths that Jesus will go to, to help us.
The first one is about a priest who lived in New Jersey. We will call him Fr. Malachy. One evening Fr. Malachy got a phone call from relatives in San Francisco, telling him that one of his cousins was very sick in hospital and probably going to die. Could he come over to be with him? So Malachy agreed and caught a flight to San Francisco.
When he arrived at the hospital he was met by an elderly nun at the door. When she realized he was a priest, she asked him if he would visit a man who was dying. She told him, "This man is very angry and probably won’t be receptive to you and will tell you to go away. He has already turned away two other priests, but he really needs to go to confession. Please don’t give up if he starts swearing at you." So Fr. Malachy went to the man’s room and sure enough as soon as he opened the door, the man started swearing and cursing at him and telling him to go away, he didn't want to see any priests. But Fr. Malachy held his ground and asked him why he was so angry. The man replied, ‘Don’t you know who I am? I murdered a whole family and have been twenty years in prison for it.’ He asked him what had happened. The man explained that he had worked on the railroads and his job was to change the tracks to guide the trains in the right direction. But at the time, he was struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. One evening on the job, he fell asleep. The result was a train crash which killed five people, a couple and their three children. Fr. Malachy asked when this happened and the man explained that it was in 1976. Fr. Malachy said to him, ‘They were my parents and brothers who were killed.’ The man was stunned and didn’t know what to say. Fr. Malachy went on to say, ‘I forgive you. It was an accident and you were struggling with addiction. If I can forgive you, how much more will Jesus forgive you?’
The man had been so angry because he was afraid he was going to go to hell when he died and he was directing his anger against God and his representatives, his priests. So the man made his confession and was reconciled with God. He died not long afterwards. See the lengths God will go to, to show us how much He is looking after us.
The other story is about a priest who was working in Ottawa, Canada. This priest, Fr. John, had great devotion to the Divine Mercy, as revealed by God to St. Faustina Kowalska in Poland. One evening while at prayer he heard an interior voice telling him that he was to get up and go to Krakow, in Poland. The voice was so strong, he knew it was coming from God and he knew he had to do it, although this made no sense to him. He called a couple of friends and told them what had happened and that he was about to get on a plane to Krakow. They asked him what he was going to do there and he said he had no idea. Needless to mention they thought he was nuts. But this prompting was so strong that he knew he had to do this and so he got a ticket and flew across the Atlantic to Krakow. When he arrived he didn’t know where to go, so he decided to go and visit the shrine of the Divine Mercy. When he arrived at the shrine he spent some time in prayer. While he was praying the Divine Office, which all priests pray, he heard a commotion outside the door. He went outside to see a girl on the steps of the church with her parents. She was screaming. As soon as she saw Fr. John she began cursing at him in English and telling him to go away, she hated him and hated God, etc. She was possessed. So Fr. John went off to his hotel and got his holy oils and came back and prayed with her. He wasn’t allowed to do a formal exorcism, because you need special permission to do that, but he commanded the spirit to leave and blessed her with the holy oil. The girl screamed, but then the spirit seemed to leave and she became peaceful.
|Divine Mercy Shrine, Krakow, Poland.|
The next day when he was at his hotel, he got a message to say that some people outside wanted to see him. When he came down he met the same couple and the young girl. They had brought an interpreter. They explained to him that they lived several hundred miles from Krakow. But the day before, the girl had suddenly got an overwhelming urge to go to Krakow. She went in and woke her parents and told them she had to go to Krakow. They were asleep and told her to go back to bed; besides, Krakow was hundreds of miles away. But the girl kept insisting and insisting and eventually the parents agreed and set out for Krakow. They explained that the girl had become interested in witchcraft and magic, from watching Harry Potter. Eventually she started looking up how to practice magic and work spells, etc. In the end she had become possessed. They also realized that the time when she got this urge to go to Krakow was the same time that Fr. John had heard this inner voice to go to Krakow.
Now wouldn’t you imagine that the Lord might have gotten a priest that was already in Krakow, instead of bringing this priest all the way from Canada? But the Lord was showing them something and is showing us something, that is, the lengths He will go to in order to help us. He is constantly with us, constantly guiding us and will continue to do so until we get to heaven.
I have had one or two experiences like that, although thankfully I haven’t had to travel as far. Most of how God guides us is much less dramatic. But what Jesus is showing us is that He is present to us all the time and only wants us to reach this happiness which He has created us for. The Lord gives us several very powerful ways to guide, strengthen and protect us on this journey, but just as with the training in the seminary, all He can do is offer it to us. What help am I talking about?
Firstly, through the sacred Scriptures, the Bible, which we listen to at every mass. Do you ever wish God would speak to you? He does speak to us, all the time, so much so that He gave us a whole book of what He has to say to us, to guide and instruct us. Read it, every day, even if it is only for 10 minutes. You’ll be amazed at how much God has to say to you. Think of all the other information we take in each day, through all kinds of media, advertising, internet, television. What could possibly be more important than what God has to say?
Secondly, the Lord teaches us through his Church. The teaching of the Church is his teaching and not just the teaching of a group of people. That is why we continue to try and live it and take it seriously, because it is what God himself is teaching us.
Above all He gives us his own body and blood in the Eucharist, so that we can be intimately united to him in the most extraordinary way. The Eucharist really and truly is Jesus, not just a symbol, or some kind of special holy bread. He continually reminds us of this through all the different Eucharistic Miracles. He wants us to know that He is with us every step of the way in every situation. He is never not there. What more could we possibly ask for than Jesus himself and yet so often we just think of these things as just ‘religious things’, but not really a part of our day-to-day path. On the contrary, they are the exact things that we need for our day-to-day path and they reach into every aspect of our life.
He also gives us the extraordinary healing of confession. The Lord is well aware of how much we struggle with sin, which is why He has also given us confession to heal us, give us courage and the strength to get up and continue the journey.
We have been given all the help we could ask for and more. We don’t need something new. What we need is to see what we already have.
"The remnant of my flock I myself will gather from all the countries where I have dispersed them and will bring them back to their pastures" (Jeremiah 23:3)