When did you first feel called to the priesthood?
I think I was around 11 years old when the thought first popped into my mind, I was playing a country parson in a play and I thought I could do this! However, it was being an altar server that drew me to the idea more closely, knowing lots of priests who I aspired to be like. Also, through understanding the Mass better and assisting at Benediction through my teen years were also for me formative and inspiring. I would say that the definitive call came at World Youth in Paris when I was 17 years old when I was truly struck by St John Paul II’s challenge 'What are you going to do for Christ in the next Millennium?' – This I felt was a direct call from God through the Holy Father. The desire to become a priest grew stronger each day from that moment.
Were your friends and family supportive of your call?
To be honest, I didn’t tell my friends, out of fear of ridicule. But now having spoken to them about this since, they all knew that I had aspirations in that direction! School friends, University friends were all very supportive actually, and now I have had the great honour and pleasure of having conducted their weddings, baptised their children and become a Godfather!
My parents were perhaps a little more tricky, I was the first person in my family to go to University where I read Law, I think they had high hopes that I would proceed in the legal profession. However, when I told them, in unison they responded, 'If you are happy, then we are happy'. They saw me in Rome, where I studied for the priesthood, and saw me content there and found it a great and, often boasted about, honour to have a son a priest. They always supported, for that I am fortunate and eternally grateful. Sadly, I have celebrated both their funerals recently, they died young and before their time, but it was a great consolation and continues to be one, that I can offer Holy Mass for the repose of their souls.
Did you have any doubts?
Seminary was described by a bishop to me once as 'The best of times and the worst of times'. In those ‘worst’ times when friends left, friends I thought would make sterling priests, I always thought to myself, 'What am I still doing here?'. In pondering a vocation to the priesthood, I did think, was this call genuine? Was it from God or from me? I often doubted my ability to be a priest. My sins, bad habits, regrettable actions, various sins and vices made me think I was the wrong person for this. However, God uses all of this to help us understand ourselves and make others understood. God calls us in our weakness, as broken vessels. The more I understood this, the more the doubts dissipated regarding this concern. The call to chaste celibacy, vanquishing any form of intimacy, I thought also would be too much for me to handle and live with. Also, the prospect of relinquishing the possibility of having a family, was something I at times made me think long and hard whether this was a vocation for me. Being a priest for over 11 years, on top of 7 years in-formation, I have seen how it is in practice and whilst challenging at times. There are immense life-giving relationships with friends that strengthen me. For instance, my brother priests and my close friends and family together with the parish family enable me to be friend, pastor, father, son, a penitent, confidante and disciple.
Have you been able to maintain the hobbies and interests you had before you became a priest?
Yes – I love travelling both at home and abroad. I love passenger aircraft, trains, buses, ferries and driving my car. So, where I am and indeed all my parish assignments have meant that I can continue with my pastime of travelling. Whilst travelling I am able to explore new places. I do this sometimes on my own (you can get a lot more done, and not all my friends could bear the thought sitting of a metro system or bus on a mystery tour all day!) or I travel with close friends and family. I often go away with fellow priests on short trips or holidays, where we enjoy different cultures and cuisines! I love Europe and the United States which I have visited a fair bit over the past couple of years. Having studied at an international university in Rome means that I have friends in the four corners of the world!
I love reading political autobiographies too as I have an active interest in politics. I like history, especially geo-political history which ties in with my wanderlust for travelling and learning.
Learning new languages is something that I have continued to cultivate as a priest which helps me when I explore somewhere new.
I go to the theatre and concerts as well as the cinema, James Bond being an obsession of mine. If you’re wondering, Roger Moore is my favourite!
What brings you most joy as a priest?
I am writing this during the 2020 lockdown period, and so what is heightened in my spiritual sense is the absence of the faithful and the inability to go out and meet the gamut of personages in my parish. To bring Christ in word and sacrament is what a priest does and whilst I have been doing this online and through the phone it bears no resemblance to what it ought to be. So being with the faithful gives me great joy.
To instruct those preparing for the sacraments be they, children preparing for First Holy Communion and Confession, teenagers and adults preparing for Confirmation or couples preparing for marriage gives me great joy and allows me to be part of people’s important stages of faith and life development. The celebration of these sacraments, especially baptism when a new Christian is welcomed into the life of God is a particular joyful occasion. Bringing the Sacrament of the Sick and Communion to the sick, housebound and the dying is very poignant for me. To see how much this means to someone who is not well, and in the case of the dying, one who is on the way to the Lord, be it alone or surrounded by family, moves my heart with consolation, compassion and spiritual joy.
The Sacrament of confession is a place where I truly have felt the promptings and workings of the Holy Spirit, and so when people come to confession as they should and when those return after a considerable time away. I am filled with admiration and joy for the penitent. It is an immense privilege to be an imperfect channel of God’s forgiving and healing grace. To see someone leave the confessional, when perhaps there have been tears of sorrow that have become tears of joy and relief, fills me with much joy and happiness.
The Eucharist is the 'Source and Summit of the Christian life' and so it is most especially in the life of a priest a source of great joy. Offering Holy Mass gives me immense joy, surrounded by all the angels and saints, the church living and dead and God’s people is something truly awesome. The reality of what we are doing, or rather what God is doing in us priests is something we can never truly comprehend, and yet we know it to be true. Each and every time I speak those words of institution, 'This is my body', 'This is my blood', 'Do this in memory of me', I am drawn into an immense joy, awe, serenity and stillness before God, who has become small to be in my hands - that is joyful, that is amazing!
What would be your advice to someone trying to discern their vocation?
First, do not dismiss the idea out of hand! It may be unnerving and disturbing you but allow yourself to daydream of the life of a priest!
Second, I would search for information, search for someone to speak to, ideally a priest, do not worry we won’t sign you up straightaway! However, it will be an opportunity to discuss with him your thoughts, at a later stage he will put you in touch with a Vocations Director or Promotor.
Third, I would continue to attend Holy Mass, maybe learn to serve if you have not done so already, and encourage you to start praying some devotions such as the Rosary and maybe praying before the Blessed Sacrament. I would also encourage you to go confession, perhaps find a regular confessor, this is a great way to receive God’s grace and strengthen you in your path to holiness.
Fourth, seek the company of good, fun, loyal friends and others who will help you be a good human being and help you flourish in your humanity. Do not let yourselves succumb into ways, means and personages that are inappropriate or unhealthy for your soul and your general wellbeing!
Fifth, talk! Talk to God in your prayers, share with Him all your hopes, joys and happiness as well as your struggles, worries and pre-occupations. Share with him your life, your situation, your relationships, your family, your friends, how you feel inside. Talk also to your family in the first place and also your friends, in may not be easy or come naturally to you but like St Peter (1Peter 3:15),'be prepared to give an account of the joy that is within you' – Trust in Jesus, the Lord will give you the words!