What's Your Story? - Would I Do It All Over Again?

It’s the simplest of stories; the story of an altar-boy who wanted not just to serve Mass but to celebrate Mass.   So, very quickly I found myself in Maynooth and then the trouble started!

Like a fledgling swimmer I was now in at the deep end; out of my depth, in the company of some of the most generous, talented, gifted young men of my generation.  What was I doing amongst them?  Now that is a very good question and the one who most asked it was myself.  Thank God I was preserved from the pangs of jealousy and from the green-eyed God of envy but it was a ”Beam me up Scotty” moment.

Was the altar-boy’s dream just that, a childish dream?  Was it now wakey-wakey time?  True, I still wanted to be a priest but did God want me to be a priest?  I knew somewhere in my heart that it could only really happen if it was God’s will and not a silly dream/wish of mine.  And another question if I was a priest could I ‘Do’ the priest thing? Could I, yes me, do what God expects a priest to do?  Do, what a priest is called to do?  Frightening questions!

So to make a long story short, in the summer before I was due to start First Divine I resolved not to return to Maynooth.  It was all just a pipe-dream.  Do something else with your life, something that would not be a disgrace to God.  I wasn’t particularly happy with my decision to leave but it was all I could do.  Oh Lord show me the way.  And mirabile dictu He did.

I was in my local village church one evening in that summer stumbling at prayer when Miss…came in.  She had taught me, way back when I was in P.5.  She was a very religious person and she had always been most kind to me.  She had her own problems as her brother would have fought depression all his life.  But as I continued trying to pray she came over to me and asked me to pray for her brother as he was again in the local psychiatric hospital. I said I would pray for him and I did.  But (and it was a big ‘But’) why had she asked me to pray for her brother?  My prayers were just two-penny prayers; I don’t know how to really pray.   She was much more devout and certainly a more faithful follower of the Lord that I would ever be.

She left me thinking!  I knew I couldn’t do the priest thing but perhaps I could try to pray for her brother and all the other brothers and sisters, parents, children of the parishes of the Archdiocese of Armagh.  So, at the end of the summer I went back to Maynooth.
But the tossing and turning did not go away.  Is this what God wants me to be? I knew that only in doing God’s will would I find peace and only if it was God’s will could I offer Him and His people something of beauty; anything worthwhile.

And then one night my Spiritual Director asked me, “Imagine” he said, “If you were in Parish A1 this night, would your heart be at peace”.  That of course was the         64, 000 dollar question.  I rumbled on.  And the night before my Diaconate I was racked with doubt.  But the Dean, Fr Michael Olden who incidentally just died before Christmas, RIP, steadied me and I was ordained a deacon over forty years ago on Easter Monday, the day after the Feast of the Lord’s Resurrection and that was that.  Praise God and thank God over again.

From that Easter Monday all those years ago I have never questioned should I or should I not be a priest.  I am what I am and if I can ever be of any value to the Lord then dear Lord let it be.
Did God want me to be a priest?  Your guess is as good as mine.  Can I ‘Do’ the priest thing.  No, in truth I cannot.  But I try to do what I can and pray the Lord to do the rest.  Do I regret being a priest?  Never.  Have I regrets about the quality of my priesthood, the generosity of my priestly years, the fidelity in following Him?. You bet ye.  A thousand regrets..

Would I do it all over again.  Yes absolutely but dear God let it be more generously, more faithfully, more willingly.  So I do what I can and pray the Lord to be merciful.
The years of my priesthood, like the beautiful scarred face of the Madonna of Czestochowa have been scarred by the scandals of my brother priests who broke their vows in the most egregious way possible and of the Bishops who could not grasp the nettle of their crimes.  But I cannot be too hard on any of them, because if I have learned anything through the years it is that I am a sinner and that there but for the grace of God go I.  And what would I have done without the Sacrament of Reconciliation I cannot imagine.

Perhaps Cardinal George Pell may speak for me when he wrote from an Australian prison on March 21st 2019,  “I do not regret becoming a priest, although my life has been one of turbulence, as I do believe I did God’s will however imperfectly.  I gave my life to a cause of ultimate significance – and a priestly way of life with many human consolations.”2
Well my turbulence has been little or none, my consolations have been many especially in the privileges of being with people in their joys and more being with them in their sorrows.
I only continue to make my own the prayer of St John Henry Newman.

Dear Lord, I do not ask to see
I do not ask to know
I ask simply to be used.
And I add another line of my own,
I ask only for your mercy.                                                                  
Praise God.  Amen

1God laughs at me often.  There are 61 parishes in the Archdiocese of Armagh.  Guess to which parish was I assigned immediately after my Ordination, you are right -  Parish A!!!  And despite having a tough parish priest I was happy in it.
2Prison Journal Vol 1 p 69  Just 8 days after his incarceration in solitary confinement.




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