What's Your Story? - Not for the Faint Hearted!

When I was a child, growing up in a Catholic household, there was a young priest who we all loved to be around. His name was Fr John. And boy did he live up to his name which means: “Graced by God.” I must have been about seven or eight when I first encountered him and though I didn’t understand what Fr John was saying most of the time, I thought the light shone out of his head like a halo when he was on the altar speaking.

Everyone seemed to admire him. He had come from a comfortable background, was very charismatic and very handsome. I would hear my parents marvel that he had become a priest (lay people rarely understand the power of the call unless you tell them it’s like falling in love with God. The falling in love part they understand!)

Fr John had the heart of a shepherd. The self-sacrificing love he shared was powerful, his faith was palpable and his joy was infectious. What a witness for Christ. After mass, we all lined up to greet him and shake his hand. When I think of him, I remember two words, the words he used most often, words of encouragement, praise and delight.  “Just beautiful,” he would say, smiling broadly. “Oh boy, just beautiful.” Sometimes it was directed at the choir,  the children’s nativity play  or a small child shyly looking up while holding a parent’s hand. I remember it made me feel great to hear those words as a child, as a teenager, as an adult and eventually I saw the faces of my nieces and nephews light up when Fr John told them. “Beautiful. Just beautiful.”

Every parish Fr John went to was reinvigorated and I remember a priest once saying to me: if you want to know what a parish is like, look at the priest.

Fr John had a gentleness about him but he was always obedient, not afraid to speak the truth, refusing to water down the wine of the Gospel.   “I’m not going to hell for any of you,” he would say with a smile.

At the end of every Christmas mass, he and his brother priests would sing to the parishioners from the altar: “We wish you a merry Christmas, we wish you a Merry Christmas, we wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy new year!” Everyone in the church would all respond, singing  with joy, repeating the refrain. “We wish you a merry Christmas…”

Fr John knew how to lift people up. It was his special gift from God, and over the years I have found that each priest I have encountered carries in a marked way some quality of Christ, the eternal priest, perhaps Christ’s sensitivity, his vulnerability, his gentleness, his zeal, his mercy, his humility, his kindness, his generosity, his joy, his peace.

Fr John was there at some of the most poignant moments of my family’s life: baptism, marriage, funerals. Indeed he was at the graveside when we  buried my father. I will always remember Fr John handing my mother the cross from my father’s coffin. There were no words needed: love is stronger than death.

And while priests might get a poor press these days, I have always been blessed with good priests in my life, priests with a servant’s heart, a shepherd’s heart, a father’s heart: inspiring men, who make holiness look attractive, whose call is so powerful it inspires others. I thank God for these priests, one of whom helped me discern my call to religious life and another who pointed me to the hope my call still held for me when my vocation changed dramatically.

If you want to know what a priest is, look at the cross. A priest is a great lover of souls, one who sacrifices himself for others, who gives all, who lays down his life.

So being a priest  is not for the faint hearted.

Ven Fulton Sheen used to address seminarians with the words: if you are not prepared to be a Divine Victim, to be falsely accused, rejected and even put to death, then go do something else. What a privilege it is  to be called by the Divine son of God into the most intimate relationship possible, a relationship of love with our creator God.

It saddens me when I hear priests and others saying the celibate life is not a natural state. Of course it is not natural. It is supernatural. And in God, all things are possible.

Yes Jesus is demanding but he is very loving. And believe me following Jesus is never boring. It is the greatest adventure you will ever have. Jesus is the greatest adventure you will ever have and that journey in the heart of God just gets better, despite all the challenges.  

I thank God for the priests I have known. They have been a blessing in my life, always there when I needed to be heard, to be helped, to be guided to be forgiven. I shudder to think we have so few men now answering the call. I shudder when I hear Catholic parents say they don’t want their sons to be priests.

Being a priest is a great privilege. It means bringing Jesus to people. What could be better than that?

Sr. Martina Purdy




no categories