It is not often that I have the opportunity to spend Christmas with my family, but this year I have the chance to reflect back on the Christmases when I was a teenager. I look back in gratitude, but once upon a time I didn’t think my present life choice would be possible. Recently, at a Funeral Mass of a friend, I was told that my becoming a priest surprised many!
I would have gone to Mass every Sunday and received the Sacrament of Penance twice monthly – a rigid family policy at the time – but my faith was far from being personally developed.
I am grateful for the relationship, perfect or imperfect as it may be, with God that is ever-present in the many facets of creation. The gift of faith implies many people, I would like to acknowledge a couple who influenced my faith story, unlikely people who were nearly fifty years my senior.
Like most teenagers, I never really knew that the language of the heart was different to that of the head. In my mid-teens, I would have helped a friend set up disco equipment for discos, but that all changed when I decided that sitting with his mother and father was a wiser option! I would have considered my friend’s parents (Martin & Bríd) as ‘old’, my relationship with them would decide my future life.
Over time as we had our cuppa and conversation, I was aware that I was in the presence of what I would now call wisdom, something that I didn’t really comprehend. This conversation wasn’t about ‘do this’ or ‘do that’ as I may have been used to; it evolved over time, it was like being in the midst of a compassion, a respect that allowed me to feel that I belonged. Such ingredients began a process of change in my subconscious. It took me years to understand even the wisdom of the conversation; my belief system was being turned upside down.
This strength eventually allowed me to make certain surprising decisions, entering the seminary, but I still had a stubborn side that revealed itself from time to time. In my first eight years in the seminary, I struggled to make a definitive decision about what I wanted to do with my life. During my own training, my relationship with God made sense, it was tangible, and I felt so grateful for so much that was positive during those years but I found it hard to trust in the decision that my heart was prompting me to take, the demons in my head were still strong, despite all the good work I did in facing up to them.
I feel so grateful that I met Bríd and Martin, and the Spiritan missionary congregation that facilitated my going forward with the Spiritans. I came to believe that I had something to offer, but that my future would only be possible if I allowed God to guide me.
God’s Wisdom continues to make a home in me, necessary as I prepare myself to work in the near future with the poorest and most abandoned amongst Portugal’s migrants. My heart is not my head; this is a reality that must be constantly learnt in the many different experiences that are placed before me daily, this is the energy the Word of God offers each one of us.