In June 1981, Fr Stephen O’Mahony was ordained a priest for the diocese of Achonry. Five years earlier, his brother Dan, was also ordained. A year before that, in the Summer of 1975, Padraig Costello was ordained for our diocese and five years before that, Dominic Towey was ordained for the Diocese of Motherwell. Four men from the parish ordained priests in eleven years.
Thirty five years have passed since Stephen’s Ordination. Is “times have changed” the only response we have? Did God decide he needed no more priests from our parish? Did we? The answer, I believe, is found in neither question. The truth is God needs priests. Our parishes and diocese needs priests and religious.
What was different back then? Did people talk more about vocations? Pray more? Think more? Respond more? The same goodness is there today as at any time in our past. The same generosity is there too.
Thirty five years is a life time ….. Is there anyone out there willing to be “out there” in ministry?
The lines above are on the front of this week’s Kilmovee Parish Bulletin. Wanted to share them here too and maybe stir a thought in our hearts around Vocations to the Priesthood and Religious Life.
Recently a mother in the parish told me she saw her son walking down the hallway in their home. I’d say he’s about five or six years old. He had good clothes on him and when she asked what he was doing, he turned to her and said “Shh, I’m going to Mass”!! Intrigued, she followed a few minutes later and found him in another room, alongside his sister and they were “playing Mass”. She said he was making his own of one of the hymns I sing at Mass:) I was pleased to hear this because in some way it meant the children had taken the Mass home with them. To think it formed part of their play time was, in its own way, very consoling. It’s good to imagine that it has a place in their imagination, alongside Cowboys and Indians, Doctors and Nurses, Cops and Robbers, Hide and Seek and a myriad of other games. Perhaps the memory of that “mass” will linger and sow a seed, whose crop we might treasure.
I remember playing “priest” as a child. Indeed my brother felt the need to share this with those gathered for my ordination. He said that when he and my other brother would go home from school, they’d change into overalls and help in the garage but that more often than not I’d be seen in a black jacket with a shirt turned back to front!! I blushed at the memory but there’s a truth in it. Priests were an important part of my life and, maybe in the game, the thoughts of becoming one found some growth. Maybe that’s why the mother’s story sparked something of gratitude in me.
When I was ordained in 1987, another man from home was ordained a few months before me. He had been a solicitor, married and widowed – a grandfather and a Maynooth Classmate called Gerry Horan. Oliver McDonagh, a neighbour too, was ordained the Sunday before me for the diocese of Elphin (sadly Gerry and Oliver have both died, may they rest in peace). The year after a third neighbour, John Geelan, was ordained and just a few years before that, John Finn from Gurteen. Five men from the area in about seven years. Like Kilmovee, none since.
A lifetime has passed you could say and nobody has seen a neighbour enter the seminary, study for a number of years and come home to be ordained. I think this is part of the reality of our present situation. People go to college, train to be teachers, doctors or nurses, others join the guards or take courses in farm management. Still others further their skills as carpenters, builders, plumbers and so much more. They talk to their friends about their courses, the life in college, the hopes they have and, in that talk, they spark the thoughts in others “maybe I could do that too” ….
Not so priesthood or religious life. There are so few, and the few there are are so far scattered throughout the country, that the potential for their vocations impacting on others is lessened or eroded. People don’t hear of or know people who are exploring God’s Call.
What can we do? I firmly believe we should pray and encourage. I believe if in a Leaving Cert Class a student expressed thoughts around priesthood or religious life that his or her classmates should support the student and say “yes, why not give it a go”. I think likewise parents and parishioners should encourage thoughts around vocation and not, through negativity or fear, quench the sparks of a flame that might be there.
I believe we need to be positive and when we hear negative comment around church, priesthood etc, if that comment does not reflect our own experience we should say so. “That may be your experience but it’s not mine”. Silence in the face of negative comment suggests support for it. I think that’s a pity. A young man told me in recent years that he was at the dentist and that the dentist told him how much he disliked the church, priests etc. I consider this young man a friend. I knew him as a boy and know him as a man. I said to him “I hope you told him you have a good friend who is a priest”. He looked and me and said, “I did not! He had a drill in my mouth at the time!” Drills aside, it seems to me that much harm is done through negative comment and much harm too, through not at least offering an alternative view.
Priesthood is a good life. We have the privilege of being with people on good and difficult days. Last week I celebrated a wedding and just before Mass this evening received a text from the bride saying how much they had enjoyed the day. I was so happy to hear from her. During the week, I was called to the sudden death of a young man in our parish and allowed share in the grief of his family and community. I do not take this lightly. It matters that we matter and have a place to play in the day to day living of people’s lives.
I believe there is a place for priests in our world. I don’t know what the future will bring to priesthood. Undoubtedly it will bring its own changes and shape but, for now, we can only try to live the priesthood that is in our midst. For now, that is the only priesthood we can seek to encourage.
I think it’s worth doing ……