October 21, 2018
The high school I attended in Dublin was founded by the Missionary Congregation of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. The school and its college prepared young Irish boys for the priesthood; young men who would travel around the world answering the Lord’s command: “go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel.” When I went there in the 1970’s, the school was a regular high school, but the memories of those young Irish missionaries from 100 years before, was still strong in that place.
Every day I passed by a large world map that hung in the main hallway. It had lines radiating from Dublin to numerous points around the world. The map was framed by photos and pictures of young priests in different parts of the world: Japan, China, Vietnam, Chile, Argentina, the Amazon, Lake Victoria, South Africa, Uganda, Congo, Canada, North America, and many other exotic and exciting places. It was incredible to imagine that these Irish speaking young boys would first have to master English then study Latin and Greek, as well as French, before eventually tackling the indigenous language of the area of the world where they would be sent.
Many of these young men had never been away from their village in Ireland; never mind away from their family and friends. While preparing for the priesthood, they probably would return home once a year. And, just before leaving on their missionary journey, they could spend a week or so at home with their family. These men were fully aware that this visit was probably the last time they would see or hear from their mother and father, brothers and sisters, and family and friends. Even if they survived the dangers and diseases of their mission station, surely they would never again receive word from home, they would never receive a letter, or telegram, and phones didn’t exist. They would never hear of the death of their parents, the birth of nieces and nephews, nor the goings on of family and friends. For them, being a missionary was truly a life commitment.
In answer to the call of God, they were willing to leave father and mother, home and country, even their own native language and culture, for the sake of the Gospel, without any expectation of return. Their vocation was heroic. Never would they see another Christmas in Ireland surrounded by their loved ones. Instead they would spend Christmas in a foreign land, speak a foreign language and partake in another culture, but with a new family – their family. And that was the point of the map and the pictures. It was a reminder that priests were real heroes – in a time before imaginary heroes of the Marvel comic variety – priests were true brave men.
Although the mission is different, the spirit is the same; every day at our seminary we see in the young men there that same heroic spirit, vitality, and tenacity. Faithful, visionary, dedicated, and zealous; they are willing to stand with Christ, and for Christ, in a world that brings its own challenges, dangers and demands; which are as much of a sacrifice as ever. Our seminarians are dedicated to carry on the mission of bringing the Christ Child to their new families.
The young men who left Ireland were heroes, mighty men, men of courage, conviction, strong and zealous for the Gospel and for Jesus. They loved their families, but they loved God even more; they sacrificed everything to answer God’s call but to stay, to fail to hear and listen to God’s call, would be an even greater sacrifice.
Being a priest today requires the same great spirit from a man. Priests have been heros, can be heros, and should be heros. If you have that spirit, maybe, the priesthood is for you.
I have been a priest for twenty-five years and don’t regret a day. And I can affirm the words of Jesus, Our Good Shepherd: I have received more than I have given, an abundance, a treasure, “pressed down and flowing over.”
Pope Benedict XVI in a homily to young people in 2005 said: “Dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and He gives you everything. When we give ourselves to Him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. Amen.”
Don’t be afraid to answer the call.