A month before my final exams in Rome a letter came to tell me I would be teaching in a school in Huddersfield from the September. Four very happy years I was there, teaching all week, helping in the local parishes at the weekend, and earning a good salary which helped support our retired elderly priests and brothers.
Two small clouds spoil the experience: (1) I was told priests were not needed in schools, priests were needed in parishes; (2) I was taking a job that someone else could have had to support their family.
Years later I was asked to come on the parishes. They have been very happy years with two small clouds: (1) I was told that with my education I should be teaching, lecturing, writing books, not wasting my time visiting homes and the hospitals which can be done by people of the parish; (2) I should get a proper job and earn my living, not sponge off hard-working ordinary people.
When I gave my life to God I had no regrets or conditions. I was asked if I would go anywhere, do anything. I would, if I could cope, I promised. So I’ve been to the north of England, the edge of the Canadian wilderness in a mission school, to New Zealand to open a training house, teach and give missions and retreats, and worked in various ways in Britain – parishes, hospitals, schools, retreats, conference work, and parish missions.
To hear what I do rubbished I have to accept. My concern is that young people hear the criticisms and despise the priesthood, just as they hear grandparents and parents criticise the parish and decide that church is not worth bothering about.
A mother told me she hoped none of her sons would want to be a priest: she would not want him at the mercy of spiteful critical parishioners. A granddaughter told me she disliked church because of the way her grandmother criticised other parishioners “Who’d want to be part of that?” she said.
True. Maybe the shortage of priests is our young people hearing the older ones grumble and criticise and they want nothing to do with it.
As the Church continues to urge prayer for vocations, what are you praying? Most of the priests you have known chose, or were expected, to make the priesthood their first choice, but today’s students for the priesthood are older men who have had various work experiences and careers, and have decided not to marry rather than be expected not to marry. Is that the answer to our prayer – older, unmarried men? It looks like it. What do we do?
Holy Spirit, be our guide
(4th June 2017)