Today, on waking earlier than planned, I took for granted in my complacency the amount of time I had before Mass at the University Chaplaincy that I normally attend. This meant I missed my bus into town and not wanting to turn up to Mass late, I decided to go to the local parish church instead. I walked to church feeling rather off-kilter. It was one of those days – a long to-do list, energy levels on the low, brain managing to be sluggish but hoarding a gazillion thoughts at the same time. However, as always, when I had least expected it, God transformed my morning of poor time-keeping and ill-addressed distraction with important reminders.

On this Vocations Sunday, there was a visiting seminarian at Mass. He was a young man with a warmth and energy that spoke volumes about his passion for his vocation. After Communion, he shared with us his story. He spoke of how his calling started at the age of 6. As a young boy, he unconsciously mirrored the priest at Mass, praying at a makeshift altar at home with a cloth around his shoulders. He said that as a child, he had thought that that was the way everybody prayed. Thus it was that from a young age his attraction to the priesthood started and grew stronger through the years. He finished his basic schooling and A levels and was all too eager to continue the next chapter of his journey to the priesthood.

However, to his bitter disappointment, his application to enter the seminary was rejected by the Bishop, who suggested he experience more of the world and perhaps consider doing a degree first. He described his utter dismay at this anti-climax after years of anticipation and his subsequent enrolment into University to read Economics. He joked that all through University, he was more interested in the Church and the faith than his lectures, preferring the Catholic Herald over the Financial Times.

Most poignantly, he described with candour how in his dejection and subsequent experiences, God helped him realise an important lesson. He recounted how he knew from his response to the obstacle that he had been chasing the priesthood for himself, not God. If he had truly been seeking above all else God’s will and wishing to join the priesthood for love of God, he would not have reacted so strongly to the possibility that that may not be God’s plan for him. Thus, with a realigned focus and open heart, he finished his University degree and applied to the seminary for the second time. He is now in his first year out of six at Allen Hall and enthused that though the training is long, time passes when you are having fun!

Indeed, this message about loving God above oneself and discerning our callings, whether to the religious or non-religious life, is relevant to all Christians. For me, it was a demonstration that God works to change hearts in both little and large ways. I was reminded that all through our struggles with this “for love of self/God” paradox, He is working to change our self-serving preoccupations to ones aligned with His will, and that He can take our weaknesses and bring forth something good.

– I –