And so we come to it: the climax of the faith. Three months ago we were celebrating the birth of a child. A child born in a manger with the shadow of his instrument of death already over him.
The Triduum is an especially thought provoking time for those training for the Priesthood. There’s little doubt in my mind that many a vocation is tested, proved, and wobbled by these three days. How on earth can we hope to follow a man who gave so much and died in such agony? How can we be better disciples than those who abandoned him at the last? What sacrifices do we need to make in order to be Christians?
The good thing is, we ask these questions knowing we can’t live up to Christ, or to the Apostles. But we know that it matters not. God loves us all, in our frailty and our weakness. And his Son dying for us is a reminder of that. We are called. We have no choice but to respond.
Keeping discipline in Lent is supposedly something we might feel good about. How rewarding is it to know that you can train yourself to not have a pint, or to not eat chocolate? Or conversely, when taking something on, to go to an extra mass a week? Aren’t we gaining good points in the eyes of God? Look at how virtuous we are!
Yet this misses the point. Lenten discipline shouldn’t be about self-satisfaction, but about walking more closely with Christ. “Christ the Lord was tempted and suffered for us.” Is it not better to think about the suffering we see around us every day? When Christ walked the earth, he spent time with those in need. Whilst we might not always be able to do that, shouldn’t a reminder at this time about the inability of some people to have what we have prick at our consciences?
To my shame, I get annoyed with people who talk through their disciplines and say “I can’t wait for Easter Day.” It’s a focus too much on the self and misses the reasoning behind fasting and abstinence. The Son of God fasted 40 days and only then began his great work. For us, should our thoughts more readily turn towards the work we can do for the outcast and dispossessed during this period?
One of the things which has recently struck me is how difficult it is to keep hold of friendships whilst you’re training. By that, I mean with people you were friends with before you started. This week I realised I’d not spoken to two or three good friends of mine since the start of term. A few hasty calls later and the error was rectified, but it felt like a sticking plaster.
I’d always thought that life in a training establishment would be somewhat of a fresh start. That’s a ridiculous way to think about it of course – it’s another step on a journey with God. But I do feel as though part of my old life got left behind in the autumn. In the maelstrom and madness of the institution I’m studying at, it’s all too easy to feel a little lost.
It’s been extremely useful to have patient friends on the outside. But I’m blessed to have made some good friends here too. A deepened relationship with God is helping too. And that’s partly what it’s about.
Being back at home after a busy first term is a strange thing. Having been surrounded by the madness of a lot of people pulling in the same direction, one gets a reminder of what life is like when you’re outside the college door.
You find yourself talking a lot less about God, and a lot more about yourself. Everyone wants to know how you’re settling in, what the food’s like, have you made any friends.
It’s nice to be able to give positive answers to all of those questions.
A good friend of mine said she could already see a change in how I was behaving. She described me as being much more calm than she’d ever known me. I’m not so sure I’ve changed as much as she claims, but it’s nice to see some changes being picked up on.
Christmas is always a busy time for Christians, but it feels as though a little has been added to me this year. It’s not that I’ve done more in church than normal, but rather that I’ve been seemingly more aware of what’s going on. Writing that down doesn’t do the feeling justice.
But it’s been lovely to be with family and to leave the books behind for a brief moment. I’m sure that next term will be a busy one.
Arriving at a new home is always a stressful time. There’s always so much to do and fears nag at you. What will my neighbours think of me? Will I feel happy? How will I do in my new role?
And when that move is to a place meant to form you for ministry in the church of God, those fears multiply exponentially.
Therefore, it was with more than a little trepidation that I faced up to moving to theological college. So much to cope with – study, prayer, changing sleep patterns. And all the while surrounded by people like you who are training for the same thing, but who come from so many different backgrounds.
How refreshing it has been to have the support of that community.
One of the joyous things about being here is that everyone’s willing to answer a question if they can. And so many different stories exist about how people got here. In many respects it is wonderful.
Having said that, it’s not all gone completely swimmingly. But everyone mucks in and gets their hands dirty as necessary. There’s a lack of sloth among the whole group and I feel privileged to be here amongst such dedicated man and women.
One of the great joys of preparing for theological college has been the chance to meet others who’ve recently been recommended for training. It’s struck me as a great reminder that God calls all types, and that there is no one model for those who serve him in the church.
But one still notices certain traits that go through everyone who is called. A life centred on prayer. A willingness to listen. A genuine love of God. And a wish to transmit these things to other people.
It’s another humbling reminder of the awesome task facing a priest. The care and cure of souls…it sounds pretty heavy when you read it like that. But that is no more or less than what we are called to do.
Pray God for the strength to carry on and serve his people.
It’s been an interesting few weeks.
Not long ago I received a letter with some suggested reading to do before arriving at theological college. It’s a varied list, with books concentrating on the bible, some on an understanding of the world in which Jesus Christ lived, and some on the history of the early church. I’ve also had a new bible with commentary underneath the various passages to help understand what’s been written or shape the context in which the author was writing. Most of the literature I’m reading is making me look at faith from a different viewpoint, and consider things I hadn’t beforehand. It’s proving immensely stimulating. But there’s a lot of reading to do – and I’m sure there’s going to be more soon.
I’ve also been measured up for a cassock. It’s strange really; I’ve worn many, but never had to be measured for one. It’s all starting to get very real.
So suddenly the threads of one life are starting to look very distant and a new one is rapidly approaching.
I’ve been lucky over the course of my life to visit quite a few of the major pilgrimage sites for Christians living in Europe. Lourdes, Canterbury, Taize, Rome, Fulda, Notre-Dame de Paris. All have their own charms. There are many I’d still love to visit: Compostela, at the end of the world famous Camino de Santiago; Fatima, with its links to the Virgin Mary; and, of course, the Holy Land, with all that it encompasses.
For English Christians of a certain persuasion though, and I include myself in that particular high church bracket, one postcode remains mystical to us all. NR22 6BP.
From Easter until the end of November, a little corner of England that is forever catholic is home to bands of pilgrims from all over the country. They come for many reasons. Some to receive the waters of the spring, reputed to have healing properties; some to offer prayers in the Holy House, at the foot of the statute of the Blessed Mother of Our Lord; others simply to have to time to sit, think and pray.
I’ve loved the place since I was very small. Too small, in fact, to realise what was actually going on there. I think it’s probably an important place for many ordinands, and indeed for those already ordained as well. It has changed immensely over the years, but retains the same message of devotion to a young girl who gave perhaps the ultimate example to ordinands: saying yes, and entrusting to God that everything would be OK.
She really was, and is, a remarkable Lady.
I’ll admit, the feeling of being on Cloud 9 has now slightly dissipated, and I’m now spending more time thinking about the nitty-gritty of both theological study and the course that the rest of my life is now set upon.
It’s a strange place to be.
The well wishes and congratulations continue to pour in. It’s also a little different to be able to say “I’m going to train for ordination” than “I’m hoping to be able to train for ordination.” The affirmation is most uplifting.
But now there’s not really a huge amount to do. The practical things – leaving my current place, finishing at work, getting to where I’m going to be studying – are all things that will largely take care of themselves. But strangely enough, it doesn’t feel like I’ve got a lot be preparing for.
Isn’t that daft?
It’s always a good time of year around now. Ordinations to the diaconate and priesthood are starting. People who you’ve known and talked to about your own journey are taking further, real, visible steps on theirs. It’s an emotional period and so good for the church.
I’m hoping to get to a couple this year; it’s been such a long time since I was at one. But I guess that’ll change soon enough!
Wonder how I’ll get used to calling the guys “Father So-and-so”…