Throughout this celebratory season of Easter, the first reading of the Liturgy of the Word, both on weekdays and on Sundays has been taken from the Acts of the Apostles. The action is non-stop and the ‘book’ is written in the same vein as a script for a modern-day, long-running soap opera. It rattles along with the speed and energy of a sitcom as it includes episodes of everyday life that illustrate recognisable traits of humanity which traverse the centuries. A good example appears in today’s excerpt. The Greek disciples of Jesus weren’t getting a fair share of food and goodies that came from the common fund as the Hebrew disciples made sure that they were first in the queue. The Hebrew disciples therefore were having first pick, leaving the Greek disciples having to make do with the left-overs! A modern-day analogy could be the mad rush made on the supermarkets when the current state of ‘lock-down’ was announced by the government. There was a mad rush to get supplies for the duration of the isolation period, and some people even bought freezers to stock up with food as they hadn’t any intention of going without! People who hadn’t baked in their life bought flour just in case they may need it and some bought enough ‘Loo Rolls’ that would have supplied a platoon for a month! I needn’t go any further as the anecdotes are myriad.
In the Acts of the Apostles, both the winners and also-rans in the race for the daily distribution of food and necessities were all disciples of Jesus and all belonged to the Body of Christ, and it was the whole community who with the Apostles resolved the dispute. Despite their espoused devotion as true disciples of Jesus that didn’t obscure the natural human instincts or failings of members of the community. Irrespective of their human weaknesses, Jesus loved them warts and all, and in that context, St Peter clarifies that accolade by defining the gift of discipleship. ‘You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart! Why? to sing the praises of God.’
The phrase ‘a royal priesthood’ leads to some ‘head-scratching‘. St Paul advises: ‘I urge you, then, brothers, remembering the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, dedicated and acceptable to God; that is the kind of worship for you, as sensible people. (Romans 12:1) St Paul is referring to a ‘spiritual kind’ of sacrifice, in contrast with the ‘ritual sacrifices’ offered by both Jews and Gentiles of his time. By this request the apostle has raised all mankind to the level of priests. (St Peter Chrysologus – Divine Office, Wk 4 Eastertide Tuesday).
There is another very clear explanation of the esteem in which humanity is held by God from St Hilary from his treatise ‘On the Trinity’
‘If the Word was truly made flesh, and if we truly receive the Word made flesh in the Lord’s food, why should we not hold that he remains with us naturally? For when he was born as a man he assumed the nature of our flesh in such a way that it became inseparable from himself, and he joined the nature of his flesh to the nature of his eternity in the sacrament of his flesh which he allows us to share. Accordingly we are all one, because the Father is in Christ and Christ is in us. He is in us through the flesh, and we are in him; and, being united with him, what we are is in God.’
What is discipleship? In Gerhard Lohfink’s book ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, Lohfink opines that‘it seems altogether likely that we should see discipleship as a comprehensive and essential characteristic of the church. Favouring this’he adds ‘is also the command to mission [which is inserted] at the end of Matthew’s gospel: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations!”(Matt 28:19). We are therefore empowered to make disciples of all nations because we are one in God and therefore share in his priesthood.
With reference to last weeks reflection, in particular regarding being cajoled to applying for the ministerial priesthood, I was asked when did I tell the family about the start of my training. Well, it’s another shaggy dog story, so if you don’t want to be bored [if you haven’t been anaesthetised already] read no further.
The Sunday following the Frightening Friday and the equally Solemn Saturday, and in a somnolent mood, I penned a one-sentence letter to Fr Robert Corrigan, the Diocesan Vocations Director and Bishop Mervyn Alexanders’ secretary applying to be considered as a student for the priesthood. Immediately it was written I posted it. The very act of popping the letter into the post box lifted my spirits. There were two reasons for my elation: the first was that I had kept my promise to Fr Greg, and the second was that I knew there wasn’t a cat in hells chance that I would be accepted. I will not disclose the reasons because they concern other personalities and events. My soul was at peace, and life returned to normal, until ….
about four weeks later during April, I arrived home to find a large A4 sized envelope on a table in the hallway. It was rather thick. I opened it, recognised the Coat of Arms on the headed notepaper, read the enclosed letter, realised it was an application form, and was in two minds to throw the damn thing into the bin. However, that could have let the secret out of the bag, so I hid it. Once more it was decision time; should I ignore the application form, or … should I write to the Vocations Director telling him that I no longer wished to proceed with this charade, or … should I continue with the deceit and complete the form and avoid having to explain my change of mind to Fr Greg!
I took the non-confrontational option and decided to complete the form. I hate filling forms of any description, and this one was thick. Besides wanting to know one’s history and full life story, a full disclosure of one’s financial status was requested, added to which a 500 word essay was required. The subject? What have you to offer the priesthood? It took four evenings to complete this objectionable task, but once it was finished, and I’d checked it for spelling mistakes and unnecessary lies my spirits were beginning to rise to previous levels. I was more confident than ever that the Diocese wouldn’t take me for all the tea in China. So, off went the completed form to the Bishops residence in Leigh Woods, and life returned to normal.
Some weeks later, it must have been during the latter part of May, I received a ‘phone call late one evening from the Vocations Director. The purpose for his call was to arrange a meeting between us. I said that I was too busy and without being too objectionable I tried to put him off! However he was a tenacious character and finally I gave in and agreed to see him late one evening the following week. For personal reasons I wasn’t particularly looking forward to this meeting, so when I arrived at St Ambrose, the Bishops residence, I was in a belligerent mood. He met me at the door, we went to his office, I sat opposite him with his desk between us ready for some form of confrontation which never materialised. He was charming, which took the wind out of my sails. The conversation was polite and of little substance, and after an hour I made to leave as it was 10 pm. I stood up, said that I had to be at work in Gloucester by six a.m. the next morning and wished him good night.
‘Before you go’ he said, ‘I was in Rome last week, and I booked you in!’
‘Where?’ I said.
‘The Beda’ he said.
‘Never heard of it,’ I said: ‘what is it?’
‘It’s called the Pontificio Collegio Beda. It’s a seminary in Rome for late vocations, and you are due to arrive there on 17th of September.’
‘Is that official’ I said in disbelief.
‘Yes’ he said
I left the building bemused and not knowing how to react. I said nothing to anyone, wondering what the hell I was going to do. As usual I did nothing, hoping the situation would disappear, but on the first Saturday in June I returned from work to find a letter from Rome. The alarm bells were very loud, I opened the letter: ‘Dear Louis, welcome to the Beda!!!! !*!*!*!*
That same evening I went to St Pats to play for the evening Mass and as Fr Greg was already in the church I told him about the letter. That was the first time I had mentioned the subject since that fateful weekend in March. ‘That’s great’ he said [or something to that effect] ‘we’ll announce it to the parish!’ ‘No we won’t’ I said, ‘I haven’t told the family yet!’ Looking back, Fr Greg would already have known, and I suspect was waiting for me to confirm what he knew already.
The question is self-evident! When/how to tell the family the news! On most Sundays after Mass, a number of the family came back home for a coffee/tea to ‘catch-up’ and have a natter. The following Sunday a number of them came as usual, and when I had a chance to get a word in, I announced that I had a new job. It made little impact on the gathering until someone asked ‘Where is it?’..... ‘In Rome’ I said. The general chatter continued for a time until another question: ....... ‘Something to do with the Church?’ ......... ‘Yes’, I said. ..... Again, the general chatter continued. Then came the final question; ‘What’s the job?’ ..... ‘I’m going to train for the priesthood,’ I said, and the general chatter continued as if nothing had been said.
After the family had gone their separate ways I phoned Fr Greg, and told him that he could inform the parish whenever he thought fit. All this took place 20 years ago, bar two or three weeks. I think you know the rest!
My! How time flies.