Good Shepherd Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Easter, is so-called because, during the Gospel, Jesus compares himself to the shepherd ‘who lays down his life for his sheep’ (1 John 10:11) and is traditionally a time when we remember those training to become priests. This year, to coincide with it, five men, each at a different stage in priestly formation or ministry, have shared their vocation stories.
The men spoke of their faith journey and how they have been discerning the Lord’s call in their lives. Two gave particular witness to God’s faithfulness and patience in waiting years for their response, describing how they put off the decision in young adulthood, and only answer the call years later.
Patrick van der Vorst, a seminarian for the diocese studying at the Beda College in Rome, said: ‘All this time it was always lodged at the back of my head. There was a gentle pressure there that I felt was coming from God. That pressure became more and more intense over the years.
‘I think the vocation has probably always been there, but my answer and my willingness to discern it has come at a late stage.’
When asked what inspires him on his journey towards the priesthood, Francis Thomas, a seminarian studying at Allen Hall, said: ‘I have been inspired by the many, good, faithful, holy priests who I have met and encountered over these many years. I saw their extraordinary work done in so many ordinary situations.
‘Those moments of being face to face with Jesus, one to one, listening to him. Those moments, I’m on fire with that love. And it’s because of that love that I know that God has a plan for my life, a vocation. And so I’m here to discern what that is.’
Canon Stuart Wilson, Vocations Promoter, who is celebrating his Silver Jubilee of priestly ordination this year, said: ‘I just loved that we knew where we were going and we were going into the heart of God.’
The men also identified some of the challenges they have faced in discerning and living out their vocations.
For Patrick it was ‘a seismic change. The home I live in, the bed I sleep in, the food I eat. I see less of my friends, less of my family. I had to give up my dog. I had to go back to studying again. God gives you the graces each step of the way for you to be able to cope and to deal with these things.’
To those considering a vocation to the priesthood, the men spoke of listening for God’s call, spending time in prayer, and deepening their own faith.
Rev William Johnstone, a transitional deacon, who had in previous years studied at the Venerable English College in Rome explained: ‘Over the years I’ve discovered that the one thing that is really going to make us happy is following God’s plan in our life. If you do have a spiritual vocation to the holy priesthood, then following this is the one thing that is really going to make you happy and content and full of joy.’
Patrick added: ‘At the beginning I was almost in love and in awe with the idea of the priesthood. But it’s a bit like flowers in a vase. They look good for a while and the flowers look all blossoming and beautiful. But if those flowers are not rooted in rich soil that can only get nurtured by prayer then those flowers will die very soon. My bit of advice is to really be very serious about prayer and deepen your spiritual life.’
Devon Petrie, a seeker, shared his advice: ‘Don’t panic. But also don’t be afraid. It’s good to talk to somebody about it. Take time and reflect on what God is trying to tell you. It’s not an easy process and it’s not a fast process. If anything, this is a long, steady road. Every time I pray to the Lord and I ask him for guidance and reassurance, he always has some way of saying to me that this is what he wants me to do.’
Please keep all those who are discerning a call and our priests who dedicate their life to shepherding the people of God, in your prayers.
Read the latest Allen Hall Seminary News.
To support the formation of priests for our diocese, please donate to the Priests Training Fund.