Do not be afraid I am with you, I have called you each by name. Come and follow Me, I will bring you home. I love you and you are mine.
These words from a hymn that I heard in Lourdes really resinate with me and due to hearing these lyrics I felt God’s call to the priesthood. But how did I get to this point?
I grew up in Chelmsford, Essex with my family and as a family we went to Mass each Sunday but it was a battle to get me into the Church as I really didn’t enjoy it. I found it dull and boring but things began to change when I made my First Holy Communion. As I reflect back my relationship with God started to develop and grow deeper. I became and altar server and I really enjoyed serving the Mass and assisting the priest. I no longer disliked going to Church and I was now the one asking, “is it time to go now!”.
During my early years at secondary school, I would say nothing really stood out. Life just carried on and nothing extraordinary was happening in my life. I would get up go to school, come home, watch tv and do my homework. Each Sunday however, I always went to church and said my prayers before I went to sleep.
When the time came for my confirmation I felt a deep desire to be confirmed and I was really looking forward to it. I went on a retreat to Walsingham House, the youth centre for the Brentwood Diocese. This weekend gave me to opportunity to go to confession for the first time in years and I felt God’s love and mercy in my heart and the Grace to keep going on the faith journey.
Within my teenage years there is a moment that stands out with regard to priesthood. The Deacon in my parish gave me a leaflet about a vocations day and said to me he thinks I should become a priest. I shunned the leaflet away and laughed. I said to him “me! I’m not holy enough for that!” Although I dismissed this encounter I definitely think the seed had been planted. It was now for me to discern and discover it myself.
To help me discover what it was that God was asking of me an opportunity arose for me to go to Lourdes with HCPT to help serve disabled and disadvantaged children and young adults. Not knowing at the time, but this was to be the moment of a truly beautiful encounter of God. After a week full of joy and love for others, the boy I was looking after simply smiled at me and then in sign language made the sign for love and pointed at me. My heart sank, I felt as if the clouds opened and God pointed at me saying “you”. Within that and sitting at the blessed Grotto, I made a promise that whatever I did, I would do something to help others and make that the priority in my life. This week in Lourdes set my heart on fire with the love of God and I decided to do a gap year at Walsingham House, the same place that I had once visited.
To cut a very long story short I ended up working at Walsingham House for 7 years. During this time I prayed with young people, shared my faith story and taught the faith to those who I met. I loved it. It was during this time that priesthood came back into my thoughts, my prayer and young people were the ones who kept saying to me, “you’d be a well good priest, you should do it!” I kept battering it away thinking, “I couldn’t do that” but after discussion with priests and spending time in Lourdes at the Grotto I started to realise that it was something that I was being called to do.
As I returned to Lourdes in 2014 at Easter I was going through a difficult time in my life and I was angry with a God. I remember sitting at the Grotto and shouting at Mary “how dare you do this to me, you fix it!” As I left I put everything into the Blessed Mother’s hands and gave it over. As I came home, things resolved and I was back that summer in Lourdes once again. After discerning for a few years the moment of realisation finally came. During communion the choir were singing “Do not be afraid I am with you, I have called you each by name. Come and follow Me, I will bring you home. I love you and you are mine.” As I looked up at the statue of Mary I remember feeling so happy and I said in my heart “ok, I will do it”. I said my “yes” and I couldn’t quite believe it. I spoke to a priest and told him that I was going to apply for the Brentwood Diocese and I burst into tears. It was such a huge moment for me but one that I never look back on. Since that moment of letting go of my worries and allowing God to guide me, I have felt such joy and each day I ask the Lord to guide me as I continue to discern my vocation and what God is asking of me.