This article originally appeared in the Fall 2001 edition of our quarterly newsletter.
I think the Lord has been laughing at me for a long time. You see when I was in high school I almost joined the Jesuits and here I am over 35 years later, finally joining a community. It seems that it has taken me that long to get it right. What attracted me to the Jesuits was their community life at that time. What didn’t attract me was the 13 years it took to get yourself ordained.
I finally decided to go to St. Augustine’s seminary in Toronto and study for the Archdiocese of Kingston. After all, it was home and I owed a great deal to the Church there and to a couple of very fine priests I had come to know and respect.
Most priests are ordained with a superiority complex (Hasn’t the Church just been waiting for me to put things right?) and I was no exception. I remember telling classmates that I would do whatever the bishop asked me to do as long as it had nothing to do with teenagers. I’m sure the Lord laughed when He heard it since he had His plans set for me to begin teaching religion to Grades 9, 10, 12 and 13 the following September. He may have laughed but I pulled my hair out for the first month – until I started to love the work and to love teenagers.
I still have contact with some of those young people from that first year of what must have been terrible teaching. But for me, it was a year of learning what a gift to the Church our young people are. I have always found it much easier to like young people than to dislike them. I find myself saying that they keep you young when they are not making you old! As I look back over the many years of working with young people I think they taught me how to preach. I found myself preparing homilies with young people in mind, using language and examples they could understand. If they could get the message, then older people would too.
My history with the Companions goes back to 1987 when I really felt called (not attracted!) to start coming to the Companions’ meetings and participating in the annual retreats. I had no difficulty sharing their vision. After all, it had been with me since my interest in the Jesuits back in high school. I had always had a devotion to Our Lady since Sodality of Mary days in high school. I had been involved in all kinds of evangelizing efforts with young people. The Companions were putting together things I already felt strongly about.
By 1996 I was very much involved with the Companions and very much involved in pastoring a parish of 1,400 families along with three hospitals and two schools. I thought the Lord was being very funny at the Companions’ retreat that August. Fr. Bob always began with a "State of the Union” talk on the Sunday evening.
"The talk, as always, was a good one but as I walked out of the talk I heard very clearly: 'You need to check out the possibility of going to Ottawa.' I laughed to myself and said: 'Well that’s very interesting Lord, but I don’t think I’m going to do that!' But what I really meant was, I have no intention of doing that! Why should I? Things were going well. What would it cost? What would I have to give up? So I went home and did everything I could to forget about it. Have you ever tried forgetting something the Lord had told you to do?"
A couple of months later I found myself in the bishop’s office getting ready to tell him what had happened. Will he laugh? Think I’m crazy? He didn’t laugh. Could this be a genuine “call”, a vocation? It was agreed that a six-month sabbatical with the Companions and a 30-day (Jesuit?) retreat might clarify things. Needless to say, it did and a year and a half later I resigned the parish and made the change. I laugh that I went from one person rattling around a 17-room house to being one of 17 in the same size house!
What has it cost me? I now find it hard to believe that I ever asked the question. It’s a little like Peter saying: “Lord, what about us? What are we to have? We have given up everything to follow you.” If we are honest with ourselves, for most of us anyway, “the everything” we have been asked to give up, isn’t very much compared to what He has for us. If we will only trust Him and take the first small step we will begin to experience the hundredfold that He promises will be ours even in this life.
And what do you suppose the Companions have me doing now, that I have finally made it to Ottawa? I’m working as part of the Formation Team of course. I live with young people and work with them full time!
Yes, the Lord has been laughing at me for a long time. I still have hopes of getting the last laugh but I’m not betting on it!