This is the man ….

Today is Vocations Sunday.

Last evening I had Mass in Urlaur.  It was a Month’s Mind Mass for a lady named Gertie Duffy, R.I.P.  A few short weeks ago, we gathered in Kilmovee to celebrate her Funeral Mass and, in keeping with a long held tradition, gathered again to remember her in prayer a month after her funeral.  It’s a lovely tradition that seeks to bring to mind again the memory of one who has died and to pray for a while with his or her family.  Last night’s gathering then, was to pray with her family and let them know we continue to support them in whatever way is necessary.

I mentioned last night that I went to see her in hospital when I heard she was sick.  The “news” as they say, was not good and from an early stage her husband and family were prepared for the worst.  I went then with some degree of caution, not fully knowing how I’d find her or how open she’d be to my visit.  I need not have worried.

When I went into the ward, she was there with her sister – a sister I’d not met before.  She looked at me, smiled, welcomed me and said to her sister “This is the man who looks after us”.  We chatted for a little while, I gave her a blessing, spoke a little with her family and came on home.

In the car, I thought about the introduction – “This is the man who looks after us ….”  I wondered what I’d said to her that might have remained with her and, even now, don’t know.  I do however know that her words have stayed with me.

That’s what I am meant to be.  On Vocations Sunday, “Good Shepherd” Sunday, I am reminded through her words that I am meant to be the one who looks after people.  That’s why I became a priest.  I’m grateful to her for that lovely, appropriate and ultimately challenging introduction.

What does it mean to “look after” people?  I think it means loving people enough to want to see the very best for them. It’s something to do with hoping people are safe and secure and they know you’re available to them when needed.  Be it for a chat or moan, a prayer or a blessing … whatever.  It doesn’t mean, as far as I’m concerned, that I am better than others in any way shape or form.  All I can do is be the “me” that I am and bring to the table the gifts I have to offer.  I am constantly aware that there are people in my life, in my parish who lose and find me in spirituality and prayer, in selflessness and giving, in charity and support … Just as I am reminded of that truth, I become all the more convinced that I must do my best with what I have to be a priest among the people.

Gertie was right – I am thankful on this Vocations Sunday for the many people who allow me the privilege of “looking after” them insofar as I do.  It’s a happy task for it includes being with people in times of joy and sorrow, certainty and doubt, peace and anger, sickness and health and ….

It’s a rewarding place to be – not without its own moments of doubt and self-questioning when the focus can be darkened by feelings of not doing enough, of seeming to lose people along the way, of not being relevant to some of our younger people who draw their inspiration from other sources and dip their buckets in other wells and seem to number me, and my kind, as some outdated relic from a world that is no longer theirs.  That really hurts the heart of my being a priest for, at times, it’s their ears I want to find words for but words don’t easily come.  The hope remains that they’d know, if need be, when need be, they can come to my door.  Should that moment arrive, I pray that I’d not make them ever regret that decision.

It was right that I visit Gertie.  Needless to say, like her people, I wish the outcome had been different.  It was nonetheless the role of the priest in her parish to call to her in a moment of need.  I’m glad I did.  Glad that though we’d not had an awful amount of contact in life, other than seeing her in church, the odd chat here and there, that she saw me as one who had a part to play in her life.

The question today, for me – for us all, on Vocations Sunday, is who will continue to be that person in the future life of our church, its parishes and communities?  What shape is this Vocation going to take?

I believe the need remains.  I believe the call is still going out “Pray, the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to His harvest” …. who is going to hear that call?  Who is going to help others hear that call?

Now, that’s the challenge!