At the end of 2013, Fr Roger Taylor became Rector of Allen Hall seminary, having already served there for 5 years as Vice-Rector. Below is a reflection he gave on his journey to the priesthood during the visit of the relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux to Westminster Cathedral in October 2009. The relics brought thousands to the Cathedral, many waiting prayerfully for several hours for a chance to be close to the relics of the one who had written in 1896, “My vocation is love...Yes, I have found my place in the Church... In the heart of the Church. My Mother, I will be love”
The presence of the relics clearly opened many hearts, longing to be united with St Thérèse in this vocation to love. At one of the night vigils in the Cathedral Fr Roger spoke of how this same yearning had led him to the priesthood.
It is a powerful moment for me to be here on this sanctuary in this Cathedral speaking about my own call to priesthood, because it was here that I was ordained priest by Cardinal Cormac - nearly 10 years ago now.
My story maybe is not typical - I was a late starter and I wasn’t even Catholic - but it is a sign to me of how God is at work everywhere and always - always reaching out to us, always calling, even, seemingly, to the most unlikely of us. I was fortunate enough to spend most of my working life doing what I had always wanted to do, working in the arts. It was a great life, an exciting life; music and the arts generally are vital ways in which we can ask all questions about what it is to be human.
And I think God was using these rich and varied experiences to keep me asking the questions, and to my surprise, I found myself one day being led, I can only say by the Holy Spirit, into the nearby Catholic church, to look for some answers. Mass was being celebrated and although it didn’t seem too unfamiliar to a nominal but deeply lapsed Anglican, yet somehow it felt very different, and I was drawn to go again; and, providentially, on that occasion something I had never seen before was taking place. I didn’t know it then but this was the Forty Hours devotion - and I now began to understand what was different. It wasn’t a matter of words, but of what the priests and people together believed.
You will often hear non-Catholics say that on being received, they have a profound sense of coming home and that is exactly what it felt like. I had been happy, I had had no deep sense of anything missing in my life, but the Lord showed me the great chasm, that somehow my busy but good life had managed to conceal. He showed me that my happiness wasn’t illusory, but that I was only in the foothills of happiness, because I didn’t know him.
Immediately, I felt called to take my faith much further, deeper - it seemed to demand more of a response than just getting on with my old life - but time passed and life continued to be absorbing in so many ways. The thing is, though, that once God has unfolded to you the life he wants for you, not only will he not let you go, but you will also yourself know that the only true happiness lies in following his call.
There were many difficulties on the way. There was pain and loss, loss of an extraordinary way of life - I had been so fortunate - loss of friendships, and the loss of people I loved, who could not accept what was happening. Sometimes the obstacles seemed impossible, but somehow I always felt supported. God would not desert me. He never has.
I still seem to myself to be the unlikeliest of priests, but I count myself maybe also among the happiest. How much I have loved my life in parishes here in the Diocese, such as St Monica’s in Palmers Green where I served as parish priest before coming to Allen Hall. How much I love my life now in the seminary. And how fine are the men in our care. So often it feels as though it is day one of my priesthood all over again, and it is as though I am coming to it afresh. And it’s hard to explain, but even when I celebrate Mass it sometimes feels as though it is for the very first time - the words, even, the enormity of it, still have the power to shock me, almost into silence.
No-one could be more surprised that I am standing here tonight. It is all gift. It is all grace.
Fr Roger Taylor
St Thérèse of Lisieux: A Prayer for Priests
I pray for your faithful and fervent priests,
for your unfaithful and tepid priests;
for your priests labouring
or abroad in mission fields;
for your tempted priests;
for your lonely and desolate priests;
for your young priests;
for your dying priests;
for the souls of your priests in Purgatory.
But above all, I recommend to you
the priests dearest to me;
the priest who baptised me;
the priests who absolved me from my sins;
the priests at whose Masses I assisted and
who gave me Your Body and Blood in Holy Communion;
the priests who taught and instructed me;
all the priests to whom I am indebted in any way.
O Jesus, keep them all close to you heart, at home
and bless them abundantly in time and in eternity. Amen