By Fr Patrick van der Vorst
‘It is never too late to become a priest!’ is a sentence I have heard so many times over these past years, and it is true.
The path to fulfilling our purpose in life is not defined by our age, but by the willingness to listen to God’s voice, and that can happen at any stage in life. Or as I told a friend recently: it is not about how old you are, but how you are old.
God simply invites. And that is what a vocation is, it is an invitation. And an invitation requires an answer. I took a long time in giving God my answer. But on 24th June I gave my final answer to God: a resounding YES!
I stood there in Westminster Cathedral in front of so many people with just two things: my heart and a little invisible box. This little box was filled with memories of the first 52 years of my life: the hurts, frustrations, achievements, disappointments. That little box is all I had to offer to God. He took it, and gave me this magnificent, awesome, overwhelming gift in return: the gift of ordination to the Sacred Priesthood.
It was a moment where God told me that he loves me, and that I told him that I love him too. Maybe my journey to priesthood is exactly that: my personal quest for love, my deep desire to be loved.
Looking back on my life, I believe the seed of a vocation to the priesthood was planted inside me at an early age. A few years ago, I was encouraged to plant that seed and see what happened.
That small seed, a whisper, a quiet calling from the depths of my soul, grew and grew. A voice grew louder and louder. That voice became clearer and clearer, and I started feeling happier and happier.
Sacrifices have to be made. A seed needs to shed its shell and expose itself to the transformative powers of the soil where it can build strong roots, underneath the surface of the earth. Then and only then can it break through the surface. That is what my four years in seminary have done: shed my protective, comforting shell and built strong roots.
As the seed then further grows and develops, it pops it head over the soil, it can see the skies and longs to reach the heavens. For the first time it can look up to the skies dreaming that one day it might become a beautiful tree with many branches in which, hopefully, all kinds of birds can take shelter, and which can offer its oxygen to a wounded world.
I know there will be days ahead where I will bask in sunshine, but also days when storms will ruffle the branches and blow off many leaves. But that is okay. The tree bears the wood of the cross too.
And so what does God tell me (and the four brethren who were ordained with me) at the start of our ministry, and tells all of us? ‘Do not be afraid’. It is striking how many times in the gospels Jesus calls on his disciples not to be afraid. In fact the words, 'Do not be afraid' occur 365 times in the Bible, once for each day of the year. That isn’t coincidence.
We shouldn’t be afraid in facing the future. None of us have the security of a known future, but what we do have is the certainty of a divine companionship which will never let us go. And THAT is more powerful than anything that the future can throw at us.
Indeed we should not be afraid. On the contrary, we have to be fearless, especially in our love for Christ!
I would like to ask you to pray for two things.
Firstly, please pray for me, and for the four priests who were ordained with me, and for my fellow seminarian brothers who will be ordained over the next few weeks. What we all share, is that we all want to be good priests. Not just 'being good at being a priest'. No, we want be 'good priests'.
We know how much God is a Father to you, his people, how much he loves you, and how much he cares for you all. Pray that we as priests may help you with your relationship with God, support you, love you and care for you too.
Secondly, I would like to ask you to pray for vocations. It wasn’t inevitable that I have now been ordained a priest. Priests and religious don’t just pop up. Priests and religious don’t grow on trees. They are real people who come from real families, who make real choices. So please pray for vocations, and pray that your own families may be open to one!
Fr Patrick was ordained to the priesthood by Cardinal Vincent Nichols on 24th June 2023.
Photo: The Cardinal anoints Fr Patrick's hands (Mazur/CBCEW.org.uk)