My story begins with a lady, called Mary, not the Mother of Jesus, but a sick and housebound parishioner called Mary Lee from my home parish of St Mary Magdalen’s, Willesden Green in North-West London. As a youth group we went visiting on a Saturday afternoon and one week we visited Mary and she asked my friend and me what we wanted to be when we were older. It is a dreaded question for any young person. My friend said she wanted to be a French teacher and I, being 16 at the time, said I had no idea. So, in her wonderful Irish accent she said: ‘Oh, go on become a priest!’ We all laughed but it was the first time I had ever considered it, despite being baptised, receiving my first Holy Communion, Confirmation and coming to Mass every Sunday.
The idea of ‘Fr Francis’ took hold and stuck in the group and when I returned to school on Monday I told my best friend what had happened. His surprise and excitement led him to tell the whole school, so before long I had lots of boys coming up to me asking if I was going to become a priest. My response was: ‘I’m just thinking about it!’
This sudden fame resulted in lots of questions by friends, for example: Do you really believe what the Church teaches on this and that? What about not getting married? It led me to ask myself some serious questions of our faith and ultimately what is truth, starting with whether God exists, whether Jesus rose from the dead and ultimately questions of his Church and what it teaches. I will be eternally grateful to www.CatholicAnswers.com for all the answers I received.
However, alongside this intellectual journey and intense questioning, I was beginning to have a deeper, personal relationship with Jesus Christ through times of prayer before the exposed Blessed Sacrament and opportunities for the Sacrament of Confession. In these times I began to pray and listen, to understand that firstly, I am loved by God unconditionally and secondly, because of that, God has a plan for my life.
Things continued to develop at university in Leeds, where I read Religious Studies, and started to meet monthly with a spiritual director and attend weekday Mass. I did not know what to do after university, but I wanted something Catholic but also full-time work and by God’s goodness and providence, I ended up at Westminster Cathedral for two years, living and working in Clergy House with eight priests! I knew then that living with them, seeing what they do, the ups and downs would either attract me to apply to seminary or make me run a mile in the opposite direction. I would highly recommend any young man considering a vocation to get such an insight.
I started in Allen Hall one year ago and I am very happy so far. We do study of philosophy and scripture, have times of prayer, go to the pub, play table tennis, and do plenty of pastoral work in schools, prisons and parishes.
I am continuing to ask the questions: What does God want from me? How can I be a better Christian and more closely like Christ?
So, please pray for me and my brothers, for all priests and daily for vocations, not just to the priesthood but to consecrated, religious and most importantly to married life. We need couples to get married, be faithful to their spouse, bring up their children in the faith, and come to meet Jesus in the Mass each week. Because priests do not grow on trees, they all come from families.
Finally, I wish to ask you a question, bringing us back to where I started, and the question is this: Will you be the next Mary Lee? To inspire and encourage a vocation, from your own family, from your parish, for this diocese, for this country and ultimately for Jesus Christ and his Church?