Called to act in the person of Christ by Fr Oscar Ardila

It was the year 2001. I was 24 years old. After 7 years training and working as an actor in Colombia (where I was born and raised) I came to London to further my career. An actor lends his body to impersonate characters who speak words written by playwrights. I had hoped that by doing this I could move people to feel or reflect on meaningful things: the beauty of being human or the marvel of being alive. But in London, Providence led me to a place where I discovered that this role could be taken to a deeper realm. It was not to be a play: it was the Mass. There Christ was calling me to lend my body to the Church in order to act in His own person; to proclaim His Word and to see how the Holy Spirit worked renewing humanity, moving it to experience a beauty, so profound, that not even sin can disfigure it, a life so marvelous that not even death can take away any of its fullness.

Through this revelation God helped me to understand that he was calling me to train for the priesthood – a journey which reached a moment of particular grace on 23 June 2013 when I was one of the five men ordained to the diaconate by Archbishop Vincent Nichols in Westminster Cathedral. Soon afterwards, the Lord granted me the grace of being appointed to serve at Westminster Cathedral for my year as a deacon and so to receive a unique experience of the great richness of our faith and Catholic heritage.

At the Cathedral you meet the lapsed, the staunch, the traditionalist, the tourist, the moderate, the indifferent, the sick, the Muslim, the politician, the elderly, the migrant, the rich, the homeless, the clergy, the intellectual, the nun, the mentally ill, the student, the artist, the children, the pilgrim, the penitent, the journalist, the hermit… in other words: every possible walk of life at every possible stage of life, in every possible kind of relationship to the Church.

And these different encounters take place in equally varied contexts: the breathtaking splendour of a high solemn liturgy, a quiet conversation on the piazza, in the schools next door or on a visit to ‘The Passage’, the nursing home or the home of a parishioner... All of this takes you to the heart of what we call ‘the Church’: striking in its beauty, paradoxical in its impossible contrasts and most fittingly described as a mystery.

The Cathedral has taught me to understand better the mysterious character of the Church as a true ‘sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race’ as the Second Vatican Council taught in Lumen Gentium. On the other hand, it has also helped me to understand more clearly that this sign will be rejected, misunderstood and at times buried under the clamour of scandals which allow the worst diseases of our world to overshadow that brilliant reflection of Christ which, even if clouded, never stops shining on His body, the Church.

After this extraordinary year of service as a deacon, my thoughts are now beginning to turn to Saturday June 29th when I, along with seven other men, will be ordained as priests by Archbishop Vincent here in the Cathedral. As priestly ordination approaches and in the face of the challenges that such a step represents, I thank the Lord for having called me to serve him and to share in his wonderful mission!

But gratitude mingles with nervousness. Although He does not call us servants any longer but friends (John 15:15) questions about one’s worthiness and suitability do not, and perhaps should not, disappear: how can one really expect to be a reliable friend to such an infallible companion? How can one aptly respond to the gift of His divine friendship? These years of preparation have taught me this: only the Lord himself can teach me to be his friend. My part is to allow the greatest of loves, his own good faithful love for me, to take over my life so radically so as to enable me to magnify – in whatever way I can- the name of love: “not our love for God, but God’s love for us when he sent his Son to be the sacrifice that takes our sins away” (1 John 4:10).

As servant and friend, as priest and as Christian, as disciple and as man, I look forward to the journey ahead of, God willing, ever deeper discipleship as a priest in the Church. And I shall keep before me on that journey the prayer which hangs over the door of Westminster Cathedral - a prayer which, in my view, is the key to unlock the Church’s deepest mystery: ‘Lord Jesus, King and Redeemer, Save us by Thy Blood’.

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