In the interests of probity I suppose I should reveal that I celebrated the 19th anniversary of my ordination to the Sacred Priesthood on the feast of
Ss Peter and Paul, and therefore my original nom de plume of Iuventus (“youth” in Latin) sounds increasingly incredible, not to say rather vain. However, it wasn’t originally adopted for reasons of vanity but rather to convey the sense that any young priest could share similar experiences. I saw him as a sort of clerical Everyman.
There’s nothing particularly momentous about a 19th anniversary. As a number, 19 has few significant concomitants. There’s the proverbial 19th hole, I suppose, but it hardly seems relevant. The only other noteworthy 19th I can think of is the 19th Annotation. This rather John Buchan-sounding name describes an adjustment St Ignatius made to his Spiritual Exercises, so that what was originally designed to be done in an intense, continuous retreat of 30-days’ duration, might be spread out over a longer time within the context of one’s daily routine.
That’s not a bad analogy for my priestly life to date. There has been such an intensity of grace spread out during the past 19 years. Not one unbroken, calm intensity, but great grace integrated into the daily routine, sweetening and rescuing times which have included their share of drudgery, routine and difficulty. The desire to focus more exclusively on my own spiritual life, to retreat into swathes of time and peaceful solitude, grows to the same height as the responsibilities. This is the enduring challenge at the heart of secular priesthood – which Everyman has to navigate in much the same way, I would imagine, as spouses or parents crave “me time” but sacrifice it for the good of their family, sometimes easily and willingly and sometimes with a sedimentary resentment which reveals itself in the pouring out.
We are only human and therefore should be realistic in our expectations of whether it is prudent or possible to drain the vessel completely to the lees. We have a responsibility to those we serve to see this doesn’t happen. If there is no joy in tasks which previously brought fulfilment, we have probably got down to the dregs of the bottle which are not meant to be drunk. It’s time to throw them away and refill.
From the distance of 19 years, what the Lord did on that day of my ordination seems more awe-filled than ever, not least because with the passage of time it becomes more and more obvious that He had reckoned with my weakness and inadequacy, and adjusted the grace he gives accordingly, so that my ministry has been fruitful out of all proportion to any of my own gifts or efforts.
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