The phone rang one evening as Father Ignatius was watching football on TV. It was Father Frederick from Bishop’s House.
“Hello Ignatius are you well?”
The preliminary greetings over, Father Ignatius was keen to find out the reason for the call. After all, it isn’t everyday that the Bishop rings a lowly priest such as he.
“I’m sorry to tell you that Monsignor Thomas is not well … he’s in hospital right now …”
Father Ignatius knew the Monsignor from way back as they trained together for the priesthood in Rome. He hadn’t seen him for a while and the news of his illness came as quite a shock.
“Oh don’t worry it’s nothing serious. He sprained an ankle as he fell down the stairs,” declared Father Frederick nonchalantly. “Anyway … are you doing anything on Tuesday? Thomas was due to go to a Conference and deliver a Keynote Speech on behalf of the Bishop … now he can’t make it he suggested you go instead!”
“Keynote speech … well … I’ve never given a speech … and it’s only three days away …” hesitated Father Ignatius.
“Oh I’m sure you’ll do well, the Bishop has every confidence in you … we’ll send you your itinerary and your speech and everything else you’ll need in the morning … Oh it’s in Washington,” interrupted the priest at the other end of the line in his usual casual manner.
“Washington up North?” asked Father Ignatius still in a daze by the sudden turn of events.
“Not Washington in Tyne and Wear … the real Washington old boy … in America …it’s only for a few days … nothing to it … we’ll send you all the details first thing tomorrow.”
Father Ignatius put the phone down and tried to recall the phone conversation. Had he dreamt what just happened? One minute he was happily watching football on TV the next he’d received his marching orders to go to the other end of the world.
The following morning a special courier delivered a large pouch confirming that it was not all a dream after all. There for him to read were his speech, the programme of the Conference, his air tickets and everything else he needed to complete his mission.
Apparently the Monsignor was due to attend an International Youth Conference to discuss and evaluate various ways of encouraging young men into the priesthood in order to overcome a projected shortfall in vocations.
“Have they thought of praying about it?” mumbled Father Ignatius as he fumbled through the reams of papers on his desk.
Three days later and Father Ignatius was in the States once again. He recalled that the last time he visited America was also, as now, a totally unscheduled and unexpected visit.
His hotel was full of priests mainly from America and Canada and a few from Europe. He was the only one from England and soon discovered that he spoke “with a funny accent”, or so his fellow conference delegates thought.
The itinerary included several trips to tourist venues scheduled by the conference organizers and he was paired with a young priest in his twenties from Houston Texas. The idea was to allow exchange of views and ideas on the way different churches tackled vocations in the priesthood.
Father Ignatius got on very well with this young priest and they discussed quite a lot during the various organized trips and free time they had together.
Father Ignatius learnt how this young farmer’s son, decided to become a priest. Being almost half his own age, the young Texan provided quite an insight into his motivation, outlook, hopes and fears. His Christian up-bringing had played a very important part in his decision to become a priest. So much so that the night before he was to deliver his speech Father Ignatius had an important decision to make.
“Do I deliver the Monsignor’s speech as it has been given to me, or do I tell them also my very own views on vocations and the priesthood?” he asked himself.
He felt that the speech written for him, whilst full of facts and statistics, projections and strategies for the future, lacked the very essence and soul which the young lad from Houston had engendered in his conversations with him.
Here we have a young Catholic boy, one of a family of six, all girls except for him. Brought up on a farm by loving Catholic parents who had endured poverty and hardship over the years, yet they managed to keep the family together, all of whom grew up to be exemplary treasures for their parents to be proud of. One of the young man’s sisters was a nun back in Texas. The others were happily married and raising their children as taught by their parents.
In particular, one phrase from that young priest stuck in Father Ignatius’ mind, “The way my parents brought me up, it was inevitable I’d become a priest!” he had said in his Texan accent.
“That alone is worthy of a speech,” Father Ignatius thought to himself, “Even though I might deliver it in my funny British accent.”
And that’s exactly what he did.
He said to his listeners that it isn’t the church which selects people to be priests; but it is God Himself.
By the grace of God we all have a mission on this earth. Some parents are given the gift of children by God. Their gift back to God is the way they bring these children up.
They can create the conditions within the family where it becomes inevitable that their sons may become priests, and their daughters nuns. And those children who go on to have their own families may in their turn emulate their parents’ good example.
Nothing should give parents more pride than to see their sons and daughters join the church. And when they get to meet the Good Lord they can look up humbly and say: “I did my best Lord with the children you gifted me.”
He explained to his audience that priests have an important role in this cycle of events by being an example which others might wish to follow.
Priesthood was not a matter of statistics, projections, strategies and plans. Whether or not there were enough vocations in the future was a matter for God and not for planners and strategists.
“We should have enough Faith in God to ensure that His Word is spread on this earth by people chosen by Him. And in so doing, our role is to pray constantly that many will follow in our footsteps as we priests lead by good example,” concluded Father Ignatius.
Before he left for the airport Father Ignatius met up again with the young Texan and gave him a small Crucifix as a souvenir. He thanked him warmly for inspiring him to deliver a speech from the heart which was no doubt remembered by all delegates at the conference.
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