How did you decide to become a priest? 

It is a question that is almost always asked at interviews.  I used to think it was due to my outstanding Religious teacher in my final year in St. Patrick’s in Cavan (1956-57).  He explained that perhaps some of us might be thinking of becoming teachers, others doctors and others lawyers perhaps.  “But” he said, “by becoming a priest you can become all three.  You become a teacher of the most important subject of all – the knowledge of God; you are a healer of souls by administering the sacraments – especially the sacrament of God’s peace and pardon and the greatest medicine of all – the body and blood of Christ.  And you plead before the highest tribunal – the tribunal of God’s mercy for the highest prize of all – the eternal life and happiness of our immortal souls”.

As a seventeen year old it sounded pretty convincing to me.  Later on I decided that perhaps the fact that I had two uncles priests might have helped.  But more recently I have come to another conclusion; namely that it was due to the fact that in my native parish at that time the priest was a ‘wanted man’.  He was wanted for all the big events of life such as births, marriages and deaths.  If that was so, I decided that he must have something special to offer.

So what helped me make up my mind?

Well certainly prayer was one big element.  I can still see the place where I used to pray – in the back seat just inside the door – asking God to guide me. 

What did I most fear?

That I would not make the grade and that I would have to leave the Seminary.  Another important help was the encouragement of a priest on the staff of the College.  He was a family friend and his vote of confidence that I could make the grade was vital.

Now people ask me:  Am I happy?

I reply, without hesitation, as happy as I believe anybody can be in this valley of tears. 

Of course I get a lot of support from people in my work as a priest and now as a bishop.  In addition to the prayers offered at every Mass in this diocese for Bishop Clifford and for myself, I know lots of other people who pray for me on a daily basis.  I am deeply grateful to them and I get great satisfaction in praying for them in return. 

I am helped also by the number of wonderful Masses I attend up and down the diocese and the number of outstanding people whom I meet, especially the old and the sick. 

Pope Benedict XVI has written a letter to us all for this World Day of Prayer for Vocations.  He reminds us that, as followers of Christ, we are called to testify. That is, to bear witness to the Good News, not just in word but in deed, in the kind of lives we lead.  It is a call to be free enough within ourselves so as to forget ourselves for a while and to concentrate on passing on the Good News to others.  It is a call to stop being self-absorbed and to think of someone else besides ourselves for a change.  Yes, the call is to all Christians but in a special way it is addressed to priests, brothers and nuns.

We need young people with big hearts; hearts big enough to follow Jesus no matter what the cost.  The seed falls on different kinds of soil but it will only flourish and grow on good soil, that is, people whose parents have ensured that they hand on their faith to their children and on soil that is irrigated by prayer and love.

I once heard a wise missionary say:  “seed needs only three things to grow:

Soil                    water                             Heat

The seed of a vocation needs the soil of faith, watered by prayer and warmed by love and generosity.

So today, on this World Day of Prayer for Vocations, I invite you to pray for vocations on a regular basis.  Because really the heart of the Pope’s message for today is ‘pray to the Lord that the harvest will send workers to his fields.  I would like to suggest to you parents, and people in the parishes, that you are the best encouragers of vocations.  Perhaps you could hint or suggest to somebody that you know, to at least think about priesthood or religious life.  In my case I was already thinking about priesthood but when I heard what this other man said to me, it was an immense vote of confidence. 
So today we give thanks to God for the Year of Vocation which ran from April of last year until today.  We thank God for the work of Brenda Drumm.  She was the Project Manager in the Year of Vocation.  We praise God for Father Paddy Rushe, the National Director of Vocations and all who have helped him led by Bishop Donal McKeown. 

The aim of the Year of Vocation was to raise awareness of the common vocation that we all share.  It is a vocation that comes to us through baptism.  That vocation, which each one of us has, finds expression through witnessing, love and service.  Over the past year the specific callings to marriage, to religious life and the single life and priesthood were highlighted and promoted.

We remember with gratitude the highlights such as the National Prayer Campaign for students at examination times.  There was a rally for World Youth Day to coincide with the events in Sydney last July.  There were various pilgrimages to national pilgrimage centres to give people an opportunity to reflect on the theme of vocation. Today a dedicated website will be launched on Vocations.  It will hold all the details and resource for the year.  It can be accessed at

Today we rejoice in the fact that each one of us has been called, by God, to be holy and saintly.  In case that puts you off and prompts you to ask what is he talking about.  I ask you to contemplate, what is the alternative?  To be a saint means sharing the life of Christ.  Let us remind ourselves that we have access to that life in the Church.  We are all called to be holy priests.  In other words we share in the one priesthood of Christ.  We are all called to bear witness, in our own lives, to the message of Jesus Christ.  That means we are called to know Jesus Christ and to help others to get to know him. 

It has been well said that the question of God is all-important or else it is of no importance.  In the same way we cannot simply be a passive Christian.  You can’t sit on the sidelines or watch from the grandstand.  Being a follower of Jesus demands, in the first instance, that we answer his call and change our way of living. 

Vocations don’t fall out of the sky.  As we have already seen, soil must be carefully prepared, seed sown and nourished.  People with vocations are real people in real life situations.  No two individuals are the same. 

Research tells us that here in Ireland many young men think about becoming a priest.  Some think about the idea only to dismiss it fairly hastily when they know the facts and face the realities.  But thanks to be God many are persevering through the process and gradually coming closer to the day of ordination.  Here in Armagh we have seven seminarians.  One of these is Rev Francis Coll, who will be ordained, please God, on 15 August, the Feast of the Assumption of Mary the Mother of God into Heaven. 

So it is clear that the key message of the Year of Vocation is getting through.  Many more are considering their situation with a view to entering the seminary.

In an age where life can often be seen as cheap and dispensable there are some who have the courage to say ‘Hold on a minute –life is a precious gift.  Every human life is something beautiful’.  For every one of us has been called into life by God.  Each one of us is loved by God.  Each and every one of us is loved and valued by God as a person of great worth; not because of what we have or what we own, not even because of what we do, or the job we hold, but principally because of who we are, the kind of people we are – sons and daughters of Our Father in Heaven, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.
To a culture that is reeling from the collapse of consumer driven profit centred living, the Year of Vocation has highlighted an important and correct message. 

What is the purpose of life on this Earth? 
•    Is it simply to have a good time and enjoy themselves or is it rather to lead a good life? 
•    Is it to know the price of everything and the value of nothing or rather to seek the truth to grow to love the Lord.

The Year of Vocation has reminded us that we belong to a family – we belong to a community.  We need to take responsibility for one another. 

“I am the good shepherd” – Jesus said.  “He lays down his life for his friends”.  Remember that this thought and especially the crucifix which is where it actually took place, have, for centuries, helped millions through their darkest hour.  At 3.00 am in an accident and emergency room of a hospital it is that one sentence which enables people to hang onto life by a thread.  The reason is that the Good Shepherd himself has actually made that word work.  Yes, he did indeed lay down his life for the world of his own accord.  But he took it up again because he had received power from the Father to do so.  Jesus was by no means a victim of circumstance.  He wasn’t like a leaf blown in the wind and whipped about by evil forces.  No-one took his life from him, he offered it freely.  Before the Sanhedrin, before Herod and Pilate it is quite clear, Jesus is in control.  He declares that they would have no power over him were it not given to them from on high. 

Here lies the power and the mystery of Easter.  The Risen Lord is the faithful shepherd. He has given his life. He paid the supreme price to beat down death, to beat down sin, and rob death of its paralyzing influence.

Here too is the core of Vocation.  It is choosing – our choosing and being chosen by God.  We are not the victims of circumstance or times beyond our control.  We have the choice to follow Jesus or to reject Jesus.  The question of Jesus is of supreme importance or it is of no importance.  This is not the end of the Year of Vocations.  Rather it is end of the beginning.  The task of responding to God’s call is an on-going one.  The building of God’s kingdom is a challenge for each one of us.  Please God we will all have the courage and the strength and the wisdom to rise to that challenge and follow the Good Shepherd.