One Man's Journey of Discernment
by on June 22nd, 2016

A speech given by our newest deacon, Rev. Barry Matthews, at our recent seminar on the vocation to the priesthood:

Friends, I come from a family where my siblings are not what we might call ‘Gospel Greedy’ – this of course is more common now, I think this represents the fact that it is from a sense of individual faith and calling that men are answering the call to priesthood – one thing I will say is that in terms of family and friends – I have received unquestionable support – I have realised that while, I was ordained - it was indeed  my family and friends – some might say my first formators who were chosen and called. Indeed the entire faith community plays a role in the formation of a priest – Since arriving in Dungannon following the Ordination last week, I baptised 4 children and presided at Benediction all with the aid of the lay community who had more experience than I had.
Early on in my formation when people would ask about my journey I used to tell them I had a ‘very unusual’ route toward Maynooth. While this may be true at one level it is also true that nobody has an ‘ordinary’ journey – each person is unique – each person is called by God from a different place and each priest with his unique style has 100 parishes where the people of God will relate to him.

​Well to tell you a little about how I came to enter formation for the Diocese – well it happened in 2011 – of course a long story but I will try to shorten it. I had been discerning with the Jesuits – I had met many Jesuits and felt that their spirituality appealed to me (seeing God in all things) – the notion that God is everywhere and in everyone was something that I connected with – unfortunately I am ashamed to say that sometimes this truth is not always evident in the Church at large however through prayer and reflection I realised that indeed this is a spirituality for all not just for those called to the Jesuits – my discernment with the Jesuits was God’s way of letting me know He had other plans.

There was two moments that stand out in my discernment with the Jesuits – firstly was one evening speaking with a few student Jesuits – they referred to diocesan priest’s as ‘Sacrament Dispensers’ - this stunned me – stunned me enough to reflect at length on it – I think what I realised was that priesthood is simply about the imitation of Christ – ultimately it is about mirroring His actions – and Jesus administered sacraments – Jesus was close to those whom He ministered to.

Secondly many of you will have heard of Fr Michael Paul Gallagher – a Jesuit, he directed me on retreat for 8 days early in the summer 2011 – he told me to listen closely to my heart – my heart he said must be still and remain still – no-one else really knows whether it is or not but he said it is through this stillness that God communicates to us....

A lot of the discernment was completed by the time I plucked up the courage to speak to Fr Peter, our diocesan vocations director here in Armagh. Entering Maynooth was daunting – I had never even seen the place before I ‘moved in’ however this was a blessing as I was unaware of much of the politics that inevitably surrounds such a place. More recently then I was appointed onto the Bishops’ Council for Vocations while in seminary and during this time we spoke at large about the struggle to get young men to even discern priesthood.

My own view is that there needs to be a relational aspect – individuals are called – to be individual priests working collectively – people relate to simply being asked. Archbishop Eamon recalled on our first meeting how an Italian Archbishop told him that he makes a point to ask someone every day if they ever considered priesthood. – We can all do that – if not daily then weekly?

We need perspective – Seminary sounds daunting in an age where for example in DKIT (Dundalk Institute of Technology) in the academic year 2014/15 there was a huge 24% drop-out rate of first-years. Indeed in seminary too I joined with a class of 19 guys – 5 years later, 5 of those 19 are ordained deacons with 2 discerning religious life.... how do we make it less daunting – I think we need to emphasise that God calls us for life !! We are called to live the 6 years of formation as part of our life’s journey – some lads are put off by the academics, others because of very real personal commitments – such as mortgages etc. and are anxious about leaving jobs. As an accountant, I was aware of these issues too - however it is important for each of us to hand over such issues to God – who, if calling a man to priesthood will show a way forward.

Prayer – we all know the power of prayer, I believe there is only one thing more powerful than prayer and that is focused prayer. I know that people are praying for me by name – I can almost feel the support of individuals carrying me in prayer on my journey. For parish communities to focus on praying for ‘A priest’ and for ‘A vocation to the priesthood’ from their parish - this will give people ownership – it will allow them the opportunity to share the responsibility of the work of Vocations promotion

Finally – I think this is a good opportunity to thank everyone here for your prayers – I appreciate your support and hope that my ministry as a deacon and please God a priest will be fruitful – and I am sure with your continued prayers it will be.
Thank you.
(Pope Francis image from AFP / Getty)

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