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Woops…it looks like I’ve forgotten to post anything on this blog again! Well, as they say, better late than never.

Where did I leave you last?

It looks like I had finished my exams and waiting for my interview with the Bishop. Well, I have happy news for you: he asked me to start seminary formation this September.

My interview was a bit scary. I couldn’t really sleep very well the night before. I knew it was just a formality, but still, one shouldn’t jump the gun. I had this ill-thought out plan that I could be a Dominican, which soon sent me to sleep.

The next day, I was pacing. My meeting was in the afternoon. I was a bit too anxious to have any lunch, and a good friend of mine offered to pick me up to drive me to the episcopal residence at two. I was very grateful, not only because the buses were all messed up, but I was very tense, and needed some friendship to relax me.

When we got there, it just happened to be the same date at the parish priests’ annual synodal gathering on the diocesan complex. We were early, and so took a walk around the garden, and all the priests were looking at us through the windows, wondering what we were doing and who we were. On the way back round, we bumped into the Vocations Director, Vicar General and Bishop’s Secretary (which sounds like the preface to a bad joke), and myself and the Vocations Director were summoned into the house; I asked my friend to pray hard for me!

The meeting was relaxed and congenial, which calmed me down somewhat. Then we proceeded to discuss the psychological report (which excited my nerves again) and the report from the selection conferece. I was told what mark I had been given, but not understanding what it all meant, I was told I got a good grade and that they had suggested I be accepted. They had noted that the only concern was my age, but at 21, that was summarily dismissed there and then.

In fact, one moment in the meeting has remained with me. After being asked whether I played priest as a child, I said I did, I enjoyed doing so, and that I used a white dressing gown, to which I was asked, “so you thought you were the Pope?!” “Maybe,” I said, “I had ideas above my station back then.” I was struck down imediately: “not necessarily!”

So, here came the question: “I’d like you to begin seminary formation this September, if you are willing?”

Unfortunately, it wasn’t worded in a way I could answer by saying something grand like: “I accept”, so instead, I smiled and gave my answer, “yes…yes, I’d like that very much.”

After congratulations by those present, I felt like I had been absorbed into the system. I was very relieved, obviously, and very happy, and not only because I had just been told the finance office will contact me. We went outside, the bishop told my friend the news who appeared more ecstatic that I had, although apparently, according to the psychologists, that’s upsurprising!

We travelled back home, and I slowly descended from the clouds, and thus began the task of ringing round everyone to tell them my good news.

What to do…

Having finished my finals already, I am no longer a real student.

Even though I have known this moment has been coming since I started, these three years of my life have been geared up for learning, writing and examinations and now that I have completed my degree (praise God I will not have to do any resits), I don’t know what to do. It feels like I have lost my raison d’être, like I have had the floor taken from underneath me, cut off from my lifeblood. In the same way, after my psychological interview, I was asked to drag up all the things which had affected me in my short few years on earth, and having talked about it, and given opinions on it, I was told to go home. I had to deal with it myself. Similarly, right now, I feel by myself. Technically, I am by myself at this moment, but even when I am with people – which hasn’t happened very much in the past couple of weeks – I still feel a bit lonely and lost on the inside. But I don’t mean to be melancholic.

Let’s look on the bright side. I have my interview with the bishop on Thursday. I don’t think I can really make any plans as to what to do until I have got that over with. I was fortunate and grateful the other day, for a friend of mine offered to give me a lift to the residence, so I don’t need to worry about getting the bus times right!

And, until then at least, I am a free agent, a gentleman of leisure. I can read what I want, I can get up when I want to. I may rise at 7am, say matins and lauds, go to Mass if I can and say ‘terce’ in the Church; back home and have some breakfast, read some literature for the rest of the morning, cuddled up in the armchair with a cup of strong tea. I’ll finish my reading with ‘sext’. At lunchtime, I eat my small meal, listening to the radio, followed by a little siesta, or maybe go for a walk and say the Rosary. After this, I go outside and do some gardening, or some washing and cleaning: maintaining the household, performing my chores.

Then at tea time (surely a cup of darjeeling with some toast or cakes), but after ‘none’, I can get to work on writing my novel for a couple of hours, listening to some Mozart in the background. At about this time of day, I start to get a bit peckish as the winds begin to calm and the sun starts to think about setting: it is time for vespers. After this evening prayer, I get down to eating my dinner; all home-made of course. This week I have some very specific plans: chicken and leek pie, sausage casserole with rosemary dumplings and shepherd’s pie are on the menu. I’ll eat my supper in front of the television, reviewing the news. Maybe there will be a film or a documentary on. Then it is back to the bedroom-chapel for some meditation, or perhaps reading some devotional work – I’m working on St Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle at the moment. Then there will be enough time to catch some more radio, or have one last cup of hot chocolate before saying compline, after which I retire.

Eight hours later, I will get up: ‘venite exultemus Domino…’ and the day starts again.

I’m sure most people could not think of anything more boring. However, I will only be living this life for a couple of week, and after three years of university study, I’m quite ready to shut the door and be silent.

From time to time, I enjoy imposing a rule on myself. I don’t get pleasure from it - that is not the point. Rather, it regulates me: something which is difficult to appreciate without work or study, reconstructs my scaffolding which I have spent such a long time pulling down by my (relatively sombre) student lifestyle. Occasionally, I get a slight twinge inside my chest – no, it’s not heart problems – it’s a feeling that I’d quite like to spend some time in a monastery. I haven’t booked a retreat this year, I should get on with it. I would like to go to Pluscarden, or somewhere else which is strict and welcoming, but I shall leave it until after Thursday. Depending on the answer I get, it could shape my will rather a lot!

My brain is telling my body to do three things at the moment: Relax. Breathe. Pray.

I’ll reintegrate into the real world soon…I promise!

It has been far too long since I have posted anything here. I have not forgotten about you all, so here goes:

Maybe it is fitting that I should return to writing on the world day of prayer for vocations. I don’t know about you, but the last one of these was rather recent. Wasn’t there a local conference vocations day a few months back? Apparently, the fourth Sunday of Easter has held this title since 1964.

I felt encouraged by Pope Benedict’s prayer intention for this month, which is something like lay people orientate their prayer and actions to support and foster vocational discernment to the priesthood, relgious and consecrated life. At the end of this year’s message for the world day of vocations, Pope Benedict encouraged:

Dear friends, do not become discouraged in the face of difficulties and doubts; trust in God and follow Jesus faithfully and you will be witnesses of the joy that flows from intimate union with him. Imitating the Virgin Mary whom all generations proclaim as blessed because she believed, commit yourselves with every spiritual energy, to realise the heavenly Father’s plan of salvation, cultivating in your heart, like her, the ability to be astonished and to adore him who is mighty and does great things, for Holy is his name.

Please read the whole message; it is full of great depth, and can be of interest to you all as ever with the Holy Father’s writings.

This last week saw the penultimate set of interviews concerning my application for priestly training for my diocese. This time, I was visiting a relatively well-known Catholic-based ‘place of wellness’, for which one can read a psychological institution. As a result, they were the most draining. I felt alright while there, though the interviews themselves were a bit unnerving. It is not natural to go to a large house for a couple of days and be asked by the psychologists everything – and I mean everything – about me since before I was conceived. The results showed I was guarded; am I the the only one who thinks that this is bound to be the case in that situation? They kept pointing out that it is difficult to lay yourself out before strangers (in my view, it is difficult enough before friends), but went ahead all the same.

I expected all the questions, as I had been given a booklet to fill in a while before I arrived. It was all very straight forward and simple. However, I was very quiet on the journey back, and didn’t get much sleep that night. I am only in my twenties, but apparently, a selection of psychologists trawling selectively through my experiences – which, for some reason, all seemed trauma-inducing to them – left me feeling very uneasy, as if I had re-lived all those experiences in a matter of three days. It was thoroughly exhausting, and I wouldn’t recommend it lightly!

However, there was some entertainment while there. This came in the form of computerised personality tests. It involved answering true or false or strongly agree etc to various statements – I think something around a thousand in total! – ranging from “I like flower arranging” to “God hates me” and “Sometimes, I secretly get the urge to hurt my loved ones”. Well, I do like flower arranging, and God doesn’t hate me, and I very rarely get the urge to inflict pain on anyone!

The results from these various tests were a bit confusing, seemingy suggesting that I am both ‘A’ and ‘B’, or everything all at once: angry and calm, happy and said, anxious and relaxed. Basically, I am human.

So these results are being sent off to the vocations director, who will pass them onto the bishop. He will then read the report (hopefully in not too much depth!), along with anything the selection conference suggested (I’m thinking it can’t be that bad, if I have made it this far already), and his own views about me from the times we have met and talked, my references and, importantly, through prayer and prayerful deliberation. In about a week and a half, I shall sit before the bishop, and he shall tell me what he thinks. As I am frequently told, ‘it is just a formality’. That is quite right. But this formality is quite important. It formally tells me something which I don’t know yet: yes or no (or possibly, yes, but not right now). This is quite important information for me to have really! At the moment, I feel remarkably relaxed about it (as my psychological report predicts), but that may all change as the appointment time approaches. I have to get the bus to the episcopal residence, but I’m promised a lift back with the vocations director. I’m sure when my anxiety becomes more pronounced, I shall write a bit more on ‘how I’m feeling’.

Four years on

I can’t quite believe it has been four years since the death of Pope John Paul II.

It was in the year leading up to the final days of his life when I was reconciled with Mother Church and, like many others, I was encouraged and heartened by the Pope’s own witness to the faith and the Lord whom he loved. There was a very brief period when nearly the whole world, Catholic and non-Catholic joined in mourning as they saw this man – who had held the keys of Peter for a quarter of a century – slip painfully away to the Father.

His reign being so long, people my age and a little older will have known only one Pope. We didn’t understand perhaps the idea that this man, the Pope, would actually die. This realisation was shocking for some. His love for God and God’s people meant he was loved in return, and they united their pain with his in those last weeks and days.

I remember turning on the TV that evening and seeing the news scenes from a silent St Peter’s square. Without any introduction, I knew what had happened, and I wept at the death of an old man, who I had never met, who I had never heard speak more than a couple of words in my language. I didn’t know who he was, what he was like, how he thought, but still I felt a fidelity to him. It is a feeling which is difficult to explain to some people on occasion, but it simply is a feature of the Catholic family.

Watching the world’s faithful – and non-faithful – come and pray before his body in the days of mourning showed me that the Catholicism of which I was a part was much greater than my own experience thus far. It was greater than my parish Church, my parish priest, my pictures and books. It is a living faith, a breathing religion – and the Church is young.

Desert Island Books

While at the selection conference, I was asked which books I’d take with me to a desert island. What a question! My library is quite large. It’s like being told to choose your favourite parent or child.

Well, maybe not that much, but limiting it to three is a bit much. The Bible was already on this myserty desert island. I chose:

  • The Imitation of Christ, by St Thomas a Kempis
  • War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy
  • Don Quixote, by Miguel Cervantes

So, what are your Desert Island Books?

I’d like to know.

Would you even take books?

Would you prefer disks, or an iPhone with lots of books on, an iPod?

Leave some comments.

As I wrote last time, this weekend was the season of the selection conference. After several hours of train travel, I rolled up to the seminary where the whole affair was to be conducted. There were quite a few others ‘selectees’, from across the southern part of the country. I was the only one from my diocese.

I had just arrived to lunch – being Friday, I was treated to fish and chips (no mayonnaise unfortunately, which is one of the few things which continuously irritate me about England). However, my haddock had only settled a few moments before the whole process began. I was packed off up some stairs to see the psychiatrist: talk about jumping in the deep end. This was all very clinical. Asked some questions. Answered said questions. Thanks, bye!

Next up was a discussion group. About half the group were put around a table and given eight questions to answer collectively. The discussion was observed. After half an hour of feeling like we were in a zoo, the situation became vaguely normal as we chatted about Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, condoms and Latin. All the normal things really.

The sunlight finished with a gathering in small group to chat and celebrate Vespers. In the evening, I had a ‘spiritual interview’, which was the only one which lasted the whole allotted time period (and the only one with a priest). It was quite nice to talk about my faith without talking about my ‘feelings’. The interview did turn into a discussion about architecture and a tour of the (fine) library, as this is the pet topic of both myself and the selector.

Afterwards was sung English Compline followed by the Angelus (and a magnum silencium). I slept well that night in my attic room. Funnily enough, my first selector stayed in the same room when he was being selected. As seems to be the case in most seminaries, they put the heating on for guests, so I was roasting under all the sheets and blankets.

The next day opened with Mass, and the Rosary. Another meeting mid-morning talked about my work experience, education, academic interests and my views of Church. I think this essentially revolved around my interpretation of Vatican One. Interesting though: I think this interview was my most challenging. I had a siesta afterwards.

My sleep was interrupted by lunch and another interview – this one about my relationships, family life, and personality. From this, and my other interviews, I have come to the conclusion that many people think too much and as a result, don’t buy one-word answers. I think this is a shame, as dragging up irrelevant points and focusing on my choice of vocabulary is not necessarily the best way to create a well-rounded (and well-founded) image of an individual in an hour-long meeting. It has to be done I suppose. After this, I had a medical examination, and then it was all over. Another siesta was called for.

After dinner, there was a little celebratory drinks session in the bar, as like-minded groups seemed to cluster together as is the case at such things. Lemonade. Bed.

Sunday began with sung Lauds. The psalm tones were new to me, but easy to pick up, and gentle on the ear. Around mid-morning was sung Mass. Surprisingly for a seminary, there was only a single celebrant. It was Laetare Sunday, and he wore a very dusty red looking rose chasuble, which makes a nice change from the  normal Barbie pink. This was a very good Mass, and a very good homily about ‘lifting up’. I enjoy loaded homilies.

Sat next to another blogger at lunch (roast lamb and banoffie pie). During this period, all the candidates were being voted on. A lift to the station and a trip back to university via home to fulfil my Mothers’ Day obligations.

Now there is nothing more left to do but wait for the interviews with our Bishops. Most candidates have already had their psychological assessments. I have mine in next month.

It is the Bishop who makes the decision. The vote of the selection conference is only advisory, and it is non-binding. The Bishop can (and does) make up his mind with or without their advice.

The first of the candidates has his interview with his Bishop tomorrow, and the last have theirs in June. I have my interview in May. Though it is a long time away (and much has to happen in between) I’m very pleased it will happen in Mary’s Month, as I’m sure I’ll need her tender loving help either way.

Please keep all the candidates in your prayers.

Soon, I shall be off to something called a selection conference.

‘What is this?’ I hear you cry.

For several years now, I have been discerning a possible vocation to the secular priesthood. In fact, neither me nor my pastor can belive it’s been three years since I first approached him about it.

About five months ago (crikey, that’s nearly half a year!) I handed my application form into my diocese. It contained all sorts of things: the application form itself, my references, some very handsome passport photographs, my qualification certificates, my baptism and confirmation certificates, and finally a three-page essay about my journey in faith thus far. This pack took about four months to assemble last summer.

After this, I was booked into the selection conference. I’m still not sure entirely what it is, but essentialy it’s like a weekend-long interview with lots of people about various different things. They then write a report and make a suggestion to my bishop. So it’s quite important.

This is a interview I’ve kind of been waiting for for a long time, and now it is just around the corner. To be frank, realising this feels a bit like being whacked round the head with a big, wet fish; it has woken me up a little bit. This is not a bad thing for sure: I’d much rather I was alert than sleepy!

I shall not know what happens for about two months. I still have to have a psychological interview, which is another weekend away next month in the Easter holidays.

Oh, and in the mean time, I have a degree to finish. I’m sure that’s what I went to university for!

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