Some of my earliest declarations about becoming a priest came as a young twelve year old altar server. In response, my mother and grandmother brought me on pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in the south of France. I have always been grateful to them for the opportunity to begin my path to priesthood by first offering it to Our Blessed Mother, to let her bring it to her Son. From that time, pilgrimage has been an important expression of my faith and the development of my vocation.
It was with great joy then that I took on a role at Campus Ministry this year assisting with their pilgrimages for students. As part of my role I accompanied a group of twenty students on pilgrimage to France, dividing our mid-term week between Paris and LeMans, birthplace of our congregation. In my first return to France since that trip to Lourdes, I was permitted to encounter the life of our founder, Bl. Father Moreau, in a very intimate manner. As might be expected, this offered great nourishment and reinforcement to my vocational discernment.
Yet, it was the shared communion with my fellow pilgrims that most greatly affected me and my thoughts on priesthood. I was on the trip as a group leader, to both help in organising and ministering to the students, but there was no doubt that in every interaction, my faith was enriched as much as theirs. Predominantly, this was experienced in the joyful moments of communal liturgy, encounter with French students and parishioners, table fellowship, the exploration of magnificent French churches and the discovery of the places of Fr. Moreau’s life.
However, there was one instant which will linger long in my memory, when the students each took the moment to offer their own heartfelt prayer. For the pilgrimage, each student had stepped aside from the status quo of their daily lives, to free themselves for an encounter with God. However, this separation that accompanies pilgrimage, does not imply that one completely divorces oneself from one’s life for the duration of the trip. One still carries within one’s heart, the cares and concerns, the joys and sorrows of one’s life. In the words addressed to God by my fellow pilgrims I heard the tale of lives tinged with sorrow, worries and burdens. Not that their prayers were by any means a litany of complaints or endless petitions. In fact, many offered prayers of gratitude and joy, but their words all spoke of a need for a God to lift them out of a broken world, to make sense of the tribulations that are part and parcel of every human life. I got a sense of an earnest longing for meaning and Truth in a world that often seems senseless and false.
And in the midst of their prayer, gazing upon the crucifix hanging in the Church sanctuary, the prayer that echoed in my heart was, “Let me be a priest for them”. Nobody seeks to become a doctor in a world without sickness, a world without patients. Similarly, if one wishes to know whether one has a vocation to the priesthood, one must look around to see the needs of one’s fellow pilgrims in this world. Then see if you find an acute longing to apply the healing balm of the sacraments to their wounds, and to provide from the great storehouse of Scripture and Tradition, the provisions that will sustain and nourish them to full health. One can’t be a shepherd without a flock.
Mr. Cathal Kelleher, C.S.C., is in his thirdyear of temporary vows with the Congregation of Holy Cross. He is currently studying in the M.Div program at the University of Notre Dame. Cathal is originally from Kilkenny, Ireland.