A memory from my childhood is of a Redemptorist mission in our parish. Father John Berry CSsR is standing in the pulpit preaching. He is a tall and impressive figure. Our little church is full, every seat taken. People are there and they are keen to listen to what this man in the black habit and the cross, tucked into his belt, has to say to them. They are keen, as we all are keen, to here words that inspire life.
The memory has stayed with me all my life. It made a deep impression. I think of it as the visual definition of what I have wanted to be all my life. The Gospel convinced me from an early age and I wanted to be able to speak about the Gospel and show how it was the true inspiration of all human living.
The result of this inclination saw me guided into the processes for catholic priesthood. The priestly things never appealed to me at all. All the ritual and services and practices did not attract me, but getting up into a pulpit did. Equally, writing about the Gospel also gave me great pleasure: the pulpit on the written page.
When my life came to a crossroads in meeting Margaret and a little baby coming along, I had quite a struggle to leave. Many things had to be considered by both Margaret and myself, but a big issue for me was being a preacher. Not only was it all I had ever known, it was all I ever wanted to know. At the same time I could never leave Margaret and Michael. It seemed to me that these two deep desires could not be reconciled and that I would be forced to give up one of them. Giving up either would be giving up a part of myself. How could I live life if I did that?
In the end, and happily, I left priesthood and also discovered that I did not leave preaching at all. I have been writing and preaching from the first day I left. Every day of my life from the day I joined myself to Margaret and Michael, I have written about the Gospel.
Twenty-three years of writing: All of my life a preacher.
Leaving priesthood can often feel like a great chasm in the life of the person who leaves, a great divide that marks off one part of life from another. This has not been the case for me. Priesthood was the miss-step for me but preaching was not. Preaching was always the work I wanted to do.
I had seven years of struggle before I was able to leave. That is an awfully long time, and how Margaret was so patient with me I can hardly credit now. But I faced what I thought was an impossible choice – family life or priesthood. I feared having to choose between them. But priesthood wasn’t really the issue. Preaching was. Only now has it become so powerfully clear that the truth of my life was to be a family man and a preacher.
Priesthood I could leave. It was something I had stumbled into accidentally. Being a preacher of the Gospel is the true calling of my life and it has fitted very well with being a husband and a father.
I did not fall at Becher’s Brook. I finished the race and I won.
19 April 2022