I was sitting in my garden yesterday afternoon at 3 pm in the sunshine. My Jack Russell pets, Aria and Buzz were lying at my feet and the whole scene was perfect and peaceful.
My thoughts turned towards God and I prayed. I then felt a very silent and still presence and I was deeply moved. I praised God for all the wonderful things he had done for me during my life. I asked him to help me with all I was doing and also asked him to let me know if anything I was doing was against his wishes to give me a sign. And all my heart heard: “Just tell people how good I have been to you”.
I had two good parents but we were very poor. As the oldest of 17 children I, very early, felt the burden of being a third parent. That made me very serious too early and I had a childhood overshadowed by worrying about things that no child should have to worry about.
But my dad had introduced me to daily Mass at the age of 4 and that habit continued all my life. As a child I brought all my worries to God at Mass and in the church. It really got me through my childhood and especially my teenage years when I became aware of my sexuality. Because of RC teaching I became very guilty and ashamed of who I was. My daily Mass and my daily hour in the church talking to God got me through – even thought I was not aware of it.
At 18 I entered Clonliffe seminary Dublin. I loved the seminary life especially Mass, the Divine Office and the spiritual exercises. I enjoyed the camaraderie of some companions but carrying the “secret” of my sexuality made me feel difficult in small and large groups where a lot of banter went on. I had a big problem of blushing and of course others saw this and it gave them something to tease me about. But good God was with me and that got me through.
My second seminary was St, John’s in Waterford. Life was wonderful there. I felt no pressure and the president, Monsignor John Shine was a wonderful inspiration to me and he gave me wonderful encouragement and support. God works through good people like John Shine RIP.
My ordination on Pentecost Sunday June 6th 1976 was the best day of my whole life. God had granted me something I had longed for since the age of 4.
I had a tough beginning to ministry in Wales in 1976 to 1978 with having two old Irish parish priests who were absolute tyrants. I will not go into the details but all this was helped by having a wonderful spiritual director who belonged to the Servants of the Paraclete order.
In 1978 I came to Belfast and to St Peter’s in Divis Flats. At the beginning things were good in the presbytery but after a year went sour. I got through those years by spending an hour a day before the Blessed Sacrament.
When Cahal Daly came to Down and Connor in 1982 things began to change. A couple of priests convinced Daly that I was a “problem”. Daly moved me from Belfast to Kilkeel and then tom Larne. He disliked my public and media outspokenness about the failures of the church. We had a few conversations and one big 4 hour meeting, I was respectful to him but refused to accept his way of looking at the world and told him my way. It was obvious we were not going to agree. He did not like that. Daly was the boss and it was his way or the highway. In 1986 he showed me the door. All that time I felt God close to me and I was able to deal with my distress by taking it to God.
For the past 33 years I have ministered independently from Larne, I have kept an open door. If all the people that have passed through The Oratory turned up at once we would have to meet in a large football stadium.
Father Sean Rogan who was a curate told a Larne parishioner not to worry about The Oratory as “only the dregs went there”.
I sent him a message thanking him for what I said,
Other priests call The Oratory a hayshed. I take that as a great compliment. Was not the Saviour born in a stable/hayshed
There are people/Christians who like to be part of a herd and then develop the herd mentality. It was a herd of Jews and others at Calvary who shouted “Crucify him”
Then there are individuals, who while being far from perfect, are either not part of the herd or are rejected by the herd who do their own thing.
The Oratory has ministered to thousands of people in 33 years who were rejected by their own priest or minister. They said NO to them. We said and say YES to them.
Archbishop Helder Camara of South America once said:
“Try and say yes to people. and when you have to say no to them try and make the no as much like yes as possible”.
Anyway, as I said at the beginning, I want to acknowledge today how good God has been to me all my life.
No offence meant to our atheist and agnostic readers.