Faith Matters

Hear God's call to be who he wants us to be

When God calls us, he wants every part of us - the sufferings and crosses as well as the graces and blessings, says Fr Conor Stainton-Polland

Fr Conor Stainton-Polland

A few weeks ago, after receiving some new prayer cards, I took the opportunity to arrange the collection I keep to give out for various needs and occasions.

I rediscovered about 20 of my ordination prayer cards from 22 years ago and took the chance to give one to my curate in the hope he'll pray for me in the years to come.

On the back of it, along with my name and date, are the words from today's Psalm: "My vows to the Lord I will fulfil before all His people, the cup of salvation I will raise."

Even without that reminder, just being here in St Patrick's with your administrator Fr Eugene O'Neill reminds me of ordination and seminary days.

We were ordained on the same day at the same time - though in different towns - and had endured the seminary years together.

In fact, it's shocking to think, that we have known each other for 30 years.

Back then, I was sure your administrator was very holy. The evidence for this was right before me every morning when we sat among 50 others for the early morning personal prayer.

There, the now-Fr Eugene would be sitting, his head moving from one hand to the other, intense in thought and contemplation... and then the glasses would come off and, setting them down, he would disappear into the realms of the divine.

Meanwhile, I would be sitting wondering would the buttons on my shirt last another day and why could I not pray like him.

One day I confessed to him: "Oh how I wish I could pray like you."

Eugene looked back at me and said: "You're joking, I sit looking at you wishing I could pray like you."

The two of us were so worried about praying like each other that we weren't praying at all; we were forgetting to be ourselves in front of God.

Since then, I have had this growing belief that when God calls us, he calls us by name to be ourselves in his service - ourselves, and not an imitation of anyone else.

That means he called "Conor" - he called who I am, all of who I am.

So who am I? Well looking back at school reports gives one clue.

English: "Conor is good at English though he does enjoy talking too much."

Maths: "Conor does well in class but would do well to speak less."

Geography: "Conor's grasp of the subject would be better if he listened rather than talked."

And games: "Conor is useless at sport but great at talking."

Conor, the talker. And look at me now - I talk for a living, every weekend I've a captive audience. God's called me with that.

I think, too, of my struggles with depression over the years. Sometimes these have been very deep and difficult; other times, I've been overly happy and energetic.

And then I had the experience five years ago of sitting opposite a consultant and hearing him tell me "You have bipolar."

To sit with that diagnosis, those words, to try to come to term with them... But then to realise God has called that part of me too.

It's why I talk about it - in Liverpool, in London, here in Belfast; in these places where too many people bear depression, mental health issues, too often alone and afraid to talk about it.

I can stand up and say, "You're not alone, look at me, I'm there too. Your priest gets it, gets what it's like."

If God has called me with this, then with this I'll serve him and the people he sends me to.

I believe that God has called me and all that I am: graces and blessing, sufferings and crosses, all of it.

This, then, applies to all whom he calls - and that means his call to you.

We know things in the Church are in a time of change and need a time of change.

We need to answer the call of the Council still not properly heard; the call of a Pope, Francis, who has brought all he is to answering God.

We priests need to get out of the way and you need to answer the call.

Yes, there are fewer priests and vocations. But don't call it a vocations crisis, call it a vocations opportunity.

The victory has been won, Jesus has triumphed - do we think for a minute he's changed his mind and decided to give up?

No, but we need to change. You now need to take up the call and be his evangelists and disciples in your families, work places, communities.

How? Well, who are you?

Think of the call Patrick writes about himself in his Confessio.

The voice of the Irish people call him as "the young shepherd boy" to come and be their shepherd - to be who he is, for them. That's how to answer God's call.

If "God's call" seems too grand, too much, make it for you as well "Ireland's call" - Ireland begging you to be its apostle, disciple, evangelist. Your Ireland, calling you.

In a few minutes I will have had the annual honour of blessing us with the relic of St Patrick's hand. As I do it, ask yourself that question: "Who am I?"

And think of that relic with which we are blessed: that hand that held the staff on Slemish, that hand with which he blessed so many, that hand with which he wrote his Confessio. That's what blesses us.

But that's now the dead bone of a saint. As we receive that blessing, dare to think what God can do with these living bones of ours, these living hands of ours.

Hear his call. Hear the call of the Irish. To be apostle, disciple, evangelist. How? Who am I?

:: Fr Conor Stainton-Polland is a priest of the Archdiocese of Liverpool. He was speaking in St Patrick's Church, Belfast, on St Patrick's day.

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