Chapter 16 Why a Priest?
Constantly I am asked in class, ”Why did you become a priest?” To deflect the question, I ask – “Why did your father marry your mother!” Decisions taken decades ago may not be appreciated by younger people. Then I pursue the question by saying that it is not so much why I became a priest a long time ago, but what matters is why I want to be a priest now! Why the father now wants to remain married to the mother, is more important than the decision taken many years ago.
The context of my decision to be a priest was Catholic Ireland in the 1940s. Along with that was my acquaintance of many priests whom I admired, and my personal values and Christian beliefs. All decisions are made within a special context. In the case of the students I teach, their context is very different, so they find it difficult to understand my aims in life. However, the values that they see in their parents, the importance of knowing the meaning of our life, and Christian living and teaching are still very influential.
In the first place, I wanted to be a priest to be a preacher, which I saw as the most important work- to bring the Good News of Salvation, and help people in their following of Christ. Even more, by becoming a priest, I felt I could change the world to be more like the Kingdom of God- communities and societies of truth and justice, of love and freedom with the hope of eternal happiness.
Now after so many decades, I must confess that there was also an element of an “actor” wanting an outlet! Many people have commented that I should have been an “actor”! I then retort that every good teacher has to have an element of a good actor to communicate. I think of Pope John Paul II, who was considered a great actor and communicator with youth and the whole world.
I saw many priests addressing large groups. I felt I could like to do the same. The liturgy has elements of presentation which needs the abilities of an actor. I knew I had a good voice for public speaking. I would then use this talent for the cause of Christ. I never had any drama training nor was I trained in literature. But I recall the stories my mother told me of her wanting to join an opera company as a teenager. She cried as her family were absolutely against it. Then my father liked to entertain and tell jokes, and had brothers who were good amateur entertainers. Finally, RTHK has known my voice for more than forty years, in religious broadcasting. As for me, I have a good speaking voice, which is a beginning. I would then be good at the Liturgy and at Preaching to large audiences. Giving spiritual direction needed other talents which I felt my compassionate attitudes would help. Being a Jesuit seems the best way to use my talents.
The choice of being a Jesuit would delay my preaching by many, many years, so I prepared myself to face the people I had in mind. The first group I had in mind was the scientific community and along with them groups of workers. Both were groups which we are not well represented in our catholic worship and community life. I wanted to be a missionary to scientific minded people and those of a socialist mentality. Along with them I thought of the many who loose their way in life, who get into situations they do not want. Then there are the myriads who are depressed and see no meaning in life. Now that is the work of a priest, and especially a Jesuit.
But the students ask, but why have I not married! The immediate answer is because it does not fit into the life of a priest, who has to be the model of self giving love, of self sacrifice and living for others. Anyhow, it did not fit into the life of a Jesuit, which I chose for many reasons.
I have to repeat the good inspiration I received from the many Jesuit retreat givers in Dublin in 1949 to 1951 which impelled me to want to be like them. I was also reading voraciously books written by Jesuits, and I felt I wanted to be like them. My Christian Faith and my following of Christ led me to choose to become a Jesuit. And I have been happy with that decision since 1951.
What then have my forty years life as a priest being like. I loved my priestly life in the Philippines, saying Mass for large groups, speaking seminars, working with religious women, hearing confessions and giving spiritual guidance. This is what I had prepared myself for– not for the life of a secondary school teacher.
Living in Wah Yan as a secondary school teacher, saw me earning my living and not being a financial burden to anyone. I had the words of my father ringing in my ears: ”Priests are only after money and never work for their living”. I would be a priest who was not a burden on Catholics but one who would earn his living, like honest working men.
Besides my school teaching, I have been saying early morning daily Mass in many religious communities. Sundays have seen me say Mass in many places. Then I have often been hearing confessions and consulted on spiritual matters. I have officiated at weddings about eight times a year, and presided at funerals once a month. This is also priestly work. I am known as a priest to many and I am happy about it.
As a teacher in Wah Yan, I have found scope to educate fourteen years olds, which I see as an extension of my priestly life. I am happy living with other Jesuits, and especially for living in such parkland as is Wah Yan Kowloon, and of having the classes I teach below my room. What a wonderful life to have!
But there is something much more important and it is the Mass, or Eucharistic celebration, which is the heart of Catholic living. There is need of a priest to lead this celebration. I saw it fifty five years ago, and see it even more pressing these days, when so few are offering themselves for a life of serving the Church and the whole world as priests. In 1981 I decided to spend the rest of my days in Hong Kong precisely to be a priest to offer Mass for people and be a guide in their spiritual lives.
The one who presides at the Eucharist has to be chosen by the Church, and designated by authorities to be the Priest at the Mass. There are prayers and readings, which the priest must approve, and then the priest must give a homily to the people on the readings in the context of the day. Good sermons must be short and helpful to develop Catholic living, and it is a rare and important art.
This part of the Mass is followed by the Eucharist in which the sacrifice of Christ is made present to us. It entails the faithful also offering themselves in sacrifice to God, through Our Lord in the Power of the Holy Spirit. The Mass is a sacrifice- making again present the sacrifice of the Cross and involving our own offering. Then comes Sacramental Communion with Christ Our Lord, and it produces people of charity living in service of others. They become people who bring Christ’s message of love and hope to all.
I consider this as of primary importance in my life, and so I am always ready to answer any call to say Mass. That is why I became a priest.
Modern life in Hong Kong today is different from what I knew as a young person fifty five years ago. The meaning of life, our Catholic Faith and living in unison with the Will of God were the concerns which made me decide to be a Jesuit priest. And today it is the same for me, and so this is what keeps me being a Jesuit priest. I consider that what I saw as the basis for my living to be also for other people . God has a plan for each person. It is for each person to make a spiritual discernment about his life, which I hope, will leave them with no regrets in the future.
I have yearned long for students to follow my example to be a priest. I feel unhappy that so few have done so. I also hope that we will be blessed with Jesuits better than me to continue our special service of Faith.
With being a priest, the issue of wearing a distinctive dress has pressed on me. Until 1975, all priests wore clerical collars and dress in public. I have tried to keep up this practice as a sign of my “priestly” dedication. The way we dress shows who we are, so I like the distinctive dress of a priest. But the trend is the other way. As a Jesuit, we always wore our gowns in community and when teaching until the water shortage in 1966. I also cherish this garment, but rarely wear it. But it is helpful to show our values. As a fact, our gown with “wings” are an adaptation of university gown worn by scholars in places like Oxford. The vast majority of Jesuits and priests do not wear this gown since 1966. I then become like the rest of people in dress, but am always anxious to identify with the less well off, or the poor to whom I want to be dedicated.
The reality is that Jesuits have no specific garb, but dress as ordinary priests. This means I only dress as a priest when doing official priestly work. But it is with some regret! The dress shows the man, is an adage which was often used and still has some meaning. I know know who you are by the way you dress. In the past, we dressed distinctively as a priest, and I suppose the way we dressed showed our character. But now when we dressed like anyone else, there is the complexity of choosing style, colour and class. I would like to dress like skilled worker, but I even have difficulty in dressing like a self respecting, neat and competent teacher. In the past, I just dressed in my religious garb, which I loved and now I miss! ( 1779)
inisterial Priest since 1965
我要成為神父是於一九五零年代，在天主教的愛爾蘭時己決定了，主要因為我認識很多我很佩服的神父，我個人的價值觀和基督教信仰，所有的決定是有一個特定的背景。 對於我所教的學生來說，他們的背景非常不同，所以，他們難以理解我的人生目標。 但是，他們從父母身上見到的價值觀，理解他們生命意義的重要性，基督徒的生活和基督教的教導，對他們仍很有影響的。
起初，我想成為一個神父，一個傳道者，是因我見到是一個重要的工作，便是: 將救世主的福音傳佈，和幫助他人歸信耶穌。 再者，成為一個傳教士，我覺得我可以改變世界，變成上帝的天國 - 一個真誠，正義，充滿愛和自由的社區和社會。
經歷幾十年之後，我現在必須坦白承認，其中還有一個因素，便是一個「演員」需要一個表演場地! 有很多人都見意我應該做一個「演員」! 然後我反駁說每一個好的老師必須有好演員的細胞去表達和講解。 我想起教宗保祿二世，他被認為是一個偉大的演員，能與年青人和全世界交流。
除了學校生活之外，我每朝早在很多不同的宗教社區做彌撒，我時常聽告解和給教徒屬靈的忠告。 我每年大約做八次証婚，每個月主持一次葬禮，這些是神父的工作，我很開心有很多人認識我是神父。 在華仁我可以教十四歲的學生，在我看來這是神父生命的延展，我很開心與其他耶穌會士一起生活，特別是生活在華仁這個園地，我教的課堂就在我住所樓下。看! 生命多美好呀!