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Deacon’s journey from press to priesthood

Former Flourish editor VINCENT TOAL on his path from seminary to ordination via Catholic journalism - By DEACON VINCENT TOAL

“To respond to the expectations of modern society and cooperate in the vast evangelising action that involves all Christians, we need well-trained and courageous priests who are free from ambition and fear but convinced of the Gospel Truth, whose chief concern is to proclaim Christ and who are prepared to stoop down to suffering humanity in his name, enabling everyone, particularly the poor and all who are in difficulty, to experience the comfort of God’s love and the warmth of the ecclesial family.”

This papal pep talk pretty much sums up the inspiration I’ve experienced and the motivation I’ve felt in responding anew to the call to service as a priest. By no stretch of the imagination do I match up to the identity portrayed, but it provides a model that I can honestly aspire to.

I have suggested elsewhere that I took ‘cold feet’ towards the end of my seminary formation, 30 years ago, and put the brakes on any immediate ‘plans’ for ordination. It is fair to say that I was both coasting along and drifting away.

Outwardly, everything seemed fine; but, inwardly, I was struggling in critical areas of my life, which forced me to question my readiness for ministry as a priest. Like Augustine, I half-heartedly pleaded ‘Lord make me chaste—but not yet!’ as I succumbed to the illusion that self-satisfaction is the key to happiness. Also, I had grown overly cynical about aspects of the Church’s life and questioned others’ sincerity in witnessing to the Gospel.

Working as a journalist within Catholic media, with the responsibility of editing a diocesan newspaper, exposed me to the wealth of Church teaching and examples of heroic living out of the Gospel in some very trying circumstances. I reassessed my critical outlook while taking stock of my own life with its inner contradictions.

The hypocrisy and ruthless arrogance evident in much of the mainstream secular media stimulated a renewed regard for the enduring message of Christ—revealing what is true, good and beautiful—and a fresh desire to contribute more to the ‘new evangelisation’ which successive popes have insisted on. My understanding of the ordained priesthood has deepened through time, especially with its call to identify fully with the person of Christ, bearing witness to his self-sacrificing love by our own lives. Reflective prayer and the daily Eucharist are the necessary fuel driving such a privileged mission.

The exposure of a culture of cover-up within the Church regarding abuse has been painful but cathartic—freeing us from tiresome clericalism and allowing a more honest appraisal of needs, abilities and expectations of ministry (at the same time, trial by media, prejudicial reporting without due process, should not go unchallenged). The emphasis Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI placed on humility—’stooping down to suffering humanity’—has been reiterated by Pope Francis in his articulation of the ‘joy of           the Gospel.’

Warning against complacency, he invites us to be bold and creative in developing a ‘missionary pastoral ministry’ which goes forth to the ­peripheries—to wherever the need for the light and life of the Risen Christ is greatest.

Priests are not called to do everything, but are empowered to represent someone—namely Christ, who is all mercy and full of compassion.

As I prepare for ordination, Jesus’ words to Peter spur me on: “I have prayed for you, that your Faith may not fail; when you turn back to me, you must strengthen your brothers.”

– Archbishop Philip Tartaglia will ordain Deacon Toal to the priesthood on the Feast of St Joseph, Monday March 19, in St Andrew’s Cathedral, Glasgow, at 6.30pm. All are welcome.


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