Ryan Service is a 25 year old 1st year seminarian for the Archdiocese of Birmingham. He is studying for the priesthood at the Venerable English College Rome.
Sitting on cold and hard pavement stones outside Westminster Cathedral on a crisp September morning in 2010, something within me changed. There was no sudden conversion or flashes of revelation, but the dawning of recognition. True to the motto of his visit to the UK, cor ad cor loquitur or Heart speaks unto Heart, Pope Benedict spoke to my heart and through his words echoing around the piazza I heard the same Christ that had been gently calling me to His priesthood for the last six years. The visit of Pope Benedict to our shores caused me to climb off that fence I had been sitting on and “think of all the love that your [my] heart was made to receive, and all the love it is meant to give” in the service of His Church.
One year on from the Pope’s visit to the UK I was packing my suitcase leaving to start seminary training at the Royal English College in Valladolid, Spain. I attribute my decision to apply to seminary to this visit. His Holiness reminded us that “giving love, pure and generous love, is the fruit of a daily decision” and I had reached a point where I was now open to make the decision to apply to seminary. A few weeks before his journey to Britain I listed my options for the year, including various employment opportunities and further study. ‘Following up the priesthood idea’ was last on the list, literally. During the Pope’s speech outside Westminster I realised that deciding to pursue a vocation to the priesthood is an act of “pure and generous love…for the building up of his Church and the redemption of our world.” In essence, it is reasonable to say yes to Christ and this yes is liberating, allowing us to “discover our true self.” A vocation to the priesthood is how I make sense of my true self.
The life, language and holiness of Blessed John Henry Newman surrounded the entire Papal visit: Newman set the mood. My understanding of the priesthood developed in this context most especially at the prayer vigil in Hyde Park. In preparing for Newman’s beatification, the vigil invited us to “examine our lives, to see them against the vast horizon of God’s plan.” In this way, the Pope called us to a personal beatification in reminding us that “we were created to know the truth, to find in that truth our ultimate freedom and the fulfilment of our deepest human aspirations.” Asking the bigger questions in life is part of the parcel of Christianity and having “accepted the truth of Christ” our lives must change, for we cannot “go on with business as usual, ignoring the profound crisis of faith which has overtaken our society…”.
For me, this call to change materialised itself in giving serious consideration to my sense of calling to the priesthood. From this experience I became aware that vocation can never be an entirely private affair. A personal conviction alone is insufficient. Recognition by the Church is vital because vocation is a two-way process. You discern through the Church, through the liturgical spaces and themes of the years, through her people and her structures. A vocation must be recognised and authenticated in communion with the Church. Like holding a mirror up to nature, my sense of vocation should now be held up and reflected in the face of the Church.
Before turning to the Eucharist in adoration the Pope turned to the hearts of the many youth present at the vigil:
“Dear young friends: only Jesus knows what ‘definite service’ he has in mind for you. Be open to his voice resounding in the depths of your heart, even now his heart is speaking to your heart…Ask the lord what he has in mind for you! Ask him for the generosity to say ‘yes’!”
Re-calling Newman’s well known meditation of “some definite service” I really felt called by name! Service in name, service by nature. In these quiet moments on the eve of Newman’s beatification I realised, for the first time, that we can “ask the Lord what he has in mind” for us. Our personal vocation need not be a mystery any longer. We can know, through prayer and discernment, the purpose of our God creator in our lives.
I share the view of Prime Minister David Cameron that in September 2010 the Pope “really challenged the country to sit up and think, and that only be a good thing.” Whether he knew it or not, Cameron was touching upon a new found confidence in uncovering of our personal vocation in the life of the British Church. The Pope called us to “sit up and think” of the ways in which we are asked by the Lord to serve His Church. Sometimes this task, albeit noble, is simply daunting. We become overwhelmed by this call to serve and are unable to act. This is where we rely on the prayers of others and we ask for the grace needed to realise our ‘definite service’.