I can't remember whether it was late in August 1968, when I went to the USA from Ireland as a young priest to study music for three years, or whether it was three years later when I was on my way to the Philippines. But the place was Boston and the article that upset and shocked me was in The Pilot, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Boston.
A number of seminarians of the Archdiocese, some of them deacons, as I recall, were asked about their future hopes and dreams. One of them indicated that he would give the priesthood a try for ten years and then see. I don't remember his exact words but they were along those lines and I don't know if he was ever ordained and, if he was, how he fared.
Those were the years in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council and also the years of the Vietnam War. There was turmoil in the Church in many parts of the world and in the USA there was the turmoil caused by its involvement in the Vietnam War. The 'Spirit of Vatican II' was abroad, though much of that had little to do with what the Council had actually said. It was most evident in the area of liturgy.
It was a time when more and more people began to reject any kind of lifelong commitment.
However, in Assisi last Friday Pope Francis reminded young people that certain commitments are for life. Responding to a young couple he said, You know that marriage is for a lifetime? 'Yes, we love each other, but we'll stay together as long as love lasts. When it's over we go our separate ways.' That is selfishness.
Pope Francis went on to recall an experience similar to my own in Boston more than 40 years ago. One time I heard a good seminarian say: 'I want to become a priest for ten years. Then I will think about it again.' That is the culture of provisionality. Jesus did not save us provisionally, he saved us definitively.
The people present applauded the Pope's words.
Earlier this year I watched part of a programme on a Manila TV station where lawyers were discussing pre-nuptial agreements. The people on the panel were mostly young and seemed to be concerned only with economic matters. (The programme was about business and finance.) Not a single one of them raised the question of commitment, even though most of them would have been Catholics.
If I discovered that a couple whose wedding I was to officiate at had made such an agreement I would be bound in conscience not to go ahead with the wedding. Such an agreement is a clear assertion that the couple do not really mean 'until death to us part' and that while there might be a wedding ceremony there would be no marriage.
The same would hold for a seminarian whose idea was to 'give the priesthood a try'.
From time to time I get gentle reminders of how our lifelong commitments are to others. In Holy Family Home for Girls here in Bacolod some years ago, where many of those who live there have suffered abuse, usually within their own family circle, a couple of the teenage girls were telling me that they had heard of a priest leaving the priesthood. One of them asked me, Are you going to leave too?