08 August 2012

The Dominican habit and my vocation

Today is the feast of St Dominic. When I was a child my father, John, whose 25th death anniversary is 11 August, used to take me to High Mass on days such as Easter Monday and Whit Monday. Sometimes it would be to St Mary of the Angels Capuchin Church in Church Street, Dublin, sometimes to St Saviour's Dominican Church in Dominick Street, not too far away from the Capuchins. He loved High Mass. As a child I didn't!

He probably brought me to St Saviour's on other occasions too because I distinctly remember, when I was six or seven, being attracted by the habit of the Dominican friars I saw there. I guess that that was God stirring within me a sense that he was calling me to be a priest. When I began to think seriously about the priesthood at the age of 13 I never considered the Dominicans as I wanted to be a missionary priest - and a secular one, not a religious. But the Irish Dominicans have worked in Trinidad for many years, something I don't think I was aware of at the time.

St Dominic, El Greco (painted 1586-90)

Some years ago the Irish Dominican friars decided to go back to wearing their habit in their priories. All their vocation literature shows them wearing it. They have been doing very well for vocations in recent years and their blog, Irish Dominican Vocations, is well worth checking out. Read There are No Vocations! on 30 July.

The vocation director, Fr Gerard Dunne OP, told me a revealing story when I met him in 2010. One of the friars was to celebrate Mass in a nearby convent of religious sisters. As it was within walking distance he decided to wear his habit. On the way he met a not young religious sister from another convent who upbraided him for doing so. Habits were 'old hat'. Further on a young man stopped him and said, 'You're a priest, right? Well I'm getting married tomorrow and I'd like to go to confession'.

Speaking of confession, I met a friend today home from Belgium where she lives with her Belgian husband and their three children. She told me that her parish priest refuses to hear their confessions. 'Confession belongs to the past', he says. She doesn't know what to do. 'We have to come to the Philippines to go to confession'.

It's noteworthy too that as the Catholic Church dropped so many symbols, Friday abstinence, Lent - what we have now is 'Lent Lite' - and other things, we have become more aware of the Ramadan fast of Muslims and respect it, and sport has replaced Mass as 'liturgy'. In the past we in the West wore our 'Sunday best' going to church. Now the vast majority don't bother going to church but dress up to support their team in sporting events. In fact it has become a rip-off where teams change their gear, of which they have two or three different sets of colours, every year so that the companies they're associated with will sell more unneeded clothing, sometimes made by underpaid workers. and they know that children will put pressure on their parents to buy the new, unnecessary gear.

Ordinations of Fr Denis Murphy OP and Fr Maurice Colgan OP, St Saviour's Church, Dublin, 18 September 2011

I'm well aware that a habit or a clerical suit doesn't make a person a saint. Before Christmas 1981 when travelling on a train from London to Glasgow, wearing a red sweater and jeans, a woman asked me if I was a priest. Around the same time - I was home for Christmas from studies in Toronto - I went to visit the parents of a young Irishman I had come to know in a prayer group there. His mother opened the door. She had never met me before and didn't know I was coming but greeted me with a big smile and said 'You're very welcome, Father!'

But symbols are important. On recent visits home to Ireland I have made a point of wearing clerical dress most of the time. I have been approached by people young and old precisely because of this, once in the airport in Abu Dhabi by a newly graduated student from a Dublin university. He old me he was one of very few of his contemporaries who practised the faith and he appreciated the affirmation he got. On another occasion, flying from Abu Dhabi to Dublin I got into a genuine dialogue of faith with a Muslim man who not only had the Quran saved in his mobile phone but parts of the Bible also.

So on the feast of St Dominic I thank God for my Dad who dragged me unwillingly to St Saviour's all those years ago and for the friars I saw there whose white habits, without my being aware of it at the time, carried a quiet, personal message from God.

Take a look too at Irish Rosary Priest, the blog of 91-year-old Fr Gabriel Harty OP who is spending August working at Knock Shrine.

1 comment:

Crux Fidelis said...

A priest refusing to hear confession? Well, I never. Would there be any point in this lady reporting him to his bishop?

In recent years when I bump into priests of my acquaintance outside of the church milieu they generally tend to be in 'mufti' or at least have removed their collars. I think that fear plays a big part in this as there has been a long history of anti-Catholicism in this part of the world; in years past contempt for the Catholic clergy was largely muted but but in these days there has been a resurgence of more overt acts of hatred manifested in vandalism of churches and assaults, both verbal and physical (on one occasion, that I know of), on priests.