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Be a Bridge!

Sr. Margaret, who works in the National Seminary of Ireland in Maynooth, sent us this account written by Damien Quigley of his journey towards ordination to the priesthood and how he sees his role in his future ministry. It is published here with Damien’s kind permission.

When people hear that I qualified with a science degree from Queen’s University, Belfast in 1998 and then went to work for Tesco for 11 years, they are genuinely surprised as to how I could go from science to retail so easily. When I tell them what I’m doing now, they are literally speechless…
In august 2010, at the age of 35, I walked through the doors of the National Seminary of Ireland, Maynooth, to begin formation for priesthood for the archdiocese of Armagh. God willing, I will be ordained to diaconate in 2015 and to priesthood in 2016. So how did I end up here now, in my 4th year in seminary?
Well, the call to priesthood has always been there. I can’t say that I have a "Paul on the road to Damascus" moment where I can pinpoint exactly when my life turned definitively in this direction. My journey has been much more gradual, a bit like turning an oil tanker at sea. The undercurrent was always steering me this way even when I was wrestling at the wheel to go another way! I recall being eager to make my first Holy Communion, not out of any consciously deep love of the Eucharist but simply as a means to serve Mass. I was that stereotypical boy who every Sunday afternoon would do a "play Mass" in our home, complete with rice paper communion and Ribena-as-wine.
When I was in my late teens, I didn’t feel ready for seminary, let alone priesthood. I had a lot of growing up to do in so many ways and I firmly believe that, if I had entered seminary at age 18 I wouldn’t have lasted. I didn’t have then what I am cultivating now - a deeper spiritual life, a more mature masculinity, an experience of life that most people have, e.g bills, relationships, career moves, friendships gained and lost, joy etc. I am certainly not fully formed - and don’t expect to be this side of the Parousia - but I am much more integrated now in my humanity.
And that’s a cornerstone of priestly formation - human formation. Yes, there is academic formation in philosophy and theology, pastoral formation in parish ministry (the core of my 4th year at present) and spiritual formation that constantly irrigates my relationship with God and everything I am and do. Yet, without the foundation of human formation - formation as a mature, integrated man - then the rest will topple. Pope John Paul II once wrote that "the priest should mold his human personality in such a way that it becomes a bridge and not an obstacle for others in their meeting with Jesus Christ the Redeemer of humanity." For me, that’s the very essence of priesthood summed up. I am called to be a man first and then a priest who acts as a bridge between God and His people. God never moves, people do. So the bridge that is the priest, while anchored in God, will have to bend and move and adjust to be where people are, either close to or distant from God. And being a bridge, people will hang from you, will walk over you, will even walk around you to find their own way to God. The call of priesthood is the call to be the bridge that allows people to meet with God. In that small and humble way, as a priest, I can serve the great covenantal promise of our Father for his children: "And you shall be my people and I will be your God." (Jeremiah 30:22).
Please pray for me as I continue my formation journey to be a bridge!

_ Damien Quigley, Armagh, 26th February 2014