WelCom May 2023
National Vocation Awareness Week is an annual week of the Catholic Church dedicated to promoting vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and consecrated life through prayer and education, and to renew prayers and support for those considering these vocations.
Last month, to mark Good Shepherd Sunday – the Day of Prayer for Vocations – and the beginning of National Vocations Awareness Week, WelCom featured an insight into life at Kopua from a novitiate in a Cistercian Monastery. This month, we feature a personal reflection from new diocesan priest, Fr Alfred Tong, almost a year into his life as an ordained priest. Fr Alfred was ordained at St Joseph’s Church, Upper Hutt last September – the city in which he grew up and went to school.
A reflection into the first year of my priesthood
Fr Alfred Tong (BTh, BPharm, PhD, GradDipTh, DipGrad, PGCertPharm, ATCL)
Assistant Priest, Parish of Te Awakairangi – Lower Hutt, Avalon, Naenae and Taita
“If you knew the Gift of God…” – Jn 4:10
Having been ordained last September to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Wellington, these past months have not only been life-changing, but surprising, joyful, meaningful, fulfilling, satisfying, comforting, exciting and affirming. But also, at times, filled with sadness, uncertainty, frustration, tiredness, and the times when I am like ‘gosh, am I a priest?’.
As you can tell priesthood in its entirety is a vocation with all its richness that often fails upon description. In my first month at Te Awakairangi, I still remember one morning waking up on the wrong side of the bed and thinking ‘how can I do this for the rest of my life?’ To front up to the many engagements, weekday and Sunday Masses at the parish’s four Mass centres, sometimes not feeling I can deliver a ‘good’ Mass justly deserved by the people of God – or thinking I’ve just said a ‘dud’ homily. It dawned on me that it seems an impossible task living up to the vocation. As with any calling and honest lifelong relationship, there were certain adjustments, conflicts and tensions, which I only discovered after ordination – including being available for certain people in certain ways around the parish, and getting the appropriate feedback if things needed improvement! In modern crises of identity for many people, it is all too easy to want to pack it in and try another ‘job’. But just when the self-belief wanes, the waxing affirmation presents itself in surprising ways.
I recall recently receiving a hand-drawn Easter card from a young parishioner – it is amazing how many of these we as priests get – that read ‘Dear Fr Alfred, Happy Easter’. With the plethora of images featuring Easter eggs, bunnies, the three Crosses on Calvary, it read inside ‘thank you for being a good priest’. Well, I don’t always believe I am, but somehow the amazing thing I realised is, just by being the priest for the immediate needs of whatever comes up, people believed I am. After Mass one time, someone said to me, ‘hey, you turned up to my mum’s hospital bed. God must have listened because she was dying to receive an anointing. You were sent by God!’ How does one even comprehend the fullness of what happened here? And as I was just doing my usual chaplaincy slot at Hutt Hospital on Fridays, it is a mystery to how a routine anointing of the sick often evokes the deep sense of peace and floods of tears that speak of something beyond. And in another instance, ‘you were so good with my brother when he died, the funeral you did just made us love him even more’.
I have received the gift of priesthood now, but knowing what the gift of what this vocation provides is only something I am beginning to appreciate, in new and surprising ways. Sure, priesthood can be a challenging vocation at times – like accompanying a mother who is crying profusely for a stillborn baby – there was nothing more painful than feeling for her at that moment. And nothing more I can do to get rid of the pain. I don’t think the priesthood will ever solve the world’s age-old problems with the role priests have. The priesthood never provides others with ‘magical, swift’ solutions. But perhaps, it’s the immediate presence of someone like me that, like the big elephant in the room, just shouts the obvious message to those most in need of God’s comfort in the crossroads of their life – God’s gift of eternal life is readily there for you and me.
I would like to encourage all who are pondering a vocation to priesthood or religious life to not be put off by what you think you can or can’t do, or be. Your openness to how God shapes your life in all its uncertainties will be a clear sign of God’s visible love for others, who will in their own eyes, see it for themselves that truly, Jesus is the ‘Saviour of the World’.
Parish Vocation Cross Programme
Br Jonathan Craven, Kopua Monastery
Vocations to the religious life and ordained ministry don’t grow on trees. They are nurtured in families! For that reason, prayer for vocations should include prayer in the family. One practical way to get families to pray for these vocations is to start a Vocation Cross Programme in the parish.
A cross (provided by the parish or diocese) is circulated throughout the parish, with each family hosting the cross for one week. During that week the family prays every day – usually before the evening meal – for vocations to the ordained ministry and religious life. The cross is put in some prominent place in the house so that family members are reminded of its presence throughout the week.
Family Vocation Prayer
You are the Good Shepherd who is always mindful of your Church.
Watch over those who are baptised in your name,
and grant peace and harmony to all families.
Bless all parents, and help them to find peace and happiness through their vocation.
We ask you to help all children and young adults
to discover the vocation that will enable them
to live life to the full
as they become their best selves in the service of God’s kingdom.
We make this prayer in your name.
Pope Francis’ prayer for vocations
LORD of the Harvest,
BLESS young people with the gift of courage to respond to your call.
Open their hearts to great ideals, to great things.
INSPIRE all of your disciples to mutual love and giving–
for vocations blossom in the
good soil of faithful people.
INSTILL those in religious life, parish
ministries, and families with the confidence
and grace to invite others to embrace
the bold and noble path of a life
consecrated to you.
UNITE us to Jesus through prayer and sacrament,
so that we may cooperate
with you in building your reign of mercy
and truth, of justice and peace. Amen.
– Pope Francis
Please pray for the archdiocese’s seminarians
Matthew is on pastoral placement at Ōtari Parish. He is originally from Te Ngākau Tapu Parish, Porirua.
Kinh is on pastoral placement at St Joseph’s Parish, Upper Hutt. Kinh is originally from Vietnam.
Emilio is in his fourth year of seminary formation. He is originally from the Philippines.
Gerson is in his third year of seminary formation. He is originally from the Philippines.