The uppermost feeling is one of joyful gratitude to God and so many people through whom he has worked over the course of 50 years and more.
For a long time now I have appreciated that a Priest does not just appear from nowhere. To be a good Priest requires that one must be a good human being first. Then one must be a good Christian - someone who appreciates and lives one’s Baptism. On these two very important foundations is then laid the Call to be a Priest.
Firstly then I give thanks to God, especially for my parents and family, who not only gave me the precious gift of life, but also the vital gift of love together with a strong Faith in God. This Faith was centred in Jesus and inserted me firmly into the Church in my early years in New Norcia.
Many others shared love and Faith with me in the schools and communities I grew up in - too numerous to list here. For these I give thanks.
Then came the unspeakable gift of the Priesthood in Genoa. For this I give thanks also, as well as for all the Staff of the two seminaries at St Charles, Guildford, and Brignole-Sale, Genoa. Their efforts were always accompanied by the support, love and prayers of family and so many friends of our Church.
Then came those fifty years of Priesthood spread over the Archdiocese of Perth and, very much for the last 22 years, across our beloved Diocese of Geraldton.
Only God knows what good I may have done. There are times though in my Ministry as a Priest, serving people and loving them in my humanity, that I had been aware of some of that good. This too fills me with joyful thanks to God for being able to be an instrument in his hands to share his love and gifts with his people.
There are times too when I have had feelings of regret and sadness - not always having measured up to what God wanted, failing and sinning, at times not doing what I could.
Apart from the continual mercy and love of God which has lifted me up, sustained and strengthened me in these times, there are a few passages of God’s Word which have always comforted me.
The first is in St Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews ‘Every high priest is taken from among human beings and is appointed to act on their behalf in relationships with God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins; he can sympathise with those who are ignorant or who have gone astray, because he too is subject to the limitations of weakness. That is why he has to make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people’. Heb 5:1-3
In God’s wonderful providence we Priests are called as sinners. As human beings who fail and are limited, we first can and need to experience God’s great forgiveness and love. We are then in a better position to both understand and help others in their human frailty.
The others are in the Second Letter of St Paul to the Corinthians. ‘But we hold this treasure in pots of earthenware, so that the immensity of the power is God's and not our own’. 2 Cor 4:7
'My grace is enough for you: for power is at full stretch in weakness.' It is, then, about my weaknesses that I am happiest of all to boast, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me; and that is why I am glad of weaknesses, insults, constraints, persecutions and distress for Christ's sake. For it is when I am weak that I am strong. 2 Cor 12:9-10
I don’t need to be reminded of the fact that I am an earthen vessel or that I am weak. What I do need to be reminded of is the fact that when I do any good, it is by the power of God working in me.
So as I said, despite failure, sin and regrets the uppermost thought and feeling I have is of joyful gratefulness.
There are times when I have wondered - “Can I keep going? Can I cope?” - And guess what? I have come through. This has deepened my appreciation of an old Irish saying, “The will of God will never lead you, where the Grace of God will not keep you”. For all this too I am so grateful.
One thing I have tried to be, and want all Priests to be, is a loving Shepherd to God’s people. That’s who Jesus is and wants us to be. By being good Shepherds we in fact become effective signs of Jesus the Good Shepherd among his people.
This is what Pope Francis also is and wants of us Priests and Bishops. As he told us ‘Get the smell of the sheep on you!”. For the privileged position of being a Shepherd to God’s people, I give God thanks.
I thank God for the countless number of people who over the years have loved me and prayed for me. That has called down God’s Grace on me time and time again - the Grace of God from which all fruit flows.
Pope Francis’ simple plea, right at the beginning of his Pontificate, and often since, gives me heart and conviction to ask you all again “Please pray for me”.
I have and will continue with gratitude to pray daily for you - my family, my Diocesan family and friends far and wide.