Wanting to be ordinary
Sunday, 10th February 2019
When I was a child in Primary school and not yet eight years of age, (I know that because we transferred to the De La Salle school at eight) a Passionist priest came into the classroom dressed in the habit with the heart badge, the mantle, the sandals, the whole works! He was Fr. Fergus Clark, a native of Navan. The teacher, a Mercy Sister, asked me would I like to be a priest like Fr. Fergus. And I was very definite in my answer: “Oh no!” I said, “I want to be an ordinary priest like Fr. Herbert!” Fr. Herbert was the local curate.
I discovered much later that Fr. Herbert was anything but an ordinary priest and that the Passionists were very ordinary indeed despite the strange way they dressed! But during our years of training and studies, we were separated from home and family. We were told we were leaving that world and joining another world, ‘a world within a world’, called ‘a state of perfection’. Though I was young, and knew nothing about Religious Life, some innate wisdom (no doubt from home!) told me there was something wrong with this and I feared it. But I didn’t call it wisdom then; I just thought I wasn’t strong enough, detached enough, or spiritual enough. On the rare occasions I gave voice to my fear, I described it as the “fear of losing touch with the man on the bike.” That man on the bike was my father and symbolised for me ordinary human life in family and work and all that was good and genuine in that. I didn’t want to be different from the rest of humanity and certainly not from ‘the man on the bike’ going home after a hard day’s work.
How happy I was in later life to find Thomas Merton, the great spiritual writer of the last century, saying, “The illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream. Not that I question the reality of my vocation, or of my monastic life: but the conception of ‘separation from the world’ that we have in the monastery too easily presents itself as a complete illusion: the illusion that by making vows we become a different species of being, pseudo angels, spiritual men.” And he concludes by saying, “Thank God, thank God, that I am a man like other men, that I am only a man among others – it is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race.”
I’m so happy I’m no different from the man on the bike!