I grew up in an ordinary Catholic family in Hastings. We said morning and evening prayers, went to Mass on Sundays, and prayed the Rosary in May and October. Mum and Dad weren’t overly religious, but being Catholic was very much a part of who we were. We also lived fifty meters from the Church! I was an altar server and went to the local Catholic schools. Our parish was staffed by the Society of Mary, there were fourteen Marists in the community there, and those priests had a big influence in my life especially during my college years. I joined the parish youth group and was part of the Antioch movement which really helped my spiritual life as a teenager. At College I regularly attended daily morning Mass. The Marist Seminary was over in Napier, and I had been there and knew a few of the seminarians and they were good guys. I thought that being a priest and a teacher would be a good way to live my life, so when I finished College, I applied to join the Society of Mary.
Looking back, I can say that the Antioch experience really helped me to develop a spiritual life, and this helped me to consider priesthood. I learned early that to live this life fully, I needed to be open to saying yes, even if things didn’t turn out quite as I had expected. It’s not always easy, but I’ve always tried to be open to whatever is asked of me, and to trust that it is part of God’s plan for me.
My life as a priest has been varied. As a religious I moved around the country to work at various Marist Colleges, until I was asked to take up an international role in Rome. The call to become the Bishop of Christchurch came as a complete surprise, as did the call to become the next Archbishop of Wellington! Following Christ is always an adventure. Our lives become tapestries made up of the experiences we have and the people we meet along the way.
The life of a priest is a satisfying life, and it is a life of relationships. It makes no sense without the people. It is the faith of the people that carries and sustains my vocation. Being with people and seeing them grow in their love of Christ gives me joy. The priesthood is about having a relationship of love with Christ, and leading others to a personal encounter with Him, which leads to a life of discipleship.
If God is calling you, be brave and be open. Don’t put up all the reasons why you shouldn’t. Think instead of all the reasons why you should! Trust in the fact that God still calls people to priesthood and religious life, and if priesthood is what God is calling you to, it would be a shame to miss that calling. Don’t limit yourself, and don’t let other people limit you either. It is a different sort of path than most take, but it is a great adventure.
We know that many people today do all sorts of challenging things in life; we take them on partly because we want to be bold and push ourselves beyond our comfort zone. The priestly vocation is a challenge that God may be inviting you to.
In my experience, making a commitment is really freeing. It sets you free from the paradox of choice! At some point, you need to make a choice and give it your best shot. Once you’ve said yes, you know that you’re on the road, and sustaining your spiritual life and connecting with others who support you will be crucial on the journey. And finally, trust in God. I always keep in mind these words of St Paul, which were read at my ordination:
Glory be to him whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than
we can ask or imagine; glory be to him from generation to generation in the Church
and in Christ Jesus forever and ever. Amen.
Archbishop Paul Martin SM was installed as Archbishop of Wellington in 2023.