WHY I LOVE BEING A PRIEST by the Late Father Gregory JORDAN S.J
|Father Greg Jordan S.J.|
13.7.1930 - 19.7. 2015
Father Greg Jordan S.J. - widely known as "the good Jesuit" went to his Eternal Reward on 19th July, 2015.
This article first appeared in the November 2006 Issue of "THE PRIEST" published by the Australian Confraternity of Catholic Clergy and is reproduced here by permission of the Editor Father John Corrigan.
WHY I LOVE BEING A PRIEST
" Retrieving Milestones Along the Road
Queensland saw an act of vandalism this year that grieved many conscious of the significance of traditions in Australian history: parties unknown pored weedkiller on that legendary national icon, the so-called Tree of Knowledge at Longreach, under which the Australian Labor Party is said to have been born. It was the State of Queensland that elected the world's first Labor Government, and the news shocked and saddened those who value our origins and their symbols.The question was: would the tree survive? The experts speculated, some saying that it would surely die, others expressing the hope that the flood of poison could be neutralised and new growth be seen once more.
You men here this night, my brother Priests, and future Priests are the green wood in that Tree of Life which is the Church, who stubbornly resist the floodtide of poison attacking that Tree of Salvation: the poisons of heterodoxy and heteropraxis. For centuries there have been those who have confidently predicted the Church's demise, ignoring Christ's promise to be with her until the end of time, or his prediction that the Gates of Hel would not prevail against her. Humanly speaking there is ample evidence of their pessimistic view, like the decline of Mass attendance to something like 13%, so that in places only 10% attend Mass - one in ten! Where are the other nine? They are not coming back to thank Christ for their healing as did Samaritan!
But then they scarcely feel the need for healing, so thorough has been the invasion of Catholic institutions by secular thought and morality, the "tyranny of relativism". In Europe, the disaster is if anything worse, though the Holy Father seems to have singled out Australia of all places as signal in the decline of faith. In the face of that dramatic decline, you are the men who cling to Life, resisting the lethal cocktail of the ideas, moods, fashions of our time. You are producing fruit, and it is fruit that will last. Many of you are "pruned already" as Our Lord says, "by My word" - in your daily encounter with Scripture in prayer, in the Mass and the Office of the day. And I would add you have no doubt been pruned by the adverse treatment you have received, to the point of calumny itself. Well, you are in good company, and Our Lord tells you, "Rejoice, I tell you, dance for joy because your reward will be great in Heaven. Nor should we ever forget that any suffering we endure on account of our fidelity to Christ and His Church will certainly produce fruit.If this has not happened yet with some of you, then be sure that it will do so, as Our Lord Himself predicted. All you have to do is remain faithful. Persevere.
When looking for evidence of the Church's demise, apart from the decline in Mass attendance I have already instanced, the commentators will invariably point to the decline in vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and the shortage of Priests. What especially distresses me, however, are reports of low Priestly morale, of Priests making heavy weather of it as they live out their vocation, and that is why my first thought was to address you tonight on Why I Love Being a Priest.I am not sure what entitles me to speak to you on this topic tonight. Basically, I knew I wanted to tell the world "Why I loved being a Priest". I certainly would like to tell those confreres of mine in the priesthood what a blessing it is to share the eternal priesthood of Christ Our Lord. Furthermore, as I recount a milestone or two on my road to and in the priesthood, I am sure you will discern how others contributed to the nurture of a priestly vocation.
My experience of the priesthood has been in three main stages:
First, growing up in a small country town parish conducted by Diocesan Priests.
Secondly, four years of boarding school with the Marist Fathers.
Thirdly, and this time much more intensively, almost fifty years as a member of the Society of Jesus.
The only Parish Priest I ever had, Father Michael Joseph Bleakley, a magnificent orator, had the practice of coming down to the Altar Rails after Communion - on the men's side, as it happened with all the boys in the front pews - to read aloud for us al the Prayers After Communion. What do you think would be the effect of this language, this rhetoric, on a boy not yet ten?
O my Jesus, you have given yourself to me; now, let me give myself to you.
I give you my body that it may be chaste and pure.
I give you my soul that it may be free from sin.
I give you my heart that I may always love you.
I give you every breath that I may breathe, and especially my last.
I give you myself in life and in death that I may be yours forever and ever. Amen.
All are simple words, eighty-three of them, and all but four are monosyllables. There is no hint of a "Vouchsafe", or a "deign", or a " humbly prostrate in supplication". The words are so basic as to be almost commonplace: give, breath, body, soul, life, and death. Yet when fused together what incendiary rhetoric they become to put into the mind of a young boy, to fire him, heart and soul to give himself body and soul to Christ Our Lord. Only quite recently I have come to realise that those words encapsulate the "Theology of the Body" of John Paul II. They are a spousal formula. Were they perhaps too advanced a rhetoric for the immature, or were they not setting before him the highest spiritual ideals to which he might aspire: I wonder if I could do that? Those words were a template stamping his thought, his imagination and his affections early in life with the outline of all the sanctity there was. They pushed the boundaries of possibility.They were also - little did I know it then - a superb preparation for the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, which culminate in the Act of Offering that concludes his Contemplation For Obtaining Love :
Take Lord, receive, all my liberty, my memory, my understanding and my will. You have given them all to me; now let me return them all to you to do with as you will. Give me only Your grace and Your love, for these will be enough for me.
That first Act of Offering prepared me too for the Prayer for Generosity :
Lord teach me to be generous: teach me to serve You as You deserve:
To give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labour and not to ask reward, save that of knowing we do Your Holy Will.
Those three prayers stand in a continuum, a direct line extending seventy years. I wish I could say that I always lived according to them, but this much I can say: I found in them a framework that gave shape, focus, and direction to my life.Of course, I can well remember being told by a Brother or Nun looking around the classroom teaching the Ten Commandments and saying " Now that's all you've got to do to get into Heaven."This offering of a bare minimum necessary for salvation certainly underlined the essential task of life on earth but in no way did it weigh down the spirit aching for the wild adventure of self-offering.
SERVING THE ALTAR
Meanwhile, Sister Mercia prepared us meticulously for First Confession and First Holy Communion. Meticulously, but not scrupulously.Her instructions were clear, so that we approached these Sacraments for the first time untroubled. She gave us a familiarisation "confession" in the confessional and a practice Communion with unconsecrated hosts ("communion breads"). I well remember that as she came along the altar rails she had the hosts in an old Edmond's Baking Powder tin, bearing their trademark motto, "SURE TO RISE". Was this preparing me for the Mystery of the Resurrection?
When aged ten a Marist Brother, my best Teacher ever, selected a group to train as Altar Servers. He instructed us most thoroughly, introducing us to the courtesies of the Sanctuary: the head bow as opposed to the profound; the position of the hands, the reverent upright genuflection as opposed to the wobbly bob; how to conduct yourself when you make a mistake. The effect was to inculcate in me a sense of order and propriety, all focused on the Holy One in Whose court we were privileged to serve. On one occasion I failed to please at the ablutions by offering Father Bleakley the towel still folded tight instead of opened for his convenience. He casually clipped me over the ear. I was not the slightest bit fazed by this technical assault. Two generations later I would have been encouraged to sue, but then I happily finished serving Mass glad to be privileged to do so. Father Bleakley was indeed "washing his hands among the innocent".
Five of us became good friends, of whom four were destined to enter a Seminary, two of us being ordained.In fact from the age of about five, I had felt very comfortable with the idea of being a Priest or a Brother.When I was seven, my Father died. There were ten children in the family, I being the last, and a particularly strong family it was. They and others like my Teachers sustained me, but I must note here a phenomenon I have noted down through the decades; namely that death, illness or similar misfortune in early life is followed again and again by a priestly or religious vocation. The youngster losing a parent, or put in plaster for six months or the like - forced to watch from the sidelines, compelled to repeat a year, and so lose old friends and make new ones - perhaps gains insight into the transitoriness of this world, and begins to aspire to what is permanent, even eternal. A vocation is then a distinct possibility.
For my Secondary Schooling, it was my greatest privilege to be educated by the Marist Fathers, who gave me the best religious formation then available in Australasia. Out of some sixty in the final year, twelve entered the priesthood.My favourite teacher, Father Kevin Maher, S.M., a published poet, coached me in public speaking.He first gave me Evelyn Waugh's life of Campion written just ten years before, and then R.H.Benson's book on Campion "Come Rack! Come Rope". These two books made me a Jesuit. I finished Benson's enthralling novel at home on holidays in my room at the front of the house. I was flooded with emotion as I came to the end of his story and his final words from the gallows. Tears stung my eyes at the thought of the nobility of this, my new-found hero, this jewel of England so unjustly and so brutally executed: a man of whom the world was not worthy. For me, it was a defining moment. I threw the book down and wandered rather aimlessly through the house to the back, possibly to tell Scotty my dog. My Mother was in the kitchen, looked up, saw my eyes stung with tears and asked a little sharply, "have you been smoking?" There you have it, the story of my life - from the sublime to the ridiculous. One day cock -o'- the- walk, feather duster the next. Though my Father had been a Tobacconist I had never smoked. You have to laugh and this was only one of many laughs on my path to the altar; and if you want to make God laugh, "Tell Him your plans!"Don't get me wrong, plan we must, short term and long, but always remaining flexible in case our HQ switches to Plan B.
Our Christian Doctrine text was a course written by our famed Prefect of Studies, Father Clifford Bowler S.M. It was really a mini-course for Seminarians, a compact coverage of Philosophy and Theology designed for Secondary pupils. I devoured it.
|Baptisiing the latest addition to family known to Father Jordan for decades.|
Early in Sixth Form I came across a copy of "The Imitation of Christ" in the school bookshop and pounced on it. No matter how much doctrine we learned in class, it was clear that the divine Person of Christ was central to our lives. Each night, after the evening meal I slipped up to the Chapel and read a section, absorbing its challenging spirituality. I still have it, and I hope I have something too of its purity of spirit.
The Priests who taught all our classes were superb men, dedicated to their school apostolate. They encompassed the entire range of personality from the eccentric bookworm to the footy jock in a collar, but Priests they were and unmistakably so.Why I did not enter the Marists is a mystery, and anyway, too long a story.I applied to the Jesuits in Australia.
When I left New Zealand the following January for the Jesuit Novitiate I did so with the words of Campion's Brag still ringing in my ear, still firing me for the life ahead, as it fires me still:
My charge is of free cost
. to preach the Gospel
. to minister the Sacraments
. to instruct the simple
. to reprove sinners
. to confute errors
. in brief to crie alarme spiritual against foul vice
and proud ignorance wherewith many my dear
countrymen are abused.
The language is only slightly of another era. Otherwise, it is simple, direct and passionate. Campion saw clearly the crisis of his time: a magnificent Church crumbling in two generations, not unlike our own time, though for different reasons. What a superb Mission Statement it would make for us now! All that is missing is "collaborative, inclusive ministry" and " consultative Pastoral approach." - those weasel words that you soon learn are dropped the very instant you depart from the party line.
|Father Jordan acting as Deacon|
My years of Jesuit formation saw little contact with diocesan clergy. My introduction to them was in Sydney where I had my first appointment and was soon elected to what was then called the Senate of Priests, and then to its executive which was chaired by the then father John Heaps. Coming from the classroom as I did, the men on the Senate impressed me by their earthy realism, mixing as they did with all walks and ranks of life, inside the Church and often outside in civic encounters, mixed marriages and the like. I respected them for it and liked them for it. The battle-lines in the late 60's and early 70's were not yet drawn, and I was protected from the skirmishes that indicated what would grow into a guerilla war, in which the dissident insurgents were to capture the nerve-centres of power. Then, I enjoyed their company and admired them for their service all in continuity with my original experience of the clergy as a boy in my home parish.
Years later I was appointed to Brisbane, finding myself on the Council of Priests, the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, and Dean of my Deanery. That all came to an end when my Provincial asked me to serve a six- month term as an assistant to the Papal Nuncio in Canberra, which I happily did. On my return, however , I was informed that since I had worked for the Pope's Man in Australia, I would no longer be acceptable to the clergy. I was astonished. I had been no more than a sort of temp you get from an agency, a dogsbody polishing the Nuncio's written English. Still, when one door closes another opens, and with the assignments that have come my way I have never been busier.
Joy of Mary
Out of many spheres of ministry, I might speak of there is one particular area I wish to instance; namely, the world of Marian Devotion. I can remember with the utmost clarity as a toddler being summoned to sit on my Mother's knee for her to teach me the Hail Mary, giving me the foundation of Marian Devotion, connatural to a Catholic.A famous New Zealand Priest, a close friend of the family, came to visit and told us of the appearances of Our Lady to three peasant children at Fatima, previously never mentioned in Church or school. We listened intently. Throughout the war, all those at home prayed the Rosary every night after dinner. With four brothers, a brother-in-law, and cousins, all away at the war, we prayed nightly for their return sound in mind and body. All returned except for one cousin, but the nightly recitation of the Rosary was formative.
The revival of popular devotions in the Archdiocese of Brisbane dates from two events: the establishment of the Pauline Fathers near Canungra, and the visit of the Pilgrim Statue of Our Lady of Fatima in 1995.At the first I was the occasional preacher, having just returned from Czestochowa. At the second I celebrated the public Mass in the Botanical Gardens River City Stage with 17 concelebrants and 2,500 joyful people in a candlelit procession. What struck me, and is still with me, is how radiant the faces of the people were. I established the Fatima Mass on the thirteenth of each month, and am Chaplain to a wonderful group of devotees of Our Lady, the Apostles of Mary. This work is particularly important for the ethnic groups, as it enables them freely to express their love of Our Lady and their joy in serving and praising her. I believe that devotional life is necessary for the survival of Catholicism. Needless to say, I have heard this sort of work sweepingly dismissed as superstition, and sometimes the accusation is true, and we must deal with that; but I persist in believing that there is a role for devotion to Our Lady to play in the faith life of all Catholics. In the case of men, I believe that it tempers the natural egotism of the male, not to mention his tendency to violence. I happily serve, and the people grow in numbers and in faith, hope, and charity. My engagement in these and similar devotions flows directly from that first Hail Mary learnt at my Mother's knee.
|Father Damon Sypher F.S.S.P. with Father Greg Jordan S.J.|
I ask myself again why I have told you all this? I could have strung together some fine passages from Pastores Dabo Vobis or from the Maundy Thursday Letters to Priests of Pope John Paul II; or from Cardinal Ratzinger himself. Priests can and must find them, read them and digest them. That will put the spiritual calcium into your Priestly bones, and equip you for the fight, keeping you strong and focused in your priesthood, but it is something else I want to say to you good Priests tonight. The stories I have selected to tell you in this brief sketch of my early days tell me one thing: the template of a vocation can be set very early in life, and in that the role of the Priest is critical. Learn that everything that you do can be a planting of the seeds of a vocation. Every gesture you make, every syllable you utter is stamped with your priesthood, because you are priestly in your very being. Your priesthood is not an outer garment you can throw off at the end of the day or the start of a holiday.
The Sacramental Character of Holy Orders is not to be thought of as an external mark scoring the surface. Rather it is something that floods and transforms the entire person, now configured to Christ, enabling you to say " I absolve you.." and "This is My Body.....", "This is the Cup of My Blood...." Here then is Christ speaking in and through you.You are the instumentum Christi. Only you are not a robot speaking with a recorded voice. You are not a lifeless mask such as Greek actors donned to play their role. You are living individuals to whom Christ has said: " I have come that you may have life and have it to the full". These are surely the most positive words ever uttered by a man, and they are supremely addressed to Priests who are configured to Christ Who is Life.
I have been moved to speak as I do because I am increasingly aware that many of our brother Priests groan under the burden of their priesthood. It is a grief I carry that they do not go with joy to the altar of God. Of course, priesthood is a burden ( as is marriage, parenthood, and one's daily work), but as Our Lord says: " My burden is light, My yoke is easy."It is not a pretend burden but a real one: it is not a pretend yoke, yet it is easy. That is, it is perfectly shaped and finished by the craftsman so as to fit across my shoulders, so that I can run all day under that yoke and not have it rub me raw. Christ knew about yokes and would have fashioned them. He detested the burdens the Scribes and others laid on the backs of men. How grievous it must be for Him to see Priests with dissident views impose needless burdens on themselves, and so open the door to disaffection.
We can be sustained by the conviction, which we know we must never abandon, that while I labour in the ministry as if the results depend on me, I know in my bones that it is God Who gives the increase. We end with gratitude in our hearts and praise of God on our lips.
|Introibo ad Altare Dei.|
The last known picture of Father Greg JORDAN S.J. as he entered Saint Ignatius Church Toowong to celebrate Sunday Mass. Father was felled by a massive stroke as he proclaimed the Gospel
The Good Jesuit.
The preparation of this Post has been for me a labour of Love , made all the more so by my pathetic typing ability - once described as "crawling over the keyboard".
It was my great privilege to know Father Greg Jordan since 1996, to work with him in a number of activities and for about a year to frequently serve his daily Mass in the Extraordinary Form.It was always a special privilege. Father was always generous, kind, witty and helpful I admired him immensely and more, I loved him for his integrity, profound knowledge, and his love of Christ and His Church in the most difficult of circumstances.