When I was in Dublin before Christmas, Father Charles c.p. (Charles Cross – not Blessed Charles) reminded me that I still haven’t posted anything on the Passionist Religious Life Weekend we held in Crossgar from 24 to 26 November. My excuse is that, with my father still in hospital, I’m blogging less frequently. The weekend was conducted by Father Charles, Father Victor and myself; seven young men who wanted to learn more about the Passionist Vocation took part; three of them were from Scotland and four from Ireland.
Here is the ferry at Stranraer; as you can see, the weather was not very promising but, in fact, the crossing was quite smooth and we arrived fit for a good dose of prayer, penance and solitude.
Saint Patrick’s Retreat is just beside the village of Crossgar, which you can glimpse here through the trees. The original name of the house is Tobar Mhuire (Our Lady’s Well); the old holy well is still there in the woods, just off the main avenue. The house was bought by the Passionists in 1952 as a juniorate or minor seminary; later it was the novitiate house.
Behind this wall, at the rear of the property, there is a large enclosed garden which is now the headquarters of the Ulster Wildlife Trust.
The stable block, adjoining the main building, has been converted into a small retreat house. There are about fifteen rooms for retreatants, three conference rooms, two oratories and a public chapel.
This glass-covered yard connects the stable block to the main building. Father Dermot’s talent for plants and flowers keeps it looking bright and welcoming.
The theme of the weekend was “The Priesthood in the Passionist Congregation”. All the young men taking part had some familiarity with the life and work of diocesan priests but were interested in knowing more about what it is like being a priest in a religious community. Of the three priests who took part in the weekend, I am the only one engaged in parish work. Father Victor’s ministry at the Crossgar monastery is mostly hearing confessions, blessing those who come there for spiritual or other healing, and working with prayer groups. Father Charles peaches Parish Missions and gives retreats to priests, religious and laity throughout Ireland and England. He is also coming to Saint Roch’s, Glasgow, later this year to give a Mission to mark the centenary of the parish.
Perhaps today, with so many parish priests living alone, the most obvious difference between diocesan and religious priests is the fact that religious priests usually live in community (although some of them are living alone nowadays too). More important, however, are the particular charism and spirituality of the order or congregation which shape how the community lives and the way in which its apostolate is conducted. As Passionists, we live according to the spirituality of Saint Paul of the Cross, taking a vow to promote in the hearts of God’s people the Memory of the Passion of Jesus Christ. This is the meaning of the Passionist Sign which we wear on our habit (modelled here by Father Charles).
During the weekend, we had Mass each day, we prayed parts of the Divine Office, and we had a half hour of Eucharistic Adoration each evening. The priests also gave some talks (-there were two each day) and we had time for questions, group discussion and personal reflection. Here is Father Charles speaking about what we learn about Faith in Saint John’s Gospel.
Behind Father Charles, you can see a relief of Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows, a Passionist student who died in 1862. The picture below gives a closer look. On one of the days I gave a talk on the Passionist Saints and Beati and their importance for our community.
We usually try to visit some place of local interest when we have a Vocation weekend at Crossgar; this part of Ireland has many associations with Saint Patrick. This time we went to Delamont Country Park, near Killyleagh, which is only about five miles from Crossgar. From the top of the hill we had a good view of Strangford Lough, where Saint Patrick landed when he returned to Ireland as a missionary.
The weather was far from perfect, but this didn’t discourage us from enjoying the (very) fresh air.
Here you can see the Sun trying to shine over Saul, where Saint Patrick died in 461 a.d. His grave is at Downpatrick, just a few miles away.
The weekend was very prayerful and I was most impressed by the good mixture of seriousness and fun the young men brought to it. Please pray for them as they discern what God is asking of them. Becoming a priest or religious is a challenge for young people today, but that doesn’t mean that God has stopped inviting people to follow Christ in this way; he hasn’t.