'BEING A PRIEST IS A WONDERFUL PRIVILEGE.'
an interview with
Fr Chris Whelan
What were your misconceptions about Priesthood before discerning it?
I was given the opportunity of doing a discernment course for a year before I applied to be a priest for the Portsmouth Diocese. Originally, I applied to be a priest for the Birmingham Diocese while there visiting my parents. I saw a vocations poster at the back of a church one Sunday morning which said ‘Your priest is somebody’s son ~ your son could be somebody’s priest’. I phoned the number at the bottom of the poster and arranged to meet the Vocations Director the following week. When I met with him he asked “How long have you been considering a vocation to the priesthood?” I replied “About a week”. Not surprisingly he recommended that I did a discernment course with my parish priest but didn’t realise that I was living in Bournemouth at the time. When I finished the course he found out that I’d applied and been accepted to study for the Portsmouth Diocese and he then complained that they had stolen me.
Who inspired you on your journey?
My family definitely inspired me to respond positively to God’s call to become a priest. When I mentioned that I was considering a vocation to the priesthood I had their full support from that moment on even though it was not something that was mentioned as I was growing up. From as far back as I can remember I always had a deep faith in a loving God. Jesus was always my best friend and so I never doubted His unconditional love for me. Rather than having a particular priest to inspire my priestly vocation I found that when I was travelling around Israel and working with different volunteers on Kibbutzim, often after talking about my faith in Jesus they would say to me things like “You’d make a good priest” or “Have you ever thought about becoming a priest?” I’d dismiss these comments as I didn’t realise at the time that God was calling me to the priesthood through them.
What was your greatest worry when discerning your vocation?
I’m not a worrier. I find its best just to wait and see what happens in life. I thought I’ll give this a go and if it’s not for me then so be it. I think that is one of the things that helped me to enjoy and make the most out of the seminary experience. I thought that if I’m told during the six years at seminary that I’m not a suitable candidate for the priesthood then at least I’ve had a go and I’ll be able to use the experience and knowledge I’d gained to help me with whatever I end up doing.
'I can’t imagine myself doing anything else where the daily reward would be so great.'
How is the lived reality of your vocation different to how you had perceived it?
Before ordination I suppose I had been focusing on the sacrificial side of priesthood and what I’d be giving up rather than what I’d be given in return. Now that I’ve been ordained for almost 19 years I can sincerely say that I have no regrets about my decision to answer God’s call. I can’t imagine myself doing anything else where the daily reward would be so great. I tried many different occupations after leaving school and then one Sunday morning before Mass, not knowing what to next, I got down on my knees in a church and prayed to God to direct me into the right job. I promised I’d do my best to stick with it even though usually I don’t make promises. That same day God called me to be a priest and I responded with an immediate “Yes Lord, if this is Your will”. That was 25 years ago and I’ve never regretted responding to His call and keeping my promise. I never realised just how much I’d enjoy being a priest.
How has living your vocation brought you joy?
Living my vocation has brought me immeasurable joy. Being a priest is a wonderful privilege. Even after all these years I continue to experience amazing blessings from the Lord every day. I begin each morning by miraculously changing bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ and distributing Holy Communion to the regular devout parishioners who attend daily Mass. The love and support that I receive daily from these grateful parishioners is overwhelming. I have met and continue to meet regularly with some of the most beautiful, genuine and selfless people anyone would be blessed to meet. I love the fact that I truly love the people that I serve and they truly love me. I love everything about the priesthood.
'If God is calling you to the priesthood then I would suggest that the very least you should do is say “Yes Lord, if this is Your will.”'
What have been the highlights of living out your vocation?
Every day is a highlight but I suppose the major highlight of my calling which will remain with me for the rest of my life is the day of my Ordination. On that day, in the year 2000, which I had been preparing for all my life, my soul was ontologically changed. I became a living witness and icon of my best friend Jesus Christ. I realised then that this was the whole reason for my existence; for God knew that I was going to be a priest before I was even born. I love being a priest. I love saying Mass, hearing Confessions, Baptising children and receiving adults into the Church, giving counsel and absolution, preaching the Gospel, preparing couples for marriage, giving spiritual guidance and advice, visiting and anointing the sick and housebound, teaching children about my friend Jesus and telling people about God, comforting the bereaved and helping the poor but ultimately the highlight of my calling is not so much about what I do or experience as a priest but who I am. I thank God for calling me to be me.
What would you say to someone else considering the Priesthood?
If you think God is calling you to be a priest then I’d suggest that you give it a go. Contact your local parish priest and let him know you think you are being called to be a priest. He’ll be able to advise you on what to do next and be able to help you get in touch with a Vocations Director. This could be the most important decision that you make in your life. This could be the very reason for your existence. If God is calling you to the priesthood then I would suggest that the very least you should do is say “Yes Lord, if this is Your will”. If it is God’s will then you won’t regret your response. If it is not God’s will then at least you can say you tried to respond positively to Him and no doubt, through prayer and perseverance, God will lead you to become aware of your true vocation.