'NO ONE CAN PREPARE YOU FOR HOW REWARDING MINISTRY IS.'
an interview with
Fr John Cooke
What were your misconceptions about Priesthood before discerning it?
That I was not be able to cope with the study. That people may decide that I was too young to take such a step (to apply to enter Seminary at 18). I now know that I could cope with the study, and that it was the right time for me to go to Seminary and I have never looked back.
Who inspired you on your journey?
I was inspired by my Parish Priest and his retired Assistant Priest when I was growing up who were very holy, humble and devout men. My School Chaplain had a big part to play in my seeing the Priesthood as a possibility for me. All the formation staff at the Seminary also inspired me and challenged me on my journey of discovery too.
What was your greatest worry when discerning your vocation?
There was the worry that I would be missing out in life, the big & beautiful glamorous things. Also I was worried that I could get something wrong, and knowing the impact you can have on people lives, that is a big responsibility.
'I also know that I need to rely solely on Christ and on solid regular prayer to be able to function.'
How is the lived reality of your vocation different to how you had perceived it?
I never knew my ministry would be so varied including so many different ‘roles’ and be so busy. No one can prepare you for how rewarding it is either. I could never have expected I’d be able to do the things I’ve been asked to undertake. I know that comes down to God’s grace.
I also know that I need to rely solely on Christ and on solid regular prayer to be able to function. As soon as you even start to think you can do anything without the preparation of prayer, you fall at the first hurdle. I have also found that when you are facing an important event / project, or you’re about to do something that in hindsight was really ‘good’, you will encounter a problem or difficulty or come under a spiritual attack or discouragement of some form. But the Lord will not let you down.
How has living your vocation brought you joy?
I have a real sense of fulfilment & peace in my life and I meet so many different people, and that brings me joy.
I have had the privileged position to be alongside people through so many situations and to bring the presence of Christ to them during those times – the good, the sad and the bad. It is hard to describe how extraordinary and how humbling this can be. I know the power I received through Sacrament of Holy Orders has enabled me be the Priest I am. It is a supernatural grace.
The Priesthood has opened many opportunities for me. I enjoy knowing that no two days in ministry are ever the same and no day is ever dull. You just don’t know what situations you’ll face when you get up on a morning to say your prayers.
'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?
That is hard, as every time you celebrate a Sacrament it is very powerful - especially when Anointing the Sick & Dying. When I lay hands on the person I am anointing, I always go back in my mind’s eyes to the moment I was ordained and the Bishop laid his hands on me. I am but a channel of the Lord’s grace coming to that person.
For me, Holy Week & the Sacred Triduum each year is an extraordinary highlight. I find it incredibly moving, draining too, but in a good way!
It might sound a bit odd but I know that when I am feeling at my emptiest and / or worried about something, that I often have my finest hour! I know it is because the Holy Spirit is working through me. To be a priest, as St John the Baptist said, “I must decrease and He must increase.”
What would you say to someone else considering the Priesthood?
I would echo what my School Chaplain told me – “Why don’t you give God a chance?”
If you feel you may be called – talk to someone. Talk to your priest. Talk to one of the Diocesan Vocation Team in the Diocese. It is not a recruitment office and there is no pressure - so don’t worry! We are all just here to help and we want to help.
Be open enough to seek some accompaniment and discernment. Also, be aware that there tends to be several voices at work in any discernment process (your own, the Lord’s, the world’s, and the one who seeks to divide & hold you back). Trust and be open to the Holy Spirit, stay close to Jesus in the Sacraments, in your prayer life and through the Church. Remember, if the call is from the Lord, He wants the best for you and offers you peace. The Lord does not force Himself; and He is never outdone in generosity. In our busy and noisy world, I believe that the best thing to help you have the courage to respond to His call is to spend quiet time in Adoration of the Lord Himself in the Blessed Sacrament. As Bl. John Henry Newman says – ‘heart speaks unto heart’. But at some point, you will need to take some active steps too, so ‘be not afraid’!