LONDON - first posted 20 March 2003 - 938 words
There was candlelight and music at Westminster Cathedral last night, as around 300 young people gathered around Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor to pray, listen, reflect and talk about their faith.
The evening was the first of a series of Lenten young adult events, which form part of Westminster's At Your Word Lord Renewal programme.
The first reading was John 1:35-99 - 'Come and See'. This was followed by the story of the Woman at the Well, John: 4:5-11.
Reflecting on these, the Cardinal began by talking about his own faith story. Born in Reading, he was the youngest of five boys - ten years later his sister arrived. The family were quite devout and used to pray the Rosary each night. "My first inclination about God was when I watched my father pray" the Cardinal said. "I really had a sense that he was talking with someone."
As a little boy he said his brother used to tease him at times. On one occasion things got out of hand when the family were driving home. After a couple of warnings, his Dad told the boys to get out of the car and walk the four miles home. They climbed out and he drove on with Cormac and his mother. A few yards down the road he stopped again. The boys rushed up thinking he had relented, but he told them to empty their pockets. He wanted to make sure they did not have their bus fares. "My father always kept his word" the Cardinal said.
The Cardinal said he didn't think about the priesthood as a boy. He had fantasies about being a concert pianist and thought about medicine. Then one day, he said: "When I was about 15 my father asked me what I wanted to do, and I just said: 'I want to be a priest'. . I don't know where it came from."
"Vocation is a funny thing. You don't get a phone call from God. And everyone has a vocation ... God is working in all our lives.. even at my age. Vocation isn't about God wanting you to do something ... its about God calling you to be. God is constantly inviting us."
Referring to the second reading, The Cardinal asked what is the gift? What is it to do with life? - and then described something that happened to him while he was seminarian in Italy. On a visit to Assisi he suffered a very painful slipped disc, couldn't move and was placed in a hospital bed next to a dying Franciscan and another brother who was praying with him. After the monk died his friend came to Cormac's bedside and they spent some time talking and drinking wine. "It was a very special moment of great joy, sadness, life, death, fellowship - God touches us in the most ordinary ways."
Being a priest hasn't always been easy, he said. On one occasion as a young curate he spent an evening with a couple in a discussion group - later that night the husband was involved in a car accident and he stayed with his wife in hospital. When the man died, the Cardinal said: "I asked God: what are you doing!. But, you learn more from bad times than the good ones."
After the Cardinal's talk people divided into groups to discuss: 'Where have you experienced God's call in your life and how have you responded?' They then came back together and shared their thoughts.
Each person had a very different story. Some people felt they were living out their faith through 'vocational ' jobs - as doctors, nurses, teachers. Others said they had become more conscious of God at times of decision or crisis - when they got married or were confronted by death and illness. One young man said: "I'm a chartered accountant. That can hardly be described as a 'calling' but I do feel I witness to my faith through trying to treat everyone I meet fairly. And I feel my real vocation now is to be a father."
The structured part of the evening ended with Cardinal Newman's prayer:
I am created to do something or to be something for which no else is created.
I have a place in God's world which no one else has
God knows me and calls me by name
God has created me to do him some definite service
He has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another
I have my mission
I have a great part in his work
I am a link in his chain
A bond of connection between persons
He has not created me
I shall do good; I shall do his work
I will trust him.
Cardinal Cormac then introduced a young man, Hassan, from Iraq who led a prayer for the people of Iraq, for the troops on both sides and world leaders.
He said: "I lived in Iraq during the Gulf War. It is very difficult to live without water, electricity and food with bombs dropping around you. I have all my relatives in Iraq now. Let us pray: You say that when two or three are gathered you are in their midst. I ask you to give us the faith to ask for a miracle to stop this war."
Many people stayed in the Cathedral after the meeting ended. There was also a gathering in Westminster Hall afterwards and it is reported that a large crowd continued socialising in the Cardinal pub until closing time.
The next evening with the Cardinal will take place at 7pm on Wednesday 26 March.
LONDON - first posted 20 March 2003 - 938 words