All is in God and God is in all. This is the context for my thoughts about four of my Columban brothers who are celebrating 50 years of priesthood. All stories have a context and the many stories about Frs Noel Connolly, Colin McLean, Dominic Nolan and Kelvin Barrett have different contexts. My story about them starts with the understanding that God called each of them to be Columban priests and missionaries. It sounds presumptuous to claim that “God made me do it” but that is actually what we believe.
Fifty years ago these four men – two from Melbourne, one from Gympie and the other from Wirrulla, SA – laid face down on the floor as the people prayed that they would be blessed by God and made priests.
It makes us wonder – “Why does God need priests?” The answer is “We need priests to remind us that we are in God and God is in us.” Priests, by what they do and what they say, are in our midst to remind us that we are Jesus people. If priests do not make real to us the God that is in our lives then they have fallen down on the job.
Jesus was not a priest in the Temple in Jerusalem but he did show us that God is in our midst. He was revealing God. He is saying by his words and his life, “This is what it means to be God living in our human reality”. If you are wondering what God is like follow the story of Jesus. Read the Gospels.
Frs Noel and Kelvin were sent to Korea after ordination and Frs Dom and Colin went to the Philippines. These formative experiences have made them the men they are today. There were difficulties, of course. Learning a language and engaging with people of another culture are not easily done. Why did they do it? Because they were and are characters in God’s story. Just as Jesus revealed God’s love for people of his time so God continues to use these missionaries today to show his love for the people. The result of the mission of these four young Columbans may be hard to name but one thing is for sure: they all developed a great understanding and love of the people. I think this was God’s reason for choosing them in the first place.
Fr Noel came back to Australia via Rome. Fr Kelvin also came back to work in the seminary in Sydney. Fr Dom came back to Australia and worked with young people in Brisbane and Fr Colin chose to go off to Brazil. With them they all took the message of love and concern for people not their own. God had achieved his objective. God’s mission is a mission of love for his sons and daughters and he would love to see the whole family united in love. That is the dream of God for the world.
Loving the world is not an easy thing either. Ask Jesus. Because of his love for the people of his time he was crucified. There is too much in all of us that is not loving. We become fearful or aggressive towards those who are not like us. There is pain and suffering in all of this. There is loss and grief. It is a drama of love and betrayal.
Think back over the last fifty years. There has been a lot that has been lost. Large numbers of young men in seminaries and young women in convents. Our Church is not the same. Much good has also happened but we still need to grieve for what we have lost. These four young missionaries do not look so young any more. Loss of hair and loss of hearing; loss of sight and loss of mobility. These losses need to be grieved properly and in that space our God resurrects and transforms us. God is always the creator. God is the source of all life. So while we reflect on the past we also can look forward to an unknown but wonderful future for Frs Noel, Dom, Colin and Kelvin because God is in all and all is in God.
Fr Trevor Trotter