Friday, 28 June 2013

A few good men

In 2010 I was a young seminarian at Holy Spirit Seminary. I was 19, fresh from the adventures of travel and ministry and excitable as a puppy. As I was beginning my discernment journey I was blessed to be surrounded by “more senior” seminarians to turn to for advice and guidance.

I didn't continue down that pathway, but it’s a great joy to celebrate with the men who do at their ordinations. Certainly, the ordination taking place this Saturday 29th June will be a big celebration as two good men are ordained as priests for the Archdiocese of Brisbane.

On Saturday Deacons Ladu Yanga and Stanley Orji will join the presbyterate, they will be configured to Christ, and they will become shepherds for our Church. And they’re going to do a good job of it too.

During the ordination, the Rector of the Seminary, Monsignor Anthony Randazzo will give an account of these men and their journey to ordination. Both of these men have incredible stories, of journeys that have led them not just to a vocation to the priesthood, but across the world to the Archdiocese of Brisbane. Their lives scream of the sacrifice and service required for the life and ministry of a priest.

I have many fond memories at the seminary with both these men: Ladu’s wide, cheek to cheek smile and contagious laugh, or Stanley’s hospitality as we shared a Nigerian meal. I can’t wait to see them be ordained on Saturday, and I know that they will be amazing priests for our Archdiocese. 

Thursday, 20 June 2013


I began playing club basketball when I was five or six years old. But even before that I had been teaching myself on a small plastic hoop. I grew up with images of Michael Jordan winning championships, back when the NBA was still on free to air TV. As I grew up, basketball became my identity. But in Year 12, after playing non-stop for seven years, I quit competitive basketball to focus on study.

My best Michael Jordan imitation.
Well, after a six year hiatus I finally returned to the basketball arena last night. Sitting in the stands, counting down the minutes til tip off  I felt the nerves set in and the question haunted me: what if I can't play like I used to be able to? Adrenaline pumped through my system as I was filled with anxious excitement.

Finally I was able to walk on to the court to warm up with my team. As I jogged back and forth across the court I tried to calm myself and center my thoughts on what I needed to do: score baskets and defend. I watched the other team warm up as I stretched out on the floor, identifying which of my opponents was a scoring threat. Then I put up a few practice shots, trying to shake the rust off my shooting arm.

Warm ups finished. We marched out on to the court and met the other team, exchanging cold pleasantries and back slaps. As we lined up around the halfway circle for the jump ball I looked around the court. I know  the dimensions weren't any different to any other court, but it felt like the sidelines stretched out for miles. The cold air felt thin and my lungs were already working hard. The challenge ahead of me seemed immense.

Throughout the game my body felt tight, I huffed and puffed from basket to basket, I watched my opponents dribble past me time and again and shots that I was used to hitting were clanging off the back of the rim. I was playing with all the grace and style of a hippo doing ballet. I was feeling the effects of six years away.

With less than a minute on the clock the score was even at 42-42. The other team had the ball and were trying to run the clock down and score in the last seconds. One of the opponent players tried to dribble past me and instincts which had been hard driven into me after 17 years of playing kicked in: my arm shot out, my hand hit the ball out of his hands, suddenly I had the ball and open space in front of me all the way to the hoop. I was off! My legs pumped beneath me and I sucked and gasped for air to fuel my final push. I was miles ahead of the chasing defenders and I knew I was going to score with ease and I could already taste victory. I slowed as I approached the hoop, launching myself up, extending my arm out and flicking my hand, performing the simplest shot in basketball: a layup. I had practiced shooting layups since I was five, there was no way it could miss............................

The final score was 42-42. I shouldn't have missed that layup. The moment has replayed in my head every second since I saw it ricochet off the backboard and into an opponent's hands. This was the moment every kid dreams about: to win the ballgame and to be the hero. I let that moment slip straight through my hands. Instead of victory all I can taste is disappointment.

I learnt a long time ago that things don't always go as we plan. I was meant to be an NBA superstar like my hero Michael Jordan, instead I'm a rusty, clumsy player in the lowest division of a social league. When I stopped playing basketball in Year 12, I had to admit to myself finally that playing professionally wasn't going to happen for me and that was a very sad realisation to come to. But had I not realised that and moved on, I wouldn't have discovered God's calling to work in youth ministry the last five years and a calling to now work in vocations ministry. Yeah disappointments suck, but without them we wouldn't discover the truth. And what is that truth? The truth is that a missed layup or a bad grade or a speeding ticket or whatever disappointments we might experience aren't the end of the world because there is a God who is bigger than all of that. If I had made that layup I would've been the hero, but that miss reminds me that God calls me to greater things than putting a ball through a hoop.

Monday, 17 June 2013


Do you remember the mother's day cards you used to make your mum when you were eight years old? You know the ones: disproportional stick figures and wild, scribbly letters that barely resemble the words "I love you mum". My mother did my ego a great dis-service by feeding the delusion that I had created a masterpiece.

Gift giving is not my strong suit. While my drawing and writing skills have developed to be much more legible, it's my imagination that lacks: what gift should I buy this person that they will actually appreciate? Maybe I just have had the misfortune of having friends that are as equally unimaginative as myself when if comes to buying gifts, but I've noticed most people buy gifts that they would want.We all know that feeling of receiving something we didn't quite want, whether it was underwear on your birthday or that Christmas present that you could just tell your Secret Santa wanted to buy for themselves.

I know this mentality often stretches into my faith journey: If I do this, God will be happy... At which point I need to remind myself that God is the creator of the universe, he's seen it all. I could blow fireworks out of my ear and God would remain unfazed. God would be happy with this gift............really??? 

Let me relate this back to vocation for a minute. When I went to the seminary there was a part of me that thought God would be happy with me if I became a priest. No doubt he would have been happy if I became a priest  but that's not what vocation is about. I am not God's gift to God - that doesn't even make sense! My vocation is God's gift to me. It's a gift to help me grow closer to God and to help other people grow closer to God.

Can you imagine if God just dumped us here and left us to our own devices? Instead, God invites us to journey with him and the rest of creation through our vocation. Our vocation isn't a gift to God, it's God's gift to us. I don't know about you but that rocks my brain! Whether your calling is to ordained ministry, religious life, marriage or single life: it is a gift from God to you to help you achieve your mission. And what is that mission: "Go and make disciples of all nations!" Jesus said that BTW.  It's seems like a huge task, but God makes it easy.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

The Philosophy of Mr Squiggle

I was meant to be a writer. Then I was going to be an accountant. By the time I put my QTAC  preferences in for which Uni course I wanted to do, I was going to be a psychologist. Then I was called to be a priest. Then I wasn't. Then I was again. Then I wasn't again. 

Life for me hasn't been linear. If I was to draw a timeline of my life to this point it might look like something Mr Squiggle would draw. Perhaps that's the best way explain how I've come to understand my life. Mr Squiggle would draw something and it wouldn't make any sense at all, but then he'd flip it upside down and the picture would make a lot more sense:

I'm no art expert, but imagine looking at an artwork with your nose pressed against the canvas. You might notice some minute details, but you miss the grandeur and the beauty of the whole artwork. You really have to take a step back to let the whole artwork make an impression on you.

But you can't just take a step back for two seconds, you really need to stop for a good moment and let the whole artwork impress upon you, to let each and every detail jump out. It takes time to let your eyes dance across the colours and the details and to take it all in.

And if, like me, you're not an art expert, you may need to look at it with someone else and ask them for their observations. Often another pair of eyes will pick up the details we're too ignorant or too pigheaded to see by ourselves. Someone else's input may point something out we've never realised before.

My life is an artwork in progress, but I'm not the only artist. There are contributing artists other people in my life and of course, God. If my nose is pressed against the canvas then I miss all the other stuff that's going on. 
My life hasn't always made sense in the moment. But as I take the time to step back and look and listen to others observations, the artwork begins to make more sense. And sometimes, like Mr Squiggle, I have to flip it upside down to see the picture.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Don't Be A Nudist

Most of us would be familiar with the story of Adam and Eve: God creates Adam, then forms Eve from Adam's side, God tells them they can eat anything in the Garden except the fruit from one tree, the serpent tempts tells them that if they eat the fruit they would know good and evil, so they eat the fruit and the first thing they noticed is that they were naked.

Wait, so they ate the fruit which would reveal to them good and evil and the first thing they noticed was that they were naked.............Right.

Now, obviously this isn't a literal, historical account of what happened in the beginning; but we do understand Genesis as a story of truth; and the truth of humanity is that of all the things we could be shocked or horrified about, we first notice we're naked.

When I went to the Philippines last November what was foremost on my mind was not being with my family; but was on how much weight I was putting on from eating so much rice! Despite being amongst family I so very rarely get to see, I became absorbed with myself. I became obsessed with my "nudity".

I guess we all have "nudity": areas in our life where we lack or fall short. While I know I need to work on these areas to grow in my faith and to mature as a person, there's the trap of becoming obsessed with those "naked" areas in my life, to the point where I miss everything else that's going on around me. If you spend all day naval gazing, how many people will you not see whose lives you could possibly change?

Just check your Facebook. How much of what you post on Facebook is about YOU? I just checked mine and I'm a little bit disgusted by how many statuses and pictures I post about myself. Am I using Facebook as a social network or a social "look at me, look at me!"

Don't be a nudist. I'm not talking about not wearing any clothing, I mean don't get so caught up on those areas in your life where you feel naked. The world has more people in it than just me. If I'm so caught up on my own nakedness than I miss the opportunity to help others in greater need than myself. 

"Whatever you do to the least of these, you do also to me." Quote: Jesus.