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Turn to Jesus (Article)

A blessed accident
Fr. Dominic Farrell LC
Fr Dominic Farrell LC comes from Belfast, Northern Ireland. He entered the Legionaries of Christ in 1992 and has spent his preparation for the priesthood in Ireland, Germany, Spain, United States, Mexico and Italy. He is currently studying for a doctorate

Fr. Dominic Farrell LC
Fr. Dominic Farrell LC

I became a Legionary of Christ by accident. A Legionary priest gave a talk about vocations in my school. As a practical joke, my friends filled in a card with my name on it, requesting further information. Now I know, however, that God was really behind their prank. Indeed, he had been at work from very early on.

One cold, wet winter afternoon when I was five years old and living in Glasgow, my mum saw an elderly priest knocking on our neighbours’ door. Mum knew that our Italian neighbours were not in and so brought the priest into our house, out of the rain and in for a cup of tea. His name was Fr. Alessandro and he was a Xaverian missionary. He was a childhood friend of the Italian grandmother who lived next door, and sometimes came to visit her.

I was introduced to this kind, lovable priest. He began to visit us regularly and would always bring me Italian chocolate. That made me like him even more.

At the time, however, I didn’t know that during his first visit Fr Alessandro told my mum that he was going to pray every day that I become a priest. He didn’t normally do this, but he was determined to do so in my case. I only learned about this when I was already a novice, years after he had died.

When I was nine I became an altar boy in Drumbo Parish, Carryduff, where we had an exemplary parish priest, Fr Joseph Campbell. As an altar boy I had fun, responsibilities and also grew in friendship with Jesus. We prepared the church for Masses, funerals and weddings. We rang the bell and helped the priest out in everything. In such an atmosphere I was in constant contact with God and. It was only natural that you thought of becoming a priest.

In particular, I remember entering the Church to serve at the 8.30 Mass one September morning and seeing Fr Campbell, all alone in the Church, dressed in his cassock and praying the breviary. With my child’s mind I grasped that being a priest – a holy priest - was the most noble thing a man could do for God. I, too, began to want to be a priest.

My grandfather was another important influence. He was a farmer, had a strong character, but was also very kind and pious. His deep faith impressed me. When he died, I got the brown paper envelope in which he kept his prayer sheets and devotions. He must have spent at least an hour praying them every day. Most of them were prayers to Our Lady.

During my adolescence, however, I began to stray from the faith. Partly, the normal interests of adolescence absorbed my attention. The prospect of becoming a priest vanished from the radar screen, and girls triggered intgerest instead. Moreover, being a “holy Joe” was a recipe for a “slagging.” But I also had serious doubts about the faith. I knew there were other religions. They couldn’t all be true. Maybe religion was something we cooked up to explain away the harder truths of life, an attempt to give life meaning. I knew that scientists offered their own explanations for the origin of the universe. And so, I began to wonder whether Christianity and other religions were just myths that primitive, pre-scientific civilizations had concocted.

I wanted to believe, but I had ever deeper doubts. Deep down, however, I treasured the examples of Fr Campbell and my grandfather, along with my experiences as an altar boy. The Catholic faith had to be true.

My vocation began to re-sprout one night in a disco. Virtually everyone from my school class was there. As I watched my friends and classmates I felt revulsion and emptiness. We were all good kids, but like any normal 16 or 17 year olds most were laying into the drink. Some were dabbling with drugs. Others were throwing modesty and hormonal control out the window.

I looked on and felt there had to more to life than this. I walked home by myself, savouring the silence of the empty streets, a radiant full-moon and the cold drizzle. In my heart I sensed that only God could make me happy. But I didn’t believe. If only I could recover my faith.

I began to read Scripture, and even dug into philosophical works, looking for answers to the question, “Does God exist?”

In the autumn of 1991, I found myself in the church of St Edmund Campion in Oxford. There I prayed for help.

“God, I don’t know if you exist or not. I only know that without you my life is meaningless. But if you really do exist, then grant me the gift of faith. I am willing to give you my life in return.”

I continued to reflect, and on the night of 2 January 1992, I finally reached the conviction that God had to exist. Since God had answered my prayers I now had to fulfil my part of the deal. I began to think about becoming a priest.

A few months earlier, however, God had played his practical joke with the aid of my friends, and I began to receive vocations literature from the Legionaries of Christ.

The booklet caught my attention and I arranged to visit the Dublin novitiate for a weekend. The night before, however, I was reflecting on what I had been reading in the Gospels and St Paul. I believed in God, but God was really just an idea for me. Being a Christian was about believing in Jesus. Who was Jesus for me? What were the Gospels all about? Why did Jesus have to die on the cross? As I pondered these questions grace assaulted me. All of a sudden I experienced Christ’s presence. I experienced how he was God and had suffered on the cross to redeem me from my sins. It was only a momentary interior motion. Nevertheless, from that moment on I knew for sure Jesus was truly God and, after experiencing his infinite love for me, all I could do was return that love in some measure by staking my whole life on following him. God was no longer an idea. He was Jesus, and even though I had always known this, now I had met him. I was more certain of Christ’s divinity than I was of my own existence.

With this experience fresh in my heart I visited the Legionary novitiate. The first night I beheld the striking spectacle of the novices filing out of the chapel in silence and recollection after night prayers. Over the weekend I learned about the Legion and its apostolate. I believed the Legion offered me the most efficacious way of making others know and love Christ. Above all, I was impressed by the charity and family spirit that reigned among the novices. Automatically and inexplicably, I felt that this was my family too.

That weekend my head was reeling. I knew that this was where I belonged, and I was overjoyed at having discovered how I could follow Christ. At the same time, however, I was in shock at seeing the cherished prospects of career, marriage and children suddenly go up in a puff of smoke. From one moment to the next they were no longer options for me, even though I wanted them to be. But then again, I was following Christ, and so this shock was mixed with peace and happiness.

That weekend I decided to join the Legion. However, I thought I could take my university degree first. On Monday morning, as I left the novitiate, the novice on receptionist duty asked when I was going to enter.

“Well, I’m thinking of going to university first!”

“Ah yeah!” he answered, “But just remember what the Lord said in the Gospel: ‘He who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is not worthy of the Kingdom of God.’”

I said goodbye with a smile, but on the inside I was dumbstruck. There was no answer to an argument like that. And so, on the train back, I determined to enter that summer. That was probably the best decision I have ever made.

During the intervening months I prayed the rosary a couple times each week. Mary’s presence and closeness was palpable. Indeed I was surprised at how easy it was for me to enter the novitiate. It was all plain sailing. No doubts or difficulties whatsoever. Our Lady’s help is the only explanation.

All this, however, was only the beginning of my spiritual journey: the journey of being a Legionary of Christ.



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