On Priestly Service
Blogged by James Preece on 10th July 2012
Today's post is a guest blog from my good friend Zosia...
In the last week the Catholic blogging world and Catholics on Twitter have been asking for prayers for Fr Ben Grist – a 3rd year seminarian at Oscott who was ordained last Saturday because he is terminally ill. I thank you all for your prayers, and urge you to continue to pray for him, his family and those who are now caring for him.
I first met Ben about 5 years ago, on the coach on the way to Taizé. He was a pilgrim travelling there alongside Bishop Michael Evans (who died a year ago this Wednesday), and other East Anglia pilgrims, and was one of the smiling faces who welcomed me, a lone traveller, into their group. I have been for ever thankful for that welcome, and the friendship they all showed, and to this day continue to show.
So you can imagine my upset, when at the beginning of June, when I was up visiting people in Norwich, we found out that Ben had been diagnosed with liver cancer. We were all saddened by it, and prayed so hard for God to look after Ben. Then, on Thursday 28th June, on the way to church for the vigil of St Peter and St Paul, I received a phone call, “Ben has taken a turn for the worse, he is going to be ordained on Saturday”. I sat in church and cried. My parish priest had Ben as the Mass intention, and I got home to another phone call “You are going to come to the ordination, aren’t you?”
Of course I was. I would have gone to it, in three years time had Ben been well – I would have been there with bells on to support him. This was something that I had to do – Ben was going to be ordained, and I was going to witness it, and support him, and pray for his priestly ministry however long or short it will be.
Oscott have written a little section about the ordination on their website. It was truly a beautiful occasion. Ben was surrounded by a number of brother Priests from the Diocese of East Anglia, Priests from Oscott, his fellow seminarians, his family and friends. Archbishop Bernand Longley presided over the service, and his verbal and non verbal communication with Ben is something that I will never forget. The love expressed in his eyes and gentle gestures was a humbling moment. However, my enduring feelings from the day are those of service, sacrifice, joy, humility and trust in the Lord – characteristics that describe priesthood – and emotions that Ben displayed throughout the short, but profound service. Ben spoke with such clarity and conviction, and showed such strength. He has given the rest of his life, however long or short it may be to serving the Lord. This is, of course, what he wanted to do, what he was studying and training for, and what joy that he has been given the opportunity to do so. Even though I was in tears throughout, what joy to be able to witness this event, this service, this love. What a witness Fr Ben is – to all of us who may be struggling, who may be ill – this witness of trusting that all will be well, and God’s plans for us will not harm us, should strengthen and encourage us.
At the end of the service, there was a spontaneous round of applause, even in the saddest of circumstances, the joy of having another priest overtook everything. The applause went on for a long time – and Ben, for the first time in the service stood up and acknowledged us all, and he smiled. The expression of joy on his face will be an everlasting memory. Through his pain, through his illness, he was joyous. He knows that the Lord is with him, he knew that now he was ordained he has fulfilled what he was called to do. He felt called to serve the Lord, and he was given the opportunity to do this. What grace
Fr Ben then sat in his wheelchair as we all left the beautiful Oscott chapel so he could give us all a first blessing. I knelt in front of him, and received mine, then took a few moments to speak to him, trying my upmost to remain composed, and show him how much joy I felt and how beautiful what I just witnessed was. We parted with him saying to me “I will see you again, Zosia, I will see you again”. And with a final hug, I got up and walked away. And then, I let a few silent tears fall down my cheek.
I would like to add a thank you to the staff at Oscott who had a busy morning with 11 ordinations to the Deaconate for making the guests to Fr Ben’s ordination feel so welcome.
What a witness, what a blessing, what a grace. Like I said, in this last week, I have learnt a lot about sacrifice, service and trust in the Lord – all displayed in this one ordination, a joyous occasion. Please continue to pray for Fr Ben Grist, he needs them. Please also pray for his family and those caring for him.
“Where there is charity, selfless love. Where there is charity, God is truly there”. Amen to that.