Proclaim the Gospel With Your Life


On 31 May 1982, more than 250,000 people packed into Heaton Park to hear Pope John Paul II celebrate Mass, as part of his Pastoral visit to  Great Britain. During the Mass a number of priests were ordained including Fr John McGowan OCD, who writes below about his forty years of priesthood. In this time Fr John has tried to live out the message of the Pope’s homily on that memorable occasion: 

Through you, Jesus Christ wants to love those for whom he died. Teach all your people that you believe in that faithful love by the fidelity with which you live your own life. You must proclaim the Gospel with your life. When you celebrate the sacraments at the decisive moments of their lives, help them to trust in Christ’s promised mercy and compassion. When you offer the redeeming Sacrifice of the Eucharist, help them to understand the need for transforming this great love into works of charity.

Somehow, in God’s providence I was ordained by Pope John Paul II, now a Saint, in England. It was 1982 and the feast of the Visitation, when Mary went to help her kinswoman. What an example Mary was for me and for all Christians: to live a life of service. In his homily the Pope said, “Every believer is called to discipleship. By steadfastness in prayer, by compassion for those in need, by concern for justice and human affairs.” I have tried to put those words into practise in my forty years of priesthood. 

After all my training I was sent to Preston, Lancashire, to serve the good people in that most catholic of towns. I would have been happy to have stayed there but being a Religious I knew I would be asked to move on.  It wasn’t long before I found myself in Buckinghamshire, then Somerset. I also lived and ministered in Glasgow.

From there I was unexpectedly asked to go to Jerusalem. What an experience that was! It was the hardest yet the most rewarding five years of my life; I was there during the second Intifada. It was a time of violence, bombings and disorder. I narrowly missed a suicide bomber. I sympathized with the Palestinians and took part in a few demonstrations on their behalf. On one occasion we were hit with stun grenades and tear gas. I remember taking part in other quieter demonstrations, every Saturday outside the prime-minister’s residence with the women-in-black. While all the time I tried to serve the good Christian pilgrims who came to Jerusalem. 

I spent about fourteen years of my priesthood overseas. It was good to travel as it helped me to understand people from different cultures and faiths. Eight of those years were spent in Rome. I worked in our HQ (Discalced Carmelites), sitting in front of a computer. This was a different kind of service, but a service none the less. I have always tried to adhere to the words of the Holy Father on the day of my ordination, trying to be of service to the people of God. I have met all sorts of people; from down and outs, drug addicts, alcoholics to aristocrats and people of privilege. It is that much easier to see Christ among the poor; they have little pride and a sense of humility that would make you cry. No wonder Christ loved them in a special way. 

I was tempted to stay in Malawi, where I had been asked to go for six months. It is one of the poorest countries in the world: people didn’t have shoes, there were few cars, bicycles served as taxis. Yet I found more happiness there than in Europe. It was no paradise but despite their poverty people smiled a lot more. I decided to return to the UK.  I thought of the needs here; different in kind but needs none the less.  

As I reflect on forty years of priesthood, I am grateful to God for choosing me. It has been a wonderful experience. I truly love serving people. I learned this when as a fifteen-year-old schoolboy I first started working on Saturdays in a small grocery store. It was there that I learned that it doesn’t take much to make people happy. In my mid-twenties I realized that I could serve people in a special way as a priest. There is no greater privilege than to serve in imitation of Christ and his blessed Mother. 

Fr John is a priest at Chalfont St Peters, Gerard’s Cross, and formerly at the Parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St Simon Stock, Kensington.

Photographs from that day in Manchester in 1982 can be found on the Manchester Evening News website.



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