Fr John Cook celebrates his Silver Jubilee as a Priest
25th June 2018
Congratulations to Fr John Cooke who celebrated his Silver Jubilee of Ordination to the Sacred Priesthood last week in Christchurch.
Fr John writes...
I have to admit, I did not want to celebrate my Silver Jubilee particularly. Not because I don’t love being a priest, but it was because I was quite happy to let the milestone pass by very quietly. However, someone very close to me reminded me that this day actually was not really just about me. It is about ‘us’ as church. My priesthood is not my commodity, and it is not my possession. Yes, it is my great privilege, but it is also first and foremost a gift, something given by God. All gifts, which come from the Father through the Son, are given for others and given precisely for our eternal salvation; given to give us the fulness of spiritual life. As Jesus said, "I have come that they may have life and have it in abundance"(Jn 10:10).
All I can say is that I was so very touched and quite overwhelmed by the response of all who wanted to mark the occasion with me! People from several of the parishes I have served around the Diocese came on coaches, minibuses, trains & cars – and also many of my brother Priests & Deacons and Religious, some of who travelled a long way. The evening simply radiated the joy of the Gospel - and I have never experienced an atmosphere quite like it before! I thank everyone who played a part - either by their presence or their prayer from afar.
At Seminary, students for the priesthood are frequently told that prayer must be the bedrock of their whole lives. I cannot tell you how simple and yet how true this is! A priest has to find his bearings, his sail settings in prayer. Prayer must be the place to which he will always return no matter what happens in his life and no matter how far he strays from it. It is what had enabled me to respond to being put in situations which were not of my choosing and that created challenges that I simply had to rise to. Prayer has to be the bolt hole, combined with a deep trust in a plan and a power beyond our comprehension.
During the last 25 years I have come to appreciate more and more that the Lord is never outdone in generosity. As we give ourselves to Him, as priest (or Bishop), religious or even as a lay person (single or married), the Lord takes what we can give Him, He blesses it and gives it back to us. This is the model of Mass that is the heart, the fire and the pattern of our lives as Catholics. I refer to this as spiritual physics – the more we give, the more we get back.
I think we are just embarking on a painful path of renewal as ‘Church’ and many of us are realising that we need to change ‘something’ in order to grow, as, at the moment, we have to admit we are sadly in decline, and people are lost.
Rather than be overwhelmed by this, I strongly believe that we need to pray, and to look back to the wisdom & models of the Early Church. Most of all, we need to keep faith and not loose heart. Jesus Himself did not preach only where He knew He would be successful, He preached everywhere. So must we. The apostles did not preach to just the other converted – they went out to the peripheries and changed lives by that life changing invitation to ‘Come and see’. Therein lies the big challenge for the next 25 years of my Priesthood.
Unworthy as I am, I did respond, to that call to ‘come and see’ and I have in some way, had the immense privilege of touching many lives. Despite all our daily challenges as clergy, I know my brother priests will agree that the joy, the buzz we get from bringing people to Christ, whether that be by encounter, by the Sacraments or by example is what keeps us going! Whether it be baptisms, funerals, weddings, first Eucharist, confirmation, quiet confessions, the anointing of the sick & dying, or entire school Masses, knocks on the door at the dead night or the crack of dawn - the Kingdom is alive and our ministry is desperately needed. No day is ever the same, no day is ever predictable and no day is ever boring! Christ is risen and His Church is very much alive – and by marking my own Silver Jubilee I was able to give thanks for my part in this mysterious plan and thank those who have allowed me to be ‘priest’ for them. Please can I ask that you pray for all your clergy – but most importantly pray for our mission as Church.
As for me, who knows what the next 25 years hold ... in the immediate future I will be moving parish (this September to serve Fareham & Portchester) in order to be more centrally placed take up a new role in the Diocese as Vocations Promoter. Please pray for me as I undertake this task of calling out to others to have the courage to get out of the safety of their boat, and to ‘come and see’ and to simply give God a chance. This was the advice of my own School Chaplain - about 33 years ago now, when I embarked on my own path to the Priesthood. Please pray that many others respond to this call – although not just to the call to the life as a Priest - but to the life of an evangelised, spirit-filled & joyful Christian who simply can’t rest until the message is shared.