Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 21, 2005
Priesthood: The joy of my life
Ont. Chaplain says there is 'no better offer'
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
Although Father Raymond de Souza obtained a master's degree in economics from the University of Cambridge in England, something within him did not add up until he entered the seminary.
De Souza even considered a life in politics before he was captured by the certainty that "nothing compares to following the path of Christ."
"To be a priest in the third millennium is to say there is nothing else; nothing better, because it has been tried," said de Souza, 33, assistant pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Kingston, Ont.
"This is the joy of my life," he said of the priesthood. "I can't imagine wanting to do anything else. I was once told at a retreat that if there was a better offer, take it. But there is nothing better."
De Souza took time during a recent speaking engagement at St. Joseph's Basilica to talk with the WCR about his vocation. He says his call was not awe-inspiring because he was confident in the direction his education and career aspirations were taking him.
"I've always been interested in economics and public policy, about how human beings organize themselves to meet their common goals and individual flourishings," de Souza said. "But economics becomes very mathematical, losing the human element. I was more interested in the questions of culture, history, politics and religion."
Good Catholic home
Born in Sarnia, de Souza moved to Calgary in 1977 with his parents, who immigrated to Canada from the island of Goa, India - a former Portuguese coastal colony 400 km south of Mumbai.
"I grew up in a very good Catholic home. For my parents and my grandparents, faith was the organizing principle of our family life," de Souza said.
Following high school in 1989, his studies took him to Queen's University in Kingston. He returned to Queen's in 2003 as chaplain of the campus' Newman House following his ordination in the Kingston Archdiocese a year earlier.
"I grew up not particularly thinking about the priesthood, nor was I hostile to the idea. It just was not on the horizon," said de Souza, a frequent contributor to publications such as the National Post and the National Catholic Register.
"In my prayers when I started university, I would pray about my vocation in life, although I had a pretty good idea what it was. I thought I'd continue in economics and public policy and work in the field. I knew I'd be a good Christian witness, but I was pretty certain I'd be a layman in my profession."
De Souza said he was about 20 when the possibility of a priestly vocation began to take hold. He discussed it with his parents who were pleased.
"My parents were happy of the possibility and from the first moment, they thought it would be a blessing to have a priest in the family," he said.
In 1994, he travelled to Krakow, Poland, to take a course on the Catholic social doctrine of Pope John Paul. He was in Krakow for nine months.
"With the ambience of Krakow and the holy father and the intense study of the Catholic teaching, the question came back with renewed force," he said. His reaction was that if the question had been around for three or four years, he should now respond.
He stayed with plans to go and work in the Philippines for a year. "But in the back of my mind I would spend the year to really pray, read and seek spiritual direction with the idea of asking what he wanted me to do."
De Souza arrived in Manila in January 1995, two weeks before World Youth Day.
"I was the last person off the plane because I had fallen asleep. I remember thinking that what I really wanted to find out was if the Lord wants me to be his priest. My prayer was not so much that he give me a sign, but to recognize the signs he has already given."
In the airport was a large sign with the pope saying, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." De Souza said, "I thought, 'Well, there's a sign.' It really struck me."
Offered to very few
Within the next few months, de Souza realized that there was nothing better he could do than become a priest. "My father once said to me that of the billions of people who have lived in the history of the world, the priestly vocation has been offered to very few. It is an opportunity to continue the Lord's work of incarnation, redemption and salvation."
De Souza said no one seeks out their lawyer or accountant in a moment of despair. They call their priest. Or if there is a moment of joy in a family, people will wait after Mass to tell their priest.
"People smile at a priest in an airport or a restaurant because his presence reminds them of the reality of God's work in the world. Strangers who do not even know his name, will share intimate things in their heart with a priest because they feel, correctly, that they are communicating with the presence of Jesus Christ in the world."
De Souza believes we need to pray for more priests.
"It is difficult for someone to say he will be a priest forever, in this life and beyond because our culture is hostile to the contemplative, prayer life," he said. "But I think we will get more priests. We have to have biblical confidence because the Lord began his Church with 12 men of unremarkable influence, talent and resources. The Church advances by martyrs and missionaries."
Ask for advice
A man with a kind and pastoral heart discerning a vocation in the Church should find a priest who loves his priesthood. "Ask a priest for advice and then deepen your spiritual life with daily prayer, frequent Confession and Holy Communion," he said.
"If it deepens, call the bishop and he will put you on the right path. You are lucky in Edmonton because not every bishop goes around telling people to give him a call. But Archbishop (Thomas) Collins does."
Remarkably, de Souza remembered the archdiocese office's phone number. "I know the archbishop tells everyone to call him at 469-1010," he said.
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