A Journey to the priesthood Father Mark Higgins tells how the FAITH Movement
Father Mark Higgins tells how the FAITH Movement helped him to discover his vocation to the priesthood.
The first instance at which I began to realise that Faith was more than just an after school club particular to my secondary school was when one afternoon, at about age 14, I was hustled into the Faith room with half a dozen other boys from my class, only to discover an assembly line of production set up for the packing and distribution of a magazine, which, rather intriguingly, bore the name and logo of our school society.
Over the next five years I probably helped pack, address, and send hundreds of these magazines, and did so rather willingly, because quite often it could mean getting half an hour out of French, Maths, or whatever it might have been on a Wednesday afternoon. I appreciated from that first occasion of packing the Faith magazine, that, in fact, our little after school club that often seemed to me just like an occasion for schoolboy shenanigans, albeit in the presence of a guest speaker (and with an abundance of tea and toast), was really part of sometime ‘big’, with its own glossy, well presented journal.
Over those early years at The John Fisher School I attended the Faith society off and on, but was fairly frequent by the time I entered sixth form. I got to know the names and faces of many priests who are still very much involved in the movement, and who, very generously, travelled to our school club in order to speak to us on different aspects of the Catholic Faith, and in a manner infused by the Faith ‘vision’. I can remember feeling deeply impressed as I heard the educational backgrounds and academic qualifications of a number of these priests. It struck me that many of them were highly qualified in scientific fields and yet, as it initially seemed to me, for some reason, were offering their talents and their intellects to the service of God, and even for the benefit of a group of worn out and often distracted schoolboys on the threshold of their weekend.
In my case, in spite of attending Faith to some extent in those early years at John Fisher, it wasn’t until I was in my first year of Sixth Form that I allowed the content of these talks to really reach down into my heart, and perhaps, for the first time, properly into my head. It was at that time, when, as a result of the encouragement of a good friend of mine, I agreed to accompany him to attend the Faith Summer Session.
Certainly, my motivations for attending the Summer Session were very mixed, with the social dimension well eclipsing in my mind the catechetical and religious dimensions. But in the providence of God, He had planned that attending this five day conference would be the instrument through which He would bring what was dead within me back to life, and even to enkindle in my heart the first sparks of a vocation to the priesthood.
As my friend and I explored the auditorium at Woldingham School an hour or so before the conference started, I was amazed at the grandeur of the venue, admittedly, as an adult it now seems rather insignificant, but for a seventeen year old from a comprehensive school it impressed upon me even more that Faith was a movement well beyond the confines of my school, with important ideas, perhaps almost worth considering just as much as the young ladies who would be attending the event, and the social time with others of my own age.
“Tabernacled amongst us”
Over the years I have spoken to a number of others who attended the Summer Session of 2003. Many of us attended that conference at varying degrees of lapsation, or of confusion, or lack of confidence in our own Faith, and from those with whom I have discussed this, it seems to me that the Holy Spirit was particularly active over those few days. Many conversions that have proven deep and lasting were forged over those days, indeed, a number of vocations to the sacred priesthood find their origin in those few days, my own being one of them. The theme of the conference that year was on ‘Christ our Eucharist’, and it was as one particular priest outlined insights of the Faith movement on the Word made Flesh, born in Bethlehem, whose flesh is truly made present anew at Mass, and then ‘tabernacled amongst us’, that according to the biblical phrase, ‘my eyes were opened’. The truth of what he was saying seemed evident, I received a tremendous grace of conversion.
My experience is hardly singula. The Faith movement has brought countless young people to realise the truth of Jesus Christ, truly present on the altar, as real as He was when in Our Blessed Mother’s arms. This is a doctrine not only taught at Faith conferences, but lived out there through the reverent offering of Mass, something which seems to deepen year upon year. Love and esteem for the mysteries of the sacred liturgy and of Our Lord made present in these mysteries is surely one of the most clear factors in the climate that so effectively nurtures priestly vocations at the winter and summer gatherings.
It was also on that conference that I gained a new appreciation for the Holy Rosary, indeed, a first appreciation. Each one of the participants was given a rosary and a copy of St. John Paul II’s beautiful exhortation, Rosarium virginis Mariae, we said the rosary collectively, and that first genuine encounter with Our Lady’s sacramental left a lasting mark on my spiritual life. Too often I think Faith is falsely characterised as if it were solely orientated towards the intellectual, but once one knows more fully he may begin to love more fully - that first conference I attended affected my entire person, I was led to encounter Jesus Christ as both Lord of the Cosmos but also as my own personal Lord.
Following that first conference I began to pick up and read a lot of those Faith publications which quietly inhabited the back of the school chapel. I wanted to know my faith more and I was deeply attracted by the theological certainty, indeed, the determinism, which is integral to the Faith vision: that Christ and the salvation He offers is not an add on to nature or history, but that His incarnation was predestined in God’s charity from the very first moment of creation.
I ventured my first passage through Holloway’s great tome. Catholicism, back in those days, it was certainly a tough journey, but not without deep rewards through the marvellous insights contained in Fr. Holloway’s work. The handwriting and underlining in blue biro from my first read through of Catholicism still stands out. I was clearly taken by Fr Holloway’s defence of the unchanging Catholic faith within a relativistic and agnostic society, and this acted as a springboard for reading further apologetics, and wanting to defend my faith.
Certainly in the early 2000s, and even to this day, there is no other movement within the Catholic Church in England and Wales so committed to the task of forming young people as apologists and equipping them to encounter and engage with a secular, scientific society. Vocations don’t emerge among young people who are ignorant of their faith, or who have no fire to share these truths. The FAITH Movement’s commitment to apologetics, indeed, a confident apologetics, was a strong influence in fostering my own desire to give myself completely and ministerially to the evangelising mission Christ entrusted to His apostles.
Father Mark Higgins, ordained in 2016, is a priest of the diocese of Southwark.