Movement Towards the Seminary

It is an exciting time for me at the moment. After many years of seminary formation for the priesthood, I was ordained deacon in December 2013 and will be ordained priest in the summer this year. My time in the seminary has been very fruitful. Although, there have been challenges and difficulties, it has been a very valuable experience.

When I was growing up, I wanted to be a medical doctor but I was put off pursuing this when I realised I had difficulties attending to people in serious pain and the sight of blood then. I was attracted to working in the medical field and so eventually settled on the idea of pursing pharmacy. By the age of nineteen I was drawn in a completely different direction - at the age of nineteen I enrolled in the seminary.

I can trace the beginning of my 'movement towards seminary' to the time when as an altar boy, during Holy Mass, I was always very much attracted to seeing the priest go round the altar swinging the thurible and filling the air with smoke and the scent of incense. It was such a beautiful and profound thing to see - Psalm 141:2 'Let my prayer rise like incense before You O Lord'. Although it didn't move me in the same way I also marvelled at seeing a priest preach powerfully.

By the age of seventeen these 'sensory' experiences, and attraction of 'swinging the thurible' turned into serious reflection on whether I should seriously pursue becoming a priest.  Continued reflection and speaking to some priests motivated me to enrol in seminary. I first joined a religious order called the Spiritans and was in formation for some years. Having discerned that diocesan priesthood was what I am called to; I applied to and was accepted by the Archdiocese of Southwark. I was sent for formation at St. John's Seminary in Wonersh near Guildford.

During my time in formation, I came to an appreciate how God had been making himself known to me, or more specifically making his call known to me, starting already from my years as an altar boy attracted by the thurible, its smoke and burning incense. Once a friend I had shared my vocation story with, connected my childhood attraction to the thurible and incense with the life as a priest - my friend reflected that in priesthood I could be like the sweet smell of the incense that comes out of the thurible for others to enjoy. This is what I pray that my priesthood be.

As in my experience, I believe God can use various things to call us to a particular vocation, we just need to stand still long enough, or have the help of others to help discern God's call. Not everyone is called by God in a vision or dream as in the case of the young boy Samuel, as described in 1 Samuel 3.

Reflecting further on my most recent experience of my road to ordination to priesthood the aspect that comes to mind is that at my ordination to the order of deacon, I made the promise of celibacy.  This I'm sure for many will be difficult to understand in a world were often this approach would be seen as unrealistic and unnecessary. I believe otherwise. With my vow of celibacy, with God's grace, I believe I can be a witness to the richness of life lived in chastity and purity. In my consecrated singleness, I commit myself totally to serve others in the different circumstances of their lives: in their joys and sorrows. My promise of celibacy I believe frees me to live a life of total self-sacrifice, as I sometimes tell people that my vocation is a vocation of love - love in the purest sense is to give oneself totally to the other.

Celibacy symbolically can be described as a marriage to the Church, who is feminine- a mother. And so just as a husband and wife gives themselves totally to each other in a life-giving relationship; so in giving of myself totally to others as a priest I trust that those I serve and I will encounter the fullness of life that is Christ.

Reflecting further on my ordination to the order of deacon, I recall the promise of obedience to my Bishop and his successors. Through this I made a commitment that I will go wherever he sends me and do what he tells me. I hope that this witness will be a cause for reflection in a contemporary society that challenges the value of long term commitments and consequently is burdened by the resulting instability.

I feel my vocation especially as a young man contradicts certain elements of contemporary society and culture. It encourages that I use my youthfulness and qualities for something else. And I have been told this by people. But I take my final steps to ordination to priesthood, and to life as a priest in the service of all God's people, with trusting confidence. I do this reflecting on the woman in the gospel who broke the Alabaster jar and poured the sweet and expensive ointment on Jesus. I wish to give the best I have and everything that I have to God.


Joseph Owusu-Ansah

(This article was first published in The Pilgrim, the newspaper for the Dioceses of Southwark)