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Vocations Story: Br Robert Gay OP

Thursday, June 24, 2010
When did you first start thinking about religious life?

I was in a bookshop in Canterbury, before I became a Catholic, and I came across a book by the late Cardinal Basil Hume OSB called Searching for God. It is a collection of talks he gave to the novices and juniors of Ampleforth when he was Abbot of that monastery. This was actually one of the first Catholic books that I had read, and so my journey towards Catholicism and my journey towards religious life were very much linked.

In that case, what was it that attracted you to Catholicism?

I came across a group of Italian Erasmus students as a PhD student, and they were Sunday Mass goers. One week I went along with them, and to put it simply, I didn't stop. At the time, I wasn't quite sure why, I was simply captivated by what happened at the altar and impressed by the priest's homily. Later I came to realize that it was the real presence of Christ that was drawing me in. It seemed to me that if this was true, if Christ was really present sacramentally, then this must make a difference to my entire life. So it was natural that I should begin to consider both becoming a Catholic and also the possibility of a call to religious life.

What happened next?

I was received into the Church at Wye College in Kent, then two weeks later I followed my supervisor to Glasgow where he had a new position, but after three months a serious fire in my lab stalled my PhD. This gave me a lot of time to think about the future in a prayerful way, to ponder what I was doing and why. I began to attend daily mass, and a local prayer group in which I began to see and understand the importance and value of the pastor in a Christian community. I began to recognize the importance of being guided in the spiritual life. I suppose the crunch moment came on Vocations Sunday, when I found myself at Westminster Cathedral for Mass. Bishop George Stack gave an excellent homily, and the liturgy was beautiful. Afterwards, while I was praying, I remember thinking that it was a shame that more people didn't offer their lives to Christ as priests and religious. Then it occurred to me that it was people like me that needed to make that gift of their lives, perhaps God was calling me?

How did you respond to this insight?

I went and had a chat with the curate of my parish and he became my spiritual director. He asked me all the right questions. In the process my understanding of my own vocation began to slowly take shape. I realized then that I did not feel tied to a particular place, neither a particular monastery nor a particular diocese. This seemed to rule out the stability of the monastic life, yet there were elements of Benedictine life in particular that I found very attractive: the prayer, the community life, the study. But in addition to these points I wanted an apostolate, I could only see myself as a Benedictine up to a certain point. My spiritual director suggested that I research some other religious orders, and I came across the Dominicans via the internet.

What was it about the Order that attracted you?

I could tell from the photographs on the website that there was common prayer as there were photographs of the brethren singing in choir. At the same time the descriptions of their work included hospital chaplaincy, prison chaplaincy, the kind of apostolic outlet that I had been looking for. At this point I stopped looking at other Orders. It seems very bold looking back, but I honestly felt as soon as I saw the Dominican website that this was exactly the life that I had been looking for, and that either I had a vocation to be a Dominican, or I didn't have a vocation at all.

What was your next move?

I got in touch with the vocations director, and I spent about a year visiting Dominican houses up and down the country. I remember attending morning prayer at Blackfriars ,Oxford. I was very impressed by the beauty of the Church, with the morning sun streaming through the windows, and the energy of the prayer. The community looked dynamic, there was a good mix of ages among the brethren in choir, and they certainly sang lustily!

What really impressed me during my time visiting Dominican houses was my sense that the desire to study and preach the Gospel was very much alive. At that time I was reading Timothy Radcliffe's book Sing a New Song and you could see that the brethren were striving for the ideals of Dominican life that Timothy described in his book. Of course, the communities weren't perfect, but I got the sense that the Order was a place for passionate people. At the same time, there was a real humanity about the brethren. I immediately felt at home, even on very short visits. I was struck by how joyful the communities were.

Have you any more thoughts on vocation that you would like to share?

I think that it is important that every young person takes the time prayerfully to discern their vocation, whatever that may be. It is so important for the future of the Church that young people have the courage to ask themselves: 'what is it that God wants me to do with my life?' If we take Christ seriously and really listen to his particular call for our lives, then we can end up in places that we never expected. The natural response is to say: 'surely this does not apply to me,' but we must take the question seriously. Finding what God wants from us is to find our home - the place where we can flourish. It seems like a risk, and like the disciples we seem to be 'casting into the deep' but that risk helps us to learn to live in a way that is God-filled and life-giving. I can honestly say that there is nothing I have given up as a religious that I have not received back with interest. If we give our life to Christ and believe in his love and transforming grace, then we who are ordinary people can do extraordinary things for his sake.

Br Robert has recently been appointed vocations promoter for the English Province. He will be ordained to the priesthood in July.

For more information about the Dominican vocation see here

Nicholas Crowe OP


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