Christ comes in impending priesthood

20 May 2009

By The Record

Deacon encountered the Way and liked what he heard.


Deacon Andrew Lotton.


By Peter Rosengren

ONE of Perth’s soon-to-be newest priests is a former novice in an Anglican order who once worked in the British and South African High Commissions in Canberra and who found the Catholic Church through the Neocatechumenal Way and being at World Youth Day.
He will be ordained on June 5 at Infant Jesus Parish in Morley along with Jeronimo Castillo, Bonaventure Echeta and Jean-Noel Marie from St Charles Seminary.
Deacon Andrew is the fourth man from his former Canberra Neocatechumenal parish community to be ordained to the priesthood of the Catholic Church.
Now, he says, his life’s journey has led him to discover that Jesus Christ died for him and loves him exactly as he is; he sees the priesthood as a way of announcing exactly this good news to the men and women of this generation.
But Deacon Andrew Lotton began his journey to the priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church when he experienced a profound personal conversion during a week-long retreat with a group of Catholic charismatics in Canberra, forerunners of the Disciples of Jesus community. Two friends invited the nominal Anglican along to the retreat, on which, he says, he discovered a personal relationship with Jesus. The conversion triggered his involvement in his own Anglican parish while remaining on the fringes of the Catholic charismatic movement.
On only the second weekend in a new parish he heard the announcement of a catechesis being offered by a relatively new phenomenon in Australia at that time, the Neocatechumenal Way; although a Catholic phenomenon, the Way first came to Australia at the invitation of the Anglican Church in this country.
The Way, which administers the Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Morley where Andrew studied for the priesthood, is one of the explosion of new approaches to being Catholic that have arisen in the Church in recent decades. It offers an itinerary of Christian formation modelled closely on the practice of the early Church, which saw Christians learn their faith comprehensively before baptism – often for years at a time. Such early converts were called neocatechumens.
It has a strong emphasis on enabling those who form together in parish-based communities to listen to Scripture weekly and to see how and where God’s Word is speaking to them in their own lives. Its distinctive liturgy is rich in biblical, Jewish and early Christian symbolism and vibrant in singing and music; an average neocatechumenal gathering will lift the roof of any building.
“I liked what I heard,” he recalled to The Record last week as he prepared for his forthcoming ordination on June 5.
“The Bible started to speak to me personally, and in a practical way for my life.”
Still searching for his life’s meaning, he entered the Anglican Society of the Sacred Mission but two years later a personal crisis of faith saw him leave and return to work in Canberra, where he participated in another Neocatechumenal catechesis. It was then that he began ‘walking,’ as participants often describe their journey and ongoing conversion process, in the Way.
He spent eight years working in the consular sections of the British and then South African High Commissions in Canberra, by which time he began to have an inkling that Christ was calling him to something unique in life. At the same time his own Anglican Neocatechumenal community wasn’t growing and eventually merged with another in a Catholic parish. The fact that, as an Anglican he could not receive the Catholic Eucharist, served to heighten his awareness of the distinctiveness of the Catholic Church.
“I could see something in the Catholic Eucharist that spoke to my life, a deeper spirituality that helped me,” he told The Record.
He also decided his involvement with charismatic Christianity, which had triggered his conversion, had run its course.
“I decided not to continue with involvement in the Charismatic movement because I found the Word speaking to me more deeply in my life in the Neocatechumenal Way, even though I loved the praise and worship of the charismatic movement,” he said. Describing himself as a very quiet and reserved personality, he found being in the Way and participating in its regular formation drew him out of himself.
“Today, I’m a completely different person. Then: I was very quiet, worried about the future a lot – and I thought I couldn’t love.
“Now: Jesus has drawn me out of myself, shown me that although I am a sinner I can love myself and others. To announce this to others is why I am here today. I want to show other people how God uses our brokenness to help those who are broken.”
By 1993 he was seriously thinking of entering the Catholic Church and began to read and pray to discern where God wanted him to be. The Eucharist was key. At the Easter Vigil of 1995 he was accepted into full communion with the Church; at the same time it was becoming clearer to him that priesthood was a real possibility for his life.
“My Neocatechumenal parish community didn’t have a priest who could be with it regularly each week, and I began to think ‘why not me?’” he said.
As it transpires, he is the fourth man from that one Neocatechumenal community, now based in Canberra’s Western Creek area, to be ordained to the priesthood.
In 1993 he also found himself enjoying the remarkable phenomenon that World Youth Day was becoming, on this occasion in the US diocese of Denver, Colorado, where he saw and heard the charismatic John Paul II speak to an estimated two million youth.
It was in Denver that the Pope said: “Do not be afraid to go out into the streets and public places, like the first Apostles, who preached Christ and the Good News of salvation in city and village squares. This is not the time to be ashamed of the Gospel. It is the time to preach it from the rooftops.”
Together with thousands of other young men and women in the Way he met with its founder, Kiko Arguello, after WYD Denver. Traditionally such gatherings include an open invitation to anyone feeling called to religious life or priesthood to stand up.
Four years later at WYD Paris, that’s exactly what Andrew did, and again at a ‘Convivenza’, a national gathering something like a retreat, in 1998.
The catechists accompanying his community invited him to leave work and spend time working on mission, continuing the process of discernment and being a missionary in an outback Northern Territory parish – Humpty Doo, outside Darwin.
Filled “with fear and trembling” he went to Humpty Doo for six months.
However it was not until he attended a Neocatechumenal meeting in the Italian town of Porto San Girogio in 1998 that he was assigned to the Western Australian Redemptoris Mater seminary – at the annual gatherings in Porto, hundred of names are drawn and assigned to Redemptoris Mater seminaries around the world by lot.
In Perth he spent five years before leaving the seminary by mutual consent with his formators, but two years working in the South African High Commission back in Canberra couldn’t erase the idea of priesthood.
He returned to Morley in 2006 and was ordained to the diaconate by Archbishop Hickey in August 2008. His journey towards priesthood has been a journey of transformation for which he can only express gratitude.
“I’ve received from the Church and Jesus Christ this love I didn’t have for myself, a love for other men and women, which isn’t of me,” he explained.
“The fact that Christ has loved me as a sinner has helped me come out of myself. I want to give back this same love, this gratitude, to others – to announce that Jesus Christ has died for them too and wants to help them in their lives as he has helped me.”
That’s why, he adds, “I’ll be very happy to go wherever He may lead me.”