You can run but you can’t hide

06 Aug 2008

By The Record

By Anthony Barich
Marist Father Michael Moore tried to lose the call to the priesthood, but God has a habit of not letting go those he has chosen to lead His people.

Marist Father Michael Moore, Rector of Redemptoris Mater Seminary, tried to run from his calling, but God wouldn’t let him go. Now he loves being a priest. Photo: Anthony Barich

Born in Sydney before moving to Canberra, Fr Moore felt the call to the priesthood as early as age five. His Catholic family had a great love for the Church and for priests. His mother’s brother was a priest.
He never thought too much about ‘the call’ until he met the Marist Fathers. His brother went to St John’s College, Woodlawn in Lismore, NSW, run by the Marist Fathers, who attracted him with their family and missionary spirit.
When he left school he joined them, but left after a year to study mathematics at university.
 “I was trying to lose the call,” he recalled to The Record, but it didn’t lose him. God wouldn’t let him go.”
Growing up during the tumultuous years of the Vietnam War and conscription and the widespread use of the Pill as a novelty that society was convinced “freed” its individuals, Fr Michael found his calling by recognising the suffering of those around him.
The chaos around him forced him to deeply ponder what it really means to be a Catholic in a world descending in to anarchy.
In his first couple of years out of the seminary Fr Michael was confused and uncertain, but the call kept coming back. In his first year of university there was a Marist Father from the Oceania Province studying there part-time at the University of Sydney. Reminders were everywhere.
The early 1970s marked the end of conscription to the Vietnam War, and Fr Michael was looking to see what place faith had in an Australia that had changed so dramatically. “How could Christianity respond to all this,” he constantly asked himself.
He could see that many people at university with him were suffering. The new things that the students filled their lives with like the Pill didn’t seem to answer the suffering in their lives. So he returned to the Marist Fathers seminary in Sydney and was ordained in 1980.
In 1984, he met a Neocatechumenal community in a Melbourne parish which helped him personally as it gave him a genuine Christian community where he could grow in faith with other people.
The ‘Neocats’ had a new approach based on introducing people to an experience of Christ risen from the dead.
“If you start to follow a person and fall in love with them, you change almost immediately,” Fr Michael says, “because what they offer is so much more attractive than anything else you’ve got.” He was referring, of course, to Christ, who became real like never before.
The community had the capacity to offer Christ to people, and Fr Michael saw a new missionary approach, and he was hooked. It was the missionary spirit, after all, that had drawn him to the Marist Fathers in the first place.
“When the world changes, you’re forced to think, ‘what does it mean to be Catholic’?” he said. “It’s like you’ve been surviving in a metre of water, then after World War II, you’re in 10 metres of water. What good news can I offer others, and what’s good for me?” Fr Michael often found himself pondering.
This coincided with Pope John Paul II’s call for a New Evangelisation in the mid-1980s. Fr Michael had attended a meeting in Rome with the Neocats initiators and Catechists, and he was impressed to say the least.
“That’s how the Church works,” Fr Michael says. “You’re baptised, then you reach 17-18 and you need to decide, ‘is my baptism a waste of time, or do I respond to the call’?”
Prayer and further discernment then follow when a young man has the courage to answer this call when he enters the seminary.
He says it is important to note, in regards to one’s faith journey to whatever calling they have, the advice of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which says that after baptism, more catechesis is needed so one can grow in faith, because the world is more radically secular and one needs to deepen their faith to survive it.
He says that it is never too late to seek further formation and catechesis, as faith always enlightens one’s decisions in life.
“The Gospel talks about people being enlightened because they are blind, not because they are wicked,” he says. “A sense of faith helps you see things the way the Church sees things.”
He says the key is to meet people on an existential level. While lecturing in theology at the University of Notre Dame in Fremantle, Fr Michael says a female student approached him and asked why can’t people get drunk. His simple answer was that the Church is all about love, and if you get drunk you’re not responsible to make decisions in love.
Suddenly everything was clear for the girl. “They understand straight away,” he says. “It’s not about right and wrong, it’s about love.”
Staying the course of his original missionary spirit, Fr Michael has preached the good news in Samoa and the Solomon Islands. “To go somewhere outside Australia to take the Good News elsewhere is an exciting thing,” he says.
Now he’s the rector of Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Morley, which houses students from around the world, mainly Latin America, who are also drawn to the missionary spirit.
The journey continues, and the Holy Spirit never lets go.