By Lara Pickford-Gordon, firstname.lastname@example.org
Archbishop-elect Charles Jason Gordon didn’t want to become a priest when the ‘call’ came to him as a teen; he envisioned a future with a wife and children. God couldn’t be asking him to give that up, could He?
Recounting the day he received the first prompting towards a vocation to the priesthood, Archbishop-elect Gordon said he felt a “tug” but 15 minutes later gave a clear answer… in the negative.
“I am dyslexic. I knew I could not read in public every day; I couldn’t do the kind of studies the priesthood needed and I had a girlfriend. I could not see how I could live without a girlfriend. And I couldn’t see how I could live without being married and having children. So I said ‘this could not be from God; God can’t ask me that’,” Archbishop-elect Gordon said.
God works in mysterious ways and the call would come a second time as an adult. Archbishop-elect Gordon said after leaving school many of his friends left to study abroad and he was managing the family’s steel-fabrication business. “I was running the business, so socially I was disconnected with the friends I had a long time.” One Saturday while attending Mass at St Theresa’s RC, Woodbrook he felt “disconnected from the Mass” for the first time in his life.
“I heard myself saying ‘if I can’t find a good reason for going back to Mass I don’t know if I am coming back’ because the only reason I had for going was to connect socially to where the party was that night and I felt that was a misuse of Mass,” he said in a telephone interview on October 23.
The next day he was with friends and one of them invited him to a prayer meeting at Living Water Community (LWC). It was not the first time he received an invitation; he just didn’t take previous invitations seriously. This time when he responded “yes”, he laughed recalling how his friend could have died of shock.
He remembers his first prayer meeting as “really like a homecoming, finding a place where I felt completely at home in my skin”. The call to vocation came again at 21 years as a member of LWC. A year later, he sold the business and became a full-time member of the community, living in a household as a consecrated man.
Archbishop-elect Gordon said, “I was getting more and more involved in the community and its ministry and its mission and it was through that the question of priesthood opened a second time. And that time when it was opened and I was able to wrestle with it and say ‘yes’.” His priestly formation began in 1981 at the then Regional Seminary of St John Vianney and the Uganda Martyrs, Mt St Benedict.
Broached about being perceived as an ‘LWC Archbishop’, Archbishop-elect Gordon noted Archbishop Finbar Ryan came from the Dominican order and this would have shaped who he was; Archbishops Anthony Pantin and Joseph Harris, Holy Ghost Fathers; and Archbishop Edward Gilbert is a Redemptorist, but this does not mean Dominicans, Spiritans or Redemptorists “ran the Church”.
He readily acknowledges that being a priest of a lay ecclesial community has shaped who he is and his spirituality. “All of our bishops so far have come from religious communities. In my case, I come from a lay ecclesial community but have been a diocesan priest because I have been incardinated* in the Archdiocese of Port of Spain. So I’ve had a hybrid identity,” Archbishop-elect Gordon explained.
As a diocesan priest, he has an understanding of priesthood and the “how the diocese functions”. He thinks there is a lack of understanding of the new ecclesial movements and their role in the international and local Church. Pope St John Paul II, Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have made statements in relation to evangelisation in the Church, he noted.
“T&T has a lot of lay ecclesial movements that have sprung up and flourished and added to the life of the Church, so when we start thinking of either/or we don’t understand the Church has always had multiple charisms,” Archbishop-elect Gordon said. He added that a vibrant Church will have multiple charisms all aimed at the “same end – the building up of the body of Christ and the unity Christ intends for his body.”
He said that his vocation to the priesthood, elevation to bishop and now Archbishop-elect shows ecclesial communities can be a source of vocations.
“I don’t know how else God would have called me to the priesthood except through the community. That is the way He actually did call,” he commented.
* In the Catholic Church, “cleric incardination” refers to a member of the clergy (priest) who is placed under the jurisdiction of a particular Bishop or other ecclesiastical superior such as the superior of a religious Order.