Just a brief update to let you all know that, yes, I am still alive.
I am currently in the middle of a 6-week course on “Theology of Body” by Pope John Paul II which is taking up nearly all of my mental and physical energy and leaving myself with not much left in tank for anything.
This is in addition to my general lack of focus and purpose in the wake of World Youth Day Lisbon 2023 and finishing my 2024 Calendar.
Currently, I find myself living (read: surviving) from one ex-WYD pilgrim social event/get-together to the next, which are so far averaging about a month apart. Post-World Youth Day Blues? Perhaps.
I know that I shouldn’t complain, because before WYD I had never had any social life what is filling up my calendar now. But I am aware of how fickle sudden-social-relationships can dissipate in the blink of an eye unless they are tended to and (hopefully) cultivated into last friendships.
Please kindly keep myself and all my fellow “Theology of the Body” course participants in your prayers.
22 Oct 2023
The following is a revised version of my earlier blogpost (published 25 September 2023) about the “Vocations Night talk by Fr Marek Woldan.” The previous version contained minor inaccuracies and miscommunication of key facts owing to the brevity of the notes that I took during his talk and has led to unforeseen misunderstandings by readers of Fr Marek’s personal wellbeing. As of the publication of this revised blogpost, the previous version has been removed from my website to avoid any further confusion.
I am thankful to Fr Marek for reaching out to me to help me correct the record on all previously mentioned points.
How God speaks to us simply, in ways that He alone knows that we can understand.
Unfortunately, he was left at somewhat of a disadvantage by the semi-regular speaker Fr Samuel French (who sent his regards for that night) who had already covered every possible topic about vocations under the sun prior to World Youth Day Lisbon.
So, what could Fr Marek possibly talk about to a dining table of two dozen or so Catholic youth? He chose simplicity and talked from his own experience.
Fr Marek was 7 years old, back in Poland, when he first knew his vocation in life.
At the time his two older siblings were preparing for their First Holy Communions. He recalled that somehow, he had picked up a prayer book and was reading it. Even looking back, he knew that he could not understand much of what was in it, but he was reading it. Then his mother walked into the room where the little Marek was and said: “Ah, Marek, I see that you are going to become a priest.” Not wanting to upset his mother, he said, “Okay.”
Later on in his life he was thinking about it. When all his classmates from school were worrying about which high school to go to, Marek was not worried. He knew that he was going to be a priest. It was very convenient to know it from that time, there was no uncertainty for him to deal with.
In seminary, around Year 2 or the beginning of Year 3 you are investured with the black cassock of a priest, and (in Poland) you are to no longer wear secular/common clothing. This is a very important threshold within a seminarian’s journey to becoming a priest. A visible sign that you are truly serious about answering God’s call to this holy vocation. No former seminarian would wish to be remembered amongst his community for going through with his investiture only to then say that the priesthood is not his true calling.
It is far better for you to resign before this moment happens, Fr Marek told us.
So, it was at this important threshold in his own journey of discernment that seminarian Marek had his first seed of doubt: Am I being truly called or am I just doing this for my mother? Dear God, please tell me, is this just me wanting to be a priest to make my mother happy or are You truly calling me to this?
Two weeks before he was to receive the cassock Marek was visiting his family, still wondering whether his calling was real or not. For some reason his mother began recounting stories from his childhood, he had heard most of them before. But then she told a story that he had not heard before.
Marek’s mother told of when as a child up until the age of 2 he had suffered through twelve bouts of pneumonia, one soon after the other. During one of these periods of illness, when she had taken him back to the hospital to be examined again, the doctor said to her, “If I were you, I would prepare.” Prepare for his death.
Not at all content with the doctor’s advice, Marek’s mother took him to their local church and prayed before the altar of Our Lady. She made a deal with Mary, “You heal him, you can take him.”
A while after, Marek recovered and the details of these events began to fade from his mother’s memory, until God called them back to the front of her mind when Marek most needed to hear them. It was late in Marek’s vocation, but it was still the right time — God’s time — for him to hear this story. Here was the confirmation that he was on the right path; God the Father was calling him to be a priest.
Fr Marek knew at the time, ‘This is not about me.’ God speaks to each of us in different ways. HE knows which ways to speak to us that we can understand, individually. Listening to some details of your life, you will see clearly where God is calling you. God can speak through other people. Pay attention to things that are repeated: phrases, events, conversations, and so on. It is not always some big message or big trumpet blast; God speaks to us simply, in the ways that He alone knows that we can understand.
For example, Fr Marek’s Vocation to be a Missionary.
When he was walking through a high school as a Year 9 student, out of the corner of his eye he noticed a poster for the Geographic Department and that was a small photo showing somewhere in Oceania, he couldn’t recall where exactly. And in that moment, it came to him, “Okay, I am going to be a missionary.”
God used something I would understand, he said. Something as simple as that photo.
Later, it came to his heart that he was to go to Papua New Guinea. There was no warning, he had no prior ideas about it, this was God calling him again to where he should go.
Priests that Marek knew, and his own fellow seminarians, told him that becoming a missionary would not be so easy. Their bishop was not one to let go of freshly ordained seminarians, Marek may have to wait a year or two before the bishop would be willing to let him go on mission work. Marek was not fazed; he knew that he was going to be a missionary.
Every time that the bishop came to visit and talk with the seminarians during their years of formation, Marek would say to the bishop, Bishop, “I am going to Papua New Guinea to be a missionary.”
Later on, Marek thought to himself, ‘Hmm, it might not be a bad idea to have some experience before becoming a missionary.’ So, he decided to stay for a year, or two, in Poland as a priest in a parish before becoming a missionary. He ended up staying 6 years for placement in his local diocese.
Then the bishop came on one of his parish visits. When he saw Fr Marek, he said, “Okay, here is the man who said he would be a missionary.” This statement left Fr Marek thinking again about his vocation and precipitated his second struggle with doubt. “Am I being called to be a missionary? Is this of me or not?”
In his parish as a newly ordained priest, Fr Marek met and became friends with a former missionary who was also living there. They would often go out for lunch together and the missionary would share stories about being a missionary, not knowing that the young priest before him was called by God to be a missionary as well.
Fr Marek knew that God was calling him to minister in Papua New Guinea, but all the missionaries from his diocese in Poland went to serve in communities in Africa and South America. There was no one who had been to, or was in, Papua New Guinea that he could ask about being a missionary there. He felt being called specifically to Papua New Guinea, however there was no one to contact to find out whether they were indeed in need of missionaries in that part of the world.
Fr Marek knew that if he was to be a missionary, he would need help in discerning the call.
“Okay, God if I am to be a missionary, I need a sign or a contact in Papua New Guinea to know that you want me to go there.”
What then followed for Fr Marek was a long period of prayer and questioning, by himself and others. This was God’s good way of purifying his call to missionary work. Marek wasn’t doing this because he liked the idea of Papua New Guinea, no, he wanted to go there because that was where God Himself was calling Marek to be.
After this period of purification there was still no sign or contact from Papua New Guinea. Then Fr Marek thought to himself, ‘Okay, Marek, if God calls you to be a missionary, what does it matter which country He sends you to?’
Only after this did Fr Marek then find out that one of his priest friends was actually going to be a missionary in Papua New Guinea. However, as clear a sign as this was, it was still not enough for Fr Marek to take this as a sign from God. He need confirmation that he wasn’t taking this turn of events to his human advantage — he had already given his, “Yes,” to God to go to Africa.
So, Fr Marek went to talk with the Director of the Mission Training Centre where he was studying, and asked the director, “Where should I go to be a missionary: Africa or Papua New Guinea?”
The director answered him, “They have more than enough missionary priests in Africa already, go to Papua New Guinea.”
And so that is how Fr Marek came to be a missionary in Papua New Guinea, but that was not the end of his story.
In his time ministering in Papua New Guinea, Fr Marek was called again by God with a thought, a thought that the missionary had never had before, that came to his mind: Australia.
Australia! Why Australia?
It took Fr Marek a while to understand this call. Talking with those around him and his fellow missionaries, he could come up with many Human Reasons to go to Australia:
In the end none of this Human Reasoning finally mattered, only God’s Reasoning mattered.
When Fr Marek received his call to Australia, it was so clear. Normally people have motives for moving. He had none. He was trying, as all humans do, to make up reasons for something that cannot be answered by human reasoning. For God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways are above our ways.
The only reason Marek had to go to Australia was that it is THE Call — God’s call — and that was enough reason for him.
Now that Fr Marek is in Australia, he feels deep within himself that he is in the right place. The place where God wants him to be. His past 2 years in Australia have been of great spiritual growth to him and his life as a priest. That spiritual growth was never a motivation for him to come here, he has only received it because he followed God’s call.
For Fr Marek, the best way in life is to follow God’s call. He cannot truly express in words how happy and fulfilled he is for following the many calls that God made in his life so far.
In closing, Fr Marek advised us to be attentive, to discern, and aware of the things that we may not even think of as God’s call in our lives - may just be the God of Infinite Surprises knocking at our heart’s door.
He was glad to see so many young people gathered for the Vocations Night, “It is good that you are actually putting your ear to what God is calling you to. Thank you.”
Fr Marek Woldan has been an ordained priest for 23 years.
He was born and raised in Częstochowa, considered to be the Spiritual Capital of Poland.
In January 2008 he arrived in Papua New Guinea and was sent as a parish priest to one of the parishes in the Diocese of Mendi.
From the end of 2021, Fr Marek has been an assistant priest at Our Lady of Dolours Parish, Chatswood, Sydney, helping with pastoral work in the Diocese of Broken Bay.*
(Revised Version) 4 October 2023
* Details taken from Our Lady of Dolours Catholic Parish Chatswood Facebook post welcoming Fr Marek to the parish.
Painted 2–4 March 2023.
Rather than fail admirably at trying to condense the epic life of Mrs Chisholm into a few measly paragraphs, I will direct you instead to the Friends of Caroline Chisholm website for a greater insight to her and her works than I could ever attempt to do justice within the confines of this blog.
Link to the Mrs Chisholm website.
Painted 23–24, 26 Feb 2023.
St Peter Chanel is the Protomartyr of Oceania, and Patron of Wallis and Futuna.
He was a French Marist father and religious superior of seven fellow Marist missionaries sent out to the region, having left France on the 24th of December 1836.
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