The Path to Priesthood: Fr Gavin shares vocation story on feast of St John VianneyFriday 4th August 2023
Today we celebrate the feast of St John Vianney, patron saint of parish priests, with a special focus on vocations.
This feast also coincides with World Youth Day 2023, a joyful gathering of young people from across the world coming together in faith.
And as young adults from our diocese join thousands of others in Lisbon, we decided to celebrate today’s feast through the lens of World Youth Day by catching up with diocesan priest, Fr Gavin Landers.
Watch the video below or continue reading to find out more about Fr Gavin’s vocation story, and how a pilgrimage to World Youth Day helped him to hear God’s call to priestly life.
Speaking to us ahead of today’s feast, he said: “When I was young growing up, I found it quite easy to believe in God. After all, we get told we’ve got an all-loving and caring God and that was easier to believe.
“But as I got from a teenage years, I struggled with that reality. I always believed that there was a God. I just didn’t see how it was relevant in my own life. I recall at the age of 13 when you had to choose which Jesus says and stood there. I remember asking myself the big question What do I want from life?
“And at that young age and wanted to be happy and the world was telling me in order to be happy, I had to be rich, I had to be successful. So at the age of 16, I left school and got a high-paid job in construction. And with the money came the nice clothes, nice car, the nice apartment.
“I started in my late teens to live for the weekend and happiness ended up being a word that was just as empty as I was feeling.”
Created for happiness
“One week, while I was at church, the priest started to preach about happiness and my ears pricked up.”
The priest went on to explain that God created each one of us for great happiness but we don’t always look for it in the right places.
He challenged his parishioners to remove the blocks that separate us from God and that happiness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Fr Gavin said: “He explained confession in a real simple way. He said it’s like being outside on a sunny day and we just bask in God’s radiance, His love, His mercy. But when we start to sin, it’s like the clouds start to roll in. And the more and more we sin, the deeper and the darker the clouds get until we can’t see God’s love anymore. But when we go to confession, it’s like the rain starts to fall, the clouds depart, and we have that loving relationship once again with God.”
“The following week, I went to confession and sat with the priest. I told him all the things I’d done wrong and how it had cause disruption with my family, my friends, my girlfriend. And the priest said something quite profound to me; he said that my life had been a life of searching for love.
Fr Gavin explained to the priest that he knew what love was, that he loved his family, his friends, his girlfriend. But the priest said: “No, you’ve been searching for God, who is love.”
In reply, Fr Gavin asked: “Well, how has God ever loved me?”
The priest gave Fr Gavin a crucifix and said, “God loved you so much, that He did this: He sent His son to die for love of you.”
Fr Gavin said: “At that moment, I just started to cry because I realised then that my self-worth wasn’t based on what clothes I was wearing or how much money I had in the bank account; my self-worth was based on the fact that I was worth dying for.
“I felt a great amount of grace during the moment of absolution and that joy, that happiness that I’d always desired, I started to get a little bit of a taste of it.
“I left the confessional almost dancing because of this joy that I received from God.”
World Youth Day
A little while later, in 2008, Fr Gavin was selected to represent his parish in the diocesan pilgrimage to World Youth Day in Sydney with Pope Benedict XVI.
He said: “When I got to Australia, half a million young people were singing and dancing and just so full of joy.
“And I was envious. They didn’t have the joy because they had a lot of money, they had such great joy because they had a relationship with God.”
Whilst in Sydney, Fr Gavin embraced the Sacrament of Reconciliation once again and went to Mass each day during the pilgrimage, giving him another taste of this joy, happiness, and fulfilment he continued to long for.
Lovesick for God
“When I came back from Australia, about three weeks later I started to get what I could only describe as a lovesick feeling.
“You know that feeling when you want to be someone all the time and hang out with them and get to know everything about? Well, that feeling wasn’t for my girlfriend. It was for God.
“And it wasn’t a comfortable feeling to start with. I suppose looking back now, that was my calling to be a priest.”
Despite recalling feelings of not feeling “good enough, holy enough, or pure enough”, Fr Gavin continued on this path of discernment, seeking advice and guidance from a priest friend who had experienced similar feelings of being lovesick for God.
Eventually, Fr Gavin applied to the priesthood, was accepted, and embarked on a new life training for the priesthood in Spain.
He said: “While I was in Spain, I was praying about this lovesick feeling, my call to the priesthood, and I realised that I never felt that way about God at all.
“What I do believe now is that God gave me a little taste of how He felt about me, how God is lovesick for each one of us.
“There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each person, and it can only be filled by God, made known through Jesus Christ.
“That 13-year-old boy who desired happiness has now got the fulfilment he looked for.”
Contact our Vocations Team
If you would like to find out more about a vocation to the priesthood, or speak to a member of our team, please call 0161 817 2226, or email Fr Michael Deas (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Fr Mark Paver (email@example.com).