BENEDICTINE Father Robert Nixon says his first year as a priest has been an incredible experience.
And the key to his experience – the grace of God.
Fr Nixon said he could feel the grace of God working through him in the celebration of the sacraments and in the communication of God’s saving message, through the ministries of preaching proclamation.
“I have a deep and indescribable sense of awe each time I offer the sacrifice of the Mass, knowing that it is partaking in the greatest sacrifice of Christ, through which alone we are saved,” he said.
Fr Nixon has spent the year with the New Norcia Benedictine Community in Western Australia, one of few Benedictine monasteries in Australia.
The monastery was established in the 1840s and is the heart of the New Norcia town.
It was this monastic life of the Benedictines that stood out to Fr Nixon when he was discerning his vocation.
“I had often thought about what it would be like to be a monk – but it is hard to imagine it accurately or realistically, without actually spending time at a monastery,” Fr Nixon said.
“I made a retreat at New Norcia, and I was very drawn to the reflective approach to the liturgy, to the high priority given to prayer, and lack of ‘worldliness’ in the community.
“Monastic life is not for everyone, of course, but I found it a wonderful way of witnessing to and living the Gospel.”
And while his discernment was fruitful, he did have a message to offer.
“I would urge young men and women considering a religious vocation simply to ‘give it a try’,” he said.
“Sometimes, one can spend too much time ‘discerning’, rather than responding.”
His own journey took him far from his hometown of Townsville.
He said he was blessed to have been born into a family with a strong Catholic faith.
Some of his earliest memories were in the life of the Church, saying he was privileged to be able to be an altar server, an organist and a reader from a young age.
Completing his primary schooling with the Josephites and his secondary schooling with the Christian Brothers, he said God was a big part of his younger years.
After finishing school, Fr Nixon studied music and education and pursued both careers for a time.
“It was something I really enjoyed, and felt that it was what God was calling me to do at that time,” he said.
“But I also felt all along that eventually I would enter religious life.”
He joined Holy Spirit Seminary, Banyo, in preparation for diocesan priesthood.
But in time, he discerned it was the monastic life he was called to.
His saintly inspiration, as one might imagine, was St Benedict.
Fr Nixon said at a young age, St Benedict had the courage and wisdom to set out for life as a hermit – to search for God and eternal life through silence and solitude.
“The spirit of Benedict continues to guide and govern the life of our monastic
community,” he said.
“The daily life we follow, in terms of praying of the psalms, sacred reading and work, is not, of course, identical to what it was in Benedict’s time – but it is very close.”
Fr Nixon said this contemplative life is of vital importance in the life of the Church.
“It is a life which does not need to justify itself in terms of practical utility, because its goal is simply the glorification of God, and the contemplation of His glory,” he said.
“This is the most important part of being human, and it is what the eternal life will be.
“At this time of crisis in the Church, perhaps prayer and silence are the most useful and most credible things we can do or offer.”
Though, he said waking up early everyday was a bit of a challenge to begin with.
“But one adapts to that eventually,” he said.
His favourite Bible passage was found in the back of the holy book.
“I love the description of the ‘new Heaven and new earth’, in Revelation 21 and 22,” Fr Nixon said.
“This vivid and beautiful description of the ineffable joys and glories of the eternal life serves always to remind me of the ultimate goal of our life here,” he said.
“This life is but a short journey, a brief time of testing – but which opens upon the true and unending life in union with God, when we shall become one with Him in eternal blessedness.”