By Paul Dobbyn
WHEN Missionaries of God’s Love founder Fr Ken Barker presents remarkable moments of grace in his life and others, they glow like unforgettably precious stones.
This gift was very much on display recently when he spoke about highlights in his 40 years of priesthood.
“A moment which strikes me, even after all these years, is my ordination by Archbishop Thomas Cahill in Canberra’s St Christopher’s Cathedral,” he said.
The act of prostration was particularly grace-filled.
Fr Barker said “the coldness of the cathedral’s marble sanctuary in August” as he lay face down, but also the fire of the zeal of his commitment to his priestly vocation.
“It was such an amazing moment … I was able to fully give myself to God and the priestly ministry,” he said.
Among other highlights of a priestly life well-lived, were the day-to-day celebrations of the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation, and sharing the joy of young people who discover the reality of a loving God for the first time.
Healing prayer and its blessings also figured significantly.
Fr Barker spoke of leading a retreat in Brisbane and praying with those living in “what can seem like a fairly sophisticated society but where underneath many people carry deep wounds”.
2014 has been another joyful and fruitful year for the MGL founder.
Most significant was the Holy See’s formal recognition of the order as a religious institute of diocesan rite.
Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn Christopher Prowse celebrated an Inauguration Mass attended by hundreds of friends, fellow Catholics and families, some from overseas as well as from cities and towns across Australia.
Fr Barker made his vows public once again at the Mass held in St Christopher’s Cathedral on February 8.
The MGL’s 19 ordained priests, an ordained deacon, a deacon who is about to be ordained and a consecrated brother also made their perpetual vows public before their founder.
A further 19 MGL seminarians then renewed their initial vows.
“This was certainly a memorable moment among many memorable moments in my priesthood,” Fr Barker said.
“However, I’ll never forget when the first MGL priest, Fr Steve Tynan, was ordained in St Christopher’s Cathedral in 1992.
“That was when I realised that what had been begun was now receiving the official endorsement of the church.”
The joy of seeing a sinner reconciled through the Sacrament of Reconciliation has been ongoing.
“Many times ministering this sacrament I have seen people who have been heavily laden for a long time have a terrible burden lifted,” Fr Barker said.
“The burden is replaced with a sense of a joy of the Lord’s presence and a knowledge of His Mercy.
“It’s a beautiful experience to be used as an icon of mercy in the sacrament; it’s so powerful.
“It always reminds me of Jesus’ words about more rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner than the other 99 just persons who need no repentance.
“Then of course there’s the Eucharist, right at the heart of the priest’s ministry as he daily joins with Jesus in His sacrifice to the Father.”
Ministry to youth has been another source of delight for Fr Barker.
“There’s such great joy when young people living without any sense of God, through events such as weekend retreats, youth rallies and schools of evangelisation, discover for the first time the love of God,” he said.
“The lights go on, as it were, in their lives – they discover God is real and Jesus is their personal saviour.
“I have such enormous rejoicing in my heart to see this happen.”
Inevitably there have been dark times in the MGL founder’s life.
The ongoing revelations of sexual abuse perpetrated by members of the clergy are a prime example.
“We’re a young congregation so we haven’t been affected in many ways,” Fr Barker said.
“At the same time we stand in solidarity through the crisis of experiencing this dark area of the Church’s history.
“In a strange way too, the sexual abuse crisis has humbled us and made us more dependent on God.
“It has caused us to examine our lives more closely to enable us to stand honestly before God.
“We are also encouraged to do our best to form men who are truly faith-filled and full of integrity in the way they minister.”
Fr Barker’s retreat in early August, Trust in God in Hard Times, held at Camp Hill’s St Thomas’ Church, exposed both bright and dark sides to Australian life.
“I found people very open to receiving healing prayer,” he said.
“They showed me the depths of woundedness we carry in today’s society – fractured family relationships, sons and daughters who have lost faith or are into drugs or in other difficult situations.
“Underneath what can seem like a fairly sophisticated society there are very deep wounds in many people’s lives; they are looking for a Church to meet this need when they are hurting the most.
“I often realise there’s not much I can do to comfort these broken-hearted people…but I can turn them to Jesus; He is the comforter Who brings new hope which is so needed.
“Light does come into people’s lives when they discover that reality – I’m seeing this in today’s broken society more than ever in my 40 years as a priest.”
Fr Barker’s September will be busy.
He’ll be visiting India, mainly Bangalore, ministering to the charismatic renewal movement.
In Sri Lanka he will preach to a large gathering of the Community of the Risen Lord.
Thus the ministry of this remarkable priest, founder of one of only a tiny handful of congregations established by Australians to obtain formal recognition by the Church, continues to grow and flourish.