FR Tom Duncan feels right where he is meant to be serving the People of God and wants to spend his life growing more and more in love with God.
“Number-one priority in the long term is a personal one – being able to follow Christ each day and to become more and more like Him in an ongoing conversion,” Fr Duncan said.
“That will be my number-one priority, (and) from that, to be able to help others do the same.
“Priesthood isn’t the kind of thing where you think of it in terms of goals and achievements because it’s not like any other career.
“The only advancing you do is growing more and more in love with Christ and to help others do the same.”
Fr Duncan said his ordination was overwhelming.
Toowoomba Bishop Robert McGuckin ordained him at St Patrick’s Cathedral on July 18 before a congregation of faithful, family, brother priests, seminary staff and friends.
At the ordination, Bishop McGuckin offered a quote by Pope Francis from the Chrism Mass earlier this year.
“We have been anointed to anoint,” he said.
“We anoint by distributing ourselves, distributing our vocation and our heart.
“When we anoint others, we ourselves are anointed anew by the faith and the affection of our people.”
Speaking to Fr Duncan, Bishop McGuckin said he would receive this anointing the Pope spoke of.
“May you also be anointed with the affection of the people with whom you will journey in your priestly ministry,” Bishop McGuckin said.
Having his parents, his brother and sister, and his grandparents and extended family present was “beautiful”.
“I felt very blessed and humbled that everyone was there,” Fr Duncan said.
Many moments really hit home for him, he said.
“One was when I was invested with the priestly stole and chasuble and the whole cathedral broke into applause,” he said.
He said in that moment, the immensity and responsibility of his vocation was realised.
“And there’s a very special moment during the ordination where the priests all give what they call the kiss of peace for the newly ordained,” he said.
“They all come around and greet you.
“At the end of that, a friend of mine, Fr Dimitri who’s a Greek Orthodox priest, he came up from the congregation and gave me the kiss of peace and kissed my hands.
“It was very moving.
“He, from another church, came and did that – that really hit me.
“Another moment at the end, the four bishops who were present, all knelt down in front of me and asked for my blessing.
“That was very humbling.”
Another moving moment was during the Litany of Saints.
“Listening to everyone invoking the prayers of the saints, I just felt like I was drawn into a huge and ancient tradition – something immense,” Fr Duncan said.
First blessings, he said, was overwhelming.
He said to have people kneel before him and kiss his hands and ask for his blessing was profoundly humbling.
He said his voice was almost gone by the end of the long line of faithful and family.
Fortunately his voice was not gone for good; he was ready for his first Mass on the Saturday in his home town of Miles.
Fr Duncan said he was “so nervous” before the Mass until a friend of his prayed over him and he said “that really gave me courage”.
It was the homily that he said he struggled with and feared the most, and he wrestled with a fear of public speaking.
But it was also something he treasured.
Fr Duncan said it was an immense privilege and an immense responsibility.
“You’re standing in this strange in-between space, in between God and God’s people, and trying to open up the Word for them,” he said. “That’s a terrifying thought for me – but at once a blessed one.”
He said while he was loathe to analyse separate parts of the Mass apart from the whole, like most newly ordained priests, it was the consecration of the gifts that stood out the most during his first Mass.
“It felt very special to consecrate the Eucharist for the first time,” Fr Duncan said.
To utter those beautiful and ancient words and just sing those ancient tunes that are so engrained in my mind from years and years going to Mass and hearing the priest sing.
“It’s hard to describe what it’s like – beautiful really.”
Fr Duncan said calling down the Holy Spirit and praying the words of institution, something mysterious was at play.
He said it was an interesting moment because the priest says those words in the first person.
“He says take this all of you and eat of it, this is my body,” Fr Duncan said.
“He’s not saying, ‘This is Jesus’ body’, he says ‘This is my body’.
“It’s in that moment where you really have a sense that Christ is working in you – that you’re standing in his place, in a sense, and you hope not to get in the way.”
Jokingly, he recalled walking out of the church after Mass and asked the priests gathered: “Do you think it worked?”
And the priests said, “Yes, we think so”.
While at the time of writing, he hadn’t yet ministered the Sacrament of Penance, he said he was looking forward to it.
“I am looking forward to it because I definitely see it as an essential part of my ministry reconciling people with Jesus,” he said.
“The reason Christ came to earth was to reconcile us with God, draw us into the divine life.
“It’s something I long to do, to be able to help and I just hope, as I said before, stay out of the way and not be an obstacle for people.”
Oriented towards the future, Fr Duncan said he was looking forward to becoming more familiar with celebrating Mass.
He said there was so much to remember and think about when celebrating the liturgy that he wanted to grow into a frame of mind where he could pray the Mass without having to focus on the little things, keeping to a deeper prayerfulness.
Fr Duncan said in the next few months, it was also a chance for him to settle into parish life and his role as chaplain at the University of Southern Queensland.
At USQ, he said he could reach into the lives of young people and open them up to new paths like vocations.
“Through the university chaplaincy, not just with vocations – that will be a big one – but just trying to help people find Christ in their life,” he said.
We’re at this stage in our country where we’ve got to re-evangelise – people aren’t evangelised.
“So we’re going back to the basics with mission and bearing witness to Christ in our life.
“I suppose that will be one of my focuses and from that will stem vocations as well.”
Fr Duncan said he was left with a mountain of gratitude for everyone who had been part of his journey.
He said he wanted to say thank you to everyone and that he was overwhelmed by a sense of goodness, kindness and self-giving of God’s people.