Hi, I’m Sean Barker, 27, and this is WHAT GOD MEANS TO ME!
As a teenager, I attended mass and said my prayers, but God was optional, just someone you said a quick prayer to before bed and at Sunday Mass. It was all part of “being Catholic”. However, the seeds of faith were planted because, as a family, we always went to Mass. As an 18-year old, I hadn’t a clue what I was doing with my life, but I chose Chemical Engineering, and headed to Queen’s University Belfast.
At University, I got into a few bits of trouble with alcohol and trying to be “cool”. It didn’t work out. I was feeling lonely and had tried everything else, so I decided to give faith a real go. I was still attending Mass, but I wasn’t really listening!
I had heard about the Catholic chaplaincy at Queen’s and decided to go visit. There I found really friendly people who cared, as they made me tea and listened. I kept going back, just for lunch and a chat. One day there was Eucharistic Adoration. I had never been to Adoration, but the Priest invited me to go in and sit there.
Just to sit there. I left it in tears, telling the priest, Fr Columba OP, that was the most humbling thing I’ve ever experienced. I realised it was two-fold, our Lord being humble enough to sit there, and me being humble enough to realise who I really was and what I had done wrong whilst appreciating his love. I went to Confession, and I had an amazing experience of profound joy, peace and contentment. I kicked my bad habits and vowed to change for good.
That summer, I visited Lough Derg with fellow young men from the Chaplaincy and started listening to God’s plan for my life. I realised that all the deep fulfilment and longing I had been searching for was to be found in the silence and peace of Prayer and Adoration as Jesus is there, he loves you.
I found that through all the adventures and crazy places I had searched in, were the wrong places. Compared to the deep peace of prayer and adoration, any of the music festivals, drinking sessions I had been on, where empty. Studying the Theology of the Body gave me the realisation of who we truly are and how to properly engage in a meaningful relationship.
During the last two years of my university life, I signed up as a pioneer (still on the wagon!) and started helping out with the GAA club, helping to coach teams and volunteering at the Sigerson Cup. I was now a regular visitor to the Chaplaincy at Queen’s, and it became my home away from home.
I spent summers going on pilgrimages, with Lourdes in 2014 as a Brancardier being the highlight. The best experiences I had where the weekends away and trips with the Catholic Chaplaincy group. We had great weekends in Glendalough, Croagh Patrick, and even a weekend in Sligo, going to Mass together, visiting churches and interesting sites like Yeats’ grave.
I graduated and accepted a job in Cork, working in pharmaceuticals. It was great experience, with lots of new challenges and demands. I got involved in the local Youth 2000 Prayer Groups eventually helping to organise meetings, socials and retreats.
I met loads of amazing young Catholics, who still remain great friends. In particular I met two young couples, both had difficult circumstances, but in both cases their love for God and each other shone through as they decided to get married and commit to each other for life. It opened my eyes to the amazing power of prayer and the gifts that God gives us.
However, after 3 wonderful years in Cork, I returned home to Tyrone, as I realised that God was calling me to become a science teacher. I became an active member of the Halo Youth Group and ADYC.
After gaining voluntary experience in schools, helping out with my local GAA club and youth club, I was accepted to train to teach with the Catholic Teaching Alliance in Preston. It’s been one of the best experiences of my life.
I have stayed involved with Youth 2000 over the years, which has been a wonderful organisation that has helped me to grow closer to Jesus and learn so much about our faith. I have made friends for life.
My recommendation to any young person reading this is, give faith a try. It’s not just an old fashioned relic of the past, it’s a living present with a wonderful future. God is calling you to come along and get involved. Get involved in your local parish young adult group, go along to Youth 2000, or organisations like ADYC or Metanoia Project.
You meet the best people, people who have fun and craic, but have faith too. Go on a pilgrimage. It’s an adventure as well as prayer. As for what God is calling me to do next, I’ll keep praying! Hopefully marriage, kids and a full time teaching job!