On retreat before his ordination to the priesthood in Hamilton, Fr Matthew Gibson was told by another priest that “we never know what type of priest we will be, how we will be in the future and what our ministry will involve”.
“But,” that priest said to then-Deacon Gibson, “as long as we put God first and spend time with him each day in prayer, he will lead us and we will be fruitful because of him”.
Fr Gibson, who was ordained to the priesthood in a packed Cathedral of the
Blessed Virgin Mary on August 31, told NZ Catholic a few days beforehand that he found these words from the priest “extremely refreshing”.
“It is not first of all our work and we never know what we will face, but God will lead us if we seek to be faithful to him,” Fr Gibson said.
The oldest of three children in his family (he has two younger sisters), he grew up in Hamilton and faith was always an important part of family life.
“Each night we would have family prayers and Mass on Sundays, and this developed in me a knowledge of my need for God.”
The young Matthew Gibson went to St Peter Chanel School in Te Rapa and St John’s College, and from age 9-18 years, was heavily involved in swimming, competing nationally and in Australia.
“Swimming was my life, I loved competing and even enjoyed the 18 hours per week in the pool all through secondary school,” he said.
He went on to study finance and economics at the University of Auckland and, while he kept going to Sunday Mass at this time, he said he didn’t have much time for God and his personal prayer life slipped away.
But in his third year at university a turning point came — he attended World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008. It was the witness of the Church alive with young people that gave him the desire to find again the “reason for their hope”. He said he began attending some weekday Masses and praying, and “slowly Jesus helped me see that being close to God was what gives
us true joy”.
After working as a guide on the Milford Track and doing an exchange in the United States to finish his studies, Matthew Gibson went to Hearts Aflame and then went to the Catholic Discipleship College for nine months. During his time at CDC, he discovered “the joy of eucharistic adoration”.
“About halfway through the year, a couple of people suggested I discern the priesthood. I prayed about it and it seemed that the Lord was putting this desire within me, to be close to the Eucharist and the Mass. I struggled with the thought of not being married, but the Lord gave me the grace to choose him alone. After that I felt a great peace, and the desire to serve his Church grew deeper.”
During five and a half years at Holy Cross Seminary, Fr Gibson said that he
had “enjoyed the theology and philosophy studies”, adding that “it is a great time to develop a prayer life”.
“A priest once said to me ‘remember it is a privilege to study about God and the Church, many Catholics do not have this opportunity’,” he said.
He added that “the formation to be a priest is long, but I think it is necessary”.
“It can be a trying time [at the seminary], especially in the first few years when it feels like you are being watched closely by the formation staff, but it is a great time to make friendships with other guys who love Jesus and want to serve the Church.”
Fr Gibson has fond memories of his pastoral year spent at St Mary, Star of the Sea parish in Gisborne.
“At first, it is difficult moving to a community not knowing anyone, especially an isolated area, but the parishioners there were very kind to me. I spent time visiting the sick in hospital, going to the two schools there and visiting people in their homes.
“It was a great joy to see some young people embrace the Church and begin to pray. From this time in Gisborne, I saw how varied the life of a priest is, from celebrating the sacraments, to teaching, to visiting the sick and lonely, to preparing people for marriage and being involved in the lives of young families.”
Looking to the future, he said he is “looking forward to celebrating the Mass, and I do hope that others can discover the joy of adoration, but in terms of priestly work, I do not have preferences”.
He also has some succinct advice for young men who are discerning priesthood, or young women who are discerning religious life — that is to pray!
“Spend time each day with God in silence, and let him speak to you. In fact, that is what the Lord asks of all of us, and it is the only way we can really ‘hear’ him (often in silence).”
He referenced Matthew 6:6 — “When you pray go into your room, shut the door and there pray to your Father”.
“We can do this in the Church obviously,” Fr Gibson said, “but we must shut the door to all the other voices in order to hear God speak to us.”
“Also,” he said, continuing his vocation advice to young people, “involve yourself in youth group or young adult activities in the Church. This helps us develop the sense of being supported by the Church, the body of Christ, and can help us see the great need of the Church for priests and religious.”
“Finally, if the Lord places this desire on your heart, speak to the vocations director of the diocese or your parish priest, or a religious sister who can help guide you.”
Speaking after Communion on August 31, Fr Matthew Gibson thanked
many people, but his voice wavered with emotion as he thanked his parents Gabriel and John Gibson.
“To my parents, Mum and Dad, I thank you for loving me. You have given me the best witness of what God’s love is like in your marriage. Thank you for teaching me to pray, for putting up with me when I was swimming, which took a lot of time from both of you, and for being a true support and comfort to me when I moved towards the priesthood,” he said.
Thanking his sisters, Fr Gibson added, “I love coming home to a family
The new priest asked that he be allowed to give his post-ordination blessing first to his parents. He did so, and afterwards there was a very long queue of people wishing to also receive his blessing.
In his homily at the Mass, Bishop Stephen Lowe preached on mystery and relationships, journey and joy.
“There have been lots of journeys in Matthew’s life, but I don’t think there is anyone in the cathedral who has walked the Milford Track more than Matthew,” Bishop Lowe said.
“On that journey, you had to watch out for the slow, you had to slow the fast ones down, keeping the group together, having conversations with them, entering into a relationship.
“A journey is not just what we walk on, the track, but [is] to discover the
beauty of God’s creation, and the world around us, leading them into mystery. That, as a priest, is what you are called today to be, to lead people
into the mystery of God.”
Bishop Lowe encouraged Fr Gibson to always learn — from Jesus and from the People of God.
“All of your brother priests will tell you they have probably learned far more from the People of God than they ever did in the seminary. It is one
of the joys of priesthood.”
Speaking to Fr Gibson’s parents — Bishop Lowe told them “you are not
losing a son, you are gaining a whole lot of sons, because the parents of a
priest become parents of all priests”.
This elicited laughter from the congregation.
Bishop Lowe said that Fr Gibson will share in the joys and the sufferings of the People of God.
“Your heart will be transformed to become the heart of Christ, the Good