National Vocations Awareness Week commenced on Sunday 7 August. It provides an opportunity to reflect more deeply on our call as baptised Catholics, to be living signs of God’s love in the world and to give thanks and pray for those who have given their lives in service, in the ministry of priesthood and religious life.

Melbourne Catholic recently spoke with one of the Archdiocese’s newest priests, Fr Brian Muling, who was ordained in the presence of family, friends and brother priests at St Patrick’s Cathedral in East Melbourne on Friday 15 July. As assistant priest at St Francis Xavier and St Clare parishes in Box Hill, Fr Muling is looking forward to serving those he encounters, both near and far.

Fr Brian can still recall the moment, as he lay in bed reading about a particular saint, when a ‘gentle, inner voice’ said, ‘How would you like to become a priest?’ He’d already been a primary school teacher in Melbourne for many years and thought that was his call, but life was to take a new turn.

Following that prompting, which took place in the mid-2000s, Fr Brian initially thought he’d been called to life in a religious order, namely the Order of Friars Minor. Under the guidance of Fr Paul Ghanem OFM (someone who’d become a friend and mentor to Fr Brian over the years), he joined the order and travelled to Sydney. However, after four months, he decided that ‘wasn’t the right fit’ and returned to Melbourne to resume primary school teaching.

Fr Brian explains, ‘Sometime later, Fr Paul Ghanem rang me up and said, “Have you thought about diocesan priesthood?” I just said, “No way!” He said, “Give it two weeks. I’ll pray for you. You pray and see what happens.” And I said, “Oh, alright.” So, reluctantly I did, and the rest is history as they say.’

Fr Brian contacted the Vocations Office in Melbourne and spoke to the then Archbishop Denis Hart and ‘everything fell into place very quickly’, he says. He entered Corpus Christi seminary in Carlton, in Melbourne’s inner north, in 2013, aged 53.

Given his older age, Fr Brian was invited to travel to Rome to attend Beta College, an English-speaking college for older-aged men who are discerning the priesthood. Rather than the usual seven years at the seminary, this program involves an intense four-year period of discernment for priesthood. Having completed that in 2018, he returned to Melbourne, and following some ill health and other interruptions, his ordination ‘finally happened’ in July this year.

Fr Brian says he ‘knew’ this was the right path for him when ‘things started to fall into place’. ‘There may be little hurdles along the way, but the Lord will open the doors and things will start to fall into place,’ he says.

And when it is right, things move very quickly, but we have to do our part, too, of course. I think some people might fall into the mistake of thinking, ‘I’ll let God do everything and I’ll just sit back,’ but it’s a combination of our response, our working and cooperating with God.

Given his older age when entering the priesthood, Fr Brian says a lot of people are curious about his eventual call to this vocation. ‘I get asked about that quite a lot,’ he says.

‘As a child growing up, my faith was important to me—I really had a strong faith. But, by my teenage years and into my middle twenties, I drifted away completely. I did anything and everything that was against the faith. It really was, I guess, out of desperation and the grace of God that I came back.

‘But even then, I can’t recall any calling to the priesthood, though I did start to take the faith seriously again. I went into primary school teaching, and I taught religion as well as all the other usual disciplines within primary teaching. I did secondary teaching for a short while, too. So, it was only around 2005, maybe 2006, when I believed I had this gentle push towards priesthood.’

Fr Brian is pleased to see that in recent times, there has been more of an ‘openness and push’ to include older aged men to the priesthood. He notes that Vocations Awareness Week often calls for people to pray for young men to the priesthood, but he feels it’s important that we pray for ‘men and women of different ages’ to enter religious life.

Having commenced his appointment as assistant priest at St Francis Xavier and St Clare parish in Box Hill, with parish priest Fr Tony Kerin, Fr Brian says he’s looking forward to the ‘sacramental and pastoral’ elements of his ministry. ‘The pastoral element is certainly that reaching out, not only to the parishioners, but out to the general community in whatever way I can. For instance, we have live-streaming of Masses, so I know my homilies are reaching out to people beyond the parish and to other people who may be of faith or no faith.

‘The sacramental is important too. For me, it’s an absolute privilege to be able to do more of the sacraments now that I’m a priest. I’m loving doing the Mass. And it’s also an honour to be able to do reconciliation and hospital ministry, which is Last Rites, which will be happening very soon.’

It’s early days, so Fr Brian is still ‘finding his feet’ and says he’s happy to ‘see where the Spirit leads’. He is also conscious that there will be some challenges in his ministry, including the diminishing role of the Christian and Catholic faith in an increasingly secular society. On a personal level, the challenge will be about ‘finding and keeping that work–life balance,’ he says. ‘That’ll be key.’

Fr Brian finds sustenance and nourishment in his life through a lot of prayer, whether it’s the Office of Readings or the Rosary—both of which he does daily—or in the chapel before the Blessed Sacrament, ‘asking for help or guidance’. Spiritual direction is also very important, along with spiritual reading by ‘all sorts of people’. He also enjoys listening to podcasts presented by a range of different people.

Reflecting on what it means to ‘discern your vocation’, Fr Brian says people often immediately jump to the idea that ‘you have to be a priest’. But for him, it’s more about, ‘What is God calling you to? What particular state of life? Is it to marriage? Is it to life as a single person? Is it religious or priestly life?

‘Broadly speaking, it’s for the person to really pray about that because some people can feel as though ‘I want to be a religious sister’, but God might not be calling them to that. It could be to marriage or whatever. It’s very important that people pray and discern that,’ he says.

The main things would be to pray, pray, pray, and to speak to people in the know. I’ve known a few men who have been discerning and they’ve rung around, they’ve investigated different orders as well as diocesan priesthood, but all along the way they’ve prayed. And be open to the Holy Spirit.

For more information about vocations in Melbourne, click here.