Ordination to the Priesthood 2011
Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception BVM, 2011
St Carthage’s Cathedral, Lismore
James Foster, Roland Agrisola, and Shelwin Fernandez
Homily by the Most Revd Geoffrey Jarrett, Bishop of Lismore
Dear brothers and sisters, especially our deacons in Christ, James, Roland and Shelwin, who are to be ordained priests:
As we celebrate with the whole Church the beautiful mystery of Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception, we have already been made aware that she was, as the hymn puts it, ‘predestined by Christ by eternal decree,’ to fulfil her part in the great plan of our redemption. Her vocation as Mother of the Redeemer proceeds according to the designs of the Divine Wisdom, coming to fruition from the first moment of Mary’s conception, when by a singular grace and privilege, in virtue of the merits of her Son, the eternal Word, she was preserved from all stain of original sin.
God did not call Mary, nor does He call us, by chance or happy coincidence, no matter how many human factors have played a part. The external signs of a true vocation proceed from an inner awareness that the call is not of human origin, not my choice, but a response to the Lord who has first chosen. So Mary’s response becomes the model for ours, that it be done according to His Word, His Will, His plan, and for His glory. ‘Let what you have said be done to me.’
Dear ordinandi, I believe, you believe, that this moment is evidence of the Lord’s providence for His Church which has arranged all of the circumstances that have brought tonight’s celebration of this sacrament about. It is a further working out in you of what we heard St Paul blessing God for in his letter to the Ephesians: “Before the world was made, he chose us, chose us in Christ.” Outwardly the journey of a long preparation has been shared with your families, and it has passed through various stages of discernment and studies. For two of you it has brought you on a mission to another country.Each of you has laid aside other paths and prizes that you could have chosen. But instead it was you who were chosen. Your free consent to the Lord’s choice, like Our Lady’s, will be outwardly manifest in yourprostration before the altar, and the promises you will shortly make: to preach the Gospel and teach the Catholic Faith, to consecrate your life to unceasing prayer and to the faithful celebration of the Sacraments, to live in obedience, celibate chastity, and detachment from the world’s avarice and obsessions.
On every evidence you have given, testified by those who have been in charge of your formation, you are prepared for this public commitment. That’s because inwardly you have accepted God’s gift of Himself to you; you have welcomed Him into the depths of your being; you know how to strive in the mastering of self so that as priests you can be free conduits of His love, unclogged by self-preoccupationandmotives of human respect. You are presented for ordination because, upon inquiry and observation, youhave shown yourselves to be serious in keeping your lives securely anchored in Christ; in love and loyalty to his Church, and to the Holy Father; and in the great tradition of the Catholic Faith in the beauty of its doctrines and way of life. You know where you stand and you know how to defend and promote Christ’s interests. You know that today you will have the care of soulsin the swirl of some rough currents of opposition and tides of ignorance, even of the most basic truths about God and the human person. You know that some of these dark eddies have washed into the Church.The balance of so many consciences has been distorted;two generations of our people, it is said, and the evidence suggests it, are now uncatechised and hence without conviction in the basics of the Christian revelation. For many, the Church is no different from any human institution, and should update her beliefs, practices andmoral teachings accordingly by popular approval. That is not new: in their letters it is clear that both St Peter and St Paul were contending with the same troubles, as did St Augustine, St Peter Damien, St Robert Bellamine and Blessed John Henry Newman, to name but a few epochs of the Church’s history to our own time when saints have been tested when they have witnessed to the truth.
When I was a parish priest in Hobart there was a saintly Presentation sister whom I would often encounter after Mass. From time to time she would take my arm and whisper, like a little antiphon, “Be strong, Father, be strong.” She understood I think how much the people of the Church look to a priest for the teaching and confirmation of the truth, and how difficult it can be to stand against a fashionable tide and risk ridicule or ostracism, especially from those who would seem to be more on the margins of the Church than actually within the household of faith, the pillar and ground of truth.
If our society at large no longer has common reference points, if error is transformed into a rule of life, if today what once was called black is now to be called white, and evil is called good, then of course we are in trouble. But we priests should never feel intimidated or disheartened, for God is never more present than when He seems absent, as He was to His beloved Son on Calvary, when an even sharper barb than the soldier’s lance was contained in the jeering cry, “Come down from the cross and we will believe you.”
Be strong, Fathers, be strong. You are teachers, you are witnesses to the beauty of the truth that shines on the face of Christ. The source of your strength will be your daily standing at the Cross in the offering of that same sacrifice upon the altar, the workbench of your trade. Only from here will you be able to reach out as the Good Shepherd to search for the sheep that have strayed and are lost, to strengthen and heal the weak and injured lambs, and to feed the hungry with the food that is the Word of truth, and the Sacraments, the fountains of inexhaustible grace. You will have strength, and to spare, for the demanding times which lie ahead.
Being ordained fifty years after the Second Vatican Council, and on the eve of the Year of Faith announced by Pope Benedict, you are probably the first generation of priests who derive their knowledge of that great Council exclusively from its actual texts promulgated to the Church and the world. The terms pre-Conciliar and post-Conciliar mean nothing to you, who were born twenty years after the Council ended and have grown up under the inspiration of Blessed Pope John Paul II. You are certainly the first generation of priests to offer Mass in English exclusively from the Missal which has just come into use. You are indeed blessed to have these authentic texts, as well as the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in all their clarity as sources of teaching and the pointers of the course for the New Evangelisation, which will be even more clearly spelled out from next year’s Synod of Bishops.
“All priests must have the mind and heart of missionaries” wrote Blessed John Paul II in RedemptorisMissio. In many ways, we priests today face a situation no different from that faced by the missionaries from the British Isles and Europe of Australia’s first evangelisation two hundred years ago. We continue the mission of giants of faith. Without falling into an excessive activism which wears thin the contemplative foundation of our mission, the priest of today has to be a man of uncommon generosity and holy daring.
Yesterday on the feast of St Ambrose the Church hailed him as a teacher of the Catholic faith and a model of apostolic courage. We prayed that God would raiseup in His Church similar leaders to govern her with courage and wisdom. In the three of you, just a day later, may we already behold an answer to this prayer. For a lifetime ahead you are priests of the same Church as St Ambrose, St Thomas Aquinas, of St Charles Borromeo, of St John Vianney, of St John Bosco, of St Pius X, of St Padre Pio, of St JosemaríaEscrivá, of Blessed Pope John XXIII. You will exercise the same priesthood of Jesus Christ in the same Church in which so many holy priests have shone like stars in generation after generation, including the one hundred and twenty five years of our own Diocesan presbyterium. What they all have in common was that they each portrayed, luminous and beautiful, shining in the darkness of sinful humanity, the face of Christ among us, our hope of glory.
May you, may all of us, do likewise. Pray for these deacons, my dear people, now as the Litany of the Saints rolls over them, and in the time to come. First and most radiant among those Saints in glory is the one who stands with the moon at her feet, the sun as her garment, and on her head a crown of twelve stars: Mary Immaculate, the Star of the morning, she who was chosen before the creation began. Into her hands, on this her feast day, we commend the whole span of your priestly lives, right at this moment of their beginning. •