St Augustine’s Church, Coffs Harbour, 29th March, 2010
My dear Catholic people of the Church of Lismore from the different parishes of the Diocese, Religious brothers and sisters, and this evening especially those called out from among you to sacramental service as your priests and deacons, and those of our brothers, the seminarians who are aspiring to this call:
This little roll-call of all present here is the reminder of the significance of this liturgy in the life of the diocesan church; it is the one moment when the whole church is visibly present around the one altar revealing its composition of many callings within the One Body. Here, as he looks out across this assembly, the Bishop sees represented the whole local Church over which he presides. It represents all those enrolled and consecrated through baptism and chrismation, each called out into this /ek-klesia/, and the many different forms of service given to contribute to the life and vigour of the whole body.
Most numerous are those whose call is the secular one to witness to Christ in the human community of home and family, of school and university, workshop and the cultivation of the land, the world of commerce and the office, and of service given to the sick, the elderly and those in need. Less in number though more visible in a liturgical assembly are the priests and deacons of the local church, fewer in number because of their particular call and anointing by a special sacrament. Aspiring to this call are our seminarians, whose number in recent years has risen to almost half that of the priests at present in active ministry. They are home from the various stages of their seven year formation at the Seminary of the Good Shepherd and Vianney College, on one of the breaks which enable them to become more familiar with this church to which they are offering their service as our future priests. So here we are, an assembled microcosm of the Diocese, and through our bishop assembled in the unity of the Catholic Church throughout the world, in universal communion gathered around the Successor of the Apostle Peter.
Today’s Holy Week liturgy focuses in particular upon a sacramental sign used in the conferring of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders. It is the sign which brings about an inward transformation of the one who receives it. It is a sign which seals upon us a permanent character according to our call within the Body of Christ’s Church. This inward sealing takes us into a shared life with Him who was anointed of the Father, His beloved Son in whom He is well pleased. As the scriptures of this Mass make plain, the Spirit of the Lord who is given to the Christ, the Anointed of the Lord, the same Spirit is given to you and me. It similarly consecrates us to be bearers of the freedom with which Christ alone can make us free, to be his heralds of the good news, of the time of the Lord’s favour to heal hearts that are broken and lives downtrodden and captive to sin.
Tonight is an opportunity for each of us present to search into our memories to recall the moment of that sealing on our forehead at Confirmation and the anointing of our hands in Ordination. Recall that moment when the Spirit through that sacred Chrism penetrated deep through every shred and fibre of your being, giving you and me an identity as his beloved son or daughter, of His ordained priest configured to Christ the Head. This is the mark by which the Father recognises each one as His own in time and for all eternity. It is an identity none of us can ever lay aside, even though sadly its bearer can choose in this life to betray or disfigure it. But none of us who understands what really happened to us when we proclaimed our faith at Confirmation, or made those very specific promises at our ordination, and then received that anointing, would want to do other than make the greatest increase possible out of the gift we have received. As the ones who confer the sacraments, there must have been those moments when we bishops and priests have been overcome with awe at the effect and potential consequences of what we have done, of what has happened to the soul of a person whom we have baptised or confirmed or ordained. Surely we must sometimes have let our minds go ahead into the future and imagine what possibilities might emerge, and prayed will emerge, in the Christian living and witness of this person as they mature across the years and the gift takes a deeper and deeper hold within their inmost being. Tonight we can think about how we have cooperated up till now with the Spirit to make that gift bear fruit. Thus the effects of this Sacred Chrism which is consecrated afresh tonight.
This liturgy today carries its own invitation to prayer for our priests, and our gratitude for what the are and do, all of them, here present or unable to join us. All of us a grateful, dear brothers, as you recommit yourselves to priestly faithfulness again tonight. As our bishops wrote recently to each of Australia’s 3000 priests in commemoration of this Year for Priests: “Too seldom do we take the time to express our heartfelt and humble appreciation of your faithfulness and courage. This is evident in the myriad responses you make daily to the demands of priestly life, as you preach the Word and celebrate the sacraments, and minister to God’s people.”
Many of us on this occasion sadly recall that it was on the morning following this Mass in Coffs Harbour three years ago that Father Steven O’Donnell and Father Charles Kakumanu lost their lives in a tragic accident driving back to Lismore. Their memory remains fresh amongst us, and we pray in this Mass for the repose of their souls.
It was quite soon after this loss to our presbyterium that the blessings of new vocations started to flow. God is good, and you see that goodness visible in our thirteen seminarians I referred to earlier. After Deacon Peter Wood is ordained priest in July, two more will be approaching ordination, and both have been accepted for candidacy for major orders. Now, in a moment Roland Agrisola and Shelwin Fernandez will be called forward to make public their commitment to the service of God and His Church.