Fr John Joseph Therry, our pioneer priest, claims our respect based on a somewhat unglamorous, yet quite real basis, he claims our respect because he came, and he remained.
On the foundations prepared by lay people (1788-1820), John Joseph Therry our first officially appointed priest, built up the first structures of the Church in our country.
That was his vocation and he stuck to it. When he came in 1820, the first of two Catholic priests officially allowed to minister in the colony (the other priest, Fr Connolly, was sent to Tasmania), Fr Terry intended to stay for four years – he remained for 44 years until he died. Nothing and nobody could persuade him to go!
His faithfulness to his mission was so every day that it was taken for granted. His fidelity to his ministry is however the most remarkable thing about the Archpriest and those for whom he stands. Commitment to the mission of Jesus Christ is a great lesson we can learn from our pioneer priest in Australia.
Our Deacon, Vincent, has been preparing himself for his future mission as an apostle of Jesus Christ. Because of Victor’s own union with God, Victor feels the ever more urgent need to become a messenger of the Gospel of Jesus Christ who has chosen him and now commissions him to go out and bear fruit. That is why Victor wants to be a priest, to be a messenger of the gospel. The priesthood is not a personal luxury for the one ordained – we are to be priests for others – leaven of Christ in the midst of the community.
The mission of Jesus has a Church to promote it – all of us who are baptised become disciples of Jesus and we all share in mediating the message that God so loved the world that he sent his Son Jesus to redeem us and teach us how to treat each other and has given us the promise and pledge of ultimate endless life with God.
The priest’s role is one of pastoral leadership in a local community. The priest is not to be the controller of ministry, rather to be the catalyst to encourage and stimulate people to participate and take their rightful roles in ministry and outreach to people in need. One image of being a priest who is building up the Christian community is being like a piano player who is the leader of the sing along, who needs to pick up the clues from his congregation and play what they can all sing together, rather than do solo piano concertos all by himself.
The priest is also the teller of the story of Jesus – such a priest keeps insisting that parish action, parish decisions be related to the ground story of Jesus – how Jesus acted, decided and what values Jesus brought to human behaviour.
Fundamental to all this, the priest is to be a man of God – a prayerful mediator between God and the needs of God’s people.
St Paul tells his disciple, Timothy, whom he placed in charge of the Church in Ephesus and is also telling us clergy, to be an example to the believers in the way we speak and behave in our love for the people, our own faith and our purity of intentions.
A spiritual gift is imparted by the laying on of hands in ordination – do not let it go unused.
The Church is extremely blessed that, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, the last Conclave of Cardinals gave us Pope Francis. Here is a Pope who seems so happy in his own skin and in his religious tradition as a Jesuit that he exudes the confidence that comes only from knowing that he is loved and forgiven by God and not from thinking he is always right and has all the answers. With regard to Pope Francis and his leadership of the Church, the lyrics are the same, but he has certainly changed the rhythm!
We are blessed in Pope Francis because he has injected a dose of reality into what the Church needs most viz., the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful, the people of God. The Church needs nearness, proximity. Pope Francis said: “I see the Church like a field hospital after battle, you don’t ask someone who is seriously injured if that person has high cholesterol or high blood sugar levels! No, first you have to try and heal the person’s wounds. Then, after that, we can talk about everything else …… heal the wounds first – you have to start from the ground up.”
Our strength as deacons, priests and bishops depends on our relationship with Jesus Christ so that we see as Christ sees and we love as Christ loves (the message of today’s Gospel (Jn 15: 9-17). The Pope said it took the disciples time to really “become Christ” to others, so this is not a given just by being ordained – for this relationship to develop we need to grow in union with Jesus through prayer and intimacy.
And Pope Francis goes on to say that just as we, the ordained, must be close to Jesus Christ so we also must be close to the people we serve. The Pope used the marvellous image of how the ordained must “be Shepherds, living with the smell of the sheep”. As true Pastors, we need to go out to meet the people, especially the lost sheep.
The Pope said: “Our ordained ministry is about service, especially service to the care and protection of the poorest, weakest, the least important and the most easily forgotten.”
Because God never tires of forgiving us, we the ordained are never to get tired of faithfully dispensing God’s mercy both in the Sacraments and in our daily living. The Pope says: “Ministers of the Church must be ministers of mercy above all because in pastoral ministry we have to accompany people as to help heal their wounds.”
Gospel means “Good News” not “bad” news! The challenge of our preaching is to inspire people to the good, helping them to appreciate the wonder of God and God’s awesome creation: people, the animals and the natural world. We want people to walk out at the end of Mass with their heads up, not down. This has become especially important these days. Secular society paints religion and especially Catholicism as a negative, life-denying institution that is an unwanted remnant from ancient superstitions. Sadly, at times, we have fed into this stereotype. It’s hard to preach a message of joy with a glum look on our face. We can smile.
During a media interview after being named the Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Dolan was asked if there was anything he would like to condemn. He said, “Yes, I condemn instant mashed potatoes and light beer.” That masterful response stopped the reporter painting Cardinal Dolan with the same negative, condemning Church brush.
Later, in a New York Times interview, the Cardinal explicitly said: “What weighs on me the most is the caricature of the Catholic Church as crabby, nay-saying, down in the dumps, discouraging, on the run. And I’m thinking if there is anything that should be upbeat, affirming, positive, joyful, it should be people of faith.”
At the opening of the II Vatican Council in 1962 Pope St. John XXIII condemned the prophets of doom. Sure, there is a tsunami of secularism sweeping across our country and the Royal Commission has exposed the harm and damage done to innocent people by what it is calling a “clericalist” culture. Times are tough for us identifying as Catholic Christians – harsh times are not over, we are still being purged.
We must balance what is troublesome and, at times alarming with what consoles, encourages and at times uplifts us. Our confidence, hope and optimism are born of the grace of the Holy Spirit. It is by sticking to our vocation and living up to its ideals that we can begin to repair damage done.
So, Vincent, thank you for offering yourself for priestly service in these difficult times but, while people look on the surface, God looks into the heart and this is not the first time in the long history of the Church that the Body of Christ has suffered from both internal and external hostility, nor will it be the last.
Most Rev Peter W Ingham DD
Bishop of Wollongong
You can view all the photos from Fr Vincent's ordination at Bishop Peter's Facebook page.