Homily - Mass of Ordination to the Priesthood of Larry Tolentino, Friday 29 June 2012
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP – Mass of Ordination to the Priesthood of Arnulfo (Larry) Tolentino St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, Solemnity of Saints Peter & Paul, Friday 29 June 2012
Hollywood is endlessly fascinated with the Catholic Church, its benighted beliefs and practices, its bad popes and priests, exorcists and the rest. Were the failed movie versions of Dan Brown’s novels not enough, they recently did it again with a movie called The Priest. I learnt about it from posters plastered on the walls near the chancery. Paul Bettany, the albino monk from The Da Vinci Code was back, this time playing a Catholic priest by day and vampire-slayer by night.
Well, that’s one model of priesthood ... In the film our hero rebels against a predictably corrupt and dogmatic ‘Church’ and disposes of anyone who gets in the way of his mission to save his niece from vampires. ABC film critic Margaret Pomeranz said it was a case of a visual effects director saying “oh, damn, I've got to put characters in there and a story. What a nuisance.” David Stratton rated it 1½ stars out of 5.
But still it showed. And it tells us something about the priesthood in the popular imagination, at least in Hollywood today. Priests are power hungry and callous; their dogmas without rhyme or reason; their decisions calculated to hurt whomever opposes them. With names such as ‘the Monsignor’, like the sinister ‘Magisterium’ in the 2007 film The Golden Compass, and dressed up in sacred garb, these clerical caricatures are always contra mundum, against the world, indeed against just about everything.
Well, as I said, that’s one model of priesthood ... Of course there is an against aspect to priesthood. Christ Himself opposed anything that diminishes the human person, such as sin and vice, sickness and death, ignorance and error, disunity and the devil. But He was for much more than He was against. As Pope Benedict XVI has said, “Be completely convinced of this: Christ takes from you nothing that is beautiful and great, but brings everything to perfection for the glory of God, the happiness of men and women, and the salvation of the world.” So if priests are sometimes counter-cultural, it is only so that they can be pro-cultural, pro-person, pro everything that contributes to authentic fulfilment.
Our feast draws attention to two warrior-priests of a sort: Peter, who once clumsily took a sword to the ear of an acolyte in Gethsemane; and Paul who was at the receiving end of a sword himself. They weren’t trained soldiers and their enemies were more real if more mundane than vampires: the demons within. One fought his own inconstancy, the other his stubbornness; one his lack of self-confidence the other his over-confidence. But any inadequacies were transcended by an abiding love for the risen Lord and a willingness to be His witnesses even unto death.
And death would come. In our first reading Peter was already in prison, one of many persecuted by King Herod in Jerusalem (Acts 12:1-11). Paul, too, writes from a prison cell but in Rome, where the Emperor Nero is hunting Christians, and Paul declares he’s fought the good fight as he foresees his denouement (2 Tim 4:6-8,17-18).
Being a priest today may be easier in some ways, but the internal spiritual warfare continues, intensified by individualism and consumerism, widespread moral disorientation, a hyper-sexualised culture and greedy economy, a polity that would see people die at sea rather than open hearts and borders. Externally, Christians face persecution as never before, with more martyrs than in Nero’s day. Even in safer countries there are challenges. Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, reflecting upon declining religious freedom in America, recently declared: “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.”
I’m not so pessimistic, but we must be ever-vigilant to protect the rights and fulfil the responsibilities of our own commonwealth, even as we build God’s Kingdom. We each bring our gifts and foibles to that task. If the great founders of our Church, after Christ, were faithful yet needing more faith, virtuous but sinning, sinning but repenting, zealous but uneven in zeal, so are their successors, bishops, priests and people.
“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”
Tonight God calls Arnulfo Abelardo Tolentino from amongst his priestly people. We praise God that this man, Larry our brother, has generously responded. Like Peter and Paul he brings his past, his passions, his person. He is no albino, but like Paul Bettany, he’s an actor. His considerable experience in theatre, broadcasting and directing will hold him in good stead, both to evangelise the culture and to celebrate the sacred drama of the liturgy. Coming soon, to a parish near you, is not the 2011 film, The Priest, but a remake of The One High Priest, first made in 33AD starring Jesus of Nazareth, and remade a million times since in the lives of His priests. The actors don’t act for themselves: they act in the person of Christ Himself. Their audiences are not passive spectators with 3D glasses, but humanity, joyful and grieving, hopeful and anxious, aspiring to more, awaiting a champion.
Larry was about six when his Mother took him to Mass. At the offertory he saw people bringing up bread and wine, fruit, rice and other items common in Filipino culture. A man in white received the bounty with a smile. After Mass his mother noticed that Larry was unusually pensive and asked if he was sick. (People still ask that, if Larry is quiet for long.) “I’m not sick” young Larry declared, “but Mum, who was that man in the white dress?”
“That’s the priest,” she explained, “the one that brings Jesus to the people.”
“Mum, can I be like him?” Larry asked. “Why?” asked his mother, her heart perhaps thrilled, perhaps full of foreboding, perhaps both. “Do you want to become a priest?”
Not knowing what a priest was, Larry answered Yes. His mother asked Why. “Because I saw many people give him lots of food. When I grow up I would like people to give me lots of food too.”
Little did Larry know that he’d one day have the best seminary cook in the world. Or be in a diocese so multicultural there’s every cuisine imaginable. One that 1 in 5 of that diocese would be of Filipino background so that there’s plenty of lumpia, lechón, macapuno, even balut. Now Larry himself must be the cook, the one who prepares the Eucharistic meal, by which ordinary men and women are fed the Bread of Angels, the very Body and Blood of Christ the Lord. In recalling the great culture from which Larry hails, I call today upon all Filipinos of this Diocese to be proud of their Catholic heritage and keep strengthening and energising the rest of us, including giving us vocations.
My son, you are now to be advanced to the Order of the Presbyterate. You must apply yourself to teaching in the name of Christ our chief Teacher and Wisdom itself; to shepherding after the heart of Christ our Good Shepherd and model of servant leadership; and to sanctifying in the person of Christ who is our High Priest and the very sacrament we offer.
Today the People of God invite you to share in the most crucial aspects of their lives: their births, marriages and deaths, their sins and aspirations, their moments of touching the sacred and of desolation. Know what you are doing and imitate the mystery you celebrate. Do your part in the work of Christ the Priest with genuine love and joy, attending to the concerns of Christ before your own. United with your bishop, seek to bring the faithful together into one family and to lead them to the Father. In answer to Christ’s question today, “Who do you say I am?” join Peter and Paul in declaring by your every word and deed, every breath and heart-beat, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” (Mt 16:13-19)
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