Holy Spirit Seminary

Homily - Mass of the Nativity of St John the Baptist, Sunday 24 June 2012


Homily – Mass of the Nativity of St John the Baptist, Sunday 24 June 2012
Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP accepts John Paul Escarlan as a Candidate for the Diaconate and Willie Limjap as a Candidate for the Permanent Diaconate. Photo: Melchor Velasco.

Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP – Mass of the Nativity of St John the Baptist with Rite of Admission to Candidacy for the Permanent Diaconate for Willie Limjap and for the Priesthood for John Paul Escarlan, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Sunday 24 June 2012

For three months past our nation has been fixated not on politics, or same-sex marriage or even football so much as on a program called The Voice. Drawing audiences of up to two million a week, and three million for the finale, it was a coup for the Nine Network and the whole phenomenon of ‘reality TV’.

For those who’ve been out of contact with civilisation, let me explain that the series came in three phases: a blind audition, a battle phase and live performance shows. The audition, in which contestants are heard sight unseen, the judges must focus on the voice and exclude superficialities. Only when a voice truly impresses them, as one that could with coaching grow enough to win the competition, are the judges permitted to turn around and see the contestant they will coach through the rest of the competition. Declaring that the show had “shown me a new way, a new light, a new everything,” a new star was born when 19-year-old Karise Eden took the title.

Today the Church celebrates the birth of an earlier Voice, one crying out not in the Network Nine studios but in the wilderness. He too points us to a new way and a new light, indeed to One who is the Way, the Truth and the Light, and to a new everything, indeed to One who is the source of everything new.

It’s rare for a saint’s day to trump the Sunday celebration of Christ’s Resurrection in our liturgical calendar: the Holy Spirit at Pentecost or the Blessed Trinity may, but a saint’s birthday? It’s unusual in another respect: the Church normally celebrates their deaths rather than the births of her superheroes, because it’s only then that you know you’ve got a saint. We make a fuss of the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul, but no one celebrates their births; Our Lady’s Assumption in August is a major Holy Day but her September birthday passes by largely unnoticed. Yet today Baby Jonny gets the limelight. Why is that?

Well, because Baby was the judge at the blind audition of Jesus. At the Visitation, when Mary was perhaps two weeks pregnant, we are told that the unborn Baptist leaped for joy in his mother’s womb. He turned around his chair, so to speak, and declared that that yet unseen and unheard Voice would be the all-time winner. For a time John seemed to be a contestant, as the voice crying in the wilderness. But he insisted he was not the one; someone greater was coming (Acts 13:22-26). Then he heard Jesus’ voice and turned around his chair and declared “Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sins of the world”. At every Mass, just before we receive Holy Communion, we hear the judge’s verdict: this is the One!

John the Baptist’s conception and birth closely mirrored Christ’s: both were miraculous, both to women who could not have expected to conceive. Both mothers experienced the power of the Holy Spirit, being filled with grace. Both fathers were confused, bemused, muted. Both boys were named unexpectedly (Lk 1:57-66, 80) and there were portents that something special was on the horizon for humanity. They paralleled each other, too, in lives of austerity, so that both had nowhere of his own to lay his head, until at last it was the executioner’s block and the cross. Both had a passion for God and the things of God; both preached as the prophets of old, preaching the truth whatever the cost. Both chose celibacy for the sake of God’s kingdom and gave their all for that kingdom. If John was to be the one to declare the winner, and Jesus was to be the true Voice of God, who made everything new, then John must precede Him, parallel Him, imitate Him, from first to last. And so we celebrate his first as well as his last, with feasts for his birth and for his death, just as we do for Jesus.

You have discerned His Voice

Homily – Mass of the Nativity of St John the Baptist, Sunday 24 June 2012
Photo: Melchor Velasco.

Today, in addition to celebrating the Nativity of the Baptist, we also admit to Willie Limjap as a Candidate for the Permanent Diaconate and John Paul Escarlan as a Candidate for Priesthood. The first is a married man who has juggled family, work and studies while being formed for this service, the other a seminarian whose somewhat convoluted formation has brought him to the verge of ordination in the celibate state.

Like John and Jesus there are many parallels in their stories. Both are Filipino Australians and in admitting them today for candidacy in this Diocese we recognise that one in 10 members of our Diocese is Filipino born; if one in 10 more is born here into Filipino-Australian families, Filipinos could make up as much as one-fifth of our people. They are people of great piety and evangelical energy and I call upon the Filipinos of this Diocese to be proud of their Catholic heritage and keep strengthening and energising the rest of us. Having been ‘coached’ like our singing contestants by their families, Filipino communities and then more formal clerical formation, they both heard the Voice of God even as teenagers, sometimes clearly, sometimes less so, and they persevered in discernment and availability.

My sons, like the young Karise Eden, a new and expansive future is opening up before you. You have been judged to have attained a maturity of purpose and to be sufficiently qualified to take a next step in your vocations. You probably won’t draw two to three million to hear your homilies. You won’t walk away today with a new car or a $100,000 cash prize. I can’t promise you a contract with SONY. But you will receive something far greater from the Way, the Truth and the Light who will continue to shape you for service and unite you more closely to Himself when at last you receive Holy Orders.

Christ commanded us: “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into his harvest.” You know His concern for His people, you see the needs of the Church, and you are ready to respond. You have discerned His Voice, vox-vocis, His calling voco-vocare, source of our word vocation. And you stand ready to respond generously to the Lord, to be made, in the words of our First Reading (Isa 49:1-6) a light to the nations, passing on the true Light who is Christ; ready to be made in a voice in the wilderness like John, passing on the Word who is Christ.

When God chooses men to share in the diaconal service and priestly shepherding of Christ, He moves and helps them by His grace. At the same time, He entrusts us with the tasks of calling and forming suitable candidates and consecrating them by the seal of the Holy Spirit. By the sacrament of Holy Orders you will be appointed to share in Christ’s ministry of salvation. So prepare now for that day. Learn day by day to live the life of the Gospel and deepen your faith, hope and love. Grow in the spirit of prayer and in the zeal of John the Baptist to win the world to Christ.

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