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Bishop Anthony's Letter: Celebrating our jubilarians - 230 years of service

Chrism Mass 2010
Photography: Alphonsus Fok & Grace Lu.
Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP Catholic Outlook, July 2010

Sixty years ago this month – on 22 July 1950 – His Eminence Norman Cardinal Gilroy ordained three men who would eventually become priests of the Diocese of Parramatta: Fr Eric Burton, Fr Les Campion and Fr David Scott. Ten years later, it was Fr Gerry Iverson’s turn.

Between them these men have served the people of Sydney for 230 years, longer than the time elapsed since European settlement! They have lived through the Great Depression, the Second World War, the Menzies era, Vietnam, the assassination of JFK and Martin Luther King Jnr, Vatican II, the first man on the moon, the fall of Communism, the establishment of the Diocese of Parramatta, so many new parishes, churches, schools, a new cathedral, and on it goes…

For 230 years these men have served and still they serve – even if two are officially living in ‘retirement’. Priests don’t really retire. They are priests forever ‘according to the line of Melchizedek’, priests of Jesus Christ. It’s ‘ontological’. It goes to the heart of your identity, your destiny, your DNA.

Six decades ago, when those young men lay prostrate before the altar for the Litany of Saints and then knelt for the Laying on of Hands and Prayer of Ordination, they could not have guessed how our Church and our world would change and how they themselves would change in the years ahead.

To some extent they gave themselves over to a great unknown. But they knew they could trust in the God of all time and space. They said to Him, like couples on their wedding day, like religious when they take their vows: whatever, whenever, however, I am for you, all for you, now and always. All for God, all for His Church, all for His people.

All for God

Priests are men of God. It is not their natural gifts people most admire, but their supernatural ones. No man makes himself a priest. Nor can he ever deserve to be a priest. We have done nothing, could do nothing, to earn this gift. God’s grace is pure gift, given in mercy and love.

When people are disappointed with their priests it pays tribute to the fact that they still look to us to be different. To be genuine representatives of something bigger, something better, something beyond. To be God’s men.

So a priest must be first and foremost a man of prayer and sacrifice, a man of the altar and the kneeler. His celibacy, his hard work, even exhaustion, his penances, his oft’ renewed, life-long determination to give his all – all speak of the love of God and his conviction of God’s love for him.

When tasked with building a new community, a priest does not start with nothing. He starts with God and the faith of those God is drawing to Himself. Our priests are men of God.

All for His Church

No man is a priest for himself! Priesthood is given on trust, to be shared. Priests are stewards of God’s mysteries. They do not hoard the Word of God and the sacraments, but pass them on to others.

For this they received Holy Orders. Our four priests were ordained – ordered – for service in a particular place, at a particular time. They accepted the call to serve God’s Catholic people, first throughout Sydney, and then in Western Sydney. The Church needed them there. And it was there that they built up the Church and sustain it still.

In building up the Eucharistic community priests are privileged to have many other priests, religious and especially lay people as collaborators. By their sacramental ministry, and especially by presiding at the Sunday Eucharist, they strengthen people’s faith and call them ever deeper into that communion with Christ and His saints that is the Church. Our priests give themselves generously to the Church.

All for His people

But priests are not there just for the practising Catholics. Parramatta’s priests have a mission to all the people of these western suburbs, hills and mountains. A priest must be a preacher of the Gospel, an instrument of encounter with Jesus Christ, for people of all backgrounds, beliefs, life-stages. Our priests give themselves to all people.

At every priestly ordination in our Diocese, after the Bishop laid hands upon the head of the candidates, our four jubilarians laid their hands too on the man being ordained. This shows that every new priest is ordained to join a line of priests, a fraternity, a ‘presbyteral college’ gathered around the bishop of the Diocese.

Priesthood is no solitary existence. There is the brotherhood among our priests and it is no exaggeration to say that our four jubilarians have been exemplary in their service to their brothers. They have offered friendship, hospitality, support and example. They have truly built up the presbyterate of Parramatta.

We thank them for accepting God’s call to offer themselves for priesthood, for sticking with it in good times and in bad, and for the witness of their lives. May many more follow in their footsteps!


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