Bishop Anthony Homily: Mass of Ordination to the Priesthood of Br Benedict of the Eucharist FSF
Homily of Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP - Mass of Ordination to the Priesthood of Br Benedict of the Eucharist FSF, St Bernadette’s Church, Dundas Valley, Wednesday 3 September 2014
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Welcome all to this very happy occasion of the ordination of (Rev.) Br Benedict Mackenzie (FSF), a friar of St Francis, as a priest of Jesus Christ.
I welcome his friends and relatives, and congratulate especially his parents, Peter and Rita, who transmitted to him the gifts of life and faith, and his “three beautiful sisters and eight handsome brothers”, as Ben described them to me, all of whom he said he loves dearly.
Though he did not describe them as beautiful or handsome, I know he treasures his brothers in religion also, and so I acknowledge the presence of Fr Christopher Sharah FSF, Parish Priest and Superior, and Fr Ruben Martello FSF.
Also with us tonight is the Vicar-General, Very Rev. Peter Williams, and various priests, deacons and seminarians of the Diocese of Parramatta, the Archdiocese of Sydney, the Diocese of Wollongong and beyond. There are numerous religious and also members of Opus Dei. To all of you, and to the members of this parish and friends of this community, a very warm welcome.
1. Our tired old world needs priests
|St Gregory the Great by Pier Francesco Sacchi (1516).|
“The world grows old and hastens towards its death.” So Gregory described the civilisation crumbling around him (Hom. in Ev. 1, 1:1-5).
Rome, once capital of a vast empire and home to a million people, now held barely fifty thousand. War, disease and famine had taken their toll and barbarians from the North would soon pick over the bones.
He longed for the days when, as a young monk, he was free to think of “nothing but the things of heaven”.
But God had returned him to the world of “changeable and decaying things”, as deacon of Rome, then papal nuncio, and finally pope – the first religious in this office and one of the greatest popes in history.
Despite his pessimism, Gregory laid the foundations for the new Christian civilization that eventually emerged from the ruins of Rome. As the historian Eamon Duffy put it: Gregory “unwittingly invented Europe” (E. Duffy, Ten Popes who Shook the World, pp. 50ff).
St Gregory the Great was first a Benedictine monk and always treasured his religious life. He never knew that blend of monastic and active life invented later by the friars: in his day it was one or the other. But just as our Jesuit pope has a Franciscan name and a Dominican habit, so tonight a Dominican bishop ordains a Franciscan friar with a Benedictine name – that of the father of religious life in the West, whose rule St Gregory followed and whose ideas he expanded in his masterpiece on the priesthood, the Pastoral Rule. For St Gregory contemplative religious live on the cusp between heaven and earth and are naturally reluctant to be ordained – as he was and St Francis would later be – for pastoral life inevitably distracts from contemplation and is all too often corrupted by worldly desire (I.1,3,4,8). Worse still, some abuse their position of trust. As if speaking on the 7:30 Report Gregory observed “No one does more harm in the Church than one who has the rank of sanctity but acts perversely.” (I.2)
|‘Baptism, Confirmation, Penance’ by Rogier van der Weyden (1445 to 1450).|
Yet some, like Br Ben, are called by Christ and His Church to be pastors and, as Gregory observed, it would then be obstinacy not humility to refuse. Like a man who marries his brother’s widow to protect her, so those called to priesthood assume responsibility for the frightened, grieving, ‘widowed’ Church after Christ’s Ascension (cf. I.5-I.6). Our Church and our world need faithful priests of Jesus Christ.
2. Our tired old world needs sacraments
|St Francis of Assisi by Francisco de Zurbarán (circa 1658).|
“The world grows old and hastens towards its death.” It needs a transfusion of that Precious Blood that only priests can provide.
Dear son and brother, your name in religion is Br Benedict of the Eucharist: now you will be an instrument of that wonderful sacrament that even St Francis never was.
He taught that “Our whole being should be seized with fear, the whole world should tremble and heaven rejoice, when Christ the Son of the living God is present on the altar in the hands of the priest. What wonderful majesty! What stupendous condescension!”
God brought to earth through the hands of a man. Know, therefore, what you are doing and imitate the mystery you celebrate. In the memorial of the Lord’s Passion, make every effort to die to sin and walk in the new life of Christ.
But how could any of us ready ourselves to receive God, even from your hands? Only by leading a life of truth, beauty and goodness, of prayer, charity and holiness; only by seeking absolution when we fail.
|St Bonaventure by Claude François (1650-1660).|
It was the great Franciscan theologian, Alexander of Hales, teacher of St Bonaventure and St Thomas Aquinas, who settled once for all that only priests can absolve sins, a task intimately linked to their unique role in the Eucharist.
Now you will forgive sins in the name of Christ and His Church and so ready souls to receive their Eucharistic Lord.
You will also baptize and bring people into God’s family. With holy oil you will relieve and console the sick.
You will offer praise to God throughout the day, praying for the Church and the world.
You are chosen from among God’s people to act for them in relation to God.
Do your part in the work of Christ the Priest with genuine joy and love, and with his Holy Spirit renew the face of the earth.
3. Our tired old world needs preaching
|St Dominic and St Francis by Angelo Lion (first half of the 17th Century).|
“The world grows old and hastens towards its death.” If it is to recover its youthful innocence, it needs the sacraments from your hands; it also needs to hear again the apostolic preaching. In his Pastoral Rule Gregory described the ideal priest as “pure in thought and exemplary in action; discreet in silence yet profitable in speech; near in sympathy and transcendent in contemplation; close to the virtuous and unbending to the vicious; …fervent yet gentle; ever meditating on the sacred law.” So make your deeds into living words and your words truthful and compassionate, orthodox and healing. For like Ezekiel in our first reading, priests can awaken consciences when they state the truth fearlessly (Ezek 3:16-21).
At this time the world looks on in horror as radical Islamists in Iraq and Syria enact a ‘religious cleansing’ that includes beheading and crucifying Christians. It was to those very lands that St Francis went to preach to the Muslims, ready for martyrdom. When he was captured and dragged before the sultan he so charmed him that he said, “Francis, I would convert to your beautiful religion were it not that both of us would immediately be murdered.” Though he avoided martyrdom in Syria, Francis experienced the ‘grace’ of persecution by his own brothers when he got home and of stigmata from his beloved Lord. We hope Ben will escape such a fate, but he must have courage if he is to preach the truth as Francis did. In St Gregory’s words you must believe the sacred page you study, teach what you believe, and live by what you teach (I.2). Like St Francis make of your life a Gospel in which men may read of Christ.
4. Our tired old world needs inspiring leadership
“The world grows old and hastens towards its death.” If the world is to experience resurrection, if the Church is to know repair, we need the grace of the sacraments, the inspiration of the Word and, thirdly, the leadership of holy pastors. Our father St Francis once declared that “the Lord gave me such faith in priests… that even if they were to persecute me, I would still have recourse to them. Even if I possessed the wisdom of Solomon, I would not preach against them… Rather, I love and revere priests as my spiritual masters… especially because without them I could not receive the Most Holy Body and Blood… and these most holy mysteries I wish to have honoured above all things!” If even St Francis needed priests as he set about rebuilding the Church, how much more does our tired old world need them to lead and nurture us?
But what kind of leaders? Christ teaches tonight that the measure of true greatness is the excellence of our service (Lk 22:24-30).
Growing up in a large West Sydney family, young Ben learnt the value of sacrifice and service from an early age.
He concluded that selfishness is “at the heart of every evil” and that selfish people are ultimately “boring, stunted and stupid”. He was attracted by the generosity of religious life, with its radical vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
The youthful exuberance and mature self-abnegation of St Francis matched his own passions and showed him how these might be channelled to service of God and His people.
And so my son, you are now to be advanced to the Order of the Presbyterate. A world grown old needs your youthful enthusiasm, put to sanctifying, teaching and leading in the person of Christ.
Tonight, God’s People invite you to share in the most crucial aspects of their lives: their births, marriages and deaths, their sins and aspirations, their hunger for truth and communion, their moments of touching the sacred and also of experiencing desolation. Do your part in the work of Christ the Priest with genuine love and joy, attending to the concerns of Christ and His flock before your own. United with your superior and your fellow friars, seek to bring the faithful together into one family and to lead them to the Father.
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