Ordination to the Priesthood of Daniel McCaughan, Dominic Pham Hong An Nguyen and Nicholas Rynne
St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney
Jeremiah 1:4-9; 1 Tim 4:12-16; Jn 15:9-37
By + Cardinal George Pell
Archbishop of Sydney
6 July 2013

The providence of God is a wonderful and mysterious reality which touches on and acts through all human history.

Today we have three young men from different parts of the world, different personalities, who have followed successfully different courses of study in secular universities.  They are unusually blessed because they come from good, intact, practising Catholic families.  No background is perfect, and many wonderful adults have experienced a childhood of severe disadvantage, but a good father and mother are irreplaceable blessings and we thank these three sets of parents for their support of their sons' priestly vocation.

God needs to be adaptable when he intervenes, usually only through humans, in human history.  We have the necessary gift of human freedom, with the possibility and reality of personal and communal sin.  But we can and often also use our freedom to follow distractions, devoting ourselves to unworthy, if harmless deceits.  Let us pray for these young men that they will turn their considerable abilities - or I should say more accurately they will continue to use these abilities - to serve people inside and outside the Church as Jesus Christ, Shepherd, Redeemer and servant would want them to do.  We have solid reasons for optimism here, not simply because of their human qualities, but because of their already well established patterns of daily prayer.

But back to God's providence.  God realised he needed Jeremiah's cooperation, but from eternity He knew Jeremiah in the womb, consecrated him and appointed him as prophet to the nations.
I wonder how many people do not answer God's plan for them.  This is a particular question today, because I believe God always invites enough men to be priests; although we can never be sure when enough is enough or nowhere near enough!

Jeremiah was not too enthusiastic, saying he was not up to the job, not a good speaker and was too young.  But he persevered with God's blessing.
Two of the readings today speak of the difficulties for God's messengers, when they are young, even when they have been ordained by the laying on of hands and received the prophets' spiritual gifts. I do not think any of the three will have much difficulty in being heard as they preach God's word over the years and they will find their youth a real advantage as they begin their priestly work and are welcomed, supported and loved by their parishioners.  I have no doubt that they will find the deep faith, beautiful example and friendship of individuals and families in the communities they serve to be an indispensable support for all of their priestly lives.

The Catholic Church is always geared to the future, looking forward to the next Gospel challenges, whether the skies are darkening and whatever the present difficulties.  God's and Christ's work is to be done today and tomorrow, as it has been for nearly 2000 years.  We know where we are, we know the increasing challenges we face, but we are not backward looking, not yearning for the good times past, which were in fact never as good as romanticized accounts would imply.

We build for the future with these three new priests for the Archdiocese of Sydney, because we are part of an ancient tradition of faith, transmitted to us by saints and martyrs, by sinners and ordinary folk gathered around Christ the Redeemer, nourished always by the sacraments and the apostolic tradition of teaching, which is protected and preserved by the apostolic succession of popes and bishops from Peter and the other apostles.  No other organisation has as ancient or as remarkable a history as the Catholic Church.  Today I am wearing the ring and pectoral cross of John Bede Polding, first Archbishop of Sydney and therefore in Australia and carrying his crozier.

We have already entered a new age of globalization made possible by the collapse of the Communist world and the triumph of the market.  We have higher standards of living, expanded education, wonderful levels of health care, increased opportunities for travel, but all is not well.  There is a deep unease in the Western world, demonstrated not merely by the increase in nervous disorders such as depression, reluctance to marry, by drug and alcohol abuse, but most of all by the Western world's reluctance to have children.  Hope for the future is uncertain, sometimes extinguished.
I cannot promise that these young priests will have an easy time during the next fifty years, but God in Christ will be needed more than ever as the years pass, and I suspect more and more will listen to Catholic teaching and observe the benefits of Christian living as our social capital continues to degenerate.

St. Augustine, the North African priest and bishop, who lived for years with his partner and son before his conversion (and probably would not be allowed to enter a seminary today), told us about 1700 years ago that our hearts are restless, until they rest in God.  People still need God and the anguish of contemporary pagans is deepened by their suspicion or conviction that there is no God, who could bring them meaning and consolation.  Hence the never ending and never satisfying pursuit of more money, more possessions and sometimes, but more rarely, of power and mere sexual gratification.  Young Australians might be more confused, but they are more open to listening about God than they were even twenty or thirty years ago and I predict that this hunger will continue to grow and offer more and more opportunities for all Christians, who realise Christ's message is true and healing and are prepared to offer a community invitation and welcome.  It should offer special opportunities for good priests.

The election of Pope Francis has given us all a boost.  It is worth pondering why this is so.  It is quite clear that Pope Francis is not full of himself, not self important, but a man of faith, who takes seriously his Jesuit vow of poverty and has mud on his boots through decades of priestly service in one of the Western world's most difficult and unequal societies.

Inside and outside the Catholic Church people realise that he is serious about God's love, about the reality of sin, evil and the devil and is working to bring them genuine fruit that will last, which offers them peace and meaning through loving service and sacrifice.

All this is at the heart of priestly life, of the priestly vocation.

Pope John Paul II neatly summarised the essence of ministerial priesthood in his response to the 1990 synod on the priesthood.

priests are a sacramental representation of Jesus Christ - the head and shepherd - authoritatively proclaiming his word, repeating his acts of forgiveness and his offer of salvation - particularly in baptism, penance and the Eucharist, showing his loving concern to the point of a total gift of self for the flock, which they gather into unity and lead to the Father through Christ and in the Spirit. In a word, priests exist and act in order to proclaim the Gospel to the world and to build up the Church in the name and person of Christ the head and shepherd.

We pray that this understanding will always be at the heart of the priestly life of these ordained and that they will always remember that God has chosen them in his mysterious providence so that they will bear good fruit; fruit that will last forever.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


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