50th Anniversary of Ordination Homily

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50th Anniversary of Ordination Homily

 

During the recent visit of the Bishops of Australia to Rome, Ad Limina Apostolorum, I took the time to make a private visit to the Propaganda Fide College where I had been a student for six years when preparing for the Priesthood. 

It was in the chapel of the College that, along with 46 other students,  I was ordained a priest on 20 December 1961 by the Armenian Cardinal, Gregory Peter Agagianian.

 Little has changed in the College chapel. There is a new altar which covers much of the space which was used by the Ordinands during the chanting of the Litany of the Saints. The picture of the 46 young men lying prostrate on the sanctuary floor is quite spectacular.

 There was no booklet produced for the occasion. Such things were not yet possible. When the time came for the newly-ordained to join with the celebrant in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the only resource was the Altar Missal then in use. Holding the missal for the young priests was the task of the individual’s chaplain. In my instance, that person was the then Fr. Eric D’Arcy who would later become my bishop here in Tasmania, and whom I would succeed as Archbishop in July 1999.

20 December in that year was the Saturday prior to the Fourth Sunday of Advent. It was one of the ember days which, in the tradition of the Church, were inserted in the annual calendar at four different points of the year. I recently took the time to look at a daily missal of the time, to see what would have been the readings on that particular day. To my surprise, there are seven readings listed, but I am sure not all were used during the ordination Mass.

As you would expect, the Advent theme was very much to the fore, as it is this evening. The gospel passage is one that we hear on a number of occasions, such as last Sunday and again in the readings for today. It very likely was the passage read at the Ordination Mass fifty years ago. The Annunciation theme is indeed very appropriate in the circumstances of this priestly anniversary. 

The passage recalls, as we know, one of the most significant moments in the final phases of the plans formed “long ago” for Christ to enter our world as our Saviour. The implementation of the plan was dependent on the agreement of Mary to play her part and to become the Mother of the Saviour.

But it is a plan which has its origin in the heart of God, who so loved the world that he sent his only Son, so that all who believe might have eternal life. In any vocation, there is a interplay of an offer on the part of one person and acceptance on the part of another. It is true in the instance of a vocation to the priesthood as well.

The time spent in preparation and discernment of a vocation is exactly that – a time to hear the call and to come to a point of acceptance of that call. In my life that process culminated 50 years ago, when I was ordained a priest. But in a very real way, it never comes to a conclusion. Life is made up of continual offers of love on the part of God, to be accepted and deepened in the response of each and every one of us.

There is no doubt that over the past 50 years, many things have changed in the way the priesthood is lived and understood. It might sound a little more like management terminology, but it occurred to me that there is a change from “for” to “with”. In my early years, the emphasis was on what the priest would be doing for the people, as the leader of the Liturgy, and the Teacher of the Word. Now, I think it is a role that we exercise with others – pray with others, listen with others and celebrate with others.

The announcement of the Angel Gabriel to Mary of the manner in which Christ was conceived is a symbol of how God steps into the lives of all of us, right when we are midstream in the course we have taken, or at crucial moments of our planning.

 The way of salvation will take a sudden turn, our plans can be scuttled and what we never suspected to happen becomes the principal element in our lives. I think that is what happens to those of us who are asked to become bishops. While it may not be the most appropriate way to express the change in a theological sense, what happens is that a new layer comes into one’s life, one which imposes more responsibilities, more opportunities and more experiences.

 Tonight during this Mass, I invite you to join with me in giving thanks to God for all those opportunities, and those experiences, and also for being asked to assume those responsibilities. I believe in many ways I have lived a very fortunate life – fortunate in my family of origin, fortunate in being given the call to priesthood, in spending many of the preparatory years in Rome during a significant time of transition, and fortunate to have exercised my priesthood for the most part in this beautiful city and in this wonderful state.

 I thank each and every one of you for your love and support during this period of 50 years. In one way I am left wondering where the years have all gone. But in a very real sense, much has happened, many challenges have come which were never foreseen, and the expectations of those in leadership have risen enormously.

But not withstanding all those observations, we are here this evening to rejoice, and to be reminded that, like Mary, the Lord has always been with us, and that his presence and love will never be withdrawn into the future.

 

ADRIAN L. DOYLE  AM
Archbishop of Hobart