You are the Christ - Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) 2018

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Home > Archbishop > Homilies > You are the Christ - Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) 2018

On Friday evening, Fidelis Udousoro was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Hobart. Fidelis is from Nigeria and his parents were present to witness his ordination. Fidelis has offered his life in service of the Church here in Tasmania. He is in a culture vastly different from the one in which he has grown up. He is across the other side of the world from his family and friends. He will get home at best once a year.

The Church here needs men like Fidelis. At the present time we have few men from Tasmania stepping forward to embrace the priestly life. If it were not for men like Fidelis we would be in dire straits. We have twenty-five parishes and only nine Australian-born priests incardinated in the Archdiocese currently serving these parishes, and several of these are approaching retirement.

The life and ministry of the Church is built around parishes which require a priest. It is the nature of the Church according to the mind of Christ that the priesthood is the centre of its pastoral and liturgical life. We are a sacramental Church. Sacraments are the primary means of grace which initiates and nourishes the Christian life.

This is what has been ordained by the Lord for his Church. He commanded his apostles to preach the Gospel and then baptise “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”. At the Last Supper he commanded his apostles to “do this in memory of me”. On Easter Sunday evening he said to his apostles, “Whose sins you forgive they are forgiven.”

The Lord instituted the sacraments as the means by which his saving grace would be operative in the life of believers. The authority and power to celebrate the sacraments he entrusted to his Apostles, the first bishops. This power and authority would later be extended to presbyters who are co-workers of the bishop. A man becomes a priest by the laying on of hands by a bishop. In his ordination a man is configured to Christ the Priest, and becomes “a priest forever according to the Order of Melchizedek”. The priesthood is not just a ministry or a task, ordination effects what is called an ontological change, a change in being.
A man becomes a priest. He is changed (much in the same way as a man or woman are changed when they marry – they become a husband or a wife). His deepest identity is that he is a priest. It is not only when he does priestly things, but everything he does – every relationship he has – is priestly. He cannot leave his priesthood to one side, even when on holidays. He participates in the priesthood of Christ. He is a priest forever.

Why is Fidelis willing to be a priest here in Tasmania, so far from his own country, family and friends? Why is Fidelis willing to be a priest at a time when priests are under such scrutiny and reviled in some quarters?

On the front of his Mass Booklet he placed a quote from Psalm 73. It read: “Who do I have in heaven but you? And I desire nothing on earth but you.” Extraordinary words chosen by a young man. They reveal the depth of his faith.
This faith was nurtured in his home by his parents, Cosmas and Paulina. It was the faith he encountered in the parish and church life in which he was immersed. He grew up in an atmosphere of tangible faith. God was embedded in his life and culture.

The spiritual environment in which he grew up is such a far cry from the cultural milieu in Tasmania today. According to the 2016 Census, we are the most irreligious state in Australia with 38% of people claiming to have no religion. The increasing momentum of change in people’s spiritual outlook affects us all. We live in a very secular environment. It is becoming harder for many to believe, and they are walking away from a religious way of life.

In such an environment it is very hard for a young person to stay close to God. It is difficult for young people to embrace a full Catholic sacramental life. It is very difficult for a young person to be attracted to priesthood or religious life.
Fidelis knows that he comes here to bring the rich spiritual heritage which has shaped him to us in Tasmania. He comes among us as a young priest of deep personal faith. He has a tangible love of God. He is a man of prayer and piety who longs to be holy. This is his gift to us. This is the contribution he will bring to his ministry as priest in Tasmania. I pray that this flame of faith will not diminish in him, but in fact inflame the hearts of many that he serves as a priest.

These thoughts can provide a context to consider the Gospel given to us today. The Lord asks the question of us as he asks of his disciples: “Who do you say I am?”

I am sure we would answer as Peter answered: “You are the Christ.” We would answer from the basis of our own faith conviction. Jesus is the Incarnate Son of God, as we profess in the Creed. We would draw on our personal experience of living the life of faith. We would be aware of the support and comfort our faith brings. We would know that our Catholic faith has provided a sure and reliable guide to our life.

What follows in the Gospel is also important to note. Jesus goes on to speak about his coming death. Peter is alarmed: Don’t talk of dark things to happen. We want the assurance that all will be well for our future.

The Lord has to provide a vital reality check. Things are not going to be easy and we won’t experience plain sailing. He brings the point home forcibly: “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.” The path of discipleship will not be an easy one.

Right now it is very challenging to be a faithful Catholic. Scandal has scarred the Church to the highest level. There is trenchant criticism of leadership in the Church. There have been public manifestations of the sins and crimes of priests and religious.

It is not easy to be known as a Catholic at this time.
But the Lord says to each of us: “Who do you say I am?” We answer, and in answering we say: I will be faithful to you, my Lord, even in this time of darkness.

Fidelis offered his life to Christ on Friday night. He gave himself up to be a priest. He wants to be a holy priest. He is willing to devote his life to the service of this Catholic community on the other side of the world to his native country. He comes to a culture so different to his own. He does so because he knows Christ. He loves Christ. He wants to give his all for Christ.

Let us be encouraged by the example of Fidelis Udousoro. Let us go forward as Christians, as Catholics, and give ourselves to following and serving Christ.     

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Sunday, September 16, 2018