Archbishop’s Homily – The Ordination of Alex Osborne
ARCHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CANBERRA AND GOULBURN
FRIDAY, AUGUST 30, 2019
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL
ORDINATION ALEXANDER OSBORNE
Numbers 11:116-12, 14-17, 24-25
1 Cor 13:1-13
Gospel: John 15:9-17
We are all now aware of the seminal question of the first phase of the Plenary Council of Australia: “What do you think God is asking of us in Australia at this time?”
Invariably one of the top three or four national responses to this panoramic question comes the answer…“God is asking us to encourage youth participation in the Church.”
Here in the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn, I believe the Holy Spirit has already anticipated this response from us over these early months of the Plenary Council consultations.
As the Archbishop, I can see the wonderful slow but sure mature growth of the Youth Ministry here in this Archdiocese. I welcome all the youth from this Archdiocese and beyond to the Ordination tonight of our dear brother, Alexander.
I have learnt so much from our emerging Youth Apostolate here in this Archdiocese over the last couple of years. One is the axiom…BELONG, BELIEVE, BECOME. Here are the three “B’s” that the youth have articulated as they invite their youthful brothers and sisters to be missionary disciples in the life of the Catholic Church.
Let us take a little time to meditate on these three “B’s”, BELONG, BELIEVE, BECOME in the light of this ordination liturgy.
The first “B” is for BELONG. My eyes were drawn to the Second Reading today from the First Letter of St Paul to the Corinthians, chapter 13.
To belong together in the Church is to, fall in love with the God of love, Jesus the source of all love. This passage is often used in marriages and is known as one of the most beautiful definitions of love not only in the Bible but also in the whole of literature. It can be so often sentimentalised and given a very subjective understanding but it is also the bond that makes us truly belong to each other. We belong to the community of love, to the body of love called Christ. We have so much to repent of and to ask the Lord to help us with. If we replace the word love with “we are” then we can see we are on the way but with the Lord’s help we have got a long way to go. It leads us to repentance, conversion and humility.
For example can we say that “we are always patient and kind, we are never jealous; we are not boastful or conceited, we are never rude and we never seek our own advantage. We do not rejoice at wrong doing but we find joy in the truth. We are always ready to make allowances, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes.”
Such a reading of the love that makes us truly belong to each other makes us realise that without the grace of God any purely human response will always fail and be feeble.
Alexander Osborne knows all about the love of belonging to the Church because of his family. His parents are here tonight. We welcome them in a special way. Peter and Sylvia are both Roman Catholics who come from the United Kingdom. Alexander has a brother Adam and a sister Louise. Louise’s husband Josh is here, along with their daughter Penelope. The family migrated to Australia and Alexander spent most of his life in the parish of Charnwood. It is only in recent weeks that the legionary Parish Priest of Charnwood, Fr Neville Drinkwater, has retired. For many years before the Seminary Alexander was one of his altar servers. Alexander was baptised in Liverpool in 1992 and was confirmed in 2005 at Charnwood by Bishop Max Davis.
In all these formative years of his life he has learnt to belong to both the natural family and the spiritual family. The family of blood and the family made of Baptismal water.
We know that this family is of great Christian love because they prepared their son beautifully for this day. They have encouraged him to live out his Catholic life in freedom and to open his life up to the grace of God. We thank the family and the parish for initiating our dear brother into the “B” of BELONG.
The second “B” is for BELIEVE.
To believe truly that we belong to the family of God takes a whole life time and beyond to appreciate. Faith is always a gift of God and can never be taken for granted. The seeds of faith are to grow, mature and progressively take on responsibilities as we have seen Saints and leaders of the Church over the centuries do in living out their Baptism.
It is interesting to note in the First Reading from the Book of Numbers, chapter 11, when Moses complains that the weight of responsibility lies too heavily on his shoulders alone, God immediately shares that responsibility of responding to God’s covenantal love by instructing him to gather seventy elders together in the Tent of Meeting. Then we find that “The Lord came down in the cloud. God spoke to Moses and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders.” Christians look at this passage and see it foreshadows the day of Pentecost.
It is in this beautiful Ordination liturgy to the Priesthood that we continue this calling down of the Holy Spirit upon our brother Alexander to take up further responsibilities now in living out his Baptismal call into the ministerial Priesthood. We do ask that the Holy Spirit will bless us all, everybody in the Church tonight with the abundance of the Spirit that speaks the language of love to a very fearful world. Our prayer today is that the Spirit will fall on any young man here tonight, in a particular way, who might feel the call to become a priest to receive that inner yearning and attraction to the priesthood as a particular gift from tonight’s ceremony.
In regard to opening ourselves to believe in all that the Catholic faith has to offer, I feel that Alexander has responded very well in this area particularly through his seminary years at Good Shepherd Seminary in Sydney. We welcome and thank seminarians and staff in all they have done to enwrap our brother in faith over the year.
I remember once visiting Alexander at the seminary a couple of years ago. Two things were noticeable immediately. First of all he is a very tidy man. The room was immaculately clean and everything was in place. I am not sure if I gave him any advance warning that I was coming to visit him! The second thing I noticed was the prominence given to the academic side of his seminary training. I do recall a computer with a light shining on a desk with some books about. He clearly was writing a theological essay. He has often told me how much he has enjoyed the studies at the seminary and relished in the essays. I have sometimes heard him preach and delighted that he was able to integrate his theological training in being able to produce a Homily that drew people to truly believe in all the Catholic Church proclaims to be truth. Our prayer is that this continues now in the Priesthood he is soon to receive.
The third “B” is for BECOME. It is to become missionary disciples, as Pope Francis would say. We see this underlined in today’s Gospel from John, chapter 15. It is the passage of Jesus in the last supper discourses. Having instructed the twelve Apostles to remain in His love, He then begins to call them friends and reminds them that “You did not choose me, but I chose you, and I commissioned you to go out and bear fruit, fruit that will last.” This missionary commission to go out and bear fruit that will last is not an added extra. It is intrinsically part of becoming who we are called to be, friends of Jesus, the love of our lives.
Of course we do this in the Church. We are not lone rangers. We don’t do it on our own. Alexander is very much aware that he is becoming a priest at difficult times for the Church, particularly here in Australia for all sorts of reasons, which are better articulated in other places.
Suffice to say, he is hopeful and indeed excited about being a missionary disciple within the Church that he loves so much.
In a recent interview that he gave to our Catholic newspaper, The Catholic Voice, he had this to say, “At about the age of 15, I took to reading. I stole my brother’s copy of the lives of the Saints. I read it four or five times over. I read the entire Bible – one chapter a time in three years. There was something inside of me that was so hungry to learn more. It was around this time I fell in love with the Church. She wasn’t old, grey, cynical, negative and unwelcoming. She was the Bride of Christ, young, beautiful, intriguing and radiant with the reflected glory of God.”
This sort of imagery is almost poetic. It is certainly sincere and comes from a loving heart that loves the Church with all her wrinkles and deficiencies because it is made up of people like you and me, human beings. Alexander is even more aware of the fact that she is resplendent and radiant because the Church is the body of Christ as he describes her as the reflected glory of God. Thank you dear Alexander, for your youthful hopefulness and missionary zeal. May it be with you throughout your life and in all the challenges that await you in future years.
It is important to say this because we know the lives of all of us, including the priests, do have their moments of Transfiguration on the Mount of Tabor and also their moments in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. We know that we are always accompanied by the Lord and he will never take us anywhere without accompanying us. I am reminded of a wonderful saying of the late Cardinal Archbishop of Milan in Italy, Cardinal Carlo Martini. Reflecting the conclusion of St. John’s Gospel, at a vocation seminar here in Australia many years ago he said to a group of young men thinking of the Priesthood that, “Our vocation is to be taken where we would rather not go.”
This reflects on the passages of the New Testament and the experience of the Apostles on their road to martyrdom. Even if we are taken “to where we would not rather go,” we know that we would never be there unless the Crucified Lord was with us more intimately than we have ever thought or imagined. May this be, again, your gift dear Alexander.
As we move on now to the Rite of Ordination, could I draw your attention finally to a comment made in a beautiful long letter from His Holiness Pope Francis to all the priests of the world on the occasion of the Feast Day of St John Vianney earlier this month on the 4th of August 2019.
He told the priests of the world to remember two particular things about living out the Priesthood.
I quote him directly when he said, “First, our relationship with Jesus. Whenever we turn away from Jesus or neglect our relationship with him, slowly but surely our commitment begins to fade and our lamps lose the oil needed to light up our lives.”
Secondly he spoke about our relationship with our people, particularly in parishes, he said, “Do not withdraw from your people, your priest friends and your communities, much less seek refuge in closed and elitist groups. Ultimately, this stifles and poisons the soul…In our going forth, we walk sometimes in front, sometimes in the middle and sometimes behind: in front, in order to guide the community; in the middle, in order to encourage and support, and at the back in order to keep it united, so that no one lags too far behind.”
So let us pray for all our Clergy. That, in the light of firm instruction given to us by Pope Francis, we may always live in a very dynamic relationship with Jesus, the High Priest and Victim, and also serve our people, the people God sends us to serve, with all our hearts in the many future years of our Priesthood.