By + Cardinal George Pell
Archbishop of Sydney
4 August 2012
The feast of St. John Vianney is a wonderful day for the ordination of eight new priests for the Archdiocese of Sydney; four from the Neo-Catechumenal seminary Redemptoris Mater and four from the Good Shepherd Seminary. We thank God for this great blessing as we thank the deacons, families, communities and the seminary rectors and staff for their formation work.
God chooses all sorts of people for his good purposes. Our eight priests come from seven different cultural backgrounds, reflecting the multi-cultural nature of our Archdiocese, where half the Catholics are migrants or children of migrants.
God's choices are not always the same as the world's. God chose a young country teenager to become the God-bearer, the mother of God. About eighteen hundred years later he chose a young man who received no early education in the chaos after the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon, struggled as a seminarian especially with the Latin language (then the language of instruction), and was ordained with only the grudging recommendation of the seminary staff. He was then appointed to a tiny village, a backwater in every sense in rural France with a population of 230 people, Ars-sur-Formans. We know this poor prospect as St. John Vianney, the patron of parish clergy and the only parish priest to be canonised.
He is remarkable for the sheer hard work of his day-to-day priestly life, for his service of his people. Apparently he was known to have spent eighteen hours a day in the confessional, hearing up to 300 confessions a day, allegedly gnawing on cold potatoes for some nourishment. For him priesthood meant prayer and penance, hard work and service, and more hard work and service. And it was his high concept of priesthood which inspired this ceaseless activity.
For him "the priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus" and the greatness of the priesthood did not inflate his self-centredness or self-importance "because if a priest realized what he is he would die".
"Without the priest", he wrote: "the passion and death of Our Lord would be of no avail. It is the priest who continues the work of redemption here on earth . . . . What use would be a house filled with gold, where there was no-one to open its door? The priest holds the key to the treasures of heaven: it is he who opens the door".
We priests can be tempted to have a low theology of the priesthood today in the age of laity as an excuse for our mediocrity. If our role is not too special it is easier to succumb to our weaknesses or disappointments. Our saint often felt inadequate and he acknowledged that the great misfortune of many parish clergy is that "our souls grow tepid", lacking in energy and awareness of the supernatural and hardened and indifferent to the sin around us.
Ars probably was not a particularly corrupt village, not conspicuous for terrible wickedness, but the Curé felt there was little true religion and love of God in the district. We can understand this, because that is like much of our situation.
Christ was sorry for the crowds because they were like sheep without a shepherd. We too are short of priests and on this ordination day let us pray that this happy occasion and, more particularly the regular heroism of St. John Vianney, will inspire many young men to answer God's call to the ministerial priesthood. We need preachers of the Word of God, fighters for the faith and devoted to God's business, who will be true sentries, working to protect the people they serve; awake, alert to what is happening in society and especially alive to the machinations of the Evil one who confuses and misleads. We need priests who will call their brothers and sisters to repentance and conversion, reminding them that God is all merciful, all loving, but God is our judge who demands that we turn towards Him. It would be wonderful too if this new generation of priests was able to inspire a revival in the sacrament of reconciliation. God's forgiveness is one of the most powerful blessings the Church has to offer and the life of the Curé of Ars shows this.
With this wonderful example of St. John Vianney to inspire us, to guide our paths let me now follow the official text as we outline your priestly obligations to teach, to sanctify, especially through the sacraments, and to lead your people in a spirit of genuine service, with and under your bishop.
Now, dear sons, you are to be raised to the Order of the Priesthood. For your part you will exercise the sacred duty of teaching in the name of Christ the Teacher. Impart to everyone the word of God which you have received with joy. Meditating on the law of the Lord, see that you believe what you read, that you teach what you believe, and that you practice what you teach.
In this way, let what you teach be nourishment for the People of God. Let the holiness of your lives be a delightful fragrance to Christ's faithful, so that by word and example you may build up the house which is God's Church.
Likewise you will exercise in Christ the office of sanctifying. For by your ministry the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful will be made perfect, being united to the Sacrifice of Christ, which will be offered through your hands in an unbloody way on the altar, in union with the faithful, in the celebration of the Sacraments. Understand, therefore, what you do and imitate what you celebrate. As celebrants of the mystery of the Lord's Death and Resurrection, strive to put to death whatever in your members is sinful, and to walk in newness of life.
Remember, when you gather others into the People of God through Baptism, and when you forgive sins in the name of Christ and the Church in the Sacrament of Penance; when you comfort the sick with holy oil and celebrate the sacred rites, when you offer prayers of praise and thanks to God throughout the hours of the day, not only for the People of God but for the whole world-remember then that you are taken from among men and appointed on their behalf for those things that pertain to God. Therefore, carry out the ministry of Christ the Priest with constant joy and genuine love, attending not to your own concerns but to those of Jesus Christ.
Finally, dear sons, exercising for your part the office of Christ, Head and Shepherd, while united with the Bishop and subject to him, strive to bring the faithful together into one family, so that you may lead them to God the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit. Keep always before your eyes the example of the Good Shepherd who came not to be served but to serve, and who came to seek out and save what was lost.
And I conclude by asking you all, this huge congregation, to pray for these priests, not only on this happy day, but during the long and happy years of service, which, we pray, lie ahead.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of Holy Spirit. Amen.