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Archbishop’s Homily: Receiving the pallium

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It was my special joy, a few weeks ago, to join Pope Francis for Mass on the Patronal Feast of Rome in St Peter’s Basilica.

During that Mass he blessed the pallia for the new Metropolitans, directing his Nuncios to impose it formally in the presence of the bishops, priests and people of the ecclesiastical province. That was on the Feast of Sts Peter and Paul: now that instruction is fulfilled on the feast of their fellow apostle and martyr, St James.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP received the pallium from the Apostolic Nuncio to Australia, Archbishop Adolfo Tito Yllana, at St Mary's Cathedral on July 25. Photos: Giovanni Portelli
Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP received the pallium from the Apostolic Nuncio to Australia, Archbishop Adolfo Tito Yllana, at St Mary’s Cathedral on July 25. Photos: Giovanni Portelli

According to ancient tradition, sometime after Christ’s Ascension James was prompted by the Holy Spirit to “go west young man”.

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He took the Gospel to the Western edge of Europe, to Spain and Portugal, while the other apostles headed north or east. Centuries later, the children of Santiago, as they call him, took the faith even further west, to the Americas, as well as East to Vietnam and the Philippines.

Together these nations account for about half the world’s Christians today, so you might say St James was the most successful missionary in history!

As a reward for his efforts James was treated to a holiday back in Jerusalem in 44AD. He was greeted on his return by King Herod Agrippa, who was not a nice man and chopped off his head, making James the first apostle to wear red! (Acts 12:2)

We don’t know all that much about his earlier life. Son of Zebedee and brother of John, he’s known as James ‘the Greater’ to distinguish him from the other apostle, Jim the son of Alphæus, who was presumably shorter or slimmer.

The Zebedees ran a fishing business on Lake Galilee until the brothers James and John went off with Jesus catching men rather than fish (Mt 4:21-2; Mk 1:19-20). Whether their dad was fixated on fishing or dead, their mum left home with the boys and joined the women who followed Jesus all the way to the cross and tomb. James and John, along with Peter, became Jesus’ ‘executive team’, attending His transfiguration and agony in the garden.

He and his brother may have had fiery tempers, as Jesus called them ‘the thunder boys’ (Mk 3:17). But the nickname ‘sons of thunder’ may actually have been a comment on their volatile mother.

She’s not backward in coming forward. Patron of clerical careerism, she’s determined to secure good positions for her boys (Mt 20:20-8). “You want them either side of me in my kingdom?” Jesus answers her. “You don’t know what you’re asking.” We know, of course: we know that Jesus will come into His kingdom at ‘the hour’ of His Passion; that He’ll be taunted with purple robe, thorny crown and royal salutes even as He is tortured; that His ‘throne’ will be a cross with ‘King of the Jews’ writ above. There’ll be guys right and left, for sure, but they will be executed crims. “You don’t know what you’re asking, thunder mum!”

Appropriately enough, then, our epistle talks about the difficulties, persecutions, even death of Christians (2Cor 4:7-15). Ours is the age of martyrs, more than James’ time: 100,000 Christians now die for their faith each year.

Yet Jesus confronted death. He entered into its mystery and His love – the love of God – defeated it. This gave the apostles supreme confidence. “So [Mr] Death,” taunts St Paul, “where is your victory? O [proud] Death, where is your sting?” (1Cor 15:55). “I am sure that neither death nor life, angels or princes, things now or in the future, no height or depth or power, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 8:37-9)

Our earthenware bodies carry within them the inevitability of death; but our souls, baptised into Christ, are assured the Resurrection (2Cor 4:7-15). I am the way, the truth and the life, says Jesus; to live in Me is to have eternal life (Jn chs 4, 5 & 6; 10:10, 27-8; 12:25; 14:6).

After blessing the pallia Pope Francis charged us to be men of prayer, faith and witness “who can teach the faithful not to be frightened of the many Herods who persecute them with every kind of cross”. So the pallium is not just a woolly scarf, but a cross-emblazoned yoke with nails in it, signifying a willingness to give oneself wholly for Christ. To bear witness to Him I must die to self, serving and imitating Christ who “gave his life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:28).

That charge was always an uncomfortable one, but today it comes when the stocks of the Church are particularly low in many people’s minds. To a large extent this has been self-inflicted. Rightly, the community seeks justice and healing for those abused by Church people. Rightly, they criticise the failures of some Church leaders to respond appropriately. There have been too many awful examples.

I am ashamed of our failures and renew the Church’s apology for them. I pledge to work with other leaders to ensure the Church does better in the future. Since my installation I’ve taken steps to review our performance in this area, including how we respond to victims. We will soon establish a new Office for Safeguarding and Ministerial Integrity to take a more proactive approach to prevention, formation and education in this area. My determination is that the dignity and safety of all, especially the young and vulnerable, is always respected in our ministry. But first I must help carry the yoke with which survivors have been inflicted, to make it in some way my own, and with Christ the Victim try to bring them true peace.

Many other challenges also confront the Church in Sydney and beyond. Religious practice is declining amongst some, as is religious influence, even tolerance of religion. Many voices in our culture seem ignorant of the Christian patrimony still written all over our public institutions, laws, culture and ideals and of the enormous contribution that people inspired by the Gospel have made and still make to our community.

Christian views are often misunderstood, caricatured, even pilloried, and their adherents marginalised or even hounded out of office, business or social circles, for daring to speak or act according to their beliefs. And comfort, ideology or the desire to be popular can distract us, crowding out the spiritual and deafening us to “the still small voice” of God.

Yet Sydney and Australia need to hear that voice more than ever. I love this city: its natural beauty and wonderful people, its nine pallia worth of Church history and ideals so far, and its social history and values too.

It is one of the world’s great cities and the Church has so much to offer to make it an even better one. Sydney is home to people from every nation on earth, just as the Church unites all peoples as one body in Christ. Those people can do great things! Pope Francis now calls us to reverence all creation and show mercy to all people, especially those ‘at the peripheries’: the poor, lonely, confused, afflicted. In our priests and parishes, schools and agencies, people of faith and generosity reach out to the needy. My pallium binds me, as if by a chain, to them all in their joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties, making them my own.

Today’s liturgical colour is red; the pallium is black and white, the team colours of the Dominicans and colours of truth. So Pope Francis says its wearers are to believe the faith we have received from the apostles Peter, Paul, James and the others, and then announce that faith in season and out.

Jesus is the life, but before that He is the truth; Jesus is the victor but before that He is the good shepherd and the lamb of sacrifice told in the wool of the pallium. If I am to be true to Him, I must join Him in this. The pallium was the dress of the Græco-Roman philosophers and adopted by the early bishop-doctors of the Church in preference to the secular toga; this indicated their desire to unite ancient wisdom to Judeo-Christian revelation.

But as it shrank it came to be reserved to Popes, who then conferred it on bishops of the great Metropolises, as a sign of communion and a charge to be bridges between the See of Peter and their surrounding dioceses.

So much for its colour, fabric and history: the name, too, is instructive. It has a common stem with words such as funeral pall and palliative care – all are from the mediaeval Latin “to wrap around”, “to cloak”. So the pallium calls me to wrap my people round with prayer and teaching, and to care especially for those who are suffering.

Some of you will know the 2010 movie The Way. It’s the story of a father who goes to collect the body of his estranged son who died on the Camino – the pilgrim way to St James’ bones, now in Compostela in Spain. He ends up completing the walk in his son’s place. A small group attach themselves to him struggling with their own demons on a journey of self-discovery and God-discovery. Producers Martin Sheen and his son Emilio Estevez intended the film as an homage to Christ, the Camino and the tradition of pilgrimage. Those who’ve been to Compostela know it is one of great cathedrals of the world with its spectacular approach, entry and tomb. It also sports the botafumeiro, a man-sized thurible for Mass, suspended from the dome and weighing about 80kg, into which is loaded about 40kg of charcoal and incense. On Sundays and feast days, especially on today’s feast, eight red-robed men push it like a swing until it almost reaches the ceiling, all the while dispensing clouds of incense through the cathedral. That’s Spanish religious drama for you at its most delightfully extravagant: we are using a rather scaled-down replica of that botafumeiro here in St Mary’s!

The characters in the film walk for a month towards that cathedral. But the arrival scene nearly didn’t happen, because the cathedral authorities don’t normally allow film crews inside. Estevez told the whole crew to kneel down and pray for access. “And it worked,” according to Sheen: they got permission just 48 hours before the scheduled shoot. So we get to see a Church-hating Irishman kneeling there saying the Rosary, a woman who’d had an abortion finding forgiveness, and a father who’d lost his son to death being reconciled to him at last. Big things can happen on the Camino of St James; big things can happen with Christ, who before He is the truth and the life is the way.

To the end James the wayfarer was learning the truth Jesus spoke to James’ mum: that we must put God and people before power and comfort. Humble service precedes grand authority; authority well-exercised is a kind of service. Amid the power struggles of this world, in government and communities, schools and work places, in families and friendships, even the Church, Christ offers a different wisdom. St Teresa of Ávila called it the Camino de Perfección, the hard but true road to perfection with Christ. I pledge myself to walk beside you and the people of Sydney along that road. I pledge myself like the Good Shepherd to carry the lambs on my shoulders, as my true pallium. St James and all apostles: pray for us!

Word of thanks

My thanks to you all for joining this very joyful celebration today.

I record once more my gratitude to Pope Francis for the confidence he has placed in me and for this latest sign of his communion with the bishops, clergy and people of our ecclesiastical province.

The pallium is worn over a chasuble and stole, the vestments of the Eucharist and the priesthood, for a man can only be a Metropolitan if he is first a bishop and priest. So today I want to pay particular tribute to the bishops, clergy and religious whom I have the honour to work alongside and who persevere in faithful service in what are, in some ways, hard times but also exciting ones, times when there is so much for us to do.

Today is the 75th anniversary of the ordination of Fr Frank Martin: though he could not be with us I assured him of our prayers as did he. Such an extraordinary length of faithful service of God and His people surely inspires us all. Now I call upon all young men and women to consider seriously whether they too might be called to priestly or religious service.

The pallium, as I said, goes over chasuble and stole, but these are worn over the alb, the baptismal garment of all the faithful: before a man can be a Metropolitan he must be a priest, and before a priest he must be a Christian.

So today I want to thank all the faithful here present, and with you the two million Catholics in our ecclesiastical province of New South Wales, who along with our fellow Christians build up the kingdom of God in the domestic church of your families, in leadership in civil society, in your workplaces, parishes, movements, friendship circles and beyond.

To all those who organised this beautiful liturgy and the refreshments now in the hall – concelebrants, deacons, MCs, seminarians, servers, events people, ushers and the rest: a big thank-you.

I especially thank the musicians and choir for drawing upon the Church’s treasury ancient and new, and raising our spirits to God. To the young people who prayed beside the pallium for my ministry through the night and brought it forward today, my particular thanks. Yours is an idealistic generation searching for the spiritual: I look to you to be the new St Jameses, heroes of faith and guides along the pilgrim way.

What a grace it is to lead and serve alongside you all! I entrust my ministry to the protection of St Mary, Help of Christians and Queen of Apostles, and especially to that Good Shepherd whose lambs I now must shoulder. Pray for the Pope and your bishops. Pray for me that I may always speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15).

This is an edited version of the homily and words of thanks given by the Archbishop of Sydney, Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, at the the Mass of Imposition of the Pallium at St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, on 25 July.

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