If, as many Australians seem to believe, the Catholic Church has largely lost its relevance to modern life there was no evidence of that in St Mary’s Cathedral as Catholics from across Sydney and bishops from across Australia came together to celebrate a major moment in the life of their Church on the evening of 8 December.
Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP consecrated Sydney priest Fr Daniel Joseph Meagher, a former parish priest and Rector of the Seminary of the Good Shepherd in Homebush, the school for the priests of the archdiocese of Sydney, as the newest bishop of the Catholic Church in this country.
He was joined by co-consecrators Bishop Anthony Randazzo of Broken Bay and Archbishop Christopher Prowse of Canberra-Goulburn.
Joy in every direction
It was an evening overlaid with layers of joy. Bishop-elect Daniel, popularly known to Catholics across Sydney as ‘Father Danny,’ knelt before Archbishop Fisher in a solemn ceremony of consecration dating back to the very beginnings of the Catholic Church.
At the commencement of the evening Archbishop Fisher welcomed Bishop-elect Meagher’s mother Elizabeth and fellow family members, paying tribute also to Fr Daniel’s deceased father Alan, whom the Archbishop said he was sure was proudly watching from heaven.
The pride from the pews of the new bishop’s family members, who participated in the readings and presented the offertory gifts, as well as a multitude of past parishioners and Church associates of the new bishop was palpable.
A special Marian dimension
It was also an evening charged with meaning. The eighth of December is a major feast in in the Catholic Church which, together with Orthodox Christians around the world – and making up the overwhelming majority of the world’s Christians – professes the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, conceived sinless because she had been chosen to be the Mother of no less than God Himself.
In that sense, the occasion reflected Bishop-elect Daniel’s own deep and personal lifelong personal devotion to Mary.
Yet the evening was not just for Latin-rite Roman Catholics.
Apart from Eastern Catholic bishops such as Maronite Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay, representatives of other churches such as Archbishop Makarios, the primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in Oceania and Coptic Bishop Daniel Adrawos, the leader of Australia’s Egyptian Christians who trace their origins back to the apostle St Mark, showed that whatever the historical divisions Australia’s Christian leaders are drawing closer as they find more and more common ground in the things that unite them.
The solemnity of the moment was signalled by Monsignor John-Baptist Itaruma, who read out Pope Francis’s papal bull, a decree by the reigning pontiff, naming Father Daniel as an auxiliary of the Archdiocese, in both Latin and English. The bull was also the formal mandate for Archbishop Fisher and his fellow bishops to consecrate the Sydney priest, making him a member of the Church’s key body of leaders, the College of Bishops.
At the conclusion of the ceremonies, Bishop Meagher signalled the key themes for his ministry, saying he did not want to lapse into bureaucratic functionalism but to bring Jesus to people wherever he found himself.
Bishop’s promise: no mere administrator
“I fear becoming just another administrative hack,” he told a packed St Mary’s Cathedral.
Instead, he said, he wanted to “serve people at the grassroots, in our homes, in the ups and downs of daily life, where God is genuinely so close to all of us.”
Yet, he said, the focus of his ministry was always to be on Christ rather than himself. “[Jesus] is risen now, and He is glorious. We are all utterly needy, especially me, but we are here because we are devoted to the risen Lord and His Church,” he said as he paid tribute to the generations of Catholics whose own devotion had resulted in the erection of the magnificent basilica in which Friday evening’s consecration had taken place.
Australia’s newest bishop said he wanted to serve parishes and schools, encouraging a gentle and loving attitude “one person at a time, one sacrament at a time, so that the light may come on more and more in the homes of our parishioners.”
Bringing others to Jesus
There was nothing more important for a priest to see, and nothing more important that could happen, he said.
“I hope to be possessed by Jesus, honestly living His Gospel so that I may bring others into the divine presence.”
On such an occasion, Archbishop Fisher said in his homily, the Blessed Virgin’s course for bishops offers three lessons.
Mary’s school for bishops
First, he said, just as “she relied upon Christ for everything from her conception to her assumption, so bishops as stewards of the mysteries must hear her instruction to the stewards at Cana: “Do as He tells you” relying on Jesus alone.”
Turning to the key Second Vatican Council document Lumen Gentium, he said that “though we rely upon God the Virgin’s second lesson is to invest ourselves also. She cooperated in His mission “by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity,” Her fiat was total and so it must be for us.”
The third lesson form the school of Mary, he said, “is that there is hope even in our weakness. Despite our ‘maculate degeneration’, we are promised heaven if only we join the Immaculate in saying a wholehearted Yes to God. Bishops must stir up such aspirations in their flocks.”
Bishops the guarantee
Archbishop Fisher also emphasised Vatican II’s underscoring of the importance of the office of bishop as essential to the life of the Church.
“Far from adopting a flat, Congregationalist view of the Church, as some would propose today, aping secular models of governance in business or bureaucracy, Vatican II insisted on the divine institution of the sacred hierarchy,” he said.
“It even dared say, following Christ and the ancient Fathers, that to listen to the bishops is to listen to Christ.
“But if we credit that Christ is God’s definitive revelation to humanity, not just those in ancient Palestine but even to those in contemporary Sydney, then we must believe He established some mechanism by which His will would be safely conveyed, His words rightly interpreted, His grace generously shared, and His works mercifully done, in all future generations. In His strange wisdom God chose bishops to guarantee this.”
Friday evening’s consecration brought to an end – for now – a string of ordinations for the Archdiocese of Sydney. Within the last fortnight five deacons – all future priests – two priests and, now, one bishop have been ordained or consecrated.
The Catholic Church in Australia may be facing headwinds from activists and political attempts to circumscribe its freedom to teach and live its faith, but it’s not short of those willing to step forward to proclaim its faith in Christ – in season and out.