Joining the great work of shepherding His flock: ordination homily

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Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP presides over the ordination of Sydney's newest priests, Fr Daniele Russo and Fr Joseph Hamilton, at St Mary's Cathedral on 3 June. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP presides over the ordination of Sydney’s newest priests, Fr Daniele Russo and Fr Joseph Hamilton, at St Mary’s Cathedral on 3 June. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

According to media reports Jesus has returned as promised and is living in Queensland.

The IT specialist turned Jehovah’s Witness elder turned Messiah, Alan John Miller, leads the Divine Truth sect. He is supposed to be the reincarnation of Jesus Christ and his partner, Mary Luck, the reincarnation of Mary Magdalene.

Miller has ditched the ancient Jewish look in favour of fake tan and Hawaiian shirts. But he still claims to have met Abraham, Moses, Plato and Gandhi and predicts an impending Apocalypse, a lot like the Hollywood blockbuster 2012, complete with whole cities being consumed by the ocean.

If you hurry you might avoid the worst of Armageddon by moving to a safe block near Miller’s lavish bungalow on the Sunshine Coast. But don’t expect him to save you from everything: he says he’s divine enough to raise Lazarus from the dead but too human for walking on water.

[quote]Bizarre though Miller’s tale may be, he’s not the first or last false Messiah. [/quote]

And he’s onto something important: our need for contact with God through the humanity of Jesus. Though it is a sacred heart we celebrate today, the emphasis is on the heart. In the face of theologies and pieties focused exclusively on His divinity, this devotion recalls Christ’s humanity. It makes us aware of His closeness when we might otherwise think only of His transcendence as God.

It insists upon the goodness, indeed the salvific centrality, of the bodily and sacramental when we might be inclined to eschew them in favour of the ‘spiritual’ or ‘otherworldly’.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart also draws our attention to the compassion of God when we are prone to inordinate awe, to divine forgiveness at times of over-sensitivity to our own sinfulness, to God’s mercy in the face of over-consciousness of His wrath. Ours, this devotion reminds us, is a God of love, rich in mercy, who so loved the world He gave His only Son (1Jn 4:8; Eph 2:4; Jn 3:16).

Though modernity is more inclined to gutter-low secularised Christologies than sky-high ethereal ones such as St Margaret Mary Alacoque had to contend with, this devotion can still be a useful corrective to unbalanced theological humours.

For one thing, Jesus’ heart, His flesh, is presented here as in the Eucharist as sacred, as worthy of our adoration, and every age needs to learn afresh both the art of adoring and that Christ – truly God and truly man – is worthy of all worship.

As much as any generation, we need to learn humility or lowly-heartedness from the One who is “gentle and lowly in heart” (Mt 11:29). An overly-sentimentalised piety that has the Sacred Heart as the soft centre in an otherwise hard divine chocolate has its risks but this observance continues to be a magnet for many people and a route to deeper communion with God.

[quote]Tonight we celebrate the ordinations to the priesthood of two men whose task it will be precisely to promote spiritual sensitivity, theological balance, devotional life, above all an experience of the closeness of God and of communion with Him, for ordinary people.[/quote]

The young Joseph Hamilton grew up in Catholic Ireland and as a child regularly and easily talked to God. At university his faith deepened and he developed the helpful habit of daily Mass.

A successful career in international finance had its perks, and brought him from Ireland via the city of London to Deutsche Bank in Sydney, but left him feeling something was missing in his life. The magnetic power of Christ finally turned his heart from the economy of ‘Mammon’ to that of salvation.

He flirted with joining the Dominicans, but a senior ecclesiastic who will remain nameless said to him, “Joseph, you’re a thinker but you’re also a doer: you’d go mad as a Dominican.”

Being ‘a trusting and docile soul’ Joe took his word for it and entered the Seminary of the Good Shepherd and went on to the North American College in Rome.

He admits that “the process of being purged of the world” through his formation was “less than pleasant” at times. Now he will devote his considerable talents and experience to leading, teaching and sanctifying God’s people, especially through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

That is no little thing, for as Fr Garrigou-Lagrange pointed out, citing Bld Charles de Foucauld, “one Mass gives more glory to God than do the deaths of all the martyrs and the collective praise of the angels; for, whereas the martyrdom of men and the homage of angels have no more than a finite value, the Mass possesses an infinite value.” (Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange OP, The Priest in Union with Christ, p.117) That’s financial accounting in the divine economy for you!

In our first reading the Lord foreshadows an assembly of many nations (Ezek 34:11-16). He might have been describing Australia!

Joseph’s ancestors, the Irish, built up the Church here in our first century and beyond; Daniele Russo’s ancestors, the Italians, featured more in the second.

Daniele grew up in an Italian village called Greenacre and attended Catholic schools. Devout friends helped answer his teenage questions about God and the Faith, also fostering devotion to our Blessed Mother.

His path was more direct than Joe’s: he entered Good Shepherd at 19, completing his formation at the NAC.

He tells me he’s looking forward to “accompanying people in their earthly journey toward our heavenly home” as a man of prayer, the sacraments and that Faith with which he has “fallen in love”. Daniele dreamed of being ordained on the Feast of the Sacred Heart: occasionally dreams do come true!

Despite such excellent aspirations and formation neither man’s journey to sanctity is yet complete. Like all of us, they must let the Sacred Heart open their hearts to divine truth, break their hearts with graces of conversion, fill their hearts with compunction and compassion, inflame their hearts with spiritual zeal and divine love.

Only by conforming our hearts to His, do we become truly ‘priests of Jesus Christ’. We must be His sheep before we can be His shepherds, His disciples before His vicars.

Tonight’s readings reveal how easy it is to ‘stray’, to wander lost in a field of sin and ignorance, a morass of relativism and meaninglessness (Ezek 34:11-16; Lk 15:3-7).

False messiahs make this situation worse: political power, social privilege and personal profit are their goals. But Christ subverts our selfishness and converts our ideas, so that power is replaced by authority, the authority to preach the Gospel; privilege becomes opportunity, the opportunity to serve; and true wealth is that stored up in heaven not in earthly bank accounts.

Our first reading Prophet craves ‘good pasture’, a place of healing for the wounded and rest for the lost; and not just a place but a person, ‘a true shepherd’ for such sheep. Christ proved to be that person and His Church must be that place – which is why we need priests who are shepherds after His heart.

Joseph and Daniele, today you offer yourselves, and your families, friends and archdiocese join in offering you, to God: that He might transform each of you into a new person, a spiritual father, a good shepherd. So God’s people invite you to share in the most crucial aspects of their lives: their births, marriages and deaths, their sins and sufferings, joys and aspirations, their moments of touching the sacred and times of desolation.

False messiahs there have been in the past and will be again; bad shepherds too.

You, my sons, must be neither. Conform yourselves always to the one and only true Messiah and single-mindedly imitate that Good Shepherd in all you do.

St Thomas Aquinas observed that “as the huntsman lives for the chase, the soldier for his military service, the student for his study, so must the Christian live for Christ alone.”

Especially for the priest, “Christ must be the continual object of his thought and love.” (Comm. Phil 1:21).

[quote]You now join in the great work of shepherding His flock, carrying the lost sheep on your shoulders and tending to the lambs. Do this with genuine joy and love, attending to the concerns of Christ before your own.[/quote]

Sharing in the work of Christ the Head and Shepherd of the Church, and united with your bishop, seek to bring the faithful together into one family and to lead them effectively, through Him and in the Holy Spirit, to God the Father.

This is the homily given by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP at the ordination of Frs Joseph Hamilton and Daniele Russo at St Mary’s Cathedral on 3 June.

Related: We need more heroes: four priests ordained in Sydney