Friday, Sunday and Monday. I’d like to reflect upon these three days in Joe’s life – three days on which we accompany him.
Friday. Fr Joseph Hamilton was ordained a priest in St Mary’s Cathedral on Friday, the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Joe told me recently that when, as a newly-arrived banker in Australia, he first entered St Mary’s Cathedral he told one of his companions: “I’m going to be ordained a priest here.” And so, many years later, it came to pass.
The gospel reading for this year’s feast of the Sacred Heart was the story of the shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep who are safe to seek out to seek out and find the one sheep that is lost. When he finds it he joyfully takes it on his shoulders and brings it home. What a wonderful gospel for an ordination Mass.
Jesus’ telling of this story was a response to an accusation of the Pharisees: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” The pharisees were not evil people, but they were rigorists, adhering to a narrow and rigid interpretation of Torah, and refused to have dealings with anyone who didn’t agree with them. The name Pharisee comes from the Hebrew perushim, meaning: the separate ones.
Perhaps we can understand their point of view if we looked at it this way: None of us would like our children to associate with people who were part of the drug scene, nor with people who lived a life of promiscuity. Nor would we knowingly make contact with people who had an infectious disease. So, by way of analogy, the pharisees separated themselves, fearful that if they socialised or did business with people who did not share their zealous interpretation of the law, they risked being infected.
But Jesus offers a different approach. Instead of separating oneself and keeping aloof, he urges the opposite: Seek out the sinner, include them and rejoice when you have found them.
On Friday morning, Rome time, Pope Francis celebrated Mass in St Peter’s Square to conclude the Jubilee for Priests. He invited priests to do what the good shepherd did: seek out, include and rejoice. He emphasised that priests are not inspectors of the flock or accountants of the Spirit, but rather good Samaritans in search of those in need.
The official logo of the Year of Mercy is a blending of two gospel stories: the shepherd who seeks the lost sheep, and the story of the Good Samaritan. The Year of Mercy logo shows Jesus as both the Good Shepherd and the Good Samaritan. We pray that Fr Joseph will be a true shepherd to the people entrusted to his care: one who seeks out, includes, and rejoices. That was Friday.
Sunday. Today, Joe’s first Mass at St Michael’s Lane Cove, offers us the story of the widow of Nain.
Not only was this woman a widow, but her only son had died. She was truly destitute. When Jesus saw her we’re told that he felt sorry for her. What an underwhelming translation of the Greek text of this story. The Greek word that St Luke uses is splanchnizomai – quite a mouthful isn’t it? The splanchna refers to the heart, the lungs, the liver and the intestines. So, splanchnizomai means to be really churned up inside.
It’s the strongest word the koine Greek had for the expression of emotion. That is why the English word “sorry” is such an effete translation. Jesus was profoundly moved; he felt a deep compassion for this widow. Pope Francis often urges priests to cultivate what he calls the art of accompaniment. We accompany people on their journey of faith, in times of rejoicing, but also in times of grief and sadness.
Jesus raised up the young man and gave him back to his mother. If you attended Friday night’s ordination ceremony, you’ll recall that Joe lay prostrate on the Cathedral sanctuary prior to his ordination.
Symbolically, he is now dead to his former life. The successful banker is a person of the past; the Porsche discarded, Canali suits recycled in the Vinnies bin; lunches at Rockpool a distant memory.
(By the way, Joe does a great impersonation of Cardinal Pell telling him that the Porsche would not be part of his priestly life).
When Joe rose to his feet he then knelt before the bishop for the laying-on of hands and the prayer of priestly consecration. Once ordained, Joe walked down to his mother, Teresa, who was waiting to give him his chasuble. Just like the widow’s son, Joe was given back to his mother, but now more alive than ever before.
So we welcome Joe’s family to our Mass today, especially his mother Teresa, his sister Jean and brother Gordon. They have nurtured his call to the priesthood. In today’s second reading, St Paul tells the Galatians that God had specially chosen him while still in his mother’s womb. Likewise, Joe was chosen from the womb. It took a journey to Damascus for Paul to finally realise his true vocation, just as it took a journey to Sydney for Joe finally to embrace his priestly calling.
Friday, Sunday, and now tomorrow, Monday. Joes leaves Australia tomorrow evening. The archbishop has asked him to continue studies in Rome. He will soon commence a doctorate in patristics. Patristics is the study of the early church fathers. Once the New Testament writers had died, a new generation of Christian leaders and teachers began the monumental task of unravelling the meaning of the Good News. What should be included in the New Testament canon? Is Jesus human or divine? How can a person have both a human and a divine nature? These were but a few of the issues the early church fathers had to struggle with.
The Christian story is ever ancient, ever new. But to fully understand what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in the twenty-first century, it is important that we understand and appreciate the great work undertaken by the early church fathers. That is a task the archbishop has entrusted to Joe.
Fr Joseph: may you be blessed with the art of accompaniment; may you seek out the people entrusted to you, rejoice with them, and break open – in both word and sacrament – the beauty, the power and the majesty of the Christian story.
This an edited version of the homily preached by Fr Geoffrey Plant, parish priest of St Michael’s, Lane Cove, on the occasion of Fr Joseph Hamilton’s first Mass in the parish on 5 June. Fr Hamilton was a deacon at St Michael’s prior to his ordination at St Mary’s Cathedral on 3 June.