Four years ago today, I was ordained a priest. I can’t believe it’s four years already. Amazing.
Today is also the feast of St Cornelius (Pope) and St Cyprian (Bishop). I offered the Mass for a priest on the occasion of his anniversary of ordination, but the readings were taken from today’s memorial.
The first reading, from St Paul, is very appropriate for a priest contemplating his vocation:
We are only the earthenware jars that hold this treasure, to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us. We are in difficulties on all sides, but never cornered; we see no answer to our problems, but never despair; we have been persecuted, but never deserted; knocked down, but never killed; always, wherever we may be, we carry with us in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus, too, may always be seen in our body.
Honestly, this is exactly what I needed to read and meditate on in my prayer today, hot on the heels of some beautiful readings from yesterday’s feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. Deo gratias.
I’ve been privileged to preach at a priest’s first Mass. I thought I’d need to celebrate my silver or even my golden jubilee of priesthood before having that honour accorded me.
This is the homily I delivered at Fr Joel Peart’s first Mass. We started in the seminary together (back in 2005), and it was through Joel that I became acquainted with Fr Des Byrne, who loved Joel like a son I think.
(All photos are owned by John Casamento.)
Homily for Fr Joel Peart’s first Mass
Traditionally, a young priest will ask a priestly mentor – a spiritual father – to preach at his first Mass. In Fr Joel’s case, that man is undoubtedly Fr Des Byrne. But sadly, Fr Byrne died last year.
Fr Des Byrne was a great priest. A heroic priest. Many of the priests in this sanctuary – Fr Joel among them – were also in the sanctuary at Fr Byrne’s funeral. And from that vantage, with a view of the packed nave, we noticed something striking.
For a man of 88 years, who had retired from parish ministry 14 years earlier, the congregation at Fr Byrne’s funeral was remarkably young. There were so many young adults in their 20s and 30s and early 40s, and many brought with them children of pre-school and primary school age.
Most of those children did not know Fr Byrne. He retired long before they were born. But their very existence is a testament to Fr Byrne’s spiritual fecundity.
In many cases, the parents of these children met each other at Fr Byrne’s parish, at meetings of the Confraternity of St Michael the Archangel. In every case, it is thanks to Fr Byrne’s labours that these parents know and love Catholic teaching on marriage and family. They have responded generously; they have defied the spirit of the age, and they’ve had large families.
It’s no exaggeration to state that a generation of Catholics in Melbourne owe their faith to Fr Des Byrne. And there is a next generation who indirectly owe their lives to Fr Byrne.
This is why we call priests “Father.” Fr Byrne had a great many spiritual children, and Joel Peart was one of them.
In the years since I was ordained, I would see Fr Byrne each month, and towards the end, he frequently expressed his desire to die. Not in a morbid and self-pitying way, but in a faithful and hopeful way. His energy was spent, and he desired to see the Master face to face. Besides, “My work here is done,” he’d tell us young priests, “and the priesthood is in good hands.” He’d point to us.
If he was here today, he would say that to Fr Joel in a particular way. In a unique way. He would say, with the confidence only a father has in his son, “the priesthood is in good hands.”
At his ordination, Fr Joel’s hands were anointed with sacred chrism. Since then, they have blessed many people, and they will bless many more following today’s Mass. At the conclusion of that blessing, some of you may be moved to kiss the palms of Fr Joel’s hands. It is a beautiful Catholic tradition to venerate the hands of a newly ordained priest.
For others, that’s a bit much. Some people dislike – and even avoid – kissing the cross on Good Friday. Kissing Fr Joel’s hands is more confronting still. So why do it? Because each one of us will receive many graces from his anointed hands.
- Some of you will have children who are baptised by those hands. Children who don’t even exist yet, but who are already known and loved by God.
- Some of you will have Fr Joel assist at your wedding. Your nuptial blessing will be ministered by his hands. (Fr Joel’s sister Tiffany will receive this grace next month!)
- It’s very likely that some of you here will receive your final sacraments from these hands. Fr Joel’s are the hands which will prepare your soul to meet God.
These are privileges which vary, according to our age and our proximity and our state of life. But there is one privilege that all of us – every person in this church today – will share in common.
We will witness these hands, for the first time, take up a piece of bread and change that bread into the sacred body of Christ. We will witness these hands, for the first time, grasp a chalice of wine and change that wine into the precious blood of Christ. This is the holiest and the greatest of the priest’s works.
It is because he consecrates the Body and Blood of Christ that Fr Joel can teach, govern and sanctify. He walks into the confessional from the foot of the altar. Every sick call, every act of spiritual direction, every classroom visit, every homily, flows from the altar. What a great privilege for us to see it start here, today, at this altar. And we are the beneficiaries.
Today’s Gospel is apposite: our Lord prophesies his passion and death. He is preparing for the way of the cross.
“Taking him aside, Peter started to remonstrate with him. But, turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter …”
Did you notice that detail? Our Lord rebukes Peter after he turns and sees his disciples. It was for his disciples – including you and me – that Jesus so willingly and insistently embraced the way of the cross. And it is precisely the same motivation which moves Fr Joel. The servant is not greater than his Master. In a moment Fr Joel will re-present the sacrifice of the cross, for you and me, the Lord’s disciples.
So why on earth wouldn’t we venerate his sacred hands?
I will conclude with a prayer. Let’s ask our Blessed Mother to pray for Fr Joel. I think our Lady has a special love for priests, who share a unique claim with her.
As of today, Fr Joel will daily hold the Sacred Body of Christ in his hands. Mary, too, held the body of Christ in her hands. In Fr Joel’s case it is sacramental; in our Lady’s case it was physical. She held her son with joy at Bethlehem; and she held his body with unspeakable sorrow at Calvary.
Today is a bit like Fr Joel’s Bethlehem. But his priesthood will lead him to Calvary also. So let’s pray that our Lady will make her presence known, and extend her maternal care, in his joys and in his sorrows.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of death. Amen.
Tomorrow, Saturday 12 September, the Archbishop of Melbourne will ordain six men to the priesthood.
Five of them I know very well, having lived with them at the seminary. All six of them have been in my prayers during my retreat. Perhaps you can pray for them now, as you read their names:
- Patrick Bradford
- Justel Callos
- George Feliciouz
- Daryl Montecillo
- Joel Peart
- Dong Tran
You can learn more about them at www.melbournepriest.com. They all have the makings of faithful and holy priests of Jesus Christ. Let’s pray they correspond generously with God’s grace.
Three years ago today, at the conclusion of my ‘First Mass,’ I placed flowers before an image of Our Lady, and consecrated my priestly ministry to her Immaculate Heart.
But immediately before that, I presented my own mother with a special gift. The previous day, the bishop had anointed my hands with the Oil of Chrism. I used a specially bought cloth (an embroidered purificator, I recall) to remove the excess oil from my hands. It was this cloth, perfumed by the Chrism, which I presented to Mum after my First Mass.
This custom is the modern variation of an old and venerable tradition, wherein a newly ordained priest presented to his mother his manitergium.
According to tradition, the mother of a priest is to keep this precious cloth in a safe place. When she is buried, the cloth is placed in her hands. In the case of an open coffin, it serves as a reminder that one of her sons is a priest — a rare honour given to few.
The practice also evokes a pious legend, which imagines that when the mother of a priest finally meets our Lord face to face, and is asked that fateful question — “Did you love me?” — she can reply in the affirmative, presenting as part of her case, her Chrism-fragranced hands. This demonstrates that she loved our Lord so much, that she gave to him one of her sons, to serve him as a priest.
The literal details of that legend are of course superstitious, but I don’t think the gesture can be reduced to superstition. I think the presentation of the manutergium recognises and honours something profound. Not being a mother myself, I can’t very well describe it. (Perhaps I should ask my mum!)
In the meantime, we can consider this very moving footage from the ordination of three priests in Melbourne last June. If pictures tell a thousand words, then a motion picture must tell millions.
This video shows Fr Michael Kong, Fr Matthew Baldwin, and Fr Vinh Nguyen processing out at the conclusion of their ordination, and receiving the congratulations of their brother priests and seminarians. Then it cuts to Fr Michael blessing his mother, who is deeply, deeply, moved. That scene speaks volumes, I imagine, to what every woman of faith experiences, when her son becomes a priest.
Three years ago today — three years already! — I was ordained to the Catholic priesthood.
I have to admit, this anniversary would have passed me by, except that my grandmother called last night to congratulate me. Which meant she also inadvertantly reminded me.
I think if she hadn’t called, I’d have realised today’s anniversary when I prayed this morning’s Office of Readings, which commemorates the Feast of Ss Cornelius and Cyprian. That would have jogged my memory.
But actually, it wouldn’t have come to that because dozens of other friends have also contacted me today, sending me their congratulations. I may have forgotten, but others didn’t. Thanks everyone!
The last few days have been a wonderful way to celebrate. On Saturday, I attended the ordination of three priests and six deacons in Melbourne, among whom are some of my dearest friends.
Here’s some photos taken by Junray Rayna, a Sandhurst seminarian who will himself be ordained a deacon this Saturday:
This was a great way to celebrate the anniversary of my own ordination. I was able to renew my promises and my consecration, and to share with my brothers the joy of priesthood.
In his homily, Archbishop Hart remarked on the value of friendships forged in the seminary, but he added that as important and blessed as this fraternity is, a priest’s relationship with the people entrusted to him is even more important and grace filled. I know what he means. The following day’s First Communion celebrations in Hamilton were another excellent way to celebrate the anniversary of my ordination. Nothing compares to preparing children to receive into themselves the Real Presence of Jesus Christ . . . except maybe all the other sacraments a priest is called on to minister!
Still, Ordinations and First Communions are my two favourite days in the year (after Easter and Christmas). So this last weekend was a great double whammy which has renewed my gratitude for the holy priesthood. Deo gratias.
Adi Indra, a second year seminarian for the diocese of Sandhurst, has applied his considerable talents to the production of a short film promoting Corpus Christi College.
Having credited Adi, I don’t want to diminish the work of the priests and seminarians which collaborated with him. The result is an engaging and informative glimpse into seminary life.
One of the seminarians featured in the video is Rev Michael Romeo, whom Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson will ordain to the priesthood this Friday. Keep him especially in your prayers!