Homily for the Ordination to the Presbyterate of Mr Andrew John Rooney at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
Readings: Numbers 11:11-12, 14-17, 24-25; Psalm 99; Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13; John 17:6, 14-19
With family, friends of Deacon Andrew and the whole Diocese of Parramatta, we joyfully gather to celebrate the ordination of our first priest since 2018, when we had four in one ceremony, which is something of a superfecta these days.
Andrew’s journey has been relatively long and winding. He started when the current Holy Spirit Seminary complex in Harris Park had not been completed. A young diocese that we are, Parramatta has been determined to form its own seminarians much like a young parent raising their own children. In fact, Parramatta is one of the only two suffragan dioceses in Australia that invest in the formation of its clergy and its future in this way.
That does not come about without its challenges, of course. As Andrew knows quite well, the commitment to follow the path of formation in all its dimensions: human, intellectual, pastoral and spiritual, is unwavering and unreserved. It is a discernment and a growth journey that is never straightforward, linear and static but always dynamic, open-ended and future-oriented.
Priestly vocations don’t happen in a vacuum. They don’t drop out of the sky. They are born, nurtured and formed in the womb of the family. It is right that we pay tribute to them for their faith, love and support. Andrew rightly attributed his mother’s faith and devotion as being inspirational and instrumental to his vocation. I’d like to also acknowledge the role of the formation team at Holy Spirit Seminary and many others who accompanied Andrew with professionalism, dedication and love. I am grateful also to the priests and communities who have welcomed and supported Andrew during his time of pastoral placement.
The readings tonight speak about the mission of living and sharing the Good News that we are all called to exercise by virtue of our Christian discipleship. Moses in the first reading is at a critical juncture in his ministry of leadership. He is exhausted and burnt out from the constant demands of the people. He is ready to throw in the towel. It is a sentiment that I am not entirely unfamiliar with. In fact, if the truth be known, we have all felt the sense of self-doubt and defeat when faced with a certain kind of pressure.
We can all resonate with Moses “I am not able to carry this nation by myself alone; the weight is too much for me.” However, it is at this point of total vulnerability that God’s grace proves stronger than human weakness. Moses is to learn a sobering lesson, a kind of Judeo-Christian ministry 101. It consists in the admission that we can only minister effectively when we recognise our limits as individuals and are open to partnership with others. Moses must abandon the Messiah complex and learn the art of co-responsibility.
Perhaps there is a lesson for you, Andrew, and for all of us priests, here. We must learn to minister in relationship with one another and with the Christian community. If the priesthood has a better future, it has to be humanised; it has to find expression in better mutual support, collaboration and partnership. It must, once and for all, jettison the cult of individual heroism and the Messiah complex.
The priest is not a lone and exalted figure exclusively chosen and gifted with something, which most people do not have. Rather the priest is the presence in whom the implicit priesthood of the baptised is called to become active. In this way, we learn to discover a deeper and more holistic identity as members of the People of God and as presbyters in the sense of preceding and leading people by example but not hermetically sealed from them.
In the Gospel, Jesus prays what is known as the priestly prayer. In a world marked by conflict, persecution and adversity, the prayer reassures the disciples of God’s loving protection even as they seek to realise their mission in the world. It orients them to a true understanding of who they are as his followers and agents of his Good News.
As priestly people, we are sent to consecrate the world despite its opposition. This is the incarnate and missionary discipleship that John writes with powerful conviction. We cannot live our consecration fully, especially as ordained ministers, without getting ourselves immersed in the messiness of life, without going out and embracing those at the periphery. As a result, Andrew is not going to be a sacristy priest or simply a dispenser of the sacraments. His consecration and ours pushes us out into the deep and the world for the sake of its transformation.
Brothers and sisters,
It is an evening of great joy and hope for us. The church in Parramatta is rejuvenated by Andrew’s youthfulness, reinvigorated by his commitment and enriched by his gifts. We pray that Christ’s self-sacrificial love which he will celebrate daily at the altar, will nourish and strengthen him on the journey that he has just begun. We pray that the inestimable treasure kept in the earthen vessel that is he may reveal to all the God whose kingdom we serve and whose destiny of hope for humanity we endeavour to bring about in our ministry.
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