Homily – Ordination to the Priesthood of Joshua Scott

Jeremiah 1:4-9, 2 Cor 4:1-2, 5-7, John 15:9-17

Regarding vocations to the Priesthood, one significant and observable factor emerges in regard to more recent ordinations.

Where as in the past Ordinations seem to have come almost by osmosis through Catholic families and participation in Catholic parishes and schooling communities, so many vocations to the Priesthood these days come from a place that has not been so much “inherited” but a place given afresh by the Holy Spirit.

We see this especially with the calling of the Holy Spirit of Joshua Scott to the Priesthood.

Joshua talks about his journey to the Priesthood as a journey of love.  He talks about a journey “that has lead me from disbelief to belief, from darkness to light, from lukewarmness to a life emblazoned with the love of Christ.”

This journey has not been walking in a bed of roses!  Quite the opposite: for Josh, there has been some very deep times of personal anguish and some marvellous times of Godly consolation.

Joshua’s primal question in his early years has been the existential question “If you exist God, help me!”

This question arose particularly out of the unexpected illness of his younger sister who was four at the time.  Joshua was looking for answers to an illness of an innocent sister and set out to find answers from the world around him.

The scientific world of Australia today offered him a trite answer that seemed to lack all mystery of life.  Joshua says “others provided an over spiritualised babble of the workings of karma and the circle of life but these were insufficient.”

From this point we see the Holy Spirit calling Joshua to something beyond what he ever thought or imagined.

He moved from a position of largely agnosticism to a position of profound inner yearning.

This yearning was both annoying and agitating.  Joshua uses the metaphor of a neighbour’s barking dog. “Day after day and night after night the dog barks and barks, and barks!…it wasn’t a dog barking deep within me, it was God calling me from deep within.”

Surely this is a quintessential sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit.

In all this, I’m reminded of the famous poem of Francis Thompson (1859-1907) “The Hound of Heaven.” (1893)

It is a feeling very much resonated in the First Reading of today from the prophet Jeremiah.  Jeremiah in chapter one talks about his vocational experience as God saying to him “before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you came to birth I consecrated you.”

There is always the supremacy of grace in any call from God…and for Joshua it specifically meant eventually the call to the Priesthood.

Joshua became a Baptised Catholic about thirteen years ago.  He has an abiding experience that “God walks with me and loves me – unconditionally.”

Joshua’s experience of the Holy Spirit is expressed when he says “The more I got to know God, the more I loved Him.  The more you fall in love with someone, the more you want to give them.”

This is very much like a Pauline expression of faith that’s found in the Second Reading today of St Paul’s second letter to the Church at Corinth.  Paul says “It is God who said, let light shine out of darkness, that has shone into our hearts to enlighten us with the knowledge of God’s Glory, the Glory of the face of Christ.”

All of this is God’s initiative to bring us into his Trinitarian love.  It is a sharing of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit deep within the human heart.

As I said at the beginning of this homily, often we have presumed this as being almost inherited from our family over many generations.  This is not the case in the developed world today.  All of us need to experience this love relationship in a fresh way as if for the first time regardless of our family background.  Indeed, you can’t simply have an inherited Christian faith.  It is simply not possible, especially in today’s highly secularised Australian world.  It’s simply not strong enough to withstand the challenges to faith in today’s world becoming more and more a stranger to the Christian Catholic ethos.

We thank you dear Josh for sharing your life story with us and it helps us to renew our own faith in Jesus, the Saviour and Redeemer.

By your good example tonight, in your Ordination you help us “eaves-drop” even more deeply on the intimate prayer of Jesus at the Last Super in today’s Gospel.  Jesus shares with us from the depth of his Sacred Heart “This is my commandment; love one another, as I have loved you.  No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.”

And now quite literally, dear Josh, you lay down your life forever in the service of Gods kingdom as a Priest in the Catholic Church.  You will do this sacramentally in a few moments by laying prostrate on this Cathedral sanctuary as we pray over you the Litany of the Saints.  You will also experience it in the great prayer of Ordination to the Priesthood were we will ask the God to make you always “a faithful steward of the Lord’s mysteries.”

It is quite clear, dear Josh, that the maturation of your love for the Lord has now reached this more public stage were you want to become a missionary disciple of the Lord as a Priest in the Order of Melchizedek…which is an eternal order and finds its heart in the Priesthood of Christ which has been given to you already in Baptism but now is going to be expressed in a particular way through the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

The prayer of Ordination asks our Almighty God to “renew deep within him the spirit of holiness; may he henceforth possess this office, which comes from you, O God, and is next  in rank to the office of Bishop; and by the example of his manner of life, may he instil right conduct.”

When I think of exercising the ministerial Priesthood in today’s Australian world I recall a beautiful autobiographical story that was told to me many years ago by Cardinal Schönborn, the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna in Austria.  

He recalled that before his Episcopal Ordination, one of the priests of his diocese shared with him personally his hope for the Archbishop in his ministry.  It is a hope that I think all Priests and Deacons should be able to share, especially now in this fluid society of Australia.

He said that the young Priest shared that before his Priesthood he was a shepherd in the Austrian Alps. 

Sometimes, during the snow caped winter season, there were very little green fields for his few sheep to find sustenance.  As a shepherd this would concern him greatly.  But then he just allowed the sheep to wander a little bit more than he would normally do.  The sheep seemed to have some answers that he didn’t have.  Sure enough, the sheep went to certain parts of the field and started burrowing with their feet to find some grass hidden under snow.  This was able to sustain them in the hard times.  The shepherd Priest said that he would never have been able to understand this himself if it wasn’t for the sheep guiding him.  This is a very good example Joshua about allowing the laity, also imbued with the great gift of God through the sacrament of Baptism, not only to be led by you but also to allow them to lead you in this strange world that we find ourselves here in Catholic Australia.

I think it is an important point that the expression of the Priesthood and the years ahead from a pastoral point of view must be exercised more decisively in co-responsibility with all Baptised Catholics.

This remains a challenge for many Priests today.

On an associated analogy, it has been observed, in the developed west at least, that Catholic Priests are more pastorally equipped to be shepherds rather than fishermen.

But in a society that is thinking twice about the value of religiosity or authority of any kind, the more kerygmatic-fisherman image of the scriptures in regard to discipleship certainly needs closer attention for the way is can be expressed in today’s world….

Finally, placing aside such observations, we now humbly invoke the presence of the Holy Spirit to come down upon us and ordain this man, our brother, Joshua Scott, to the Presbyteral Orders.

We also invoke the intercession of Mary, under the title of OUR LADY OF FATIMA, who on this day, 100 years ago appeared to the children at FATIMA and pledged her maternal care.  Into her care we now also place our dear brother, Joshua.

Archbishop Christopher Prowse
Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn

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