Fr Peter Martin, Vicar of St James’ Point Lonsdale and St George the Martyr Queenscliff, led the pre-ordination retreat for the 18 men and women priested for the Diocese of Melbourne on 30 November. This is the text of his sermon at their ordination service in St Paul’s Cathedral.

Since Wednesday afternoon, the 18 men and women to be ordained today have been tucked away in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range in the wonderful, hospitable retreat centre Pallotti College on the upper Yarra near Warburton.  It has been a time of solitude and silence, for each to spend quality time face-to-face with the one who is calling them to live the life of a priest amongst and for God’s priestly people.  That one-to-one time has not so much been a meeting of minds –– but a meeting of hearts.  This is where deep talks to deep.  The psalmist knows the desire for such times when he says: “My heart says seek his face, your face Lord do I seek.”

In this place the language spoken is the language of love, and of course the language of love moves easily into silence.  Yesterday, the Archbishop reminded us of the fundamental importance of always nurturing that face-to-face loving relationship with our Lord through regular spiritual practice.

Today is the culmination of many years of thinking, discerning and formation and now they are ready to make their solemn vows and receive the laying on of hands to be made a priest in the church of God.

It is a time to celebrate.  Also it is a time to acknowledge and to say thank you to those who have accompanied our ordinands on their journey, especially dear friends and family members.  You know more than anyone the challenges they have faced thus far.  And also the sacrifices that have been made by them and also by you as you have supported them on the way.

Each of the ordinands will also want at this time to acknowledge and thank the significant people in their lives who have guided them and formed them and brought them to this day.  There are special mentors – the staff of their theological college; the director of Network 1:28, the Venerable Robert Presland, and his team, Jamie Miller and Maree Scopelliti and until earlier this year Roslyn Parisian and the examining chaplains. 

There will be those family and friends whose circumstances mean they cannot be here and we pray that even at a distance they will share in the joy of this day.

I know for some of the ordinands there are special people who have recently died.  We are mindful of them.  We especially remember the Revd Vic Wilson who died early yesterday afternoon – Danny McRobert’s dear friend and mentor and whose priestly role, especially in the Maori community, into which Danny will now move.

Of course, each of the ordinands is already well experienced in ministry: sufficiently experienced to know now that the television series, The Vicar of Dibley, is in fact a documentary.

I’m sure each could already write an entertaining book of memoirs, although some names may have to be changed.

I mentioned the heart earlier.  The heart is very important in all this.  I am using the word “heart” as Scripture uses it; a symbol of the centre and seat of our being – the essence of our identity.  Faith has its beginnings in the heart.  God is already there in all of us – in fact, wherever there is life, it is the Spirit of Christ who creates and sustains that life – “for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created and in him all things hold together”, the whole cosmos.  For reasons we never know, there comes a time when that same Holy Spirit reveals Jesus to the human heart.  Jesus, not simply as someone we hear about or read about who lived and died 2000 years ago, but the one who also was raised from the dead and who now is alive and calls disciples to follow him.

However, the revealing of Jesus in the heart and the response of faith to follow him can only happen when the good news of Jesus is proclaimed. The first generation of disciples heard Jesus himself preach the good news of the kingdom of God, Jesus called them and they followed him. 

This is what happened to the apostle Andrew, whose feast day we celebrate today, who along with his brother Simon were the first disciples to be called by Jesus: “As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people’.”

Simon and Andrew follow immediately, as do James and his brother John the sons of Zebedee. James and John leave behind not only their profession, they leave their boat and their father.  Which is to say they leave their possessions behind, and, in leaving their father, they separate themselves from the intricate fabric of familial relationships with all the built-in assumptions about their identity and their trajectory in life.

What happens between Jesus and these first disciples illustrates that Jesus’ call and our response is, at its heart, a transaction of love. 

Because this is what love looks like: love forsakes all for the beloved and desires to give all to the beloved. This is the bedrock of discipleship.  A new set of priorities about where your riches lie and new answers to the question: “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”

Jesus, in turn, sent out the 12 Apostles to proclaim the good news.  The word “apostle” means to be sent and so, our ordinands today join a long lineage of those who have been sent by Jesus to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God. 

The priest’s role only makes sense as it relates to the priestly role of the whole Church, the whole people of God. The whole Church is priestly just as the whole Church is apostolic – sent by Christ to continue the mission of Christ.

The priest’s ministry is in the service of the rest of the body of Christ as shepherd and leader. 

The priest as shepherd and leader and the priestly work of God’s people are one and the same – the continuation of the work of Jesus Christ. It is the same mission, which is to sanctify and transform the world and make manifest the kingdom of God.

The priesthood is held in common by all believers and this means that they are out there – they are the leaven in the lump and the salt that gives flavour – evangelising and sanctifying the world, whether it be in the workplace, in the community or in the family.  Therefore the laity not only work within the life of the parish, as important as this is, but also and perhaps more importantly, they are in the world has agents of transformation.

St Paul likes to describe the priest thus: “Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.”  So the priest makes sure the household is functioning, the people are using their gifts for the mission of the church and most importantly that they are being nourished for their mission – fed by Jesus by his word, and by his body and blood in Holy Communion.

This relationship between the priest and the priestly mission of the whole Church was brought home to me in my own life when I went from being a deacon to a priest.  As a deacon, I was a prison chaplain.  I was based in a parish where I received my nourishment and where the parish priest was an important support for me, as was the whole parish.  From that parish, I went out to the prisons and to the families of prisoners.  In my ministry I tried to make manifest and reveal the kingdom of God and to proclaim the gospel in word and action.

There came a time when I felt called to be a priest. Like those here today, part of my discernment was to explore my own ambivalence about taking that step. In my case I liked it on the edge, I liked being out there in the “real world”, so to speak, and trying to make a bridge into faith and into the life of the Church for the people to whom I ministered.  By becoming a priest and moving into the heart of the faith community to equip the faith community for mission meant that I would lose “being out there”.  However, what made the step attractive was that by being a priest I would be serving and equipping God’s people for Christ’s mission in the world.

Today we have new leaders. Women and men who will lead us in our apostolic life as a Church.  Showing us the way, equipping us to be sent out for the mission of Christ in this world.  You go with our support, our prayers and our love.

 

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