As I write this message on Sunday evening, I am gazing out at Lake Macquarie, dotted with the lights of many boats, waiting for the yearly Christmas fireworks to commence. A concert is held during the day at Speers Point Park and Carols by Candlelight herald in the spectacular fireworks. Families gather and picnic through the day and I wonder how many associate these festivities and the beauty of the fireworks with the marvel of the light of Christ coming into the world as they sing Silent Night, Hark the Herald, The First Noel or O Come all ye Faithful.
Over the weekend, I was blessed to attend the ordination, to priesthood, of James Odoh at Sacred Heart Cathedral on Saturday, while on Sunday I attended the commissioning of three new leaders at St John Vianney Parish at Morisset. These three leaders join the four who have been on the Parish Leadership Team for a few years. The new members are:
- Jenny Douglas, who will lead the Identity and Community foundation;
- Emily Palmer, who will lead the Mission and Outreach foundation;
- Juliet Hutchins, who will co-lead the Leadership and Structure foundation, with John France.
They join Uta France and Daphne Petersen who lead the Prayer and Worship foundation and Jodie Vipan who leads the Formation and Education foundation.
At both celebrations I found myself asking the following questions:
- What is God’s mission?
- Who is called, anointed or commissioned?
- Where is this mission to take place?
In listening to the homilies given by Bishop Bill at the ordination and commissioning, I am left with no doubt that the Gospel reading chosen by James Odoh from Luke’s Gospel (Luke 4:16-21) and our Gospel reading for this Sunday from Matthew (11:2-11) spell it out clearly. God’s mission as proclaimed by Luke is to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, to give new sight to the blind, to set the downtrodden free and to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour. Matthew delivers the same message using different words – the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to new life and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.
Bishop Bill gave very clear instruction to James, that he is not being sent just to those who are in church, or to those who say they are Catholics in a particular geographical location, but he is being sent to everyone. That is God’s mission, and therefore the mission of all of us who proclaim Jesus as Lord. The prophets foretold of the coming of God’s reign by using similar words – ‘Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unsealed, then the lame shall leap like a deer and the tongues of the dumb sing for joy, for those the Lord has ransomed shall return.’ (Isaiah 35:1-6, 10)
Isaiah says ‘Courage! Do not be afraid. Look, your God is coming’, and in the reading from the letter of St James, we are asked to be patient, not to lose heart.
James Odoh did not look afraid. He has come to us, from Nigeria, to fulfil God’s mission in him. The new members of the Parish Leadership Team did not look afraid. James, Jenny, Juliet and Emily were filled with joy, as were their families and the communities who gathered in support around them. This is the joy of expectation, of promise, of great faith and hope.
We are all called to share in God’s mission and I share with you the prayer which formed part of the commissioning of the Parish leaders:
While in baptism we all share the commitment to live as Jesus’ disciples, leadership is a ministry which invites you into a deeper commitment; in particular a commitment to serve God’s mission through the Church here in Morisset.
So before commissioning you let us reflect on the nature of this deeper commitment using the symbols we accepted at baptism.
At your baptism you accepted the Gospel as your rule of life:
Leaders: Today I reaffirm my commitment to pattern my life on the Gospel.
Bishop Bill: At baptism you were signed with the cross
Leaders: Today I reaffirm my commitment to lay down my life in loving service of God and neighbour.
Bishop Bill: At baptism you were clothed in your baptismal garment.
Leaders: Today I reaffirm my commitment to the life-long journey of putting on Christ.
Bishop Bill: At baptism you received the light of Christ.
Leaders: Today I reaffirm my commitment to keep the flame of faith alive in my heart.
The various elements of James’ ordination spoke powerfully of his commitment to serve in the office of Priesthood as we prayed for him and over him. I am in no doubt that God bestows great graces upon us through the sacraments, and this is even more evident when the Cathedral is full with the community of the faithful.
So, the newly ordained Fr James Odoh is calling the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle his new home. He will live God’s mission here with us. Those commissioned for Parish Leadership will primarily live God’s mission in their home parish of Morisset, while recognising that this parish is also part of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.
What I now find fascinating is the diverse multicultural flavour of our local diocesan church. I am certain that at the ordination there may have been people there from most of the seven continents – North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and Antarctica. I was struck by our Irish missionary, Fr Tony Brady, having had a significant role in the formation of our newest ordinand from Nigeria – ‘For those who come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share. With courage, let us all combine, to advance Australia Fair.’
I conclude with the following words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
The incarnation is the ultimate reason why the service of God cannot be divorced from the service of humanity.
In this season of Advent we are indeed being called to service.