Witnessing a new era

By Jackson Saunders
Sandhurst Seminarian
“Barrack for Gospel joy and not just your footy team.”
These words from Archbishop Peter Comensoli stood out for me in his homily at his installation Mass as the ninth Archbishop of Melbourne.
There was an uplifting and hope-filled sense of aura at St Patrick’s Cathedral in East Melbourne on Wednesday, August 1, as more than 3000 people gathered to witness the historic occasion. About 40 bishops and 300 priests were among those who gathered for the two-hour ceremony.
As a seminarian for the Sandhurst Diocese studying at Corpus Christi College, it was a great joy to be part of this historic moment.
It was a night where I was once again reminded of that proud feeling of being a Catholic and a disciple of Christ.
As the seminarians processed into the Cathedral that night with bishops and priests from across Australia, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of joy. A new era was to begin.
Archbishop Denis Hart had been a faithful and dedicated leader of the Archdiocese and our seminary for the past 17 years, but his time had come to retire and a new chapter in the history of the Church was about to begin.
I felt privileged to be part of this inspiring ceremony as I considered that this may not happen again for more than 20 years. Archbishop Comensoli is 54 and is not due to submit his resignation until age 75.
The day prior to his installation, I had heard Archbishop Comensoli give an impressive interview on Melbourne radio station 3AW with Neil Mitchell, so there was a sense of wanting to hear more from our new spiritual leader. The moment to hear more had arrived.
In his homily, Archbishop Comensoli reflected on the legacy of the inspirational missionary figure of St Paul.
“(St Paul) was a man who boldly carried the yoke of the crucified Christ, both as a burden and a joy,” Archbishop Comensoli said.
As the people of God sat and listened intently to the homily of our new Archbishop, I was filled with a sense of hope and excitement for what the future might bring.
“As the Romans gathered from the far reaches of that great city, so you have gathered from up north beyond Mount Macedon, over into the east past the Dandenong Ranges, out west from Geelong and Port Philip Bay, down south along the Mornington Peninsula, and everywhere in between. You are the living Church in Melbourne, who have also been found by God, and are now welcoming me,” Archbishop Comensoli said.
The challenge to spread the joy of the Gospel to others, especially those on the peripheries of society was a key theme of his homily.
“How do we speak of grace and mercy in a diverse society? How do we become signs of hope and joy in a culture of rival visions?” Archbishop Comensoli said.
“We are a pilgrim People of God, called to be missionary disciples. We are the Body of Christ, where the weakest and most vulnerable have the places of honour. We are the Temple of the Holy Spirit and stewards of God’s grace.”
Archbishop Comensoli’s message was both practical and simple to follow.
“Our common task, then, is a missionary one. We have been anointed and sent with the gospel of Jesus Christ into our families, our local neighbourhoods and the wider society,” he said.
“How do we do this? Well, a good start might be to get the soil of our culture under our fingernails as we plant seeds of grace and peace. Pray for one another; befriend each other.
“Forgive, and seek forgiveness. Barrack for Gospel joy, not just your footy team.
“Make mercy our calling card and healing our gift.”
I could see that love, which has practical implications on our daily living, was at the centre of Archbishop Comensoli’s message.
“Be open, warm and honest in the way we attend to others. Nurture a faith that trusts, a hope that encourages, and a love that is tender. This is what it means to proclaim Jesus Christ, because it is what Jesus Christ proclaimed.”
As he concluded his homily, Archbishop Comensoli drew on the legacy of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, whose statue we were to pass on the way to Archbishop Comensoli’s reception at the Cathedral Hall after Mass.
“There is a statue of a young Mary on the threshold of saintliness. She is sitting on a bench looking out, poised for her future, about to get on the move,” he said.
“You are the Church that produced Australia’s first saint. And as Mary sits eager and expectant to what lies before her, I now join you on this threshold, poised in anticipation of what we are to do in Christ Jesus.
“As you pass Mary’s statue tonight, or on some other occasion, go and sit with her. Look out with her. Get up with her. Our time has come to see the gospel need, and do something about it.”
While the church has had failings in the past, Archbishop Comensoli bestowed upon all a new sense of the uplifting mission of the Church, of which we are all called to be part of.
“Yes, we carry great wounds and griefs, and faith can be such a struggle, but we – the Church in Melbourne – can be young again, in Jesus Christ. May we prefer nothing to Him, for He prefers nothing to us,” Archbishop Comensoli said as he concluded the homily.
After the homily, the installation Mass continued with uplifting music and the celebration of the Eucharist.
A warm round of applause was given in honour of Archbishop Emeritus, Denis Hart, after Communion in recognition of his past 17 years as Archbishop of Melbourne. This was an inspiring moment as the people of God expressed their gratitude in one of the most inspiring and longest rounds of applause I have ever heard. This expression of appreciation was a key message in the new Archbishop’s words of thanks at the end of Mass. Soon afterwards it had appeared that Archbishop Comensoli had said all that he wanted to say. It was time for the final blessing.
But then after a few moments of silence, the Archbishop had one final thing to say before the final blessing. This was to be related to his AFL footy team!
Archbishop Comensoli estimates that prior to his appointment as Archbishop of Melbourne, he had spent only three days of his life in this AFL obsessed city. Archbishop Comensoli had been a priest of the Diocese of Wollongong, Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney and Bishop of Broken Bay, prior to his arrival in Melbourne. He had lived in rugby league heartlands and so knew that he had to choose an AFL footy team. This had been made public in a video he released on the night he was announced as our new Archbishop on June 29.
So, the moment had come for the Archbishop to announce who had decided to follow in the AFL.
“I better not neglect this. We hope for redemption! Essendon!” Archbishop Comensoli said very quietly as people smiled and laughed at their new Archbishop before the final blessing.
I must admit that as a mad Essendon supporter, this announcement had capped off my night.
As we processed outside the Cathedral after the service, the banter was rife between seminarians as they lived in denial, hoping that our new Archbishop would instead support teams such as Hawthorn, Geelong or Greater Western Sydney. I said though that it was too late and that I had already posted the new Archbishop of Melbourne his Essendon membership.
Moments later Bishop Les Tomlinson came up to me with a big smile and asked. “How much did you pay the Archbishop to get him to barrack for Essendon?” The Bishop and I had a laugh.
While I cannot take any credit for the Archbishop’s decision to support Essendon, I will be ready to offer my Bombers scarf to him when he visits Corpus Christi College in September.
A new era has begun. A new chapter in the mission of the Church in the Archdiocese of Melbourne and beyond is being typed as I write.
This has been boosted by the inspiring witness of our new spiritual leader, Archbishop Peter Comensoli, who is urging us to join with him in spreading Gospel joy to all peoples as members of the Body of Christ on earth. Come and join us on the journey.

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