Ordination to the Priesthood
Reverend Nathan Verallo
Sacred Heart Cathedral, Bendigo
24th November, 2018
Isaiah 61:1-3 1 Peter (4:7-11) Luke 12:35-44
Today, I am delighted to welcome most particularly Nathan Verallo, his family, friends, seminarians and parishioners to this very important Liturgical event in the life and history of the Diocese of Sandhurst.
We have accompanied Nathan now over the last two years and have co-discerned with him that we believe that God is indeed calling him to the great gift of the Priesthood. In sharing this important Sacrament of Holy Orders we assure him that we have been, are and will be, walking with him in the many long years of his Priesthood, which, please God, he will be given to serve God’s people.
As the Bishop of the Diocese of Sandhurst, it is of incredible joy for me to be able to celebrate the ordination of Nathan Verallo for this Diocese. Nathan, you have been chosen by God and you have put great care into your preparation, through many years of study. Above all, it has been through prayer and silent contemplation that you have prepared for this extraordinary moment when, by the grace of ordination to the sacred priesthood, you will be configured to the Person of Christ the Eternal High Priest.
What does this mean? We can ask ourselves this simple question: Who is the priest? Pope St John Paul II once wrote that the priest is “the living and transparent image of Christ the priest.” The man, who is a priest, is chosen and consecrated by God to make the love of Christ present in the world. At his ordination, the man who is ordained a priest is configured to Jesus Christ, the true High Priest, in a very special way. On his ordination day, a man becomes a priest in his very being. From that day, his deepest identity is that he is a priest; a priest forever!
Nathan, the readings you have chosen for today, speak about the mission of hope and renewal in the time of uncertainty. Isaiah was sent to give fresh vision and hope to a people in distress. He was charged with a mission of reframing the hopeless reality into a new hopeful future for his people. That is also the task of the priest-prophet in the new exile. We have to live and minister in such a way that our love for God and his people and our resolve to serve, will clear the path towards a vision of hope for all.
Like our Lord, Peter has much to say about things to come. The brevity and command nature of this section of the first letter of St Peter, calls us to keep alert, with our task to accomplish the will of God no matter what challenges we face. One particular word in this passage: hospitality, has the effect of building up Christian community combating the view that we are each independent and isolated individuals in our relationship with God. Hospitality during the first century of the Christian era was primarily a means of ministering to one another. Clearly, Nathan has claimed these inspirational teachings as his guide in priesthood.
Similarly, the passage from St Luke’s Gospel, emphasizes that it is a great gift to be alert to the fact that we have come from God and we are going back to God. This helps to put our whole life into a proper perspective. Closeness to Jesus is what keeps this awareness alive. The role-reversal on the part of the master, who serves those slaves who were awake and alert, says much about God’s gracious bounty and generosity. In discipleship, there is no room for complacency or half-heartedness. The commitment required is total and the reward is equally great. The lighted lamps symbolise the alertness required of us.
Therefore, Nathan, taking the lessons from these readings, as a priest, the witness of your life will be everything. The rituals you perform, the clothes you will wear have their significance, but what people will see above all is the life you live, the way you relate. Moreover, as a priest, your work will be the work of building the community of faith that is the Church.
Nathan, remember that we are not priests in order to fix the world, or anybody in it. Therefore, we can relax on that score. We are priests however because God has called us, and like him we believe for all, we hope for all; and we love each one more than they do themselves.
If I could use just one word to summarize the advice that Pope Francis has given to priests most often in advising them how to be most effective in the new evangelization, it would be the word “joy.” He said, “Impart the Word of God you have received with joy...Carry out the ministry of Christ the Priest with constant joy and genuine love.”
Therefore, Nathan, be a priest in whose eyes, and in whose smiles, and in whose words, and in whose tears, people encounter the face and the heart of Jesus. Be a priest who is a living instrument and minister of Jesus' compassion, of His mercy, of His patience, of His forgiveness and of His love. This is what the Lord is asking of you, as He draws you today into the mystery of the ordained ministry as a priest. It is what we, the People of God, so desperately need from you. It is what will bring you the joy and the peace that is the Lord's promise to you. It is what we all pray for as you come forward to be transformed by the creative power of the Spirit of God.
In a moment, you will step forward and formally respond to this extraordinary invitation the Lord has given you. You will need deep faith, great courage, and unfailing humility. The gift you are given today is given for you, of course, but only so, that through you the Lord can be present with his people. Today you are set apart not so that people can honour you and defer to you, but so that through you, the Lord can shine forth.
Each day you will have to remind yourself that the priesthood is about simple, humble service rather than about domination or control. It is about gentleness and compassion rather than rigidity and arrogance. It is about being a proclaimer of the truth – but God’s truth, not your own. It is about showing people the way, by word and example, and leading them along this way – but it must be the Lord’s way, not your own.
Nathan, you will join with me, together with all the priests of the Diocese of Sandhurst, to build upon the legacy of those who have gone before us, to bring Christ to our world and our world to Christ.
Let us now pray that God may bless Nathan abundantly on this day of his ordination, and continue to empower us all to each use our talents and gifts to fulfil our respective responsibilities in His Church in the Diocese of Sandhurst. May God who has begun this good work in us, bring it to fulfilment: in Christ’s name. Amen.