Shepherds of Gospel Love

The 2019 Melbourne Spring Ordinations filled St Patrick’s Cathedral as seven men were consecrated for priestly and diaconal ministry.

By: Samuel Pearson 

The crisp chill of a Melbourne morning, melted in the warmth and joy of a packed St Patrick’s Cathedral, as hundreds of priests from across the archdiocese and the country, processed through its great arched doors. Filled to capacity with religious, seminarians and thousands of God’s good people of the Archdiocese of Melbourne, St Patrick’s was a vision of the joyful communion His priests are called to build with their lives.

“On the night before his Passion, at the Last Supper,” noted Archbishop Comensoli in his homily, “the Lord asked instead: have you gone out to bear fruit, fruit that will last? This is the ‘great commission’ given to priests and deacons by the Lord, as he prepared to lay down his life for his friends: to go out with their lives; to be fruitful in their mission, and to be a lasting gift that will continue to nourish.”

Standing at the foot of the Altar, Archbishop Comensoli gazed out at James Baptist, Simeon Anthony and Jude Ezeme, to be ordained to the diaconate. To his right, reverends Trac Nguyen, Michael Buck, Andrew Choi, and Nathan Rawlins, to be ordained priests.

Seminary Rector and Episcopal Vicar for Ecumenism, Denis Stanley, presented the candidates to the Archbishop, publically attesting that each had been “found worthy” of the office of Priest and Deacon.

Each of the ordinands sat in hopeful expectation, as Archbishop Comensoli preached on the demands of giving oneself away in diaconal and priestly ministry, in friendship with Christ and his people.

“To you who are to be ordained deacons and priests today – to you Simeon, James, Jude, Michael, Andrew, Trac and Nathan – look to the commissioning that the Lord is calling forth in you as your permanent invitation to go out and be fruitful, offering the lasting gift of Christ’s joyful friendship.”

“Ours is not an inward calling, but an outward one,” he said. “We are commissioned by the Church to be on the move and to be with others. It is why Jesus couched the commissioning of his first priests in the language of friendship and not servanthood...While I wouldn’t want to advocate an inordinate lack of sleep and rest for the Ordained in the Church – brothers, we are meant to get tied from our labors in God’s vineyard!”

Like all those gathered in the Cathedral and the Church more broadly in our time, the ordinands reflected the cultural diversity of their future parish communities. Deacon Simeon hails from Myanmar, and Deacon Jude from Nigeria, while Fr Andrew is from South Korea and Fr Trac from Vietnam. But locals were not absent, Deacon James grew up in the Ormond Parish, Fr Nathan in Dandenong and Fr Michael in Mentone.

Bathed in the amber light of St Patrick’s great gothic windows, the saints were invoked upon the prostrate ordinands, their polished black shoes and white albs reflected on the tiled floor of the sanctuary. The congregational hymnody provided a more contemporary musical backdrop to a liturgy imbued with ancient chant, symbol, and prayer.

As book bearer I had the privileged position of kneeling right beside each ordinand as they came forward and knelt before the Archbishop, making their promises and receiving instruments of their ministry; the book of the Gospels for Deacons and the chalice and paten for priests (brought to the sanctuary by their tearful mothers). Archbishop Comensoli blessed each and anointed the hands of the priests to be, with generous amounts of oil, some dripping through their fingers. As I knelt there, I was reminded of the anointing of Aaron as depicted by the psalmist: “It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron's beard, down on the collar of his robe” (Psalm 133:2).

Priest upon priest processed across the sanctuary to pray, one by one – over and for their newest brothers in the presbyterate, only to return later to impart their fraternal greeting, to the newly vested priests, now an array of bright silks and regal damask. Some of the newly ordained fought back tears, others were calm and smiling, but all profoundly joyful.

As the organ postlude began, the congregation broke out into sustained applause as they processed, smiling and glad out from the Cathedral, Archbishop Comensoli taking up the rear, hand raised in blessing.

Ordination masses are always profoundly beautiful occasions. I always find myself moved or struck in some way, either by the words of the prayers, or the symbolism in the gestures. It’s also, in a way, a vision of heaven; God’s people, gathered together, a communion of hearts and minds in Christ, a ‘holy communion’ ultimately made possible by God’s love and sacrifice. That, after all, is what the priesthood is about and why so many gathered to see such “good work” born again in a new generation of young men “found worthy”.


Photos: Edward Jonas Ibarra