Just recently I did a media interview and the interviewer made one of those tired old claims that are often made and that is that the Catholic Church never changes. I countered by saying in fact the Catholic Church is changing all the time. The interviewer said to me ‘give me one shred of evidence, one little sign that the Catholic Church changes as you claim it does’. I said “well, consider that in a few days time I am going to ordain two men to the priesthood. One of them is born in South Sudan and the other born in Nigeria, so take that!”
It is extraordinary that we gather in the Cathedral Church of Brisbane to ordain two priests for the Archdiocese, one of them born in South Sudan, a son of the Bari people. The other born in Nigeria, a son of the Ebo people. This is something of which my predecessors, who lie buried behind me, would never have dreamt. Even just a few years ago it would have seemed incredible. So here we are with Stanley and Ladu, in the Cathedral of Brisbane, and we look at them and we see the odd couple, at least by the standards of the past. But this is the church of now, not the church of ‘once upon a time’, and this is the Catholic Church. The church universal, not the church of just these shores.
This is not the first time in the history of this church that we have had the odd couple. Consider the two apostles whom we celebrate today. Peter AKA Simon, and Paul AKA Saul. They may have been Jews but they could scarcely have been more different. They were different in background. Different in culture. They were different in temperament and they fought mightily about issues that really did matter, indeed went to the heart of the church and her mission. How extraordinary then that we celebrate the memory of Peter and Paul on one day. Surely each of these great Apostles deserves their own day. Why do we celebrate them on the one day and why are they so often represented together in paintings and icons? In Rome you almost never see Peter without seeing Paul and vice versa. And why is their memory celebrated so intensely in one city when they were so different, the odd couple, Peter and Paul, Simon and Saul? Beyond all their differences and beyond their fights and disagreements, the parting of the ways, the two men found their way to each other when they found their way to martyrdom. It was their death in Rome that sealed the bond that means we celebrate their memory on one day and we paint their picture in one icon and we celebrate their memory most intensely in one city, the city where they died and where they lie buried now. It was in coming so close to Christ in death that they found their way to each other, beyond all the differences and disagreements. It was in that moment of witness that we call martyrdom that they became locked together on one day, in one place, one celebration.
What is true of Peter and Paul is no less true of Ladu and Stanley. It is true they come from very different ethnic backgrounds. They are both African but that says almost nothing. Beyond all their differences, and here at the heart of the church in Brisbane to which God gives them as gift, you will understand the truth of the gift if you understand that it’s in their witness. It is in the apostolic witness to choose Jesus crucified and risen that you will understand in which these men are flesh and blood to each other. They are brothers sealed in a bond that has a new kind of strength today with their ordination to the priesthood. When I ordain them I will speak words that go the very heart of the truth we celebrate today. I will say to them “imitate what you celebrate”. “Conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross.” They are the words that I speak when I present them with the gifts from the people. The gifts of bread and wine that will become the sacrifice of Christ. “Imitate what you celebrate,” Ladu and Stanley, and what you celebrate is the sacrifice of Christ that becomes the feast of eternal life. Conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross. Be the body that is broken. Be the blood that is poured out for the life not just of the church but for the life of the world. Imitate what you celebrate just as Peter and Paul did. Conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross just as Simon and Saul did, and in finding their way to him so conformed to Christ that they find their way to one another in the communion which is the gift of God. If these two men can do that then their lives as priests will be a magnificent gift to the church and to the world. If they can not conform their lives to the mystery of the Lord’s cross then some other cross will destroy them and the priesthood will, as it can, turn dark and destructive. But here today we place our confidence not only in them but in the God who has given us them as gift. Who would have thought it, but God has done it. So we pray this morning that through a long and peaceful life in the priesthood these two men will imitate what they celebrate, conform their life to mystery of the Lord’s cross and that the prayer of the two apostles, Peter and Paul, on whose day they are ordained, will never fail them through the years of their journey as priests.
The Catholic Church may change in many ways but may one thing never change at the heart of the universal church and the Archdiocese of Brisbane. That God will give us priests who imitate what they celebrate and conform their lives to the mystery of the Lord’s cross making themselves the body broken and the blood poured out for the life of the world. Amen.
Most Rev Mark Coleridge
Archbishop of Brisbane
June 29, 2013