We’re used to hearing of “the word of the day”, but we hear less of “the word of the night”. But the word of tonight is Fiat…and I don’t mean an Italian automobile. We’ve heard the word from the lips of Mary as she responds to Gabriel’s extraordinary invitation coming straight from the heart of God. The angel’s promise is that she will be the mother of the royal Messiah, and for all her uncertainty and hesitation Mary says Fiat: “Let what you have said be done to me”.
At that point faith is born, and the human being is on the way home to Paradise – which is why in many paintings of the Annunciation, we see through Mary’s window a garden in which there are sometimes peacocks, the symbol of immortality. This is no ordinary garden; it is the Garden of Eden, the Paradise which is our true home. And it’s there because once Mary speaks her word of faith and only then, the human being is decidedly on the way home to Paradise. Much hangs upon the word of the Virgin, the Fiat she speaks before the angel returns wordlessly to heaven. The last word belongs to Mary.
But before Mary speaks her Fiat, God has spoken his – and it is that word, the divine Fiat, which underlies and enables all that we do here this evening. We contemplate God’s Fiat when we celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception, defined as dogma by Pope Pius IX in 1854 but believed by Christians throughout the ages.
Gabriel greets Mary as “full of grace”, and the Church has understood this to mean that divine grace touched Mary from the first moment of her life in the womb, keeping her free from the sin endemic to the human race. God did this to prepare a worthy dwelling-place for his Son who would take flesh in Mary’s womb. God’s Son was the sinless one, and a sinless womb was needed for the sinless one to be born into the world. That’s what God prepared in the Immaculate Mother; and in doing so, God spoke a great Fiat to the whole human race. God said yes to the human race in planning ahead for our rescue from the clutch of sin and of death, which for the Bible is sin’s great emblem. That rescue came finally in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, but it was prepared beforehand in the Immaculate Conception of Mary.
In that moment, God makes it clear that sin and death are not native to the human being, however endemic they may seem. In the Resurrection of the sinless one, we see the full truth of the human being; but what we see in its fullness then, we glimpse already in the Immaculate Conception of the sinless Mother who will be assumed body and soul into heaven. So on this day we celebrate not only Mary’s Fiat to God, but also God’s Fiat to Mary and to the whole human race.
But there is more. Because tonight we also celebrate our brother Lucius’ yes, his Fiat to the God who has called him to the priesthood and called him from his native Nigeria to serve as a priest in this distant land. What an extraordinary story this is. A young man, born in Iboland, comes to Queensland to complete his seminary training in a place and culture he does not know, speaking a language which is not his mother-tongue, but following the Lamb wherever he goes, even if the Lamb leads to strange and surprising places.
Lucius is entitled to ask like Mary, “How can this be….that I should be ordained a priest for Brisbane? I am not of this place and culture, this language is not my own, this land is far from my home and my people”. To which the reply comes as it did to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you”. What happens in the life of Lucius this evening is the work of grace, the power of God, the Holy Spirit doing in his life something which by any normal reckoning is impossible. We see that power when we hear Lucius speak his word, his Fiat, his yes to God’s call as he comes for priestly ordination.
But there is still more. For this evening yet another Fiat is spoken; it is the Fiat of the Church. It’s one thing for a man to present himself to the bishop for ordination, claiming that he is called. But the Church must discern the working of grace in that man’s life to see whether he is truly called by God into the mystery of Christ’s own eternal priesthood; and having made that discernment, the Church must say Fiat, so that the yes of the candidate is met by the yes of the Church. Only then do we have ignition – a true ordination when the mystery of Christ’s priesthood takes flesh in the life of a man prepared by the grace of God. Tonight we will see and hear the Fiat of Lucius; and we will also see and hear the Fiat of the Church in the laying on of hands and the prayer of consecration which follows.
This then is the night of the four Fiats – Mary, God, Lucius and the Church. This is a chorus of faith – a hugely positive hymn of affirmation in a world which seems often to drown in negativity. Certainly there is much that is negative in the Church at this time as we stand under judgement in various ways. But also in the world beyond the Church, darkness, the power of evil, can seem to hold sway. That’s why tonight, with its chorus of Fiats, is so important and powerful. Because all of these Fiats are in the end a yes to the triumph of Easter – a yes to the victory of God’s light over every darkness, the victory of divine love over the awesome power of evil.
That triumph is the heart of what we celebrate this evening, and it is to be the heart of the priestly ministry which Lucius Edomobi will exercise from now on at the heart of the Archdiocese of Brisbane and the heart of the universal Church. From this day forward and into eternity, may the Immaculate Mother of God guide her beloved son, our brother Lucius, into the depths of the priesthood of her divine Son, to whom be praise and glory and honour for ages unending. Amen.
Most Rev Mark Coleridge
Archbishop of Brisbane
December 7, 2012