Two new priests for Perth
"Become living signs of the presence of Christ among us" says Archbishop Costelloe
St Mary’s Cathedral in Perth overflowed with people and great joy as the Most Rev Timothy Costelloe SDB, Archbishop of Perth, ordained two new priests for the Archdiocese.
Below is the full text of Archbishop Costelloe’s homily.
Newly ordained priests offer first blessings: Fr Mark Baumgarten (middle) to a young family, and Fr Christian Irdi (right) to his younger brother (Photo: Miller Lokonata)
Homily by Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB
on the priestly ordinations of
Rev Mark Baumgarten and Rev Christian Irdi
The ordination ceremony in which we are all caught up today is a very rich and beautiful one with many powerful moments. For you, Mark and Christian, and indeed for all of us present here this morning, it will be a ceremony, a liturgy, over which you and we will ponder for, I hope, many years. Both in moments of tranquillity and in moments of turbulence, and you will have both in your lives as priests, the symbols, gestures and words of today’s celebration will be, if you let them, a revelation to you of who you are in the Church, who you are for us, God’s people, who you are in the mind and heart of God. In my homily I want to address you personally but in doing so I hope my words will find a place in the heart of each one here, in the hearts of your family and friends, in the hearts of the priests here in the Cathedral who perhaps know better than anyone the beauty and the challenge of the life to which God is now calling you, and in the hearts of all God’s people. After all, you are not ordained for yourself but for the Lord and his people. In a way that has not been true in quite the same way before now you will, from this moment onwards, be men of the Church, men of God, men who are called and empowered in a special way to unveil for all of us the mystery of God and of God’s active presence in our lives.
Among the many elements of today’s ordination ceremony one, certainly not the most important but significant nonetheless, is accompanied by words which I would like to highlight for a moment. As you are both presented with the bread and wine which will be offered in today’s mass, you will hear me say to you, “Receive the oblation of the holy people, to be offered to God. Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross.”
What will it mean for you, Christian and Mark, to imitate what you celebrate? Surely it will mean that the Eucharist must not just be something you celebrate, but something you live, something you are now and are becoming more and more each day. As Saint Augustine once said long ago in relation to the Eucharist itself today I want to say to you in relation to the ordained ministry you are about to receive: become what you are – become what you receive.
And what will it mean for you to model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s cross? It will almost certainly not mean that you must die the dreadful death of crucifixion. It will however mean that you must die another death, perhaps a more difficult and painful one: it is the death to pride, to self-reliance, to ambition, to a desire for power. In other words it will mean that, in the words of Saint Paul, “you must have in you the same mind that was in Christ Jesus”.
These two questions I have just put to you are questions you will need to answer each day – they are questions whose answer you will only discover as your priestly life unfolds. It will indeed take you the rest of your lives to answer them. And so I want to say to you this morning, and indeed to all the priests, including myself, present here today, never make the mistake of thinking that you have exhausted the mystery of the Lord’s cross, or the mystery of the Eucharist you will celebrate, or the mystery of the ordained priesthood which you will be asked to live, day by day, as a precious gift from the Lord. Do your very best never to become complacent about your priesthood. Do your very best never to become unreflective about your priesthood. Do your very best never to become careless of your priesthood. The Lord is asking you to conform your life to the mystery of his own total gift of himself for others, even to the point of death. Your fidelity will depend on your commitment, renewed each day, to your prayer, to your generous availability to others, to your openness to all the ways in which you will encounter God throughout each day, to your own ongoing conversion of heart, and to the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit within you. Through the grace of this ordination the Holy Spirit will, if you allow it to happen, mould you more and more each day into a living image of Christ who described himself as “meek and humble of heart”, who insisted that he had come “not to be served but to serve” and who throughout his life and especially at the time of his passion and death prayed that not his will but the will of his Father would be done in his life.
The life you are entering into today as an ordained priest in the Church is, as you Christian expressed it to me recently, a very counter-cultural life. This is true, of course, in terms of such things as the commitment to celibacy, the sacrificing of what would probably have been a very successful and lucrative career for both of you, and the particular characteristics your daily life will take on. But the counter-cultural nature of the priesthood goes much deeper. Through your ordination you will become living signs of the presence of Christ among us as our Good Shepherd. Where some elements of our culture might tell us that our primary responsibility is to look out for ourselves, you are being called to be living signs of the one who, even when he was tired and frustrated and in need of solitude, nevertheless put his own needs aside because he realised, as the gospels tell us, that the people “were like sheep without a shepherd and so he set himself to teach them”. While many in our culture might suggest that a person is to be judged by his wealth or his power or his influence, you are being called to be living signs of the one who praised the impoverished widow for her generosity in giving the little she had to the Lord and to his poor ones. While some in our culture might speak insistently of punishment and retribution for those who have hurt us, you are called to be living signs of the one who told us to “love our enemies and to do good to those who hate us”. And while our culture might at times exalt strength and forcefulness and determination at all costs you are called to be living signs of the one who fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that the messiah would not “break the crushed reed nor put out the smouldering wick”.
Most of all you are being called to be people who know that you are sent by another, that you preach another, that your task is to lead people to another. Like St John the Baptist you must be able to say with complete integrity and conviction, “he (Jesus) must grow greater and I, Mark Baumgarten, I Christian Irdi, must grow smaller”. Again like John the Baptist you must be able to say, and believe, that you are not worthy even to untie the strap of his sandals. And like Mary, the first and best disciple, you must always remember that it is your role to point beyond yourself to him and to say to God’s people not “do what I tell you” but rather “do whatever he tells you”.
This is both a daunting and an inspiring way of life. It will ask everything of you. It will also enrich your life in ways you can only imagine at the moment. To quote a famous saying used in another context on the day of a priest’s ordination, let me say to you, in the words of a prayer of a nineteenth century Dominican priest: O God, what a life, and it is yours, O Priest of Jesus Christ!