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New Archbishop of Perth's first homily

Photo: Courtesy Michael Connelly/The Record

This is Archbishop Timothy Costelloe’s Homily, which he gave last night, 21 March, 2012 at St Mary’s Cathedral in Perth at his first Mass as Archbishop of Perth

Archbishop Timothy Costelloe's Homily
at his Liturgical Reception and first Solemn Mass 


A few moments ago Archbishop Hickey and Archbishop Lazzarotto led me to the Bishop’s chair, the Cathedra, from where I will preside as the Archbishop of Perth. In doing so Archbishop Hickey is representing not just the Archdiocese of Perth or the Church in Western Australia but, in a very real sense, the whole Church found in virtually every part of our great land. Archbishop Lazzarotto, the Apostolic Nuncio, represents the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, and for that reason he represents the universal Church spread throughout the whole world. Tonight we are celebrating the fact that we are members of this One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. In a powerful way we are both expressing and experiencing our belonging to the Church which we love so much.

As we three bishops approached the Chair everyone sang together the beautiful hymn, “Christ be our Light”. We prayed that Christ would shine in our hearts, shine through the darkness, shine in his Church. Tonight, as we celebrate the ongoing life and fruitfulness of our Church, and as I speak to you for the first time as your archbishop, I would like to invite you all to turn your gaze to Christ, to contemplate his face, to let his light shine in your hearts.

This was the invitation which Blessed Pope John Paul II gave to the whole Church when he wrote a letter to launch the Church into the adventure of the new millennium. Twelve years later that invitation remains as important and as compelling as ever. “Isn’t it true,” wrote the Pope, that it is “the Church's task to reflect the light of Christ in every historical period, to make his face shine also before the generations of the new millennium?” In these simple words the Pope captured for us the essence of our vocation as Christians, as disciples of Jesus. We are witnesses to him, not as a figure from the past but as a living presence today. We are called and empowered to make his face shine for each other and all the people of our own time and place. Here in the Archdiocese of Perth, as in every part of this country and in every part of the world, this is our task as Christians. Tonight I want to invite us all to re-commit ourselves once more to this urgent but privileged responsibility.

Pope John Paul however goes on to issue a warning. “Our witness,” he says, “would be hopelessly inadequate if we had not first contemplated the face of Christ.” It is as if the Pope is asking us how we can possibly hope to be witnesses to Christ if we do not really know him. For my Episcopal motto as Archbishop of Perth I have chosen the three words which Jesus, in John’s Gospel, uses to describe himself. Ego sum Via, Veritas et Vita: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” If we do not know Christ who is the Way, we will lose our way. If we do not know Christ, who is the Truth, we will be plunged into confusion. If we do not know Christ who is the Life we will be on a pathway to death. And if we have lost our way, if we are caught in confusion, if we are a people of death rather than of life, how can we be, like the Good Shepherd in tonight’s Gospel, a people who feeds others and leads them to safe pastures?

In his Second Letter to the Corinthians Saint Paul expresses this powerfully when he insists that “we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your servants for Christ’s sake”. This is also the cry of the Church. We are not on about ourselves. We are on about Jesus, and the gift which he is for the whole world. Saint Paul was so in love with Christ that he could confidently though still humbly proclaim: “I no longer live for it is Christ who lives in me.” For Saint Paul it was Christ who stood at the very centre of his life, Christ who had claimed his heart, Christ who was the one treasure he desired above everything else. This is what it is to be a Christian: this is our vocation, and our glory. But is it our reality?

Many of you know that I belong to the Religious Congregation, the Salesians of Don Bosco. Some years ago, the Superior General of the Salesians, Fr Pascual Chavez, speaking as the President of the Union of Superiors General in Rome, made an extraordinary and confronting statement. “The greatest challenge facing Religious Life today“, he said, “is to return Christ to the Religious Life and to return the Religious Life to Christ.” I’m sure that when they first heard these words, the leaders of the many Religious Congregations present must have been puzzled and even affronted. Perhaps they asked themselves how anyone could pose such a question to a group of people who were vowed to a life of obedience, poverty and chastity within the Church. At the risk of puzzling and even affronting people tonight I want to put the same challenge, to myself first of all, and then to all of us here. The greatest challenge facing the Church today is to return Christ to the Church and to return the Church to Christ. The greatest challenge facing each one of us today is to return Christ to our lives and return our lives to Christ. This is not a challenge to be something other than we are. It is a challenge to be more fully, more deeply and more openly what we already are.

The Second Vatican Council described the Church as a kind of sacrament, a living and effective sign, of the presence of Christ in the world as its healer, as its saviour. Saint Paul for his part, in a simple yet very profound way, described the Church as the Body of Christ. These two statements express both who we are and who we must become more and more each day. The society in which we live has great need of the light of Christ. It is our privilege and our duty to offer this light, this gift, to the world.

This is the task that is set before us as we begin this new chapter in the life of the Catholic Church here in the Archdiocese of Perth. Tonight I invite each one of you to continually ask yourself the question, “Where is Jesus in what I am doing?” As parents and children live your family lives together, what room have you made in your daily lives for Jesus? As priests and religious seek to be the Good Shepherds that tonight’s gospel speaks about, is Jesus really the treasure for which you are ready to give up everything else? As Parish Councils meet to plan the year ahead is Jesus really at the centre of all your planning? As Catholic schools and Colleges, universities and seminaries, move more fully into the academic year let yourselves be motivated by these words: The greatest challenge facing my school or college, university or seminary, the greatest challenge facing me in my classroom or lecture hall, is to return this place to Christ and return Christ to his rightful place. As diocesan agencies review your programmes and evaluate your outreach ask if, in meeting you, the people with whom and for whom you work are really meeting Christ. For once again, as Saint Paul reminds us, “We do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord.”

Since my appointment as the Archbishop of Perth was announced many people have asked me what my priorities are. I have given a variety of answers but in the end I would want to say this: I hope and pray that, through my ministry of service and leadership in the Archdiocese, all of us, the people who together are the community of the disciples of Christ, might become more and more, as the first Letter of Saint Peter puts it, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, so that we might proclaim the mighty deeds of him who has called us out of darkness into his own marvellous light”. That light is Jesus Christ. It is to him that we commit all that we have and all that we are. It is to him that we entrust the journey into the future which tonight we set out on together.

Christ be our Light. Shine in our hearts, shine through the darkness. Christ be our light, shine in your Church gathered today.