Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP,
27 Nov 2017

St. Mary's Cathedral, Sydney

Graham Greene's 1940 novel The Power and the Glory was the first literary treatment of the priesthood that I can recall reading in my school days. The novel was adapted for film in 1947 starring Henry Fonda, for the stage in 1956 starring Paul Scofield, and for television in 1961 starring the young Laurence Olivier. It's set against the backdrop of the fierce persecution in Mexico led by President Plutarco Calles, who sought not only to quash the Catholic Church but to suppress the popular piety that gave it its power and the priesthood that served both. The popular uprising from 1926 to '29 in defence of the Church was known as the Cristero War, because of the combatants' slogan Viva Cristo Rey, which our grand liturgist knows is the motto of this last week of the Church's year. The protagonist in the novel is an unnamed 'whisky priest' (a phrase Greene coined himself), the last priest in the region and on the run from a merciless police Lieutenant and his posse. He drinks too much, has fathered a child, and is no hero. But eventually he's allows himself to be lured into a trap to hear a dying man's Confession.

Now, I'm not suggesting for a moment that Fr Don has any of the vices of Greene's cleric or even that he's in danger of being shot. But he does have a touch, if not of the whisky priest, then of the Fonda, Scofield and Olivier about him! And like him, Don must exercise his priesthood in a cultural environment often deaf to faith and sometimes plain hostile. One of the most moving aspects of Greene's priest is his devotion to that Eucharist initiated in our Gospel passage tonight (Lk 22:14-20). At one point he reflects that his entire life has been a fake and that he lives out of cowardice more than bravery, a desire to be comfortable rather than for self-sacrifice. All is false about him, he thinks, except when he offers the Eucharist in secret for the people in the villages. Though he knows himself unworthy and is tempted to escape, he stays because the people need that Eucharist which only he can give. As the cultural historian Peter Godman observed: Greene's "priest, whose prime quality is self-knowledge, is his own strongest critic. Although he anticipates his execution, and knows that he is walking into a trap, he chooses to perform what he sees as his duty and attempts to give the last sacraments to a fatally wounded criminal. The priest puts the chance of saving another man's soul ahead of his own survival." The last words of the penultimate chapter read: "He knew now that... there was only one thing that counted-to be a saint."1

This devotion to the Sacred Liturgy, and especially to the Eucharist, is something which I think Fr Don and Greene's priest share, though they live them out somewhat differently! Don grew up on a dairy farm between Casino and Lismore in northern New South Wales, the youngest of four children. A monthly Mass was celebrated at a small station church on the edge of the farm, and while the Catholics of the district laboured to clean the church in preparation for Mass, young Don would be found playing games in the sacristy. So, he felt at home in the House of God - and, dare I say, in the sacristy - from quite early! A premonition of his later interests, young Don's ears pricked up when people discussed liturgical changes following Vatican II.

Don tells me it was his beloved parents - who were kin or friends to several priests and religious - who planted the seed of his vocation. "Their faith was always strong and practical, imbued with good sense, balance, clear-sightedness, loyalty and a healthy suspicion of novelty." His first act on being ordained in this cathedral in 1992 was to go to the hospital to anoint his father. While he lost him soon after, he has been blessed to have his mother throughout, now aged 95. To top off his parents' encouragement, there was young Don's parish priest 'Fr Rel' (Fr John Relihan), who gave fifty years of pastoral care with an Irish accent to five generations of Don's family.

After finishing school, Don moved to Sydney, worked in the Public Service and attended Mass in this cathedral where he was drawn to the beautiful music, solemn liturgy, great variety of people and - no doubt - Cardinal Freeman's homilies. In the thirty years between his leaving here to enter the seminary in 1986 and his triumphant return as Dean in 2016, Fr Don shared his passion for the Sacred Liturgy with the people of Meadowbank, Mt Pritchard, Sydney, Dulwich Hill and Woollahra. He declares he always wanted to be "a liturgical pastor, not a pastoral liturgist". As Cardinal Pell's MC he developed his skills, as a student at the Liturgical Institute in Chicago his knowledge, and as Liturgy Office Director his extensive authority, so as to promote more reverent and welcoming liturgy. Like Greene's whisky priest, his service has been of people rather than ideology.

The Power and the Glory had a chequered progress. Though regarded today as one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century, at the time it provoked the ire of that Holy Office of which I am now a member. Greene rather disingenuously claimed he could not revise it as the copyright was now out of his hands, and the Church let the matter drop. Paul VI later said to him: "Mr. Greene, some parts of your book are certain to offend some Catholics, but you should pay no attention to that." After all, the Blessed Pontiff thought, in The Power and the Glory "the reader is led to esteem the priesthood even if exercised by abject representatives."2 When Pope Benedict unsealed the records of this debate for historians to investigate, it became apparent at least two popes appreciated Greene's work. That priest may no longer be pope, but he is a priest forever and last year celebrated his 65th anniversary - so Fr Don has a way to go yet! But as Benedict has often noted, the sacred drama in which priests serve as actors, when performed beautifully, is not only our greatest sacrifice of praise but also our most alluring form of evangelisation, as we glimpse the glory of God.

Earlier this year Fr Don confessed he'd always been drawn to the mystery of the Transfiguration, where three apostles were able to spend time with the Lord and see his glory. He spoke beautifully of how "the Lord invites us to experience his true glory in many 'little transfigurations', if we can find the time and the space in our busy lives." For Fr Don, as for Pope Emeritus Benedict and Greene's whisky priest, the Sacred Liturgy is an opportunity to share 'Mount Tabor moments' with Christ and His disciples.

My son, my brother and my father, we give thanks to Almighty God tonight for 25 years of priestly service by you and your year group. Appreciative that your priesthood is merely a sharing in that of Jesus Christ, the "supreme High Priest over all the house of God", who "has offered the one single sacrifice for sins" (Heb 10:12-23), you must now make himself evermore invisible so that the Transfigured One might be glimpsed in all His glory. Congratulations silver jubilarian: God bless the next 25years. And to Christ our priest and king be the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever!

2 Ibid.