Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP,
24 Aug 2017

Feast of St. Bartholomew, St. Mary's Cathedral, Sydney

1. Origins

'From Nazareth?' asked Nathanael, 'Can anything good come from Nazareth?' (Jn 1:45-51) It's one of the most famous and sardonic questions in the New Testament. On the face of it, it reflects the prejudice, even contempt, that people often have for those from neighbouring localities. And sadly, St Bartholomew's Day is remembered in history for a massacre in Paris during the terrible religious wars between Catholics and Huguenots - neighbours who, like those in our Gospel, looked at each other with suspicion, incomprehension or worse…

Well, tonight some may be asking: 'From Trinidad? From Malaysia? Can anything good come from those places?' We'll see…

Growing up in a Catholic home, attending Catholic schools, going to Sunday Mass and praying the family Rosary, were all part of early life for the boy from Trinidad. Yet the seed of faith, on his own account, lay dormant for three decades. It took the shock of a move to Australia in 2005 to gain international experience in accounting, and subsequent loneliness and insecurity, for Gerard to go seeking the Lord as Nathanael did.

Meanwhile providence brought Sebastian also to Sydney, from Kuala Lumpur via Perth. He undertook degrees in Linguistics and Engineering at UNSW, worked, then did a doctorate on something unintelligible to do with electrons at the famous Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. But all this now seems to him now to have been "a delaying tactic", as God was already prompting him in another direction… 

2. Calling

Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Rather than attribute small-mindedness or sarcasm to an apostle, St. John Chrysostom read Nathanael as only doubting that the Messiah could come from Nazareth: after all, the Prophet Micah had promised he'd come from Bethlehem (Mic 5:2).1 Nathanael hadn't yet heard the complicated story of Jesus' infancy. His instinct was right: we must allow the Word of God to cross-examine whatever our culture, our friends, even our own experience tell us. But He was yet to realise that the Word of God was standing right in front of Him, Incarnate as Jesus Christ. And so that conversation we call vocational discernment began…

Wherever our origins and whatever our dreams "beneath the fig tree", Jesus sees our potential - in Nathanael's case, his guilelessness and plain speaking. He invites us into relationship with Him, offering to form us for mission and reward us with the eternal bliss of seeing Him surrounded by the angels and saints.

Like Pope Francis, Gerard's call began when he encountered God's mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. There "desire meets desire. Lover encounters lover. Heart speaks to heart. [He] was overwhelmed with tears of sorrow and joy." He introduced himself to his parish priest and the Mother Teresa sisters, attended a mission talk given by a seminarian, joined a bible study and the Papal Bulls cricket team, got involved with the Sydney World Youth Day, and learnt more about his faith - like Nathanael interrogating the One who knew him more deeply than he knew himself.

Meanwhile Sebastian was facing some hard choices about life after his doctorate. When he raised the matter with a priest the immediate response was a question: 'Religious or secular, which and where?' Cardinal Pell later asked him exactly the same question. Like Nathanael was by Philip, Sebastian was being pressed to "Come and see".

3. Formation

Evangelisation, formation, catechesis - these words can sound rather theoretical. But in our Gospel passage tonight we see them in action: first, Pip excitedly tells his friend Nate, "This Jesus, son of Joe Carpenter, from Naza, He might be the One promised in the Bible!" Though he's got his own dreams and preconceptions, Nate agrees to take a look. So he asks: "Where's the guy from? How does he know me? What's he asking me to do with my life?" He comes to see that the Man from Nowheresville is indeed the Promised One. First, he calls Him "Hey you". Then "Rabbi",teacher. Then "Son of God and King of Israel".John condenses it down to a few verses; it probably took rather longer to figure. But Nathanael was the first disciple in John's Gospel to realise just who Jesus was, step by step, question by question, answer by answer.

A priest is a man who has been evangelised himself, usually first in the "domestic church" of the family as were our two ordinands tonight, that "sacred school" which by nature and revelation is headed by a man and wife, who bring together the opposite sexes so a new generation may be conceived and raised with the benefit of a Mum and Dad. A priest comes from such a church and school, and is further formed by many life experiences and by the seminary, until like Nathanael he can guess who Christ is, descending with His angels to earth in the Incarnation and returning to heaven with them in His Ascension. In the process of that conversion, assent and formation, the guileless Nathanael became the Apostle Bartholomew.

Gerard first said yes to his call while before the Lord in Eucharistic Adoration at Lewisham. There he "felt an overcoming sense of Christ radiating peace". Meanwhile Sebastian discussed with his spiritual director where best to serve as priest. He plumbed for Sydney where his friends were. But as Nate became Bart, so these two were to be further formed, till they knew their best friend is the One in the tabernacle, in the monstrance and, from today, in their very hands at the Consecration.

4. Sending

Origins, call, formation - our two priests-to-be have been through their own versions of Bartholomew's journey. But all this is so they might be sent to the men and women of our time. The Church asks the people of our age, as Philip does Nathanael, to lay aside prejudice - whether against all religion or against the Man from Nazareth's religion in particular - and try the Church for themselves; instead of scorning Him and His followers they are invited to "come and see". They can safely bring all their questions to the One who knows them better than they know themselves, knows their anxieties and aspirations, and opens up greater possibilities. And so it is a most wonderful life, a priest's life, but not always an easy one. St Bartholomew, for one, was skinned alive!

Last week our two ordinands were in Kampala, with another Sydney seminarian and three of our priests, for the ordination of Fathers Richard Ddumba and Moses Tamale from Sebastian and Gerard's year in our seminary. Four of those eight, Sebastian included, were driving along a dirt road in a national park, when their rear wheels lost traction. The car skidded wildly and finally rolled a full 360°, crumpling the roof and shattering the windscreen. A few have remarked that it would have been a great pity for Sebastian to die two weeks shy of his priestly ordination. I can only agree: it would be pity even two weeks after, or two decades after for that matter: I'm looking forward to long service from both these men! Considering it was such a grave accident and they were without seatbelts, the four got off very lightly, with just a few lacerations and bruises. Two days later they were fit enough to take part in the six-and-a-half-hour-long ordination! I think Sebastian is right to believe Our Lady was protecting him.

5. Future

Dear Sons and Brothers, I pray that very same Blessed Mother, with all the Apostles and Saints, will come to your aid not just during our Litany tonight but through all the years ahead. For the priesthood is not getting easier. If we are to recover people's confidence after the scrutiny and criticism of the Royal Commission, we will need priests who excel both humanly and spiritually. You must be orthodox preachers of the new evangelisation, compassionate pastors in generously serving your people, and worthy celebrants of Godly worship.

The first thing you see when visiting Bath Abbey in England is a unique vision above the West door of angels ascending and descending on ladders - a stone vignette of tonight's Gospel. But this beautiful sight hides the fact that the abbey church, started around 1499, was incomplete when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries. The royal commissioners confiscated everything of value, including the beautiful stained glass and the lead in the roof, and stopped the progress of that church. There is a somewhat similar spirit of sectarianism and secularism abroad today and you, my sons, must be ready for it. There are those who would, if they could, eliminate our sacred hierarchy, overturn our high morality, silence our teachings, defund our schools, close our institutions, even undermine the sacraments of Confession and Marriage.

But for every hostile person you might encounter, you will meet many more who are faithful children of God, inviting you to share in the most crucial aspects of their lives as they ascend and descend those heavenly ladders: their births, marriages and deaths, their sins and aspirations, their moments of touching the divine but also of desolation. You must be ready to give yourselves to them and to God wholeheartedly, not just tonight but every day hereafter. And if you do, yours will be the reward the Lord promised Nathanael-Bartholomew: "You will see the heavens laid open and God's angels ascending and descending with the Son of Man"'! 


Feast of St. Bartholomew, St. Mary's Cathedral, Sydney

Welcome to St Mary's Cathedral as Sebastian Wai Keet Hew and Gerard Woo Ling are ordained to the priesthood of Jesus Christ. On this Feast of St Bartholomew, we commend their future priesthood to the intercession of the apostles.

I acknowledge the presence of Auxiliary Bishop Most Rev. Terry Brady, and of our two newer Auxiliary Bishops, Most Rev. Tony Randazzo and Richard Umbers, who celebrate the first anniversary of their ordination to the Episcopate this very night; the Vicar-General Very Rev. Gerry Gleeson; and the pastors and parishioners of the Parishes of All Hallows' Five Dock, Regina Coeli Beverly Hills, St Peters'Surry Hills and Sydney Harbour North, where our deacons have been so much encouraged.

I extend a very warm welcome to our ordinands' families and friends. In particular I greet Gerard's two older sisters, Karen and Charlene, and two younger brothers, Alan and Brent, with their wives, Susanne and Karen, and their children Sammy, Jonathon, Mark and Sarah; his aunt, Marina, who has come from Canada; and his friends from Trinidad. I also welcome Sebastian's parents, John and Siew Leng Huan, who have travelled from Perth; and his great aunt and uncle, Raymond and So Har Wee and their children, who have travelled from Malaysia.

Our priests-to-be also wanted me to acknowledge on their behalf those who have played an important part in their vocations, including His Eminence George Cardinal Pell who received them into the Seminary of the Good Shepherd; the Rector of that seminary, Very Rev. Danny Meagher and President of the Catholic Institute of Sydney, Very Rev. Gerard Kelly, with their staffs and our candidates' brother seminarians.

I acknowledge the priests of the Archdiocese of Sydney who delight in welcoming two new members into their ranks. From beyond our archdiocese I warmly welcome Frs Richard Ddumba and Moses Tamale who studied with Sebastian and Gerard and were ordained to the priesthood in Kampala very recently in a ceremony that lasted for six-and-a-half hours. But one should not surmise from the relative brevity of tonight's celebration that we take Holy Orders any less seriously in Australia! With my brother clergy, I welcome all the religious and lay faithful present here tonight to this very happy celebration.


1 St. John Chrysostom, Hom. on St. John, 20, 1