Sydney ordinations and a new beginning for Australian Catholicism

Sydney ordinations and a new beginning for Australian Catholicism

Fr Gregory Jordan SJ

Fr Gregory Jordan SJ is the National Chaplain to the Australian Catholic Students Association, whose annual Conference will be held at the University of Queensland from 10-12 July. He is also Chaplain to the Medical Guild of St Luke and the St Gregory's Traditional Latin Mass Community in Brisbane.

On Thursday night, 30 April, Cardinal George Pell ordained four young men to the priesthood in St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney. It was a notable event. For a start the Cathedral was packed, and a huge number of priests concelebrated, laying their hands on each of the ordinands.

Many notable people were there, the Governor, Cabinet ministers, ex-Premiers, Chancellors and Vice-Chancellors. It was the first time this had happened since 1988. Ordinands had come along singly or a couple at a time, and had been ordained probably in their parish churches. This was different and the difference was notable.

However, what struck me was not the numbers present, or the A-list notables. Obviously the focus was on the four ordinands and their immediate families; but what I noticed was that surrounding them was a whole range of young people, who all say their prayers, many of them daily communicants.

Far from trying to weasel out of going to Mass, they are fervent in their faith and thirst for more. They are trying to fit into their already busy lives study courses at Notre Dame, the Centre for Adult Education, or even Campion College, out at Toongabbie, for they now realise how ill-served they were by their education in Catholic schools. One candidate actually was educated in an Anglican school.

This very considerable number of young people thirst to know more and to do more: to know about the Church, its history, its teaching; they thirst for Christ Himself, in a word, for God. They live in the world, but are not of the world; and their number is growing, not dropping.

They are not cowed by the world with its threats and its demands, its ignorance of the true Faith, leading to an arrogant hostility towards all they hold dear, like truth, or chastity, which always go hand in hand. They possess a treasure; and they themselves are our treasure.

They are served by a growing number of academics and chaplains who educate, stimulate and challenge them, forming them as adult Catholics equipped to take their place in the Church and in society.

They fully appreciate the generosity of their four friends who had consecrated their whole lives to Christ in the priesthood, where some of them undoubtedly will follow; or instead they see themselves as committed to Christ in the lay state, and are either living that life already sanctified by the Sacrament of Matrimony, or are heading towards it.

Now there have always been individuals or friendship circles sharing these ideals, but in my judgment it has been a long time since there were so many of them. Furthermore they are swimming against all the trends you hear spoken of or can observe for yourself: non-practice, cohabitation, commitment to a very secular and dominant consumer society.

The world they are stepping into must seem more alien than ever to all they stand for. Entertainment grows more gross; speech, humour grow more coarse, unapologetically so. Consumption of alcohol begins earlier, and must be increased to obtain the desired effect, till in the end many take it to a further extreme and turn to substance abuse as never before.

Moral standards continue to slide, and that trend is supported by the publicity that surrounds celebrities and a tolerance of lifestyles that by objective standards are simply sinful, and increasingly supported by law or even imposed by law: and sin is always, even when it is simply material sin, an evil. It is secular sources that report this.

The young people I have been speaking of are defiant in the face of this hostile environment. They laugh in the face of it because they know they are so blessed with Christ's gifts, with his truth and his grace.

Why is this so? Why has God contrived to preserve these young men and women miraculously from contamination; or in some cases if they have for a time gone down the wrong path, why has God called them back? "You have not chosen me," says Our Lord: "I have chosen you".

It's never luck that does it for them. It is the mystery of God's love mediated through family, friends, teachers, and increasingly those Catholic institutions that have been founded in recent years to form Catholic men and women.

Well, in the first place it is because God loves them, and wants to give Himself to them more and more as long as they are on this earth. But it is also clear to me that God has done this not just for themselves alone as individuals, but for others, to redeem a generation that is lost.

These gifts were given to them to share with those who do not know the truths Christ revealed, or the hope He gives, nor have they yet been touched by God's love as so many of these young people have been touched.