Homily for the Mass of Installation of Most Rev. Anthony Fisher OP as Ninth Metropolitan Archbishop of Sydney

12 Nov 2014

Your Excellency Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Vatican Secretary for Relations with States; Your Grace Archbishop Denis Hart, President of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference; brother bishops, priests and deacons; fellow religious;

Your Excellencies and Reverends, the representatives of other churches and major faiths;

Your Excellency, General David Hurley, Governor of New South Wales; Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells representing Prime Minister Tony Abbott; Former Prime Minister John Howard; Senator Jacinta Collins representing the Federal Opposition; Premier of New South Wales, the Hon. Mike Baird, with several Cabinet Ministers; Shadow Treasurer  Michael Daley, representing the State Opposition; Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore;

Other political, judicial, professional and education leaders; brothers and sisters in Christ:

When Fr John Joseph Therry named the first Catholic chapel of the colony of New South Wales ‘St Mary, Help of Christians’, he chose a title that marks the intersection and sometimes collision of three great ideas that shape the human soul in our age: Christianity, Islam and Secularism. In the sixteenth century, amidst serious tension between Christianity and Islam (in the form of the Holy League and the Ottoman empire), Pope St Pius V called on Europe to pray the Rosary for peace and security. In the nineteenth century, when Secularism (in the form of the French Revolution and Napoleon) also sought to smother the Church, Pope Pius VII called for the same. Two centuries ago this very year he was liberated and the Church again survived against the odds. The next year he introduced the commemoration of ‘Help of Christians’ to the calendar, and adding one more to that long line of Marian titles that began in tonight’s Gospel with Elizabeth calling Mary ‘Mother of my Lord’ and ‘Most Blessed of all women’ (Lk 1:39-56).

Much might be said about these three cousins, Christianity, Islam and Secularism, their family resemblances, differences and tensions. Extremist strains of each have sometimes threatened the security of the others; at other times they’ve coexisted peaceably and collaborated in various ways. As a Catholic bishop I profess faith in the person of Jesus Christ. His Gospel is heir to much of Judaism and became the basis of a new Western civilization and a great missionary endeavour to bring faith and worship, education and healthcare, welfare and pastoral care, to the ends of the earth, even as far as colonial Australia. But as we heard in our first reading tonight, the Woman of the Apocalypse that is Israel, the Church, the Virgin Mother, has not always had it easy, even when bringing forth the Prince of Peace (Rev 11:19; 12:1-6,10).
Archpriest Therry and Bishop Polding by Paul Newton, Archdiocese of Sydney

The infant Church in Australia had a special reason to honour Mary: in the years when Catholic priests and Masses were forbidden, the laity kept the Faith alive by public recitation of the Rosary. The first Catholic church – which became the cathedral once Bishop John Bede Polding arrived in 1835 – was built with the pennies of poor Irish and British Catholics, but also the assistance of that enlightened Governor, Macquarie, and some Protestant worthies. It is an early example of respect for religious liberty, of collaboration between church and state, and of harmony between believers; these are, I believe, amongst our nation’s greatest strengths and the presence tonight of diverse political and religious leaders is testament to that. We must be eternally vigilant to protect these aspects of our national life. To people of other faiths or none I hold out the hand of friendship and collaboration, and to those suffering at home or abroad for their faith I commit to working for peace and harmony.

Sydney’s first bishops were Benedictines; I am a Dominican. My order was founded eight centuries ago “for preaching and the salvation of souls”. The early friars were rather ambivalent about their own becoming bishops. When the Dominican scientist-theologian St Albert the Great was named Bishop of Regensburg, the Master of the Dominicans, Humbert of Romans, wrote: “I would rather you were dead than a bishop… Why ruin your reputation and that of the Order by letting yourself be taken away from poverty and preaching? However troublesome you find the brethren, don’t imagine things will be better once you have secular clergy and powers to deal with… Better to lie in a coffin than sit in a bishop’s chair!”

Paul in our epistle anticipates and answers Humbert, reminding us that Christ graces some to be apostles or evangelists, others to be pastors or teachers – some, like himself, to be all these things – but all “speaking the truth in love” and so building up the Church (Eph 4:1-16). The responsibility of the pastor is a grave one in any age, but in our time that has been aggravated by the shameful deeds of some clergy and serious failures of some leaders to respond. I have personally found it harrowing as a bishop to listen to survivors tell me their stories, to hear how abandoned they felt and how they continue to suffer. To survivors of abuse and all affected I say: the Church is – I am – profoundly sorry for what happened. All young people must be cherished and protected. The Church can do better and I am committed to giving a lead in this area. I pray that the Church will emerge from this period of public scrutiny humbler, more compassionate and spiritually regenerated. Only then will we regain credibility and trust in many people’s eyes. To those who’ve become disconnected from the Church in recent years because of our failures or for some other reason I say: come back home, give us another chance, and help us be a better Church. We need your insights, enthusiasm and prayers.

When the newly-pregnant Mary greeted her kinswoman, the Gospel relates that the child leapt in Elizabeth’s womb. Poets have the foetal John the Baptist doing somersaults for joy at the coming of the Saviour; iconographers have him leaping into kneeling position; either way, it can’t have been very comfortable for his Mum! But the scene captures the excitement we all should feel at encountering Jesus Christ. Already this unborn boy glimpsed his vocation as a finger pointing to Christ.

It took me rather longer to grasp! As a child in the Lakemba and Lane Cove parishes in Cardinal Gilroy’s time, our class was given Br Davy’s, The Christian Gentleman, with a preface by the Cardinal. Its advice on etiquette with Governors, Premiers and Nuncios seemed of little relevance: little did I know! Through my adolescence at Riverview and Sydney University Cardinal Freeman was archbishop and he washed my feet one Holy Thursday night; I never dreamt I’d one day be washing the feet here – a reminder that I am ‘to serve, not to be served’ (Jn 13:1-17; Mt 20:25-28). As a young cleric in Sydney and Melbourne in Cardinal Clancy’s time, I never guessed I would one day stand on the shoulders of those great men, all the way back to Polding. I gratefully salute our recently-deceased father, Ted Clancy. I likewise acknowledge Cardinal George Pell, whose auxiliary I was for seven years and who before his appointment to Rome achieved so much in education, chaplaincies and seminaries, in centres for formation, retreat and pilgrimage, and through the Sydney World Youth Day with which I was privileged to be associated.

What a joy to return in this new way! I’ve lived or worked in the South-West of Sydney and the lower North Shore, the upper North, inner city and the East, and lately the West of this great city. I love its people. Pope Francis says pastors should smell of their sheep. This is not a comment upon clerical hygiene: it is an insistence that we are from and for our flocks. Pray, therefore, that I will always be a shepherd for Sydney after the heart of Jesus Christ.

Tonight I’ve looked back to the origins of this cathedral, diocese and national church. Looking forward, we have much to build on. Above all, we have Jesus Christ as our foundation stone and the many works inspired by His Spirit over the past two centuries. The Church in Australia now has around 10,000 hospital beds, 20,000 aged care places, 700,000 school desks, and assists countless people through parishes, CatholicCare and St Vincent de Paul. 5½ million Catholics, in 1300 parishes and every walk of life, contribute in myriad ways to our nation. Peaceful democracies, affluent economies and cohesive societies don’t just happen: they depend upon a complex of ideals, practices and institutions and in this country these are largely a Judeo-Christian inheritance, however under-appreciated that often is. There is much to be done to renew that social capital and I commit the Church in Sydney to that task.

What will this Archdiocese look like when, God willing, I retire in 2035? My hope is for a Church in which the Gospel is preached with joy, the wisdom of our tradition mined with fidelity, the sacraments celebrated with dignity and welcome, and the seminaries, convents and youth groups teeming with new life; a Church in which our parishes, chaplaincies and educational institutions are true centres of the new evangelisation, our laity theologically literate and spiritually well-formed, our outreach to the needy effective and growing, and God glorified above all. That will depend hugely on three factors: our clergy and religious; our families; and our young people: let me conclude with a brief word to each.

Despite demoralising revelations from the past and exhausting demands in the present, we are still served today by many generous priests, holy religious and courageous seminarians and I greet those of the Archdiocese tonight with great optimism and fondness. It is a privilege to join you labouring in this vineyard. It is my hope that many new labourers will join us going forward. I pledge myself tonight to pray with you and for you, to listen and learn from you, to lead and support you as father as best I can, and work with you as brother in our joint mission.

Tonight I also promise to devote myself to supporting marriage and family at a time when this crucial institution is much misunderstood and under such pressure. I am the first Archbishop of Sydney lucky enough to have both parents present at his installation and I thank God for the love and support of Colin and Gloria these fifty-five years past. It was in their domestic church that first I heard the Gospel of life and love. With all my heart I thank them, my siblings and the rest of my family and friends, for loving me so well, and being willing to share me now with a new family of about 600,000 Catholics in the Archdiocese.

I also greet those lay faithful, including my collaborators in parishes, schools, universities and agencies. St John Paul II called you to be prophets of truth, agents of a new evangelization for a new millennium. Pope Benedict called you to be objects of beauty, like precious gems refracting the glory of God and drawing all eyes to Him. And now Pope Francis calls you to be exemplars of goodness, ‘missionary disciples’ like Mary reaching out to her cousin and our suffering world, showing all “the mercy promised to our ancestors”. With her namesake St Mary MacKillop, you must make it your special care to transmit that faith and mercy to the young. And to those young people of Sydney I say with special affection: open your hearts to the adventure of the Gospel. In my bull of appointment you heard tonight the Holy Father refer to you as spes Ecclesiae, “the hope of the Church”. I am depending on you to lend me all your energy and idealism. Never buy the lies that nothing is true, all is relative, your ideals illusory, your good works in vain. With God on your side, my young friends, who can be against you?

Tonight’s celebration takes us back to the days of Therry and Polding, through subsequent generations, to that youthful Church still emerging in this third millennium of grace. As I take up this new charge, I ask you all to reflect upon your personal calling to build up the Church and community. Join me in saying a Marian YES, unconditionally, to God. With St Mary Help of Christians let our souls magnify the Lord and our spirits rejoice in God our Saviour. For the Almighty works marvels for us: Holy is His name!

Word of thanks after the Liturgical Reception and Mass of Installation of Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP
St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, 12 November 2014

With full heart I give thanks to Almighty God for calling me to serve Him and His people of Sydney as religious, priest and bishop. I record my gratitude to His Holiness, Pope Francis, for the confidence he has placed in me in making this appointment and for his gracious blessing; and to his erstwhile Nuncio, now Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, for delivering the news of both in person. On behalf of the Church of Sydney I congratulate Archbishop Gallagher, the first Anglophone Foreign Minister of the Church, on his new appointment. With humble affection I pledge tonight my fidelity to the Holy Father and his successors and the communion of the bishop, clergy and people of this archdiocese with the See of Rome and the universal Church.

The supportive presence tonight of Archbishop Hart, President of our Bishops’ Conference, and so many bishops and clergy from around Australia, is another sign of that communion, as is the presence of Abbot Nicholas from Wisconsin, Fr Andersen from Peru and Fr Shwe from Burma. I salute my Dominican family, including the Provincial Fr Kevin Saunders OP, Bishop Bernard O’Grady, and many Dominican friars and sisters, as well as leaders and representatives of other religious congregations.

From the Diocese of Parramatta have come many priests and people. You have been my constant companions in God’s service for nearly five years and have taught me so much. I miss you already and have great faith in your future. I used to tease the Cardinal that at the rate Parramatta was growing it might eventually have to be raised to the status of Archdiocese and Sydney reduced to Diocese: now I will have to change my tune!

A word of appreciation to all those who made tonight such a beautiful act of worship: the Installation Committee, Dean, Masters of Ceremonies, concelebrating priests, deacons, seminarians and servers, the events manager and secretaries, comms and IT people, ushers and other cathedral staff. Special praise is due to our Director of Music and the most excellent St Mary’s Cathedral Choir and their collaborators tonight: they have truly drawn from the Church’s treasury ancient and new, and raised our spirits to God.

I also thank Bishop Peter Comensoli for administering the Archdiocese so ably these past several months, with the help of Bishop Brady and Monsignor Usher. I am honoured by the presence of the Governor, Premier, Lord Mayor, Senators, MPs, and many other civic leaders and judges, as well as heads or representatives of Churches and faiths: I pledge myself to work with you all for the good of this community. And I thank everyone who has joined in this celebration, here in the cathedral, in the crypt or forecourt, or more remotely through the media.

What an exciting new opportunity this is, to serve you, God’s people in Sydney! I entrust my ministry to the protection of St Mary, Help of Christians and Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, and especially to that Divine Son she carried in her womb and whose loyal disciple she always was. Pray that, by His grace, I may always speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15).