Homily for Ordination of Gustavo Farfan, Mervyn Francis, Daney Irudaydoss, Mate Litric, Joshua Miechels and Aisavali Salu to the Diaconate

26 Mar 2015

Welcome to tonight’s special Mass of Ordination to the Diaconate. It is a rare treat to ordain six men in one ceremony these days. I am privileged to be ordaining:

  • Mervyn Francis and Aisavali (Al) Salu as permanent deacons of the Archdiocese of Sydney, the first in fifteen years after the reactivation of the Permanent Diaconate programme
  • Gustavo Farfan, Daney Irudaydoss and Mate Litric as deacons of the Neocatechumenal Way community on the way to being priests of the Archdiocese and
  • Joshua Miechels of the Emmanuel Community also, God willing, on his way to being a priest of the Archdiocese.

I especially welcome the relatives and friends of our soon-to-be deacons, including:

  • Mervyn’s wife Rita, daughter Diana, and parents Joseph and Theresa
  • Aisavali’s wife Aneta and children Freddy, Policapo, Valerie, Etuale Tommy and Wydicon Catherine and
  • Joshua’s parents, Gerard and Frances, sisters Sarah and Johanna and other relatives.

I welcome those who have been concerned with their formation:

  • Fr Danny Meagher, Rector of Good Shepherd Seminary, with other staff of that seminary
  • Fr Eric Skruzny, Rector of the Redemptoris Mater Seminary, with formators from that seminary, and Toto and Rita Piccolo who, with Fr Tony Trafford, are Itinerant Catechists responsible for the Neocatechumenal Way in Australia
  • Fr Christophe Bouvard, the Delegate for Priests and Seminarians for the Emmanuel Community, who has come to us from Manila, and  Paul and Soizic Morrissey, Co-ordinators of the Emmanuel Community in Sydney
  • Fr Tom Carroll, Director of the Office for the Permanent Diaconate, with his staff
  • many members of the Neocatechumenal Way and Emmanuel Communities
  • parishioners from the several parishes who have accompanied our would-be deacons through their formation, and
  • lecturers and students from the Catholic Institute of Sydney and the University of Notre Dame Australia.

I also salute the priests of the Archdiocese of Sydney and beyond, and the classmates of our candidates in the seminary or the permanent diaconate programme. I especially acknowledge the deacons of Sydney and beyond who tonight welcome six new members into their college. To everyone here: a very warm welcome.

Homily for Ordination of Gustavo Farfan, Mervyn Francis, Daney Irudaydoss, Mate Litric, Joshua Miechels and Aisavali Salu to the Diaconate
St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, 26 March 2015

It is now well known that the ‘Islamic State’ organization is seeking to exterminate Christians and other minority faiths in the Middle East, and is engaging in the grossest atrocities to achieve that end. Less well-known is their systematic desecration of holy sites and their efforts to airbrush Christians out of history. Recently, for instance, terrorists violated St George’s Monastery in Mosul, Iraq, and its adjoining cemetery. The black I.S. flag was erected above the bell tower, the statue of the Virgin smashed, other sacred items looted, and a mural of the Madonna and Child splattered with green paint(1).  Yet from this very area there comes a more ancient and more loving wisdom that might speak to Gustavo, Mervyn, Daney, Mate, Joshua and Al. His name was Ephrem. Born in Nusaybin Mesopotamia in 303 AD, he lived in the then-very-Christian area that is modern-day Syria, Iraq and Turkey, and died in Edessa in 373 AD. Like today’s Middle Eastern Christians, he knew persecution: he had to flee his hometown at the hands of the Persians. But he was a holy deacon and remained in the region, dedicated to serving the little ones(2).

Instead of the usual human response to persecution ¡V hatred, recrimination, fighting ¡V Ephrem thought we must learn meekness, humble endurance and forgiveness in the face of persecution(3).  Interestingly, he thought these were particularly diaconal virtues. When a man on the Road to Damascus in Syria heard a voice ask, ¡§Why do you persecute me?¡¨ it was in order that Saul the Persecutor might become Paul the servant of God and deacon of the Gospel, one who would rather be persecuted than persecute, rather suffer evil than perpetrate it(4). So the deacon must learn and in turn model for the Christian community, patience and humility in times of trial.

Reflecting upon yesterday’s great feast of the Annunciation, Ephrem wrote: ¡§The Lord entered Mary and became a servant; the Word entered her and became silent; thunder entered her and His voice was still; the Shepherd of all became a Lamb inside her and came forth bleating.¡¨(5)  Our ordinands will imitate this humble, serving, Gospel-bleating Lamb of God ¡V the one who ¡§though He was in the form of God, did not count His equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant¡¨ (Phil 2:7). Etymologically, we know, deacon means servant and tonight our ordinands offer their unique gifts and experience for service Christ’s envoys in the world and labourers in the vineyard (Lk 10:1-9).

Reflecting upon his own vocation to service, St Paul observed in our Epistle that though Christians bring with them various backgrounds and gifts, they have so much more in common: one Father God, one Lord Jesus, one Spirit, one faith, one baptism (Eph 4:1-13). Though they have many different callings, together they ¡§make a unity in the work of diakonia ¡V of deacon service ¡V so building up the body of Christ¡¨, the Church. So the Catholic Church is from every nation and for every nation on earth, as our six candidates illustrate, hailing as they do from Australia, Croatia, Ecuador, India, Pakistan and Samoa.

Our psalm tonight described the happiness of dwelling in God’s house and the yearning of the soul for such peace (Ps 83). Mervyn reflected that from an early age as he spent time in and around the church helping the priests. With his beloved wife, daughter and parents he emigrated from Karachi to Australia and discovered a land of many opportunities, but still there was something missing from his life. So intensely did he sense a call to divine service that he started studying for the permanent diaconate even before the programme had been restarted in this Archdiocese. He may be the first married deacon from Pakistan. Now he reprises his childhood delight in serving God, priests and people.

Like Mervyn, Aisavali loved helping with chores around the church, serving at Mass and learning from clergy, religious and catechists. Though attracted to priesthood, he discerned his vocation was to marry Aneta, with whom he has five children. He coordinated the Samoan Youth Group for World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008 and this left him so impatient for the Permanent Diaconate programme to be restarted here in Sydney that he began formation in Samoa. Now he will join Mervyn as the first permanent deacons for Sydney in a decade and a half.

Gustavo speaks of a Christ who protects, endows and allures him. A former electronics technician, he discovered his vocation while walking the Neocatechumenal Way, studied in a seminary in Ecuador, and came to Australia seven years ago as a missionary. He compares this to Israel’s pilgrimage from Egypt, through the desert of self-knowledge, to the Promised Land of serving the Lord. Especially conscious of God’s love for him on that journey, he feels driven to proclaim it now as a deacon and eventually as priest.

Daney grew up in the slums of Chennai, India. Resentment towards the poverty his family suffered and at having to work from an early age left him lonely in his sin and disappointment. Then members of the Neocatechumenal Way showed him that Christians are called to witness to the joy of the Gospel. He started looking beyond his own disappointments to the wonders of God’s providence and mercy for him. He reconciled with his father and discerned a priestly vocation to proclaim the love he has experienced to the little and lost.

Mate, from Croatia, entered the seminary in Sydney at ¡§the age of perfection¡¨, 33, yet he was still not, in Paul’s words, ¡§the perfect Man, fully mature with the fullness of Christ Himself¡¨. He’d searched for meaning and happiness in career and relationships but his heart was restless. At a youth gathering of the Way in Amsterdam, he learnt to seek his answers in the Crucified One and was immediately inspired to offer himself for service. He tells me that letting go of comfort and control wasn’t always easy, but he gradually learnt to depend only on God. He is wants to bring the merciful love of Christ-crucified to people, so that they will know they are not alone in their struggles.

Our Sydney boy, Joshua, was attracted to priesthood in primary school but decided in secondary school this was ‘a dumb idea’. Through adolescence he became a practical atheist and in law school decided to become a fully believing one. But he soon discovered how isolating this can be. In the great Year of Jubilee 2000 he encountered the living God, switched courses, got involved in Catholic life on campus and went to World Youth Day. Inevitably the upsetting thought that he might be called to priesthood arose. Then the Emmanuel School of Mission ignited a love for community in him and a missionary fire. With them he will teach little ones about God’s love and the Catholic faith.

My sons and brothers, I thank you for your fidelity and generosity in offering yourselves for service. I pray that your families, communities and archdiocese will continue to support you in this and be graced in turn by your ministry. In our first reading Jeremiah speaks of his childish fear of being unable to do God’s will and is reminded that God’s grace is enough (Jer 1:4-9). We can feel equally dumb-struck in a world troubled by daily reports of violence fuelled by secular emptiness, religious hatred and desire for control. We need new deacons like Ephrem who know the transforming power of God and so model another way.

You will now assist at the altar as bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, and you will tender that that most wonderful sacrament to the spiritually hungry at church, the sick in their homes, and the dying needing Viaticum. You will witness the equally extraordinary transformation, at your hands, of infants and adults into children of God through the saving waters of Baptism. You will see single people becoming couples and families through the awesome sacrament of matrimony, to which our permanent deacons add the testimony of their own marriages and our transitional deacons the testimony of their undistracted devotion to the Church. You will experience the transformation of the unevangelized and uncatechized, through the saving Words of God that you are promised will be given you. You will observe the transformation of families, parishes and communities through works of apostolate, preaching and teaching described today by St Paul. You will attend the transformation of the poor through works of charity and justice such as Pope Francis keeps calling us to. And, dear brothers, you will witness Christian lives brought to their fulfilment when you bury us in the dust and commend our souls to God.

What a privilege and grace! God bless you in that life-transforming ministry. St Ephrem the Deacon, pray for us!

  1. http://www.lastampa.it/2015/03/17/esteri/vatican-insider/en/isis-monastery-of-st-george-in-mosul-is-still-standing-a-cemetery-has-been-destroyed-anUGUj3zpRrnrYBOJJg8WM/pagina.html
  2. E.g. http://novices.opwest.org/wordpress/2012/10/ephrem-the-syrian-proto-dominican/
  3. Ephrem the Syrian, Hom. de Domine 32-40.
  4. Ephrem the Syrian, Hom. de Domine 35.
  5. Ephrem the Syrian, De Navitate 11:6-8.