19 Nov 2020

St. Mary’s Basilica, Sydney, 22 November 2020

“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

So said J. Robert Oppenheimer, ‘father of the atomic bomb’, upon seeing the destructive power he had unleashed when the first A-bomb was detonated in New Mexico 75 years ago.[1] He was quoting the Hindu Scripture, the Baghavad-Gita, in which the god Vishnu at one point takes on his most frightening form and declares himself ‘Death and destruction’.

Three weeks later the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. More than 350,000 people – mostly civilians – were killed, half quickly in the blast and fire-storm, half slowly from injuries or radiation sickness. President Truman then warned Japan that if did not surrender unconditionally, it would suffer “a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth”.[2]

Oppenheimer’s line (and Truman’s) highlighted the violence of unredeemed humanity, the hurt we can do each other, ourselves, the planet, and (in a sense) even God. We demonise our enemies and, abetted by ideology and technology, the violence escalates. French anthropologist, René Girard, has written at length about human brutality, the efforts of communities to curtail violence by channelling it, and the consequent scapegoating of the innocent.[3] It’s been one fruitful way some have understood the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Oppenheimer might have been ambivalent but at the time many in America and Australia rejoiced that the bombing had brought an end to the War. They didn’t trouble themselves too much about how, at what cost and to whom. Anything to end to this conflict, with its terrible physical, emotional, financial and spiritual toll upon the world and consequent restrictions on everyone – rather like the toll and restrictions under COVID, only more so. Yet in the months that followed, as stories and photos of Dachau and Auschwitz, Hiroshima and Nagasaki came to light, there was horror at the scapegoating of millions. The post-war ‘normal’ was soon evidently a new one, with a cold war succeeding the hot and the spectre of nuclear annihilation hanging over humanity.

What a strange if explosive opening for an ordination homily, you might be thinking, but then these are strange times! Though our 1.25M COVID deaths worldwide pales beside the 75M who perished in World War II, our 50M+ COVID cases so far already eclipses the number of wounded survivors of that war. Without being melodramatic about it, many have drawn parallels regarding the devastation of economies, shut-down of ordinary life, and uncertainty whether things like Church will ever recover.

The devastation of Japan was not without its miracles. In Hiroshima a community of Jesuit priests was only eight blocks from the zero point, yet they and their church survived the blast relatively unscathed. Untouched by radiation sickness, they all lived to old age. When asked why, Fr. Hubert Schiffer shrugged his shoulders and said, “We survived because we lived and prayed the Rosary daily.”[4] Similarly, in Nagasaki, the capital of Catholicism in Japan, only one major building survived: another centre of Marian piety, the Franciscan friary built by the martyr-saint Maximilian Kolbe, himself a victim of the Second World War. So, too, in the present pandemic there have been stories of resilience and creativity on the part of Catholic pastors and people, and many demonstrations of determination to rebuild after the devastation of recent years.

What might all this say to our candidate tonight and to us? Well, it’s interesting to note that in the two bombed cities it was missionaries who survived in both. They well fit Paul’s description of ideal deacons as respectable and trustworthy, sober and unmaterialistic, conscientious and faithful (1Tim 3:8-13). They were men of the sanctuary, as in our first reading and psalm (Num 3:5-9; Ps 99). But they were also men of love and service, as Christ was (Jn 15:9-17), who reached out to others. God, it seems, preserved them precisely so they might “go out and bear fruit, fruit that will last”. They survived to unify and bring hope to a shattered world, to testify to the innocence of the scapegoats, to express faith in Jesus Christ the innocent Lamb who dies with and for the victims, and to demonstrate the love He makes possible as an antidote to human strife.

Born in Hong Kong in that very good year that was 1960, Raymond migrated to Australia with his wife Stella and sons Raphael and Gabriel when he was 33. He was a successful real estate agent, comfortably off but spiritually hungry in that post-holocaust desert that is modernity. Then he had his own version of the Marian miracles of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: he learnt about Medjugorje and made a pilgrimage there. He had an overwhelming experience of God’s love. Though he did not see any dancing sun or other spectacles, he experienced the quieter action of grace in his life and soul. He was hooked. He knew he wanted to do more for God.

On his return to Sydney he took up service as a lector, extraordinary minister and then acolyte at St Peter Julian’s in Haymarket. Then Fr Joe Fernando planted the idea of the Permanent Diaconate and others followed suit. Though daunted at being expected to do a tertiary degree in theology, he had Stella’s support and after a lot of thought put his hand up.

He also started volunteering at Calvary Hospital, bringing Christ’s love to the dying in preparation for the great embrace of death. It was a very different scene to the property market! But his studies and formation for the diaconate expanded Raymond’s mind and he now believes he can reconcile these two worlds.

My son, Raymond, you will now be commissioned to be like those missionary disciples in our readings and those Marian clergy who outshone the horrors of world war. Conscientious and faithful, never drunk or materialistic, a faithful husband and father, your God-given task is now to be a man of the altar, word and charity. As our world emerges from the ordeal of global pandemic, it will need new missionaries to rebuild as it did after the devastation of world war. It will need friends of Christ preaching and exemplifying His love commandment in our world.

At your hands infants will be transformed into children of God in holy Baptism. With your assistance at the altar, bread and wine will be transformed into Christ’s Body and Blood in the holy Eucharist. You will tender that precious sacrament to the faithful, the sick and the dying as Holy Communion or Viaticum for their own interior transformation. You will witness singles become couples and families through the holy Matrimony, and the unevangelised and uncatechised converted through the saving Word of God. You will seek to transform the poor through works of justice and mercy. And you will ready our dead for that greatest transformation of all, as you bury them in the dust and commend their souls to God in the sure hope of the resurrection.

In response to COVID, that latest ‘destroyer of worlds’, I charge you, my son, with bringing the Lord of Life and giver of health, to all those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death. May ‘His joy may be in you and your joy be complete’ (Jn 15:11).


Before Genuflecting

Because current circumstances continue to impede attendance at Mass and reception of Holy Communion, I invite those who are joining us by live-streaming to ask God that by spiritual communion you might receive the graces of sacramental communion. Offer this Mass and your hunger for the Eucharist for the safety of your loved ones, for our new deacon and for all vocations.

[1] James Temperton, “‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds’: the story of Oppenheimer’s infamous quote”, WiredUK, 9 August 2017, https://www.wired.co.uk/article/manhattan-project-robert-oppenheimer; “L. Robert Oppenheimer, Atom Bomb Pioneer, Dies”, New York Times, 19 February 1967.

[2] President Harry Truman, Statement by the President Announcing the Use of the A-Bomb at Hiroshima, August 6, 1945.

[3] René Girard, The Scapegoat (John Hopkins University Press, 1986) and other works.

[4] “The two churches that survived the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” Aleteia 21 August 2019 https://aleteia.org/2019/08/21/the-two-churches-that-survived-the-atomic-bombs-in-hiroshima-and-nagasaki/.

Welcome to St Mary’s Cathedral for our Solemn Mass of Ordination to the diaconate of Raymond Hung. Along with Raymond, I recognise his long-suffering wife Stella, their two children Raphael and Gabriel, and other members of their extended family and friends, including the entire Chinese-Australian Catholic community, probably the fastest growing part of our Church today. Others who could not join us due to distance or restrictions forced upon us by the pandemic are joining us by live-streaming: a very warm welcome to you also.

I acknowledge the Episcopal Vicar for Clergy, Very Rev. Kelvin Lovegrove, those who have assisted in Raymond’s discernment and formation, including his formation directors Fathers Tom Carroll and Michael de Stoop, his spiritual director Fr Aloysius Rego OCD, his pastoral supervisor Fr Manuel Santiago, his deacon mentors Rev. Aisavali Salu and Rev. Frank Zacka, Prof. Sr Isabell Naumann ISSM and the staff of the Catholic Institute of Sydney where both Raymond and Stella have been students, and Fr Joe Fernando SSS from St Peter Julian’s Shrine at Haymarket who first recommended that Raymond join the Diaconate program.

It is with great joy that the Deacons of the Archdiocese of Sydney welcome a new brother into their ranks tonight, and that the people of the Archdiocese welcome a new minister of word, altar and charity. To everyone present, a very warm welcome.