HOMILY FOR THE MASS OF ORDINATION TO THE EPISCOPATE OF MOST REV. DANNY MEAGHER
Titular Bishop of Pocofeltana and Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney
St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, Feast of the Immaculate Conception
The presence tonight of bishops from both the Latin and Oriental Rites, Catholic and Orthodox, reminds us that today’s feast is an ancient one, celebrated both in East and West: the Conception in Saint Anne of Holy Mary Mother of God. In Scriptural texts such as we heard tonight, Mary’s uniqueness was already celebrated as the ‘new Eve’, ‘holy and spotless’, the ‘most blessed’, ‘highly favoured’ and ‘full of grace’, the ‘virgin yet mother’, ‘handmaid of the Lord’, ‘woman clothed with the sun’ (Gen 3:9-15,20; Eph 1:3-6,11-12; Lk 1:26-38).[i] The Eastern Fathers called her Παναγία, the all holy, ever virgin, preserved from stain of sin.[ii] Devotion to Mary’s innocence intensified after the Council of Ephesus (431) insisted on her dignity as the Θεοτόκος, the God-bearer or Mother of God.
Next year we’ll celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. Its great document on the Church, Lumen Gentium (1964) comes to a climax with a chapter on Mary, the first and greatest of Christians (ch VIII). Drawing upon Scripture and Tradition the Council fathers addressed the paradox that she is one of us, needing salvation as we all do, and yet also ‘the great exception’, far surpassing us in faith and mission. Reflecting upon the action of grace in her life, the Church came to see that she was predestined to be Mother of God and so was preserved from sin in anticipation of her Son’s saving death rather than as an exemption from the need for it.
Here, then, is the first lesson in Mary’s course for new bishops: that as she relied upon Christ for everything from her conception to her assumption, so bishops as stewards of the mysteries must hear her instruction to the stewards at Cana: “Do as He tells you” relying on Jesus alone (Jn 2:1-11; LG 60 & 62). It’s grace, all grace, Paul says to us tonight; it’s “God only God,” our new bishop’s motto echoes.
Though we rely upon God the Virgin’s second lesson is to invest ourselves also. She cooperated in His mission “by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity” (LG 61). Her fiat was total and so it must be for us. For the Father “chose us in Christ,” Paul says tonight, not just to be middling good but “to be holy and spotless” like the Virgin. Some say that “to sin is human and to forgive divine”. That’s nonsense: to sin is inhuman. In choosing evil we are not being true to our nature, we are demeaning it and diminishing ourselves. The sinless Mary was the best of us, not a different species. So, the Vatican Council reminded us, those charged with the apostolic mission of regenerating humanity must themselves live after her example (LG 65).
A third lesson from the school of Mary is that there is hope even in our weakness. Despite our ‘maculate degeneration’, we are promised heaven if only we join the Immaculate in saying a wholehearted Yes to God. Bishops must stir up such aspirations in their flocks. Mary the Panagia is, as the Council concluded, “the sign of created hope and solace to the wandering people of God.” (LG 68-69)
In the same document that praised Immaculate Mary, the Vatican Council reaffirmed Catholic teaching regarding the pope, priests, deacons, but especially bishops (LG ch. III). “Having established His holy Church, Christ sent forth the apostles as He Himself had been sent by the Father,” the Council taught, “and He willed that their successors, the bishops, should be shepherds in His Church even to the consummation of the world.” (LG 18) The Twelve and their successors were to form ‘a stable college’ and so, already by Pentecost Day, they had chosen a new member; then, like the baton in a relay race, they ran with and passed on the apostolic tradition from generation to generation (LG 19-20).
In the paragraphs that followed in Lumen Gentium (LG 21-27) and the related document Christus Dominus, the Council unpacked as never before what it means for bishops to share in Christ’s power and mission to teach, sanctify and govern. Far from adopting a flat, Congregationalist view of the Church, as some would propose today, aping secular models of governance in business or bureaucracy, Vatican II insisted on the divine institution of the sacred hierarchy. It even dared say, following Christ and the ancient Fathers, that to listen to the bishops is to listen to Christ (LG 20 citing Lk 10:16). Only those with great faith could believe such a claim! But if we credit that Christ is God’s definitive revelation to humanity, not just those in ancient Palestine but even to those in contemporary Sydney, then we must believe He established some mechanism by which His will would be safely conveyed, His words rightly interpreted, His grace generously shared, and His works mercifully done, in all future generations. In His strange wisdom God chose bishops to guarantee this.
Which might seem to support the view of the nineteenth-century monsignor, George Talbot, who wrote “What is the province of the laity? To hunt, to shoot, to entertain… [but not] to meddle with ecclesiastical matters… which are for the Pope and bishops”?[iii] Thus Talbot protested the larger role imagined for the laity by John Henry Newman in his 1859 article On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine. Newman’s bishop, William Ullathorne OSB (1806-89), had been Vicar-General of Australia from age 26, prepared the way for the first bishop, John Bede Polding OSB, and assisted him in establishing the hierarchy in Australia. On returning to England he was named Bishop of Birmingham and so referee of the dispute between Newman and Talbot. Ullathorne apparently echoed Talbot by wondering aloud “Who are the laity and what have they to do with Church matters?” to which Newman famously replied “The Church would look rather foolish without them”.[iv]
Vatican II was a victory for Newman’s ecclesiology over Talbot’s, without being anti-hierarchical. It united the Old Testament notion of the People of God and the New Testament notion of Apostolicity. It was cruciform in the sense of having both horizontal and vertical dimensions, with bishops and clergy there to lead and serve the laity but all called forth from one family dignified by one Baptism.
My brother Danny, it is from that family of the baptised that you emerged, the product of a good Catholic home, schools and seminary. As Rector of the Seminary of the Good Shepherd, you demonstrated wisdom, charm and confidence, growing in the job so the seminary was a happy and holy place for young men to be nurtured. You knew what formation is needed from your broad experience as a priest, ministering in eleven parishes, working with St Vincent de Paul, CatholicCare, Deacons’ Formation, the Council of Priests, the Catholic Weekly, St John’s College, Ongoing Formation of the Clergy and more. With what Lumen Gentium described as “the fullness of the priesthood” you will now preside in place of Christ the Good Shepherd as a teacher of doctrine, a priest of sacred worship, and a minister of governance (LG 20).
You have been chosen from among God’s people to act for them in relation to God. “Proclaim the message welcome or not; correct error with unfailing patience and teaching (2Tim 4:2).” Pray and offer sacrifice for the people committed to your care. Be a faithful overseer, a kindly father and brother, a good shepherd who knows his sheep and does not hesitate to lay down his life for them (Jn 10:11-18). Love all those whom God places in your care: the priests and deacons who share your ministry; the poor, infirm and homeless; Christ’s holy people and those yet to belong to Him. Bring your insights and energy to bear as we steer through the complex straits of unremitting secularisation, the ‘new normal’ post-COVID, the Fifth Plenary Council of Australia with all its graces and possibilities, the spectre of euthanasia, the defence of religious liberty, care for our common home the earth, and service to our lords the sick and poor.
Like the Immaculate Virgin in our Gospel, you have won God’s favour. His messenger—an African monsignor—has announced your mission! Fear not: you will be filled with God’s grace. So say yes tonight with all your heart. Give yourself anew to being God’s servant. And know that the Lord is with you, now and always.
WORD OF THANKS AFTER THE MASS OF ORDINATION TO THE EPISCOPATE OF MOST REV. DANNY MEAGHER
I echo Fr Danny’s words of thanks to all those who contributed to his vocation, from the day of his Baptism through to his priestly ordination and to this new stage tonight. I thank my brother bishops, priests, deacons and seminarians, and all those who contributed to this joyous liturgy. Our Master of Ceremonies, Fr Lewi, did very well for his first episcopal ordination. So, too, the dean and clergy, precinct and events managers, sacristan, music team, videographer, servers, booklets, ushers, security and more. And I thank all who participated tonight, including Archbishop Makarios and Bishop Meagher’s family.
Tonight’s ordination brings to a climax a fortnight of ordinations in the Archdiocese: five deacons, all destined to be priests, two priests and a bishop. What an extraordinary time of grace it has been alongside the darkness of COVID, lockdowns, the euthanasia bill and other challenges. We give thanks to Almighty God for this early Christmas present. And I ask you, of your mercy, to keep praying for these eight men and their ministry, and for many more good vocations, even dare I say to the episcopate!
INTRODUCTION TO THE MASS OF ORDINATION TO THE EPISCOPATE OF MOST REV. DANNY MEAGHER
Titular Bishop of Pocofeltana and Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney
St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, Feast of the Immaculate Conception
Welcome to the Basilica of the Immaculate Mother of God, Help of Christians, in Sydney for the Ordination to the episcopate of Most Rev. Fr Danny Meagher, Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney. On this Feast of the Immaculate Conception we commend him to Mary’s protection and intercession.
I acknowledge the presence tonight of Monsignor John-Baptist Itaruma, Chargé d’Affairs of the Apostolic Nunciature, representing the Holy Father, together with Mons. Guiseppe Quirighetti. Co-consecrating with me are Archbishop Christopher Prowse of Canberra & Goulburn and Bishop Anthony Randazzo of Broken Bay, along with bishops from around Australia, delighted to be welcoming Bishop Meagher into their College.[i] I, for one, am very much looking forward to his assistance, as I’m sure are Bishops Terry and Richard! I also recognise the priests, deacons, religious and seminarians of Sydney and beyond.
I acknowledge leaders of various churches here tonight, including my dear brothers: His Eminence the Metropolitan of the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia, Archbishop Makarios, whose presence with us for the first time is a particular joy; His Grace Bishop Daniel of the Copts; Fr Hambardzumyan of the Armenians; and representatives of other churches and faiths. I likewise acknowledge present or past members of the national and state parliaments and courts.
It is with great joy that I welcome Bishop-elect Danny’s family, in particular his dear mother Elizabeth and his siblings Alan, Ann, Joseph, Liz and Mary with their spouses and children. No doubt Danny’s Father, Alan (Senior), is watching proudly from heaven.
We are also joined by many friends and colleagues of the new bishop, members of his various parishes including his beloved parishioners of All Hallows Five Dock; those associated with organisations of which he has been part such as World Youth Day 2008, CatholicCare, the Seminary of the Good Shepherd, the Order of Malta, St John’s College, the agencies, schools and tertiary institutions of Catholic Sydney, and volunteers and clients of the St Vincent de Paul Society, the Matt Talbot Hostel, Cana Communities and David’s Place.
To all those present, whether here in the Cathedral, joining us virtually by live-streaming, or joining us like Danny’s father from heaven: a very warm welcome to you all!
- Archbishops Peter Comensoli of Melbourne, Amel Nona of the Chaldean Eparchy and Antoine-Charbel Tarabay OLM of the Maronite Eparchy; Bishops Mark Edwards OMI of Wagga Wagga, Michael Kennedy of Armidale, Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFMConv of Parramatta, Columba Macbeth-Greene OSPPE of Wilcannia-Forbes, Shane Mackinlay of Sandhurst, and Brian Mascord of Wollongong; Auxiliary Bishops Martin Ashe of Melbourne, Terry Brady of Sydney, Terry Curtin of Melbourne, Anthony Ireland of Melbourne, and Richard Umbers of Sydney; and Bishops Emereti David Cremin, Peter Ingham, Patrick Power and David Walker. Also Fr Gregory Barker, Diocesan Administrator of Maitland-Newcastle, and Msgr Carl Reid PA, Ordinary of the Ordinariate of the Southern Cross.
- cf. Lk 1:39-55; Rev 12:1-6 etc.
- Vatican Council II, Lumen Gentium 56, citing St Germanus I of Constantinople, Nom. in annunt. Deiparae: PG 98, 328 A; In Dorm. 2: col. 357; St Anastasius of Antioch, Serm. 2 de Annunt., 2: PG 89, 1377 AB; Serm. 3, 2: col. 1388; St Andrew of Crete, Can. in B. V. Nat. 4: PG 97, 1321 B; In B. V. Nat., 1: col. 812 A; Hom. in dorm. 1: col. 1068 C; St Sophronius, Or. 2 in Annunt., 18: PG 87 (3), 3237 BD.
- Monsignor George Talbot to Archbishop Henry Manning in answer to St John Henry Newman, On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine (1859). See Russell Shaw, To Hunt, to Shoot, to Entertain: Clericalism and the Catholic Laity (Ignatius Press, 1993).
- John Henry Newman, On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine (1859; London, 1961), 18-19. See John T. Ford, “Who are the laity? I answered that the Church would look foolish without them,” Newman Studies Journal 3(2) (Fall 2006), 305; Michael Sharkey, “Newman on the laity,” Gregorianum 68(1-2) (1987), 339-346.