29 May 2021

St. Mary’s Basilica, Sydney, 29 May 2021

Many of you will know the TV series The Chosen, written and directed by Dallas Jenkins, and starring Jonathan Roumie as Jesus. It is the first ever life of Christ as a multi-season series, crowdfunded and viewed through an app. The first series has already been viewed more that 100 million times in 180 countries. I strongly recommend it! The genius of the series is that we mostly see Jesus through the eyes of His disciples as they encounter Him and everything changes for them. So far we’ve met a charismatic fisherman drowning in debt, a troubled woman wrestling with demons, a gifted if autistic tax-collector ostracized by his own people, a religious leader struggling with his beliefs, and others. For me, the calls of Peter as his nets burst with fish (in episode 4 of the first series) and of Matthew and Nicodemus (in episode 7) were especially moving, but you must judge for yourselves…

The emphasis of The Chosen upon personal relationship with Jesus is, of course, a strong theme in the new evangelisation, discernment of gifts, and parish renewal. Lead writer on these topics Sherry Weddell is an American laywoman who has repeatedly shared her wisdom with us in Australia about Forming Intentional Disciples and this has helped inform our mission plan Go Make Disciples.[i]

She argues that a healthy Catholicism requires three interconnected journeys: internal, ecclesial and missionary. As Verbum Dei missionaries appreciate, you can’t skip the other two journeys to focus on the third of these: we need all three and foundational is the personal interior journey of a lived relationship with Christ. Weddell has found that many Christians – even some Catholic priests and religious – have never had a personal relationship with Christ and don’t even know they can. She identifies five ‘thresholds’ or stages of conversion to intentional discipleship: trust (in Jesus, Church, a Christian); curiosity (about the person, life or teachings of Jesus); openness (to spiritual change); seeking (actively to know God); and finding (by making a conscious commitment to follow Jesus in the Church) – as happens with each disciple in The Chosen.

When I asked Stephen for a few points from his life story that explained what had brought him to priestly ordination, he gave me a script long enough for more episodes than the recent life of Christ…

In the first series of the story of the Little Drummer Boys, Dan and Steve grow up in a medium-sized Catholic family of nine children. Their home is what the Second Vatican Council called an ecclesia domestica, domestic Church, with Mass and sacraments, family rosary, children’s bible and lives of the saints. In The Chosen we see how the brothers Peter and Andrew and the brothers James and John influence each other’s vocations. In the Drum series we meet the father, John, a quiet but true model of Christian paternity, and the mother Nola, a great teacher and pray-er of the Faith, who drops the occasional hint that it would be great to have a son a priest. Even the siblings have their converting effect, with their sister Rosemary, destined to be Sr Rosie Drum MGL, a ferocious tennis player in a very sporty family, who instructs them in virtue in between aces and half-volleys. In the spiritual background we meet Great-aunt Kath and Aunty Mary, both religious sisters, cousin Frances who fatefully is a Verbum Dei missionary sister (and eventually Carmelite nun), another relative Cattie who became Dominican Sr Joanna Marie, Fr John Speakman, brother of Steve’s godmother, and another cousin a seminarian. Vocation wasn’t altogether alien to the Temora domestic church-cum-convent: so many vocations begin at home!

In series two Stephen wanders for a bit in his late teens and early 20s, and only reverts to his childhood faith after encountering Jesus “for the first time” at a Disciples of Jesus Summer School. After Confession he returns to regular prayer and sacraments. The Verbum Dei movement offer him supportive community, prayerful dialogue with God in the Scriptures, and opportunities to share faith with others. Meanwhile the quieter, more consistent Daniel has also made contact with Verbum Dei through cousin Frances. Though he doesn’t really know what it means, he’s also attracted by the promise of a personal relationship with God in His Word. Having volunteered to chauffeur Steve to Verbum Dei activities, he’s soon hooked. Providence brings Steve and Dan to Sydney – and half a million other young people – for World Youth Day 2008. There, with dozens of others, they discern a calling to priesthood and consecrated life. If World Youth Day is to be the new normal for the Australian Church, they must do their bit.

Series three is set in 2010. Steve enters the formation programme for the Verbum Dei brothers in Manila only to discover that his brother Dan is joining too! Daniel has been reflecting upon the problem of Australia’s desperate need for more priests, and wondering if he could be part of the answer. Verbum Dei have shown him it’s possible to be a Christian and normal, a Christian and young, a Christian and Australian. Above all, he wants more of the personal relationship with Jesus, more of the love of God, like his brother. Yet formation will not be easy. There will be health issues, difficult languages, inculturation in strange lands, embarrassing failures. He perseveres. But the cross looms over any serious vocation, any serious effort to conform ourselves to Christ.

Daniel and Stephen’s tales continue to interweave and read like Sherry Weddell’s spiritual itinerary of trust, curiosity, openness, seeking and finding. Together they embrace a life both more contemplative and more missionary than they had known before. They study in Quezon City and Madrid. They participate in family activities and missionary experiences in several countries. Eventually they were sent to the hardest mission territory of all, to deepest, darkest Ryde-Gladesville in Australia. The adventure of the Gospel can take you to the most unexpected places.

The fourth season of the Brothers Drum version of The Chosen begins today, and God willing there will be several more seasons thereafter. It will require crowdfunding by the prayers of everyone present here and transmission by that greatest of Apps, the Holy Spirit. But for both men it all really began with a personal encounter with Christ, an experience of being chosen. Having longed to celebrate the Christian Passover, like Jesus in our Gospel today (Lk 22:14-30), having dreamed of doing this in memory of Him, having chosen like Him to be servants rather than lording it over others, having committed to be faithful to Jesus in His trials and their own – they are ready at last.

They are not the first to be chosen for this. Jesus is called the Christ, which means the Anointed or Chosen One.[ii] The Scriptures describe Israel as the Chosen People, Jerusalem and its Temple as the chosen place for God’s presence.[iii] The patriarchs are chosen by God, the kings and prophets too.[iv] The disciples of Jesus are described as the Chosen or anointed,[v] as are the priests of both the Old Testament and New.[vi] Today we add two more to that line that goes back through two hundred years of faithful priestly service in Australia, two thousand years to Christ our High Priest and His apostles, two thousand more years to the Aaronic priesthood of old.

But for what are these two chosen? Isaiah says it’s to announce, comfort and liberate (Isa 61:1-3). They must be “good news” men, offering the good news of reconciliation (2Cor 5:14-20). The word for that in English is Gospel, in Greek εὐαγγέλιον (hence our word evangelisation), in Latin Verbum Dei (the Word of God). Of that Word, Paul says “we are ambassadors”.

My dear sons and brothers, Daniel and Stephen, today God’s people invite you to share in their births, marriages and deaths, their sins and aspirations, their hunger for truth and love, their moments of desolation or of touching the divine. Subject to your superiors and united to your Verbum Dei family and your brother priests, strive to make the next few seasons of your life-stories outstanding fulfilments of the promises you will make to me today. Knowing from your own experience just how crucial is the personal encounter with Christ, bring many others to Him, so that they too may become char

[i]     Sherry Weddell, Forming Intentional Disciples (Our Sunday Visitor, 2012).

[ii]    Mt 12:15-21; Lk 4:18; 9:35; 23:35; Jn 1:41; Acts 10:38; 1Pet 2:6; cf. 1Sam 2:35; 2Sam 22:51; Isa 42:1.

[iii]    People of Israel (Dt 4:37; 7:1,6-7; 10:15; 14:2; 1Kings 3:8; 1Chr 16:13; Pss 33:12; 47:4; 78:68; 105:6,43; 135:4; Isa 41:8-9; 43:20; 44:1-4; 49:7; 65:9,22; Ezek 20:5); Jerusalem (1Kings 8:44,48; 11:13,32,36; 14:21; 2Kings 21:7; 23:27; 2Chr 6:5-6,34,38; Tob 1:4; 13:11; Pss 78:68; 132:13); the Temple (1Kings 9:3,7; 2Chr 6:34; 7:12,16,20; Tob 1:4).

[iv]    Abraham (Gen 18:19; Neh 9:7); Moses (Ps 105:26; 106:23); Aaron (Ps 105:26), Joshua (Num 11:28), Saul (1Sam 9:1,27; 10:1,24); David (1Sam 16; 2Sam 2:1,4,7; 5:1,3; 6:21; 12:7; 23:1; 1Kings 8:16; 11:34; 1Chr 28:4; 2Chr 6:6; Pss 18:50; 78:70; 89:3,19-20); Solomon (1Kings 1:34,39; 1Chr 11:1,3; 28:5-6,10; 29:1; Wis 9:7); other leaders of Israel (Num 1:16; 16:2; 1Sam 2:10,35; Hag 2:23); Jeremiah (Jer 1:5), Isaiah (Isa 61:1) and the other prophets (1Chr 16:22).

[v]     Mt 22:14; Lk 6:13; Jn 15:16,19; Acts 1:12,24; 10:41; 22:14; 1Cor 1:27-28; 12:18; Eph 1:4; Col 1:27; 3:12; 1Thes 1:4; 2Thes 2:13; 1Pet 1:2; 2:4,9; Rev 17:14.

[vi]    Ex 28:41; 29:7,21; 29:29; 30:30; 40:13,15; Lev 6:20,22; 7:36; ch. 8; 16:32; 21:10; Num 3:3; 6:18-19; 35:25; Dt 18:5; 21:5; 1Chr 15:2; 2Chr 26:18; 1Sam 2:28; Sir 45:6-22; Ezek 48:11; Acts 1:12-26; Heb 5:1 etc..

Welcome to St Mary’s Basilica in Sydney for the priestly ordination of Rev. Daniel Drum FMVD and Rev. Stephen Drum FMVD, both members of the Verbum Dei Missionary Fraternity. founded by Fr Jaime Bonet, the Fraterninad Misionera Verbum Dei is an institute of consecrated life whose mission is to propagate the Kingdom of God through praying, proclaiming and giving life-testimony to the Word of God.

Concelebrating with me this morning are the Rector and Vice-Rector of the Seminary of the Good Shepherd and the Rector of Redemptoris Mater Seminary; along with priests of Sydney and beyond, who delight in welcoming these new brothers into their ranks.

From Steve and Dan’s religious family, I record apologies from the Congregational Leaders of the Verbum Dei Missionary Fraternity, prevented by COVID restrictions from attending: their President, Fr Rodrigo Carrizo Moya FMVD; Superior General of the Male Branch Fr Ismael Barros Peña FMVD; and Superior General of the Female Branch, Sr Antonieta Vargas Lopez FMVD. I salute the Regional Superior and Parish Priest of Ryde-Gladesville, Very Rev. Fr Greg Morgan FMVD, with Frs Alfredo Serrano Vazquez FMVD and Daniele Sollazzo FMVD from the same community as the Drum brothers. From the female branch I recognise: Sisters Louise Byrne FMVD,  Juana Crespi FMVD (from Spain), Kylie Cullen FMVD, Dr Maeve Heaney FMVD and Maria Pineda FMVD. And from the married couples’ branch: Ace and Rowena Penano and family. Together they all rejoice that the total number of Aussie Verbum Dei priests in the world will triple today!

I extend a particular welcome to our ordinands’ families and friends who’ve nurtured their faith from birth. I greet their parents, John and Nola Drum, and their siblings Cathy with her spouse Julian, Peter with Lisa, Martin with Vanessa, Kevin with Jo, Bernard with wife Sarah, Jennifer with husband Chris and Rosie MGL whose bridegroom is Christ. There are two dozen nieces and nephews also to treasure. I joyfully welcome the rest of the 88 or so drummers, who are just the inner circle of closest relatives of the Drum boys; of the hundreds of cousins and thousands of extended family, who make up most of the population of Bribbaree, Temora, Young and beyond, only some could make it, but I trust the rest are joining us by live-streaming.

I also recognise Patrician and Marist brothers, school principals and staff, from Holy Cross College Ryde, Marist College Eastwood, St Charles Borromeo Primary School Ryde, and Our Lady Queen of Peace Primary School Gladesville, as well as staff and lay faithful from the Parish of Ryde-Gladesville and the Catholic Chaplaincy at Macquarie University, where our Verbum Dei priests serve or where our two deacons have been assisting. To everyone present: a very warm welcome.