The Pope has officially accepted the resignation of Auxiliary Bishop Pat Power in a statement released on 7 June. For tributes to the retiring Bishop Power click here.
St Christopher's Cathedral, 19 June 2012.
Last year, the 25th anniversary of my ordination as bishop, the 18th of April, fell on the Monday of Holy Week, the day we celebrate the Chrism Mass here in the Cathedral. Because of my anniversary, Archbishop Mark kindly invited me to be the principal celebrant. I said on that occasion that when I made my First Holy Communion in St Christopher’s on 24 April 1949 and when I was confirmed here on 3 May 1953, I never imagined that I would be ordained bishop in this cathedral church on 18 April 1986. I was confirmed by the first Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn, Terence McGuire, ordained priest by his immediate successor, Eris O’Brien, and I was secretary to the next three Archbishops, Thomas Cahill, Edward Clancy and Francis Carroll before becoming Auxiliary Bishop to Archbishops Carroll and Coleridge. I think it is a lovely twist of fate that has me serving my last days as Auxiliary Bishop under the diocesan leadership of Monsignor John Woods who was my altar boy when I arrived in this parish as a newly ordained priest early in 1966.
When I became bishop, I took as my motto GOD IS LOVE and I have been alluding to that in my Confirmation homilies in the past few weeks as a way of highlighting the Year of Grace, the observance of which we began on Pentecost Sunday. I first experienced the unconditional love of God through the love of my dear mother. The enduring memory of the countless examples of her love and goodness continues to enable me to see such grace in the lives of people I meet every day. I often say that never a day goes by without me thanking God for the gift of the priesthood which has enabled me to witness such grace in so many ways, in good times and in bad. When we are open to the God of Surprises, we find grace in many unexpected places and in the most unlikely of people. It is when we try to put God into a box, that we fail to see him in the people around us. I have been sharing with the Confirmation children a quotation from Pope John Paul II that I have only recently discovered “If we have Jesus in our hearts, we will see his face in every person we meet.”
Professor Manning Clark lived just up the road from here and sometimes dropped in to St Christopher’s. He was not a Catholic and sometimes struggled with the whole notion of belief, but he was very much a searcher. He enjoyed a warm friendship with his fellow historian, Archbishop Eris O’Brien, even before the both of them came to Canberra. In 1990, Manning Clark wrote a book called The Quest for Grace. I would hope that all of us here this evening are engaged in a quest for grace. Each of our life’s journeys and our journeys of faith have been different, but all have been under the influence of God’s grace even when we may not have recognised it. As I look into this congregation I see so many of you who have powerfully and heroically witnessed to God’s love in your lives and have shared that love with one another. My sisters and brothers of other Churches present tonight remind me of the many blessings which have come into my life through their friendship and powerful witness to the values of the Gospel. What I have learnt from you has brought me closer to the heart of Jesus. My brother priests and deacons have been veritable companions on the journey.
The Gospel of this evening’s Mass speaks to us of Jesus returning to his home town of Nazareth and going into the synagogue where he would have worshipped with Mary and Joseph as he was growing up. He applies to himself the words of the prophet Isaiah: “The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the down-trodden free, to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.” At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus was proclaiming what his vocation was all about. In the three years of his public ministry, he consistently lived up to the promises he was making that day. He constantly sought to do the will of his Father and continually called his disciples into relationship with the Father under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Through his words and actions he gave comfort, healing, strength and hope to all with whom he came in contact. St Luke’s Gospel from which we read this evening in a special way shows the compassionate heart of Jesus.
If my mother taught me the unconditional love of God, it was my father who showed me what it meant to stand up against injustice and to be in solidarity with people who are struggling. Growing up in Queanbeyan, I never objected to it being called Struggletown because I felt that term epitomised many of the most admirable of my home town’s qualities. I saw my father as a Justice of the Peace not just witnessing the signatures on people’s documents but particularly in helping them find their way in their search not only for grace but sometimes for survival. He and Mum were particularly welcoming to many of the post-World War II refugees affectionately called New Australians, many of whom were starting a new life in Queanbeyan. Dad had a real heart for the people needing help through the St Vincent de Paul Society. He never had a driver’s licence and one time my sister, Maria, was driving him around to do some of his St V de P calls. She sat in the car while Dad went into a house and a lady emerged smoking a cigarette. When Dad came back to the car, Maria said “That is a bit rich. Here she is taking charity from the St Vincent de Paul Society yet she can afford to smoke.” Dad replied simply “Even poor people are entitled to the little pleasures of life.”
At times, I feel a bit embarrassed when my name goes up in lights for what I have done in the pursuit of justice. So often I have been invited by a group of dedicated people to join in solidarity with them in supporting people at risk in all kinds of situations: our own indigenous people, refugees and asylum seekers, the Palestinian people, the Tamils, the East Timorese; here in Canberra, homeless people, the union supporting the cleaners, most of whom are migrant and women, residents of the Long Stay Caravan Park being threatened with eviction in 2006, my friends with whom I pray on World Aids Day each year, and in their annual service at Weston Park those mourning the death of family members and friends from illicit drug use. In those and in many similar instances, I have been humbled to witness the hours of tireless dedication put in by people with extremely generous hearts. I see these people who often make no claim to any religious affiliation and I think of Jesus’ words “As often as you did this for one of the least of my brothers and sisters you did it to me.”
May I repeat what I said at last year’s Chrism Mass. If my joy is in all of you present tonight my sorrow is in those who no longer feel at home in the life of the Catholic Church. In my ministry as bishop, I have tried to reach out to those who are at the edges, both in the Church and in the wider community. I don’t think any of us can be comfortable in the family of the Church without asking what is causing so many of our sisters and brothers to walk away. So often, I hear the heart-felt plea “I haven’t abandoned the Church, the Church has abandoned me.”
My hopes for retirement are that leaving aside the burdens of meetings and bureaucracy, I will be freer to support my brother priests and deacons who are hanging in there for the long haul, to catch up with other friends and family members and to have a special outreach to those on the outer, both in terms of the Church and the wider community. I promise to continue to listen to your stories and to be uplifted by your example.
I hope that in this Year of Grace as we celebrate the 50 years since the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, we may reclaim what it means to be part of the People of God and to help the Church be its best self in showing the face of Jesus to every person in our midst. May the Holy Spirit be with us all in our quest for grace.