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Edited Homily of Bishop Michael McKenna

for the Ordination to the Priesthood of Rev Nam Dinh Le

Cathedral of St Michael and St John, Bathurst

Memoria of St Charles Borromeo, 4th November 2022

I call you friends (Jn 15:15)


The English word “friend” can be used in different contexts, with a weaker or stronger sense of what we mean by friendship. In the Gospel that Nam has chosen for his Ordination Mass tonight, Jesus clearly means something very deep.

Philein, the Greek word meaning to love as a friend, denotes a relationship mutually and freely entered into; not one-sided, but communal. That is what Jesus is inviting the Apostles into. Friends share one another’s lives, in good times and bad.


This promise of friendship with Jesus, first given to the Apostles, is extended to all those who, through them, have come to believe in him. Any friend of Jesus becomes a friend of mine. This is the mystery of the Church, bound together in love. Nam is ordained to share in the Apostolic ministry, to continue this work of making Jesus known and draw people to communion with him.

The first reading, from Isaiah, was the reading chosen by Jesus as he began his public ministry. For us, as the Church – the presence of Christ in the world until he comes again – it describes our mission:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good tidings to the afflicted;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn…

This is also the first reading at our annual Chrism Mass, in which the Bishop blesses the oils and consecrates the Holy Chrism, for the sacramental life of our Diocese.

At that Mass, our priests remember their call at ordination and renew their promises to live it. Tonight, at this new ordination, we priests remember our call again, not just nostalgically, but seeking strength to live it day by day.

When I was ordained, I was asked: are you going to be one of these young priests who talk about love all the time? I’ve discovered, over the years, that we can’t preach the Gospel without talking about love. But I also know that it’s not enough to talk about love. In the words of St Alphonsus Ligouri, we have to “learn what it means to love.” We do this by trying to love, and failing, and starting again, always connecting with the one source of love, who is God.

When I was working in a seminary, many years ago, we were developing a program to educate our students in pastoral ministry. It was a well written program, but one of our staff made a very good observation: it didn’t mention love. Without love, the best pastoral initiatives are, from a Christian perspective, useless.

Today, we celebrate the memoria of St Charles Borromeo, a great figure in the Catholic Reformation of the 16th century. As Archbishop of Milan, he addressed his priests in these words, which I now address to Nam:

When you administer the sacraments, meditate on what you are doing. When you celebrate Mass, reflect on the sacrifice you are offering. When you pray the office, think about the words you are saying and the Lord to whom you are speaking. When you take care of your people, meditate on how the Lord’s blood has washed them clean so that all that you do becomes a work of love.