Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for Mass of the Ordination to the Diaconate of Dr John Collins and Dr Michael Tan on the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
Readings: Hosea 11:1-9; Eph 3:8-19; John 19:31-37
11 June 2021
This evening, we commend Dr John Collins and Dr Michael Tan for the ministry of diaconate. They have discerned the call to serve in the second half of life and responded generously in tandem with their respective spouses Sandra and Annette. The Diocese of Parramatta is proud to be home to one of the most diverse and dynamic groups of permanent deacons in Australia. They are drawn from vastly different backgrounds and greatly enrich the life of the local Church.
I am convinced that this is the sign of the times when Christian ministries are increasingly reimagined and revitalised by way of relational maturity, mutuality, collaboration, and partnership. The celibate clergy can complement and indeed learn from these men and women as they seek to embody the ideal of Christian service in how they minister not only to others but also to each other. Effective Christian ministers of the future will be men and women steeped in the art of human relationships rather than individualism and messiah-like heroism.
God has worked in mysterious ways bringing John and Michael to the ministry of diaconal service. Your openness to the stirrings of the heart and the promptings of the Spirit has led you on a journey of great promise and blessing. The God who formed you in your mother’s womb continues to guide you, at times in ways that you least expect. Dietrich Bonhoeffer captured the essence of spiritual discernment, saying that that there is hidden meaning in every journey that is unknown to the traveller.
For John, the diaconal calling began with the Archdiocese of Sydney. A series of unfortunate incidents led to what appeared at the time to be a dead end. But as it turned out, it was a detour rather than a cul-de-sac. With Fr Ian McGinnity and the community at North Rocks, you and Sandy found another home. Your gifts as an academic, a teacher, a pastoral supervisor and a marriage counsellor have helped many. As a deacon, you will have much to offer to the Church. With Paul and Bede your children, and Sandy who is herself steeped in rich missionary experience, outreach, prayer and teaching, you both have a wealth of skills and talents to contribute as you grow together in a new and shared ministry. We pray that the diaconate will provide a source of nourishment and challenge as well as many opportunities for meaningful life, work, and commitment.
Michael’s diaconal journey began with the late Deacon James Phelan. Impressed with the latter’s pastoral perspective on the care of the dying, Michael wanted to help people live in hope in the face of death. Always spurred on by the desire to make a difference to people’s lives, Michael combined his professional competence with faith seeking understanding. Thus, while his medical career saw him take on many leadership roles such as the foundation President of the Blacktown Medical Practitioners Association, Michael and his wife Annette are deeply involved in their faith community. We have every confidence they will flourish as Michael grows in his diaconal ministry with the support of his wife.
Today is the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, an age-old Catholic devotion that highlights God’s boundless mercy and compassion for humanity. The prophet Hosea famous for his poetry of unrequited love portrays a God of tenderness, faithfulness, patience, and resilience. This God cares for Israel his people; liberates them from the yoke of slavery and makes with them a covenant of enduring fidelity. Yet in return, they consistently manifest their hardness of the heart; they reciprocate with ingratitude and disloyalty. Incredibly, God refuses to punish Israel, because as Hosea concludes “I am the Holy One in your midst and have no wish to destroy.”
In the Gospel, John takes the poetry of unrequited love to another level. This time, it is not just Israel that persists in waywardness. Rather, the death of Jesus on the cross shatters the profound blindness of humanity and opens the way to life. John sees the prophetic fulfilment in the fact that none of Jesus’ bones were broken. He is therefore the true Passover Lamb who delivers his people from death and takes away the sins of the world.
Tonight you make a solemn and public response to that divine love. Your ordination is none other than to make the passion of God for his people the centre of your life. It is to manifest the person, life and ministry of Christ through your ministry of service. St Paul in the second reading breaks out in a poetry of his own. It is a prayer and an invitation for fledgling disciples to enter more deeply into the Christian life. It is also a statement of our apostolic mission as ministers of the Gospel.
You are ordained to diaconal ministry today in the context of changing times. The restored and revitalised diaconate with its characteristic embodiment of the Church in its fundamental expressions of service, mutuality and immersion in secularity has a potential to reset the ordained ministry towards a better future.
We pray that together with your spouse, you will channel the grace of God flowing from the pierced side of Christ, the ultimate model of diakonia for us his followers. Using Paul’s poetry, we pray that “Christ may live in your hearts through faith and then, planted in love and built on love, you will have the strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth, until you are filled with the utter fullness of God.”