Fr. Frank Freeman celebrated his golden jubilee of ordination at the formation house in Clifton Hill on Friday, 30th July. It was a quiet celebration, yet quite solemn as Fr. Freeman contemplated on his journey as a Salesian priest of Don Bosco. The jubilee Mass was concelebrated by Frs, Peter Rankin, Paul Miles, Peter Varengo and Leo Choi. Being celebrated in the formation house, a number of young Salesians were at the Mass too.
The following is the homily given by Fr. Freeman that deserves to be shared on the SNAP.
50 years ago I, with 31 others, processed into a centuriered old country church in rural Piedmont called Bollengo. A baroque church filled with statues and gold leaf decorations. I was alone, feeling the absence of family and friends in distant Australia, a loneliness increased by the joy and warmth of the families of my companions.
Prostration is a very symbolic act; to fall flat upon the earth is the ultimate state of subjection and willingness. In ancient Rome a slave who had earned the respect and love of his master could be granted the “sacer momentum” the sacred moment. After prostrating himself before his master, he would be raised up and given a special sign; the equivalent of our hand shake but it was more hands to elbows grip. This act of a strong lifting up raised the former slave to be a family member with a new name and was then clothed in the Roman toga and purple edgings which were the symbols of granted citizenship.
As I, alone with mixed feelings, fell prostrate upon the cold stone floor of that ancient church, I thought, “Can one go any lower than this?” but precisely at that moment of utter subjection and the stripping away of all pretensions and external bonds of comfort of family and friends, there came to me the reassuring words of St Paul about Christ, “He emptied himself taking upon himself the form of a slave but God raised him up giving him a name and dignity.”
As I arose from the cold stone floor and approached the bishop I was utterly convinced that a transformation was about to take place, a “sacer momentum” not by the ancient Roman arm grasp but by the ancient Christian symbol of the Laying On of Hands by which the Holy Spirit raised and infused a new dignity, name and clothed, not in the Roman toga, but with the Stole, the sacred symbol of the Priesthood. This was a sacramental moment which according to St Augustine who was the first to officially define the word sacrament, and his definition has stood the test of time. He said it was “an outward and visible sign of an inward and enduring grace.” In other words, a sacrament incorporates visible symbols that illustrate an invisible work of God.
Right here at the “sacer momentum” there was the need to make a vital distinction between priesthood and priestliness. Priesthood is the actual dignity that has been conferred; priestliness is the way in which that dignity is lived. Priesthood is the conferring of a spiritual power and authority: priestliness is how that power and authority is used. Priesthood is the gift: Priestliness is the virtue. It is often lamented that there are many who are very conscious of their priesthood- their rank and dignity but in whom very little priestliness is found.
The gift of the Priesthood is given in the solemn moment of ordination: the virtue of Priestliness is acquired through long years of formation prior to the giving of the gift and then through long years of a life of empting oneself by a life of service.
For us Religious the virtue of Priestliness comes from a life of Christlike, empting ourselves by living out our vows which free us for a life of priestliness. The Understanding of Priesthood and its theology belongs to the Intellect: Priestliness belongs to the heart. It is through a love of Christ and his ways that we attain a Christlike priestliness which opens all hearts to us. So many thoughts of Fr Chris Ford’s recent retreat are so relevant here on these matters of the heart. Priestliness is coming to know and love Christ: to be Christlike in all our dealing with people especially those who cry out in need.
The first reading from the prophet Isaiah gives us both the gift of the priesthood and also its inherent priestliness:
“The spirit of the Lord has been given to me. For the Lord has anointed me “ and for what purpose?
“ ..to bring good news to the poor, to comfort hearts that are broken to give liberty to captives, to comfort those who mourn and give them the oil of gladness and when despondent praise.”
All matters for a loving, sensitive, understanding heart for as St Paul reminds us: “Every high priest is taken from among human beings and is appointed to act on their behalf in relationship with God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins; he can sympathize with those who are ignorant or have gone astray, because he too is subject to the limitation of weakness.”
The story is told of a famous actor who was invited to a literary function to recite some great poems for the pleasure of the guests. Having recited a few well known verses, he asked if there was anything in particular they wanted to hear. After a moment or two an old priest present said he would love to hear such a famous actor recite Psalm 23. “The Lord is my Shepherd”. The actor paused for a while and said. “Very well I will but under one condition that after I have finished you will recite it also.” The priest was taken by surprise, but replied” I am hardly a public speaker, but if you wish I shall recite it too.” The actor began quite impressively. His voice was trained and his intonation was perfect. The audience were spell bound. , and when he finished there was great applause from the guests. Now it was the old priest’s turn to recite the psalm. His voice was not remarkable, his tone was not faultless, but when he had finished there was not a dry eye in the room as they were visibly moved. The actor arose and his voice quivered as he said “Ladies and Gentleman, I reached your eyes and ears; he has reached your hearts. The difference is this: I know the psalm, but he knows the shepherd.”
We have recently lost a priest of our province, Fr Bill Edwards, who day in and day out through a long Salesian life, embodied the very idea of Priestliness. He became a loving shepherd precisely because he knew and loved the Shepherd. Father Bill gave his cleric novices a holy picture, with a prayer on the back written by his hand: “O bone Jesu, fac ut sim sacerdos secundum cor tuum.” That is, “O good Jesus, make me a priest according to your heart.”
Dear brothers, let us, whether we are forming ourselves for the great gift of the Religious life or Priesthood, or whether we have been on the road full many a year, let us wrap the virtues of a Christlike open, loving, welcoming, understanding heart around us as like a traveller’s cloak, to protect us from the storms of human nature, and to keep our hearts warm, with living remembrance of our Lord’ life, with living awareness of how He has called us to Priestliness and to walk in His footsteps. Yes indeed “ ..to bring good news to the poor, to comfort hearts that are broken to give liberty to captives, to comfort those who mourn and give them the oil of gladness and when despondent praise.
Congratulation Fr. Freeman on your Golden Jubilee!