The Confraternity of Christ the Priest is a religious family of priests and brothers based in San Isidore, near Wagga Wagga NSW. Living in community with religious vows, they work especially to re-evangelise parishes and in the media.
In June, the Confraternity of Christ the Priest celebrated its 60th anniversary of canonical foundation with Most Rev Gerard Hanna, bishop of Wagga Wagga, visiting priests and other friends, and two brothers of founder Fr John Whiting, namely Noel and Ray Whiting.
The following is the homily given by vocations director Fr Thomas Casanova CCS on that occasion.
For the Confraternity of Christ the Priest the Mass is everything! It is our particular charism, as our Rule says, to unite ourselves more explicitly, more completely with Christ as priest and victim in our daily Mass.
And so the Sacrifice of the Mass is the perfect way to celebrate our 60th anniversary of the canonical foundation of the Confraternity of Christ the Priest.
We thank the concelebrants for coming here. In a special way we thank two of our Founder’s brothers, Ray and Noel Whiting, for being here with us.
We also remember all of the people over these 60 years who have helped us in so many ways, by their prayers, their encouragement and by their material help as well.
We are in the Year of Consecrated Life and it’s an appropriate time to think about religious life as we celebrate 60 years of ours. Joining any form of religious life is an adventure.
It starts off with the same spirit as Our Lady at the Annunciation saying, “Behold the hand maid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to Your word.” That's the right spirit for everybody starting out on a vocation.
We present ourselves as a blank cheque to the Lord. Who knows where that consecration will lead – God knows.
I think of my sister Veronica (now Sister Bridgid MC) when she went to join the Missionaries of Charity.
She didn’t know where she would be going and so far she’s gone first to Melbourne then to Manila, spending time in the poor areas there; and back to Australia. She leaves a previous appointment with only one little box and just a few items, a spare habit, bible, crucifix and a couple of other odds and ends.
Then she went back to the Philippines, Italy and Sweden, India, Ireland and back to Rome. Every form of religious life is a great adventure!
To join a new religious order is in a sense an even greater adventure. To join an old established order is like getting on a big ship going on the ocean; but to join a new religious order – that’s like setting out on the same ocean in a little dingy.
It’s very exciting because you don’t know how things are going to go and you’ve got all sorts of uncertainties.
Along with one certainty – the desire to do God's will: “Behold I come to do Your Will” – there are all sorts of twist and turns.
Think of the first companions of St Francis. They didn’t know the various Franciscan orders would succeed so well. Think of the early days of the Dominicans, and the first Jesuits under St Ignatius of Loyola.
More close to us is St Alphonsus. After initially establishing the Redemptorists, he found himself walking away with just one brother, leaving the rest, to go and start again.
Yes, joining a new order is very exciting, a great way to find adventure.
St Thomas Aquinas is another example of this. His parents wanted him to be the Benedictine abbot of Monte Cassino and he decided to join the Dominicans.
Most of his family were so upset they kidnapped him, locked him up in a part of their castle and did various other things to try and lead him astray and give up his vows. Finally, unable to break him, they let him go.
So too, with the first members of the Confraternity, (and Br Vincent has experienced this more than I). They set out living on a shoe string, when they went to Melbourne, eating mostly pumpkins and pies.
They got so sick of pies they would scrape them out and put curry with the meat. There were all sorts of difficulties in those early days; that’s part of founding a new order.
There are three elements to discerning the will of God regarding a new foundation, to answer the question, “Is this really what God wants?”
The first one is inspiration. It starts with a strong life of faith and prayer and love of God and a desire to do great things for Him. And with that spirit, one looks around the world. Here is a need, maybe God would like me to do this. That’s what happened with Fr Whiting.
It began with his personal prayer and burning awareness of the Divine Majesty, the greatness of God, His awesomeness; and a desire to praise Him with everything he had. And so as a novice and the first years after that, he felt the call perhaps to be a Carthusian, unsure if this thought was a temptation to leave the Redemptorists.
This burning desire to praise God developed as he thought to himself, “Perhaps I could praise Him more by getting those people who don’t know, love or serve Him at this time to know Him more and to worship Him with me.” And so it lead to a desire to share the faith even more with others.
The Second Vatican Council says that the whole purpose of missionary life is to lead others to worship God with us, and that’s where the life of the Confraternity began.
After inspiration comes discernment based on signs, certain signs of Gods providence which help confirm that, yes, this is the path God wants me to take. And with the Confraternity there were all kinds of twist, turns, challenges, and sometimes road blocks along the way which suddenly disappeared.
For example, while Fr Whiting was discerning founding the Confraternity, he was suddenly appointed to the Philippines.
He wrote to his spiritual director: “You have said this project seems to be from God, and now I am being sent to the Philippines. What do you think?”
His spiritual director wrote back and said “Trust in God. If you are sent to the Philippines, then it is not God's will that you be involved in this new work of the Intensive Apostolate.” And all of a sudden the Philippines Government decided to issue no more visas!
I was in Manila last Sunday, to take some of our candidates from Vietnam to where they will be furthering their English skills. We went to Mass at the Redemptorist Church at Baclaran which is probably where Fr Whiting would have ended up.
There I met an Australian priest born in Griffith, Fr Ronald Murray, who said, “Oh Fr John Whiting, he taught me at Galong.” These signs help us to be aware that God is with us, and watching over us.
And there was one time when everything seemed to be at an end, a stalemate. Then it was that Fr Whiting was recommended to consecrate the future Confraternity to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Suddenly the difficulties were resolved, like clouds parting after a storm.
But inspiration and signs are not enough.
What really helps us to know if founding a new order is the will of God is God speaking to us through the Church. Because Jesus said to the apostles, the first bishops, “He who hears you hears Me”.
Think about priestly ordination. During the time that the Confraternity was transferring from Townsville to Wagga, I was a deacon. For a few years people asked, “When are you going to be ordained?” Eventually I’d answer, “When the bishop puts his hands on my head.”
Only the Church can confirm a vocation to the Priesthood. And likewise with a new order, we’ll only know if this is from God when God provides confirmation through the voice of the Church.
For the Confraternity, that happened in two steps: firstly when Fr Whiting was given freedom from the Redemptorists precisely to work with Bishop Hugh Ryan from the Townsville Diocese to establish the Confraternity – that was on 23 January 1954; and secondly when on 25 June 1955 we received the blessing of the Canonical establishment of the Confraternity of Christ the Priest.
So today we celebrate that point in this long journey, the day we knew that this new work had the blessing of the Church.
A few years ago the Confraternity was transferred from the authority of the Diocese of Townsville to the Diocese of Wagga Wagga. The letter from Rome announcing this included some beautiful words of encouragement.
It read, “Among the various plants in the field of the Lord must be numbered the Confraternity of Christ the Priest, established in the diocese of Townsville, now located in the Diocese of Wagga Wagga.”
That’s the voice of the Church, giving us confidence that we’re on the right path, with a rule approved by the Church as well.
On this occasion as we celebrate our 60th anniversary I’d ask you to pray for us, that what Pope Francis gave as the aims of this Year of Consecrated Life would be fulfilled in us: “to help the Consecrated to look to the past with gratitude, to live the present with passion and to embrace the future with hope, and by so doing to help wake up the world to the reality of God and the common call to holiness in heaven we have all received.”
For information on the Confraternity of Christ the Priest, contact Fr Thomas Casanova CCS on fr_casanova at hotmail dot com