Homily delivered by His Excellency Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay
For the Occasion of His Installation Mass
As Fourth Maronite Bishop of Australia
At St Maroun’s Cathedral, Redfern
Monday 3 June 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
Allow me first to express my deep gratitude to His Eminence George Cardinal Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, for his presence here tonight, for his support, guidance and collaboration during my ministry in Sydney over the last 10 years.
Next, I thank His Excellency Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Apostolic Nuncio to Australia, for his presence with us on this special occasion. His Excellency is representing our Holy Father, His Holiness Pope Francis, whom I was privileged to meet on my recent trip to Rome where I received his Apostolic Blessing for me and for the Maronite Eparchy of Australia. I renew today my filial obedience, loyalty and affection to the Holy Father as Supreme Pontiff, Bishop of Rome and successor of St Peter.
As a son of the Syriac Maronite Catholic Church of Antioch, I would like to thank His Eminence and Beatitude Mar Bechara Boutros Cardinal Rai, Maronite Patriarch of Antioch and All the East and with him, I thank the fathers of the Maronite Synod of Bishops for welcoming me amongst them and for their fraternal support especially over the last weeks. My sincere gratitude goes to His Excellency Bishop Mounir Khairallah, Maronite Bishop of the Diocese of Batroun, who is representing His Beatitude the Patriarch at this, the Installation of the fourth Maronite Bishop of Australia.
I would also like to thank the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference for the support they show to the Maronite Church in Australia. I also thank and welcome all my brothers the Bishops of the Eastern Churches. I assure you of my readiness to work with you in the same spirit of collaboration as His Excellency Bishop Ad Abikaram.
My fraternal affection and sincere gratitude also goes to His Excellency Bishop Ad Abikaram, who has served the Eparchy of Australia for the last 11 years. I have worked alongside His Excellency on several occasions and I have witnessed his dedication to the Eparchy and to all the Maronites. Your Excellency, we thank you for all your efforts and we pray that the Lord may grant you good health and graces that you may continue your mission in Lebanon at the service of the Gospel.
Brothers and Sisters, if I may, I will shortly reflect on my journey, not from pride, but rather, because I am humbled and filled with wonder to see the graces that Our Lord has blessed me with. I was called to consecrate my life and, so, I entered the novitiate of the Lebanese Maronite Order of Monks in Kfifane, Lebanon in 1983 at the age of 16. Ten years later, in 1993, I was ordained to the priesthood having completed my formation and studies with a degree in Theology and Philosophy. Over the last 20 years, I have served as priest in different parishes and capacities. I have administered the sacraments, lectured in Moral Theology and Bioethics, and worked in the fields of education and formation of new generations. And now, Our Lord has called me to the fullness of the priesthood to become the shepherd of his Maronite flock in Australia.
Tonight, at the commencement of my Episcopal tenure, the first step for me is to renew my vows by which I consecrated my life to the Lord, and to serving Him and you, his brothers and sisters, especially the little ones. For me, the face of the Lord is beyond conception, unless I can find it reflected in some way within both the face of humanity and the faces of each individual child of God.
The essence of my call and vocation are to be found in the words of the Lord: “You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit.” (John 15:16)
With a sense of wonder, I tell you that it is a grace beyond any expectation or understanding of mine that I should have been chosen by the Lord for this ministry. If I try and think about it, I become amazed: he called me to follow Him, and now he has chosen me to tend to his sheep, and feed his flock.
It almost overcomes me to say this, but it is as if I hear him asking: “Antoine-Charbel, do you love me more than these?” Before you now, I respond, standing beneath his gaze: “Lord Jesus, I have no other answer to make than St Peter’s, You know everything and You know that I love You.” I have been chosen by Our Lord to shepherd His flock, but it is only in loving Him more than anybody or anything else and submitting myself to His holy will that I can become a good shepherd.
Moreover, I realise that when God chooses someone, he gives also, with his election, an abundance of gifts and blessings, he bestows the fullness of love and mercy. From the start of my consecrated life, I noticed how the Lord rained down upon me blessings without number and beyond my desert.
Such generosity has left me questioning, as the Psalmist did: “"What shall I return to the Lord for all his goodness to me?”
Because the Lord is great and merciful, he did not leave me in my questioning and confusion, but he graciously revealed his divine will, and called me to lift up the chalice of salvation and call upon His name. This chalice is to be raised with you, brothers and sisters, and all people of good will, as a chalice of blessing and sanctification. Let it be a chalice of commitment and testimony, a chalice of faithfulness and openness, a chalice that leads us through the sacrament of sacraments to our sanctification.
For sanctification is in its essence, an ecclesiastical act centered on the communion of life with the Word of God who became man for our salvation.
In preparation for my Episcopal ordination, I chose to have my spiritual retreat at the Monastery of Our Lady of Qannoubine in the Holy Valley of Kadisha in Lebanon. My time there was an opportunity to stay close to the roots of the Maronite Church where our forefathers lived and responded to the call of holiness and gave real witness to the Lord through an ascetic life of prayer, sacrifice and martyrdom. In that valley of rough and rocky land, with very limited means and under persecution, they lived holy lives with unshakeable faith in God and in unity with one another. From the Kadisha Valley to Australia, this vast and blessed land of freedom and opportunity, openness and dialogue, this land of diversity and harmony, may we always, dear Maronites, live the values of the Kadisha Valley and appreciate and defend our beloved Australia, respect its diversity and commit ourselves to the social, political and religious fabric of this nation. As proud Maronite Australians, faithful to our rich heritage and traditions, let us continue to contribute to this generous land of Australia, the land of the Holy Spirit, and to the mission of its people.
It is a testimony to the role that our community plays in this country and the respect in which it is held, that the Commonwealth parliament has treated the ordination of the new Maronite Bishop as being of national significance, and sent representatives of both Government and Opposition to Lebanon. I would like to thank all the Australian leaders who travelled to Lebanon to attend my episcopal ordination. As a proud Australian, I have been privileged to call Australia home since 2004. It is today the nation closest to my heart as it is the land of my mission, the land where Our Lord has called me to serve His people.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Thirty years ago, the Lord called me to consecrate my life to Him in the Lebanese Maronite Order of Monks. Since then, the Order has been my home and my spiritual mother where my talents were nurtured, my faith was deepened and my character was moulded. I cannot thank the Order enough for all that they have offered to me. I especially thank the Superior-General, Most Reverend Abbot Tannous Nehme, who is a role model for monastic life and spiritual fatherhood. I thank him for travelling the long distance from Lebanon to Australia accompanied by a large delegation of the LMO to be with me today.
It is fitting that I take as my patron, St Charbel, the first canonized saint of the Lebanese Maronite Order. In his honour, and that of St Anthony, whose name my parents gave me, I take as my episcopal name, Antoine-Charbel. I ask St Charbel, the holy hermit, who reached the glories of heaven to intercede for me that I may be a good shepherd and lead my flock to green pastures.
Dear monsignors, fathers, monks, sisters and religious present here today, I greet you and thank you for joining us. We are all workers in the field of the Lord serving Him through our brothers and sisters in Christ and we will continue to work together for our Church in Australia and around the world. My gratitude goes to all the clergy, sisters and community members who travelled to Lebanon for the ordination.
To my dear Maronites in Australia, thank you for your wishes, prayers and messages over the last weeks. A special thank you goes to those who have come from Melbourne, Adelaide, and Brisbane to be with us today. Following my appointment as bishop, I realized that the field before us - you and I – is endlessly rich and it has made me proud and happy to hear you say that the new bishop is “one of us”. The young say that they have been given a young bishop who understands their concerns and aspirations, speaks their language and has worked with them for many years, in their homes, schools and workplaces. The mature say that they have a bishop who has extensive experience like theirs, who likes to meet them and their families, and who speaks Arabic and understands the issues facing those who have emigrated from Lebanon, for like you, I too, am an emigrant.
I am one of you, I know you and you know me. In the recent past, you have known me as Fr Antoine Tarabay, Rector of St Charbel’s Church, Monastery and College, and today, I am Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay. The name and the responsibilities may have changed but our relationship, collaboration and unity in the Lord remain unchanged. I trust that we will always work hand in hand faithful to our Church’s teachings and traditions and open to the diversity of our country Australia. I greet the elderly, our families, the children and especially the youth to whom I say:
Dear young people, as your new Bishop, I would like you to know how proud I am of all of you, and that you are a priority in my apostolate. You are the future and a source of hope for the Church. We need your ideas, your energy and your talents.
Allow me today to thank my family, especially my parents, my sisters, and all those who travelled all the way from Lebanon to be with me this week. I thank my parents, brothers and sisters for their love, support and assistance.
Events such as these take a lot of preparation and organization. My sincere gratitude goes to the organizing committee of this mass and the cocktails that will follow, to the volunteers, and to all those who helped in any way, especially St Charbel’s Parish choir led by Fr Challita Al-Boustany.
My dear Maronites of Australia, you belong to one of the largest Maronite Dioceses in the world. This diocese spreads across a vast country, an entire continent. Our Church here possesses a unique identity which has been organically formed by living Maronite traditions in this prosperous land of diversity. I take as my episcopal motto: Faithfulness and Openness. I shall strive to remain faithful to my Maronite roots and heritage and to be open to the fruit and opportunities of Australia.
May I humbly follow the example of His Holiness Pope Francis, when he asked the faithful to pray for him at the beginning of his pontificate. I now invite you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, to pray with and for me to Our Lord, saying together:
O Jesus, Good Shepherd, pastor filled with compassion, tenderness, and wisdom; teach me to live in Your likeness, to give myself to my flock, and to dedicate myself for their sake. Grant me, O Lord, through Your grace, to bear their weaknesses with patience, to be compassionate and to help them to discern the truth. Help me to console those who are sad, encourage those who are weak, and aid those who have fallen to rise up again, so that I may lead to You all those entrusted to my care. Place on my lips, O Lord, the right words that I may build my flock up in faith, shepherd them in hope, and sanctify them in charity that they may adore You in spirit and in truth. I place them all in Your holy hands and entrust them to Your infinite care. O Lord, meek and humble, to You be glory forever. Amen.
 Psalm 116:12-13.