A sermon preached at the Requiem Mass of Bishop John Hazlewood
in St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, Ballarat on Wednesday September 9, 1998 by Fr Peter Treloar

LET ME BEGIN with the obvious: John Hazlewood was once the Dean of Perth. He burst like a Roman candle (no pun intended, your Grace) onto the somnolent scene of Australian Anglican church life. Teenagers climbing the pillars of St George’s Cathedral to get a look at the groovy Dean. Monday Conference with Phillip Adams. Lunch with Elton John. And disapproving letters from Sir Marcus Loane. For all its Camelot qualities, it was a chapter in Australian Church history which stimulated a sea change in the way we communicated the Faith.

Some, no doubt, were attracted by the showman. And that he most certainly was. The tallest mitres this side of the Council of Trent. The ability to captivate an audience of growling heathen teenagers. The huge red nude on the dining room wall. He knew how to turn it on, alright. I don’t think I’m the only one here today in Holy Orders because of a few hefty scotches and ‘The Dream of Gerontius’. But those who came for the show usually stayed because of the substance which sustained him. Another of his victims tried to describe it like this: “The richness of catholicism, in the charismatic personification of John Hazlewood, had invaded me through every sense. Here was a form of Christianity that took my humanity, my embodiedness, seriously – which proclaimed that the sacred could be revealed to me through ordinary “stuff” – that spirit and matter do not in fact have to be at war; and that flesh, in all its weakness, is the unlikely vehicle of God’s most intimate indwelling of creation.”

There are some very John Hazlewood phrases in there, like “flesh in all its weakness”. Weakness was something he knew well, although doubtless he was more comfortable with failure in others than in himself. So perhaps I might be allowed to observe that it was not always easy being John Hazlewood’s wife, or his son. Two people here today can testify to the amusements of being his Archdeacon. It was not always a bed of roses, I suppose, being his Dean, or his house-keeper, or his Primate. And if you listen carefully, you can just hear an ancient voice crying: “You should have tried being Dean Hazlewood’s Archbishop!”

The weakness of the flesh was a theme almost as dear to Fr John as was its redemption. His was an utterly incarnational theology. Heaven and earth are both full of God’s glory, and so both are good. Jesus came that we might have life in all its fullness, which presumably means the fullness of sorrow as well as the fullness of joy. He knew them both. Next Monday is the anniversary of Paul’s death. Anyone who thinks that Fr John’s life consisted only of Rovers and Benson & Hedges has missed the point.

Truly incarnational theology must issue in a life full of sacraments, and Fr John stood at the Altar, I suppose, as much as any priest in the history of Christendom. In more than eight years as his Chaplain, I never recall a day when he failed to hold his priests and people up to the throne of grace, in motel rooms, in private homes, in churches around the diocese, and in the Chapel at Bishopscourt. There, in its dual dedication, were focussed the two great spiritual forces in his life. One was Michael and the Holy Angels, on whose feast day he had been made deacon, ordained priest and consecrated bishop. His beloved first parish in the slums of London bore that dedication. Angels were for Fr John not a matter of superstition, but a sign of the protective presence of God which, in his weakness, he knew to be very real.

But pride of place in the Chapel at Bishopscourt was held by Our Lady of Walsingham, to whom he dedicated the Diocese during his episcopacy. Our Saviour dying on the cross gave his Mother to John and John to his Mother. This John took that relationship very seriously, and knew its power. It was a great comfort to many of us, but doubtless no surprise to him, that just as she had done for so many years, so she prayed for him at the hour of his death.

There were other ways apart from his love of Our Lady in which Fr John showed himself to be a truly catholic priest. He was grounded in the discipline of the Daily Office, a practice which seems to have followed the dodo into extinction. He practised and advocated sacramental confession, because he knew both our need of it, and its effect. [That practice of course preceded the dodo.] He had a high theology of priesthood, and because he expected so much of those who joined it, he thus attracted an astonishing number to it. When I came south in 1980, there were 16 men in training for the priesthood, a number surely remarkable for a small country diocese. The Hazlewood lads are now scattered across the country and the globe, making life miserable for our new bishops far and wide! We carry with us the vision of our first Father-in-God, who said at the ordination of one of us: “When the Blessed Trinity has finished with you tonight, you will go out in the company of the Saints as part of a mighty power house of glory, to be a light in the darkness, a shelter for the afflicted, and a living sacrament of Jesus Christ in whom you will offer his Sacrifice for the whole world as you unite your own sacrifice to his.”

Of course the question of ordination – who can and who can’t – tended to dominate his years as Bishop of this Diocese. It was, and in some ways continues to be, a matter of great passion and conviction. Strange then that John Hazlewood should have so many friends in all corners of the debate. He much preferred to be in communion than out of it, and had no qualms about maintaining friendship with those who could not for conscience’ sake, stay within the bounds of Mother Church. But he was equally magnanimous with those who should have been his bitter enemies. Perhaps it is now safe to recall in public the times when the Dean and I trod the footpath along Wendouree Parade just in case any member of the press should venture by and discover what, or more to the point, who was going on in the Chapel up the driveway. I have to confess that his generosity to those on both sides of the debate drove some of us young and idealistic purists to distraction. I was often full of righteous indignation, but I misunderstood him. Just as many undervalued his intellect or mistook his sense of presence for self-absorption, so I mistook as vacillation what was really self-emptying love. Listen to these words from his sermon in the Rock Mass for Love:

Love flows from God to all people, all the world, because God is in the flesh of Jesus, not just what pleases me. Some of our loves may have to be like hell because Jesus said we had to love our enemies… I say to you, in Jesus who comes to us tonight in this Sacrament, gentleness is strength, peace is power, love is God, among us, in the eyes of someone we know, in the voice they speak to us, in their touch, in their tenderness, in their beauty, in the bread and wine of the Sacrament we shall receive, in relationship in Christ always. This is the love of God.

Fr John’s life was a journey in every sense. Physically, he came from London to Wellington, then while his parents went to Sydney and his brother Ian to St Francis’ in Brisbane, he went via Canada to England to join the RAF. Then Kings and Cuddesdon and Camberwell. Then followed a brief stay in the Diocese of Sydney which according to legend came to an abrupt end when the Rector discovered him teaching the Rosary to the youth group. He was exiled to Dubbo, where a remarkable team of priests gathered around Bishop D’Arcy Collins. Then back briefly to London, and just as his brother moved to England, he came to St Francis’. Then north to Rockhampton with his new bride, and where at St Paul’s Cathedral at this very moment his friends are offering Mass for him. Then to Perth and finally here.

Where did he belong? I keep thinking of a verse of a hymn:

These stones which have echoed their praises are holy,
And dear is the ground where their feet have once trod.
Yet here they confessed they were strangers and pilgrims
And still they were seeking the city of God.

It is a reference to Hebrews 11, and it speaks of those who, despite much faith, has not yet found their homeland. There was this side to Fr John, an insecurity, a humanity, masterfully masked by his flamboyance, but which meant that he found it much easier to be the Bishop of Ballarat than to be John Hazlewood. It was a brokenness, a real and honest and inescapable humility, which is encapsulated in this story told to me by a Hazlewood priest. He wrote:

Shirley died a few months after my induction. Bishop John accepted an invitation to spend Christmas here, and my invitation to preach at Midnight Mass. (In the years when he was Vice Principal of St Francis’ College, he preached fortnightly here at High Mass, and some of the people remembered him from those glory days.)

During the week leading up to Christmas, Bishop John said that I should preach – that he “had lost it” and would probably let me down. I twisted his arm, and although he was a bit agitated about it, he eventually agreed to preach as we had originally planned. All he said was this:

“Well do I remember the first time I stood in this pulpit, forty years ago, a young man straight from Cambridge, Oxford, and the slums of London. A young man who knew everything. I now stand before you as an old man, a broken man, a man who knows very little.”

Then he paused and looked up with that twinkle in his eye, raised his voice and proclaimed to the packed church: “But the little he knows will get him to heaven!”

He then beckoned to the Christmas Crib, set up at the foot of the pulpit, and talked about the littleness of Jesus – God in the weakness of flesh – resting in holy Mary’s arms.

He then beckoned to the Tabernacle on the High Altar and talked about the littleness of Jesus – God in the weakness of flesh – in the Blessed Sacrament. And then Bishop John stepped down from the pulpit.

Peter Treloar is Chairman of Forward in Faith Australia.