HOMILY FOR THE CHRISM MASS 2017
Newly elected – ambassadors for the People
Just a couple of months ago following elections in the North of Ireland many women and men were elected to parliament. Many elected spoke in interviews of the privilege it is to have been elected by their constituents and sent by them to represent them in Government. The elected representatives are, if you like, ambassadors for their people, and they have acknowledged that they have accepted the job with humility yet with understandable pride. They now serve as the bridge between their people and the parliament, and between the people and the Government when it takes office.
Priests – Ambassadors for Christ
The First Letter to Timothy acknowledges that Jesus Christ is the one mediator between God and His people. He is our priest and is one with God and one with us – faithful to God, trustworthy and compassionate, in solidarity with us. We all share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ in different ways – by our baptism or by ordination. Our priesthood makes no sense and has no meaning apart from Jesus Christ. The Chrism Mass each year affords us an opportunity to celebrate the Priesthood of Jesus Christ in which we share, to thank God for this gift. In this special sacred occasion we renew our priestly ministry of service and joyfully accept our responsibility as ambassadors for Christ. Our priestly ministry however is only possible if we ourselves are in close contact with Jesus Christ in our daily prayer. If He is not central to our ministry then inevitably we lack integrity and authenticity.
Letter to the Hebrews
Over the past couple of weeks in the Office of Readings we have been reading, reflecting and contemplating the Letter to the Hebrews. What better spiritual reading could we have as a reflection on priesthood. In the letter to the Hebrews we get a profound sense of the vertical and the horizontal intimate relationships, which they might be so called. The vertical relationship of the Father and the Son and the horizontal relationship of the Son and those to whom he ministers and represents. Both of these relationships are inextricably linked and joined as one.
Meetings with priests
Before and after Christmas I have had the joy and privilege of meeting the priests of the diocese, one to one and to listen to their story, their ideals, their hopes, aspirations, challenges and fears. Without exception I have found that to be a most positive experience and am privileged to have been part of that experience. Despite the obvious and well trumpeted difficulties of the Church today, priests in the main are a very happy, content and fulfilled group of people. For the most part, they are genuinely and primarily prayerful people, serene and humble in their privilege to serve in response to the call of the Lord. They are very content with the support and loyalty and encouragement they receive from so many people, so generous with their time and so willing to collaborate and live out the priesthood of the faithful in conjunction with them.
The Bishop – Love of Priesthood and Priests
A couple of years ago, just in passing a classmate of mine made a wise observation. Just in case you are wondering it was not Ger Nash or Michael O’Meara who made the comment, but, nevertheless, it has to be said, they do happen to utter wise and learned things on a frequent basis! The classmate in question was observing that to be a Bishop one would want to have a great heart for Priesthood and a love, tolerance, care and understanding and interest in priests in general. Seven months into the job I can see how wise he was.
John Cummins – Croagh Patrick – Unsung Hero
Last Saturday in extraordinary Spring sunshine an enthusiastic young group of 70 teenage pilgrims went on pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick. At the summit, a local man was waiting for us with his sheepdog and Jack Russel. He had the door of the chapel open. There was flowers on the altar. The candles were lit. Everything was set for Mass. It was a place of welcome. The same man does that on countless days for so many pilgrim groups in all types of weather conditions. He is one of Ireland’s unsung heroes.
Priestly Service in the diocese of Killaloe
In the diocese of Killaloe in 137 Churches that might not be at the same altitude of Croagh Patrick but span an expansive latitude from Loop Head to Kinnity – 99 Priests of Jesus Christ and their many helpers have the doors open and the candles lit 24/7, 365 days of the year for so many souls as they come for blessing and the grace of God at Baptism, First Holy communion, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Confirmation, Marriage, Funerals and many other religious events besides.
Acknowledging un-sung heroes
Much of the work that these priests do is against a backdrop of aggressive secularism and corrosive cynicism that renders so much of what they do seemingly thankless. In many ways, like the caretaker on the top of Croagh Patrick, they are some of the many unsung heroes of our world today because of their steadfastness, constancy, generous availability and faithfulness in the face of huge challenges.
Prayerful Remembrance for Priests
On this special night we pray for our great priests, acknowledge them in their great work, affirm them in their vocations and pray God’s blessing for the grace to continue and to flourish as ambassadors for Jesus Christ. We pray for a renewal and refreshment of the distinct, unique yet collaborative vocations to the priesthood, religious life and the priesthood of the faithful in all it’s manifest forms.
Centrality of the Cross
Speaking of the vertical and the horizontal – Each year we celebrate the Chrism Mass in the shadow of Good Friday and the cross. In so many ways this is very appropriate. The whole mission and ministry of Jesus is never far from the cross. Pope Francis, in the first homily he preached as Pontiff, or as he likes to be seen as “The servant of the servants of Christ” – In that homily he says:
When we walk without the Cross
When we build without the Cross
When we profess a Christ without the Cross
We aren’t disciples of the Lord.
The shadow of the Cross in daily life
Indeed the cross casts a long shadow back to the very beginning of the gospel. So many people that I have met this year past in my pastoral travels have had a very clear reminder of the way in which the cross impinges on all of us. Yet as men and women of Easter hope we recognise that the cross can never be separated from the resurrection. The tomb of death has been transformed by Jesus Christ into the womb of new life. And so it is with courage that we are all reminded that if we wish to be a follower of Jesus we must take up the cross every day.
Jesus – understanding of the Cross
Right through his ministry Jesus is reaching out and acknowledges how the cross weighs heavily on different people and sets about lifting that burden with and for them as He heals the sick, comforts the bereaved, feeds the hungry and consoles the downhearted.
The Priest Sharing the Cross with those he ministers to
The ministry of the priest is exercised in that context shouldering the cross with all people. This is something which priests do as they respond to the raw hurt of peoples’ lives, blessing and consoling the sick with Christ’s healing sacrament of anointing, comforting the afflicted when they minister as ambassadors of a welcoming and forgiving Christ in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, bringing hope to those who see no future, helping those who are struggling by feeding them at the table of God’s word and the Eucharist.
Blessing of Oils – Healing Ministry
In our celebration of the Chrism Mass this evening we bless the oils which will bring comfort, consolation and strength to the people of God. This links us with the healing ministry which will be celebrated by the priests throughout the length and breath of the diocese in the year ahead. The Chrism will be used to sign new Christians with the Cross, to seal them for Christ. This sweet smelling oil will remind them that they are, as St. Paul says, to be the “aroma of Christ” spreading fragrance wherever they go. (2 Cor 2:14-15). This is the Oil that will signify the outpouring of the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit in the beautiful Sacrament of Confirmation that along with many of the priests present are so thoroughly enjoying the privilege of celebrating with so many of the youth of the diocese at present.
Renewal of Priesthood – Ambassadors of Mercy
Today, we thank God for the gift of priesthood and renew the promises we made on Ordination Day. This year we renew our commitment in the context of the fruits of the Jubilee Year of Mercy that concluded last Autumn. A particular priestly task always is for us to proclaim “the Lord’s year of favour” to proclaim the Lord’s unfathomable mercy in the sacrament of Reconciliation. In the confessional a powerfully soothing balm awaits those burdened by sin, by fear or embarrassment; burdened by not knowing exactly what to say. Here the gentleness of Christ awaits those burdened in any way. It encourages and enables them to offload their burdens and go forward with a lighter step and with joy in their hearts. Paul reminds us that “this is God’s work” and “it is God who reconciles us to himself and has given us the work of handing on this reconciliation”. May we as priests be true ambassadors for Christ during this year to come and always and be generous in making the sacrament of reconciliation a priority in our ministry.
Dependence on the prayers of the Faithful
As priests we recognise that we are utterly dependent on the prayers, support, encouragement and advice of those to whom we minister. Without that interaction our ministry would not make sense or be possible. As we approach the celebration of the central mystery of our faith during Holy Week in the celebration of the Paschal Mystery we plead for prayers for our priests, that we may be faithful to God’s call and compassionate in our service to the people of God.