Homily: Mass of Chrism, 2018

Sacred Heart Cathedral
27th March, 2018
Is 61:1-3, 6, 8-9; Apoc 1:5-8; Lk 4:16-21

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour." Jesus, anointed by the Spirit, brings good news to the poor. Everything Jesus proclaims, we priests also proclaim.

Like Jesus, the Christ, the Anointed One, we Catholics have been anointed with Chrism: in Baptism, in Confirmation and, for my brother priests and me, in Holy Ordination to the Priesthood. Today, on this great day of Chrism, we all renew in our hearts our willingness to be workers for Christ, participants in his project, dedicating again our desires, our wills, our hearts, our efforts to this great mission.

With this ceremony of this Mass of the Oils, we are entering the holiest days of the Church's year. In these next few days, we shall journey with Jesus, through the crowded streets of Jerusalem, to his last supper, his arrest and trials, his suffering and death, coming finally to that glorious moment of his resurrection!

The Mass we celebrate today focuses on the blessing of the holy oils and the chrism which we will use throughout the coming year in the celebration of all Baptisms, Confirmations, Anointing of the Sick and Ordinations in our diocese. We do this, at this special time of year, to remind ourselves that all sacraments draw their power from the paschal mystery of our Lord’s suffering, death and resurrection. The oils and the chrism are physical signs of the sacramental unity of the Church formed by the anointing of all believers at Baptism and Confirmation, and priests and bishops in a special way at Ordination.

Allow me at this special celebration to reflect for a moment on the nature of our ministry as priests and on our personal identity and spirituality, on that “interior unity of life” which the former Cardinal Ratzinger spoke of as a vital dimension of our spirituality.

A unique element in our liturgy today is the renewing of our solemn promises as priests, and recalling our ordination with the oil of Chrism. As ordained priests we live among our people, conscious that the Lord has placed us at the heart of our communities not because we are better, or holier, or more worthy than our brothers and sisters, but simply because the Lord, in the mystery of his own divine plan, has chosen us to be the living signs that he has not deserted his people, that he continues to lead us, to forgive us and to encourage us, to serve us and to strengthen us.

The foundation of any priestly spirituality is an intimate communion with Christ. This fundamental union with Christ must be the hallmark of everything that we do. All my activities as a priest constitute only one vocation: to be together with Christ acting as his instrument and in communion with Him.

Personal spirituality cannot be placed just in a sort of separate package alongside pastoral activity, as if it were an added dimension, one of many that I have to fit somehow into my busy day. Priestly spirituality is an irreplaceable dimension of ministry. A deep priestly spirituality will bring comfort in success, but also it will support in delusion and failure. I cannot speak in the name of Christ, if I do not speak with Christ.

Ministry without a spirituality becomes merely activism. I know that the life of prayer can be a challenge, hence our renewal of our priestly promises is an opportunity to begin anew, to commit ourselves to a rule of life, time and space for God in prayer, having the discipline to persevere. We are to be teachers of prayer. Our people need us to help them to grow in prayer. To do this we must be men of prayer, a prayer that will help us make good decisions, a prayer that will help us uproot our selfishness, our superficiality, and our vanity. Without prayer our ministry can be self-serving rather than directed towards others and their needs.

My brother priests, we have such a precious role to play, as spelled out in the words of the promises we are about take. Always, in all these duties, we are to be particularly sensitive and responsive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, at work in unexpected ways and places, yet always recognisable in the fruits of the Spirit.

Let us return for a moment to what today’s liturgy describes as the work of the priest: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour." Isaiah also mentions consoling the broken-hearted and comforting the afflicted.

These are not easy or purely mechanical jobs, like running an office, building a parish hall or laying out a cricket pitch for the young of the parish… The tasks of which Jesus speaks call for the ability to show compassion; our hearts are to be “moved” and fully engaged in carrying them out.

And so, I want to thank you for your generous response to God’s call on the day of your ordination, and I want to thank you for sustaining that response in all the ups and downs of our lives and amidst all the demands on us in parish life. In our Gospel reading from St Luke, may God touch each of us with the words of Jesus,: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me” and may the Spirit overshadow each of us in our priesthood, whether lay or ordained. May He anoint us anew, and bring forth — through our service, and the service of others — a renewal of Christ’s presence in our Church and in our world.

Pope Francis asks us insistently to be accompaniers of the people entrusted to us and to be the discerners of the promptings of the Holy Spirit among them. Let that call, and the dedication and generosity of time it requires of us, the prayerfulness of life it presupposes within each of us, be powerfully in our hearts as I ask you now to rise and renew, in this assembly, the promises of your priesthood.


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