Sacred Heart Cathedral, Bendigo
April 16, 2019
2 Sam 7:4-16; Luke 2:41-51
At the heart of our liturgy today is our sacramental celebration of the Lord’s passion, death and resurrection. Once again, we will be invited into the mystery of the Last Supper, where the Lord gave his disciples the bread and wine, which were his body and blood, broken and poured out for them and for us, and we will be challenged once again by his words, “Do this in remembrance of me”. As I have said often, we are called to celebrate the Eucharist so that we can become, in our communion with the Lord, the presence of the Eucharist in the lives of others. In memory of Jesus and in union with him, we too are called to hand over our lives for the life of the world.
Surrounding our celebration of the Lord’s passion, death and resurrection today, almost as a commentary on it, are two other elements which are unique to today’s celebration. One is the blessing and consecration of the Holy Oils and the other is the renewal of their ordination promises by our priests. The oils of course are used exclusively in the celebration of the Sacraments of baptism, confirmation, anointing of the sick and priestly and episcopal ordination. Each of these sacraments points in its own way to the mystery of the Eucharist, the great sacrament of communion. In baptism, we are plunged into the great mystery of Christ. The pouring of the water symbolises our union with Christ as he submits himself to death, is plunged into the darkness, and then rises to new life.
The oil of catechumens, which we bless, is used in baptism to remind us of the power and strength, which comes to us from the grace of God, and the Chrism, which we consecrate, symbolises our profound union with Christ whose death and rising to new life we now share.
The oil of the sick which we also bless today, becomes a sign of the strength we receive in times of physical illness and as we prepare for the final moment of our journey into full communion with the Lord through death and our rising to new life. Before we come to this final journey of course, we have our lives to lead.
The oil of Chrism, used at our baptism, is used again at our confirmation to symbolise the gift of the Holy Spirit who comes to us in a new and powerful way to strengthen us for the challenge of living our Christian lives to the full. And both at our baptism and our confirmation, the sacred Chrism anoints us for our share in the priesthood of Christ. As he offered himself on the cross in a sacrificial act of total self-giving to his Father for our sake; so we, who are one with him, are also called to make our lives a sacrificial gift for others. This is our sharing in the priesthood of Christ. This is what makes us all, together, a holy nation and a royal priesthood.
The other unique element in our liturgy today, is the renewing of their solemn promises by our priests, who of course were anointed at their 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 and to feed us, to forgive us and to encourage us, to serve us and to strengthen us.
We have said “yes” to the Lord, yet at times in our hearts there can be a lurking “no” – an inner resistance to the Word we preach and the Sacraments we celebrate; a resentment that builds when demands are great and appreciation is sparse. Only prayer breaks the grip of negativity on our hearts, in whatever form it exists. In prayer, we surrender to the Cross that lurking “no” and instead embrace Jesus’ own loving “yes” to God the Father on our behalf.
Prayer is critically important for all we do as priests, especially preaching the Word and celebrating the Sacraments. Yet how easy it is for all of us, including bishops and priests, to be entrapped in a vicious circle of negativity, marked by sin, doubt, and anxiety.
It is important sometimes to admit that, like everyone else, we priests are as much in need of hope and the joy of Christ’s love, as those to whom we have the privilege to minister. That is why at this Chrism Mass I thank God for our faithful people, friends, family and brother priests – like those present with us in the Cathedral today – who offer us consolation, loving support and understanding, who stand by us in trials, stay close to us in adversity, and sustain our vocations by their solidarity and forgiveness.
And so, I thank every one of you today. Thank you for your innate goodness, for your effort when tired and for your patience when over-stretched, not least by me and my immediate colleagues! Thank you for sustaining your clear identity of a priest of Jesus Christ, witnessing to him, through your faithfulness and perseverance. I thank God for you all.
Dear brother priests, let us ask Mary, Our Lady, the mother of Jesus, always close to her beloved Son, to bring us closer to one another, and, when we need to tell our people to “do everything Jesus tells you”, to speak with one tone of voice, so that in the diversity of our opinions, her maternal closeness may become present. For she is the one who, by her “yes”, has brought us close to Jesus forever.
Now we must continue with this great liturgy. But first, I ask all priests present to stand and be ready to renew the promises of your ordination day, sustained, buoyed up by your faithful people, who, in their turn, promise you their prayers today. Moreover, please do not forget to pray for me..