Homily of Most Rev John Fleming, Bishop of Killala at Mass of Chrism in St Muredach’s Cathedral, Ballina, 11.00am Holy Thursday 8th April 2004

08 Apr 2004


8 APRIL 2004




The Passion of the Christ, the film directed by Mel Gibson, has generated
great publicity and caused much controversy during the past few weeks. Many people
have found it difficult to watch, with its scenes of violence, noise and its
allegedly anti-Semitic slant. In a strange way, however, with its focus on the
last twelve hours of the life of Christ, it has tuned many minds to the events
which the Christian world celebrates this week, the Passion, Death and Resurrection
of Christ.

This film, however, only gives us part of the story. It ends with the death of
Christ on the Cross. It fails to tell us the rest of what happened and, in particular,
it does not communicate the joy and hope which followed three days later, when
Christ rose from the dead and secured for all of us who believe a place in the
life of the Resurrection.

This morning, with the Mass of Chrism, we begin our faith journey through the
institution the priesthood, in which we share, and the Eucharist and the leave-
taking of the Last Supper which we celebrate, into the suffering and death of
Christ tomorrow. The silence of the tomb dominates our thoughts on Saturday
until the glory of the Resurrection bursts on us with hope and joy on Saturday
night and Sunday morning.

But what is this joy which we will celebrate at the end of this journey on
Easter Sunday morning and how do we make it real in the Ireland of today and,
in particular, in the Irish diocesan priesthood of today? Is there joy in our
lives today and is our joy, the joy foretold by Christ as Christian joy?

Today’s society seeks happiness with feverish intensity and our tolerance of
pain is particularly low. Every billboard, television ad and magazine stares
us in the face promising us ways to alleviate pain and create joy; ideal homes,
idyllic holidays, increased productivity, higher incomes, refreshing drinks,
tastier foods, sure ways of eliminating boredom and so on. As a society,
therefore, we seem to have little or no time or tolerance for personal
suffering. You have only to look at the ways in which we over-protect
ourselves and those we love, over-react to the threat of any discomfort
and abhor any ban, prohibition or element of voluntary sacrifice. And yet,
behind almost every hall door in this country lies pain, in varying degrees,
which we cannot avoid or eliminate; the death of a loved one, the illness
of a near one, the fear we have for the well-being of a dear one, the burden
of debt, the fear of redundancy and so on. And when you narrow it down to
our lived experience of priesthood today in this country you can add fear
and pain in a particular way; the fear what is to come, the pain of betrayal,
the burden of pastoral care in a situation where it is difficult at times
to see real progress. We ask ourselves the question, therefore, where is
Christian joy to be found in the dark shadows of daily living?

I can suggest places in which it is not to be found; in an austere and
authoritarian form of Christianity inherited from the past, in a form of
dolorism. Neither will it be found in a euphoric Christianity promoted by
some in the present, one from which the cross, the passion, sacrifice and
renunciation have almost disappeared. For this reduces the Christianity
we value to little more than a superficial, pleasant, experience of life
lived under a Christian guise.

Paschal joy cannot be separated from the crucified and our Christianity
must always be the Christianity of Jesus, crucified and risen. There can
be no Easter without Good Friday and no risen Lord without a crucified
Christ. For the truth of the matter is that the joy of Easter cannot be
bought cheaply.

Humanity hopes for and expects “good news” from us. And all we have to
offer is the good news that we have received from God concerning suffering,
sacrifice and the cross. For suffering is the lot of every human being and
no amount of economic activity, higher living standards, personal protection
or greater freedom can eliminate this from life. The word that people hope
for from us cannot be one that suggests that we remove suffering from our
path, that we neutralise it, forget it, make it numb or eliminate it. Our
message can only be good news when we take suffering seriously and then go
beyond it. This is precisely what Christ did in his paschal mystery. He
assumed it himself, gave it meaning and triumphed over it. And it is this
triumphant spirit, given to us in baptism, that allows us to do the same
and make our news “good news” for today’s world.

Joy in our priesthood, joy in our ministry of service of the people of God
living in this diocese, is rooted in the paschal mystery, which we celebrate
in these days. These are difficult times for the Church in Ireland. However,
in a real sense, the pain, fear, apathy and tension in which we now minister
make us more authentic ministers of Christian joy than an easier world in
the past may have made our predecessors. For once we take all this suffering
seriously and courageously and then go beyond it and triumph over it, as
Christ did, we can bring a new and unique vision of the relevance of the
gospel to our times. Like Christ, our ministry becomes incarnational, our
service is lived with suffering and our witness is one of triumph over all
of these. Yes, we have much to celebrate in these days, much to reflect on
and much to challenge us. May the joy of the Risen Christ be a mark of our
priesthood in the year that lies ahead.


Further information:
Catholic Communications Office: 01 505 3000
Ms Brenda Drumm, Communications Officer: 087 233 7797

Notes to Editors:
A photograph of Bishop Fleming is available on request from the Catholic Communications Office