Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s homily notes for the Chrism Mass in the Pro-Cathedral

08 Apr 2009

9 April 2009

Homily Notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland, for the 2009 Chrism Mass at 10am on Holy Thursday in the Pro-Cathedral

Very often, as I begin to celebrate Mass here in the Pro-Cathedral, I am distracted by the words on the poster on that column towards my left: “Dublin needs priests”.

It is an appeal to young men to look into their hearts and see where the Lord may be calling them in their lives, and perhaps to respond in a generous way if they feel that the Lord is calling them to follow him in the ministry of the diocesan priesthood at the service of the People of God in this archdiocese.

The diocese of Dublin needs priests.  The statistics show that in the diocese there are now ten times more priests over 70 than under 40.  In just a few years we will only have a little over 200 diocesan priests to minister to our almost 200 parishes.  At the same time some Parishes are growing rapidly and their needs are increasing.  Fewer priests are being asked to respond to more calls on their time and their ministry.   Inevitably the structures of priestly ministry will have to change, while at the same time the diocese of Dublin needs new priests.

Today at this Chrism Mass, the priests of the Archdiocese and those priests from religious congregations and other dioceses who minister in Dublin, come together to celebrate the Eucharist as a Presbyterate, as a community of priests united in one ministry.  We celebrate the Eucharist in a particularly symbolic manner, united with the Bishop and with the whole Church, as we celebrate the unity of our priesthood.

This unity is a theological reality yet also something still to be achieved.  It is something that we have to realise day by day in the concrete situation of our diocese and in the changing cultural situation in which we live and which we are called to influence.  As a presbyterate, we have to address and share with each other our joys and our sorrows, our achievements, our responsibilities and challenges.  We have to share our faith; we have to witness together to our hope; we have to live out and reflect in our lives and in our relationships the reality of God’s love. 

As a presbyterate we must ensure that the love of God, to which we are called to witness, dominates the way we interact with each other.  Reflecting God’s love means embracing, enhancing and recognising the goodness in each other; it means forgiving each other’s faults and failings; it means rejoicing in each other’s successes and sharing in each other’s burdens and suffering. 

For my part I ask forgiveness of anyone that I may have hurt or left feeling neglected.  I know my own failings and limitations and I wish to renew sincerely today my respect and concern for each and every priest of this diocese or working in this diocese.

We have great priests.  I know that as I see the work you do and what you achieve in times which are not easy.  I warmly support all those groupings of priests which foster deeper spirituality, a better knowledge of the Word of God, or simply create a climate of fraternity and support for each other and of care for priests who are ill or encountering difficulties in their lives and ministry.  These are all expressions of that fundamental unity of the presbyterate which we are – all of us – called to forge and consolidate.

I would like today to say a special word of appreciation to Father John Hughes, our Vicar for Priests, whose genuine yet discrete concern for priests I witness every day.  John has a special appreciation of the work and ministry which we diocesan priests are called to, having been Parish Priest in two Parishes of the Diocese. At the same time I wish to express my appreciation to the many priests from religious Congregations and from other dioceses who enrich the Archdiocese with their unique charism and experience and their special ministerial skills. 

Dublin needs priests.  This is not simply an appeal for vocations at a time when there is a shortage of priests.  Dublin needs priests because of the nature of the calling to priesthood.  The ministry of the ordained priest is essential and irreplaceable in the Church.

I have heard it said that I as Archbishop would seem to highlight, in today’s circumstances, the role of lay people in the Church more often than that of priests.  Anyone who says that forgets that it is lay men and women who are the strongest in their recognition that Dublin needs priests.  Lay people recognise and appreciate and are grateful for the unique ministry of the priest. 

This morning we have here in the Pro-Cathedral, lay people representing each of the 198 territorial parishes in the Archdiocese, from Balbriggan in the North to Castletown in the South, from Athy in the West to Howth in the East, covering parts of Counties Wicklow, Kildare, Wexford and Laois, as well as Dublin County and City.  In addition we have lay representatives of the Parish of the Travelling Community, our Ministry to the deaf, the Chaplaincies to our Universities, as well as ministries in hospitals, schools and prisons.

In the Archdiocese of Dublin, in a way which we have not seen for generations, lay men and women are today bringing their own charisms to unite them with the charisms of the ministerial priesthood, working together for the building up of the Church and Christ’s kingdom.  

We hear often the term “collaborative ministry”.  This does not mean that all ministries are the same but rather that the diverse gifts and callings of each are called to build up the same Body of Christ.  The Church is a community in which we share not just structures and activities and pastoral programmes but in which we each share the experience of our personal encounters with Jesus Christ, in word, sacrament and witness. 

At the recent Synod of Bishops on the Word of God one of the most quoted phrases in the talks of bishops was the one taken from the very first paragraph of Pope Benedict’s Encyclical Deus Caritas Est “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person [Jesus Christ], which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”.

Without that personal encounter with Jesus then our participation in Church life will remain superficial and fragile.   The Archdiocese – working also with the Church of Ireland diocese – hopes to begin in the month of June a time of privileged Evangelisation – a Year of Evangelisation.  There are many who ask: what exactly this is about?  What is it asking us to do?   Is this another “once off” event or celebration imposed from above?   Have we not enough to do as it is?

A programme of evangelisation is not a strategy or campaign.  Evangelisation is not achieved by smart slogans and smooth advertising campaigns.  People are not evangelised by externals.  Evangelisation is allowing the power of the Gospel to reach to people and touch the depths of their hearts.   The response of people to the Gospel should in turn be such as to give their lives a new horizon and a decisive direction. 

Evangelisation is about conversion and it is not in the first place about converting others, but about converting ourselves so that our lives, as priests and lay people, witness to others the difference that the encounter with Jesus brings to our lives, through opening up for us an understanding of life which reaches beyond the tangible, the measurable, and the day-to-day, but which is nonetheless real.

Conversion means that we overcome all that is self-centred in us, all our attachment to power and possession and prestige, as Jesus did, and abandon ourselves towards that hope of victory over sin and death which is the Easter Mystery.The priest must always be also prophet: one who witnesses to what he reads and proclaims in the Gospels, as is recalled in the Rite of Ordination of Deacons.  The priest must be one who listens to the word of God and allows that word to be realised each day in the way he lives.  In the same way, the Church is a community of prophecy in our society, not a structure, a corporation or an administration.  The Church becomes a Church of justice, for example, not in the first instance through producing social commentary but through being a community of people who are just and who live justly.  

There is only one way to follow Jesus.  You cannot put Jesus and his message aside when you get tired as with a book; you cannot turn down the volume as with your television.   Following Jesus means following the same path that he trod, to be challenged in the depth of our being and activity by our encounter with him amid all the mystery and puzzlement that his message means for us.  

A year of Evangelisation is not just a series of events and programmes from which you pick or choose at random. The Gospel reading reminds us that a Year of Evangelisation is realising in our times the Year of the Lord which Jesus announced.  A Year of Evangelisation takes on meaning if we can say on each day of the year: “today the scripture is being fulfilled in your hearing”, through my ministry and through the ministry of the entire Church.

The Archdiocese of Dublin is facing challenges of a kind that it has not experienced for many years.  The Report of the Commission on Child Sexual Abuse will shock us all.  It is likely that thousands of children or young people across Ireland were abused by priests in the period under investigation and the horror of that abuse was not recognised for what it is.  The report will make each of us and the entire Church in Dublin a humbler Church. 

We have no time to waste.  There is a dramatic and growing rift between the Church and our younger generations and the blame does not lie principally with young people.  Our young people are generous and idealistic but such generosity and idealism does not seem to find a home in the Church.  Where are we offering young people a home in our Church communities?  Where are the focal points where we are helping young people to find an interpretation of their generosity, idealism and questioning in the light of the challenge and of the beauty of the message of Jesus Christ?  Despite years of Catholic education for many young people the Church remains an alien place, rather than a place where they can encounter a personal God who is love? 

We have no time to waste.  The Ireland we live in is very different to the one of just a few years ago.  Irish culture is changing.  Our Church resources are changing.  Business can be no longer be ‘business as usual’ in the Archdiocese of Dublin and the rate of change will be more rapid than many foresee.

Change can upset and unnerve us.  Have courage!  Jesus was troubled in the face of what he saw emerging in fulfilling the mission given him by the Father.  He knew what abandonment felt like.  But he continued on his path of self-giving love.  Have courage!  Never give in to cynicism or resignation.

The Archdiocese is facing challenges of a kind that it has not experienced for many years. But challenge is negative only for those who give up hope.  At the opening of the Year of Evangelisation I hope to ordain two new priests for the Archdiocese and commission the first group of Lay Pastoral Workers who have been in formation over the past year. My message to them – and  I hope that will be your message too, is:  have courage, Dublin needs good, holy, motivated and enthusiastic priests, Dublin needs committed lay persons who take up responsibility for the life of the Church in Dublin at a unique moment.

People say to me that I became Archbishop at a particularly hard time.  Yes, perhaps.  But this is the time given to me.  This is the time given to you as priests, religious or lay persons.  Let us renew ourselves so that in this time the people of this diocese will realise through our ministry that “The scripture if being fulfilled in your hearing”.

Further information:

Annette O Donnell, Dublin Archdiocese Communications Office, tel 01 8360723