8 April 2009
Homily by Bishop Donal Murray, Bishop of Limerick, for the Chrism Mass celebrated today in St John’s Cathedral, Limerick, at 7.30pm
- These are times that bring enormous new challenges for priests – Bishop Murray
- 15 pastoral leaders to be commissioned to head nine new pastoral areas for the Diocese of Limerick
All of us who gather here for this Chrism Mass have been anointed with Chrism: the Holy Spirit has been given to us and we come to celebrate that gift together. Our first reading reminded us why the Spirit of the Lord has been given to us – so that we can bring good news, so that we can bring healing and liberty and comfort to those who are suffering, so that, in a world where there is a great deal of despondency, we can offer praise to the Lord.
That is the three fold role of Christ, the mission He passes on to us: to speak God’s message, his Good News – that is to be a prophet; to bring the Good News of God’s kingdom to bear on our lives and those of others – that is, to be leaders, people of the Kingdom and of the King; to offer ourselves and our world to God – that is to be a priestly people.
The most important moment in the life of any of us was the first time that we were anointed with chrism – our Baptism. The Holy Spirit was poured into our hearts, uniting us to Christ, the Anointed One, and making us children of God.
In Baptism and later in Confirmation, we were anointed with Chrism. Jesus made us a line of kings and priests to serve God. In other words, we were given the Holy Spirit not just for ourselves, but so that we could bring good news to others and so that we could offer our lives to God.
In this Chrism Mass we gather from every corner of the diocese to give thanks for that gift of the Spirit. We come, as a line of priests, to offer ourselves to God. And what we offer is not just our prayers, not just what we do in the life of our parishes, but every part of lives. The Spirit blows where He wills; Jesus is with us always and everywhere; all the earth belongs to God who created it and us. So, in everything: our work, our recreation, our plans, our hopes, our fears – in everything we do – in every situation we meet, we are to be that line of priests that sees the whole of creation as God’s gift to us, which is to become our gift, our offering to Him.
We are also to be a line of kings, or perhaps we would prefer to say leaders. Pope John Paul saw the real meaning of this for today as a living of the Gospel, as carrying out the task God gave us in the world, valuing people more than things, goodness more than success and the things of the spirit more than the material reality. Bringing the Good News means not just inwardly recognising the call of God in every situation and every person. It means living as people of God’s Kingdom, bringing healing and comfort, recognising the challenge of seeing and living in a way that allows the Good News to shine through. Our lives are meant to prompt people to recognise the hope and the peace and the truth that the Holy Spirit brings.
We who have been ordained were anointed with the oil of chrism at our ordination. We have been anointed by the Spirit not just for ourselves but as part of the whole mission given to the people of God to bring Good News, to bring the kingdom of healing and peace and joy, to praise the Lord.
There are many ways of expressing the meaning of the priestly ministry. It is something essentially different from Baptism and Confirmation but it is not separate and unrelated to them. The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way, it says that the ministerial priesthood “is directed at the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians”.
The priest is a brother among all of his brothers and sisters who have received the Holy Spirit. We who are ordained are at the service of the gifts that have been given to all the family of Jesus; we are called as the Second Vatican Council told us, to “discover with faith, recognise with joy and foster diligently, the many and varied gifts of the laity.”
The central moment of that is when we gather, as we are doing now, to celebrate Mass. This congregation is not just as a group of baptised individuals. Each of us has come to Jesus our Head. We come to gather all those gifts and the fruits they have borne and we offer them gratefully to God. The priest is the sign of the presence of Jesus, the Head of the Body, leading us in that celebration of the Eucharist.
We are here as a line of priests each gathering up the joys and sorrows, the hopes and anxieties, the disappointments and the achievements of our lives and uniting them to the sacrifice of Christ. We recall that sacrifice of His Passion and Death, particularly in Holy Week. This week leads to the great feast of Easter.
In every Eucharist, and especially at Easter, we celebrate the great mystery of our faith; we receive the promise of everlasting life. We can be confident that all that the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s gifts – all that is good in our lives, all the good things produced by our efforts will flourish, free from fragility and sin in that eternal life. From here we will go out with renewed hope, and renewed strength to bring healing and peace, to bring the light of the gospel to every area of our lives.
Beginning on 19 June, the Holy Father has asked us to celebrate a Year of the Priest. This, he says will represent “an important opportunity to contemplate once more and with grateful awe the work of the Lord, who, “on the night he was betrayed” (ICor 11: 23), willed to institute the ministerial Priesthood, linking it inseparably to the Eucharist, the source and summit of life for the whole Church.” It will be a year for all of us, priests, religious, laity, families, people who are suffering and the young to appreciate again the beauty and importance of the priesthood.
Today the representatives of every parish have come to pray with and for the priests of the diocese. These are times that bring enormous new challenges for priests as our average age rises and our numbers fall increasingly steeply. It is a time when priests depend more and more on the prayer and support and cooperation of their parishioners and on your commitment to living as people who are sent to bring the good news. I also need the support of your prayers and am very grateful that so many people assure me that they remember me in their prayers.
I know how generously the priests of the diocese commit themselves to their ministry and I greatly appreciate how ready they are to look with courage and wisdom to the challenges of the present situation and of the unknown future. I am very grateful to them and I know that the people of their parishes and who are touched by their ministries are also very appreciative of their dedication.
All of us, priests and people, are here to pray for one another that we will be open to the power of the Spirit in bringing the good news to one another and to the world in the challenging times ahead. We pray too, that we will be generous in encouraging and fostering the vocations that the Lord undoubtedly continues to offer to the priesthood and religious life.
If we are to have priests in the future we need to have a community that prays for vocations, that encourages vocations and that longs for vocations. We are being called upon, as Pope John Paul II called on the people of Ireland thirty years ago in Knock: “The Church”, he said, “must constantly look for new ways that will enable her to understand more profoundly and to carry out with renewed vigour the mission received from her Founder.”
Today we take a step into the future. We have spent recent months searching for some part of the answer to that question about new ways forward for which, the Pope said, we must constantly look. At the end of this Mass I will be commissioning the Pastoral Area Teams and Pastoral Leaders who will help all of us to find and to travel along new ways.
We pray that this will be a new opening of our parishes and our Pastoral Areas and our diocese to the inspiration of the Spirit who has anointed us. This is not just a change in structures; it is a reminder of who we are. Our Opening Prayer said: “Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit, you anointed your only Son Messiah and Lord of creation; you have given us a share in his consecration to priestly service in your Church. Help us to be faithful witnesses in the world to the salvation Christ won for all mankind.”
Our prayer is that we who have been anointed by the Spirit will live “as a line of kings, priests to serve God” so that the world may recognise the Good News in us and may admit that we are a race whom the Lord has blessed.
Martin Long, Director of Communications 086 172 7678