30 March 2010
Homily of Bishop Denis Brennan at the Chrism Mass, St Aidan’s Cathedral, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford
First of all this evening, let us be aware that we are part of a world-wide gathering of believers, people and priests, who have come together to celebrate Chrism Mass this year, the Year of the Priest.
In every country, on every continent, Christian people are gathering this week at Chrism Masses as the People of God, to pray for priests and to celebrate priesthood.
The first Pope to be photographed regularly was Pius X, he was Pope from 1903 to 1914.
Some of the photographs show him giving instruction on the Gospel to the faithful in Rome, which he liked to do each Sunday. Others show him explaining the catechism to children, which he also loved to do.
Some show him seated at his desk in the Vatican. Looking at the photographs of the Pope at his desk we see something quite interesting.
On his desk, along with the crucifix, is a large statue. It is not an image of one of the Apostles or of a great Doctor of the Church. It is a statue of John Marie Vianney, a French Parish Priest, whom Pius X beatified in 1905.
It fell to another Pius, Pius X1, 1922 TO 1939, to declare John Vianney the Patron of Parish Priests throughout the world.
This year is the 150th anniversary of Saint John Vianney’s death in 1859 and the Holy Father is using this occasion to declare a year dedicated to the life and mission of the priest.
It is interesting to note that Benedict XV1, a man noted for his intellectual prowess, is highlighting John Vianney, a priest who came very close to never being ordained because of his poor marks in the Seminary!
Many Popes have called attention to John Vianney as a model for priests and it’s not surprising that Saint Pius X had his statue on his desk, given that he had been a Parish Priest himself.
We often think that our own time is a difficult time and we are tempted to look back enviously at simpler, easier times.
John Vianney was born in 1786, just before the outbreak of the French Revolution.
This unleashed a great hatred for the Church, many churches were destroyed and bishops, priests and sisters were murdered.
John received his First Holy Communion in secret because the public celebration of Mass was forbidden. When he first expressed a desire to be a priest his father would not allow it because he wanted John to work on the farm. He was twenty before he was finally able to begin his studies for the priesthood, at first under the direction of a local priest, and then after the Revolution was over, in a seminary.
He found the studies very difficult and, although the authorities recognised his goodness and made provision for his slowness in learning, after doing poorly in his studies, he was about to be dismissed from the Seminary.
The Vicar-General of the Diocese asked the Rector ‘’ Is Mr Vianney a good man? The Rector replied ‘’ he is a model of goodness.’’ The Vicar-General said ‘’ let him be ordained, the grace of God will do the rest.’’ Later at John Vianney’s ordination in 1915 the same Vicar-General said ‘’ the church wants not only learned priests, but even more, holy priests.’’
It is appropriate that the ‘Year of the Priest‘ began on June 19th which is the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
John Vianney said “the priesthood is the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.’’
We see here the connection between the Sacred Heart, the Priesthood and John Vianney, the love in the heart of Jesus culminates in the events of the Last Supper, Jesus giving the gift of himself to us all for all time.
The Eucharist is the ongoing gift of the love of Jesus, what John-Paul called the “gift and mystery” of priesthood is intimately linked to the transmission of that love.
The theme for the year, chosen by the Holy Father is “The Faithfulness of Christ, the Faithfulness of the Priest.”
This is an invitation and a challenge to us priests to live a life worthy of the calling which we have received.
In the words of Paul, Ephesians,4:1 “I, the prisoner in the Lord, implore you therefore to lead a life worthy of your vocation.’’
The Year of the Priest is not a PR exercise; it is a loving challenge to follow the example of Saint John Vianney, whose intense love for Jesus expressed itself in faithfully living out his priestly vocation.
The Holy Father sees it as an opportunity, a joyful opportunity to re-discover our own identity as priests, to become more aware of the fraternity of our presbyterate, and the sacramental relationship we have, one with another.
Celebrating the Year of the Priest invites us to reflect more deeply on the calling we have all received, on what John-Paul described as the ‘ gift and mystery ‘ of priesthood.
We all live in an increasingly post-modern, pluralistic, secular culture, this is the context in which we live our priesthood too.
The challenge is to understand how to be a priest in this new time, not to condemn the world but to affirm it, and to continue to offer it the Good News of Jesus Christ.
I take this opportunity to thank our priests for their presence and their ministry, from Annacurra to Templetown, from Blackwater to New Ross.
I invite the people of the diocese to pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and especially for priests and religious working in the diocese at the moment.
As Cardinal Hummes, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy said recently, reflecting on the upcoming Year of the Priest,
“May this year be an occasion for a period of intense appreciation
of the priestly identity, of the theology of the Catholic priesthood,
and of the extraordinary meaning of the vocation and mission of
priests within the church and in society, with the warm appreciation
of our Catholic people who undoubtedly love their priests and want
them to be happy, holy and joyous in their daily apostolic labours.”
Cardinal Hummes was one of the Prefects Cardinal Brady and Archbishop Martin met when they travelled to Rome after Christmas.
During the meeting Cardinal Hummes remarked “Because of what has happened in recent times the Year of the Priest will have to be different in Ireland.’’
I think the Cardinal was saying that our celebration of the Year will have to be informed and cognisant of the great harm perpetrated on children by some priests and religious.
The Holy Father, in his recent Letter, acknowledges this in heartfelt words “you have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry……’’
We pray this evening that all who have been hurt, will in time, with the help of God, find peace of mind and heart.
Fr John Carroll, Ferns Communications Office, tel (053) 9124368