Homily of Bishop Leo O’Reilly at Chrism Mass on Thursday, 1 April 2010
Today, Holy Thursday, is a special day for priests. The Mass of the Lord’s Supper later this evening commemorates the institution of the priesthood by Jesus when he gave them the command, do this in memory of me. In this morning’s Mass we priests renew our priestly commitment and rededicate ourselves to the following of Christ and the service of God’s people.
This Year is being celebrated as a Year for Priests. It has been an extraordinarily difficult year for priests. One of the purposes of the Year for Priests was to encourage a great appreciation of and support for priests and especially to pray for priests. For that reason I asked the priests to invite people from all the parishes in the diocese to come to this Mass to join in prayer for us, bishop and priests, at this time of crisis in the Church.
In his recent letter Pope Benedict showed an acute awareness of what priests have been going through in recent years. His words addressed to priests and religious are very much to the point: He says:
“All of us are suffering as a result of the sins of our confreres who betrayed a sacred trust or failed to deal justly and responsibly with allegations of abuse. In view of the outrage and indignation which this has provoked, not only among the lay faithful but among yourselves and your religious communities, many of your feel personally discouraged, even abandoned.”
He goes on to recognise something that all priests and religious have felt, not only in the past year but for the past decade:
“I am also aware that in some people’s eyes you are tainted by association, and viewed as if you were somehow responsible for the misdeeds of others. At this painful time, I want to acknowledge the dedication of your priestly and religious lives and apostolates, and I invite you to reaffirm your faith in Christ, your love of his Church and your confidence in the Gospel’s promise of redemption, forgiveness and interior renewal. In this way you will demonstrate for all to see that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.”
On the occasion of the Chrism Mass I want also to acknowledge the dedication of your priestly and religious lives and the great work you do in your ministries. In a short time, in the course of the ceremony, I also will invite you to reaffirm your faith in Christ and your commitment to the service of God’s people.
The Holy Father expresses accurately the feelings of many priests when he says: “I know that many of you are disappointed, bewildered, and angered by the way these matters have been handled by your superiors.” But he urges priests to continue to co-operate closely with those in authority for the sake of children: “…help to ensure that the measures adopted to respond to the crisis will be truly evangelical, just and effective.”
I want to take this opportunity to thank our priests for doing exactly that. Without your hard work and co-operation our measures for safeguarding children in all Church activities would not have been possible. Those measures would not have been possible either without the dedication of the Diocesan Committee for Safeguarding Children, our Diocesan Co-ordinator for Safeguarding and our trainers. And of course all of that would be ineffective without the people working on the ground at parish level, the Parish Safeguarding Representatives. We have made a lot of progress in the past few years in ensuring that children will be valued and respected in every Church activity. There has been a quiet revolution in the involvement of parents in things like altar server ministry, sacramental preparation, choirs and other parish activities. I believe this bodes well for the future of the Church in our diocese and is a source of hope and confidence for our ministry.
I thank all the people who have come today here to support us by your prayers and your presence. I know from my own experience and from talking to priests that you have been doing that all along – a card, a short note, a phone call, a quiet word of encouragement at particularly difficult times. We have been greatly encouraged and strengthened by that. Continue to keep us in your prayers that we may be faithful to our priestly commitment and may be able to continue to serve you as witnesses to God’s love and ministers of God’s Word and sacraments.