21 April 2011
Homily of Bishop Martin Drennan for Chrism Mass 2011
On February 2nd last there were two opportunities at the town hall in Galway to see the film Of Gods and Men, which is based on the story of seven Trappist monks killed by terrorists in Algeria. In 1993 Fr. Christian, the Superior of the monastery, wrote a last testament ‘to be opened in the event of my death’. He wrote, ‘If it should happen one day – and it could be today – that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems about to include all foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to this country ………For this life …. I thank God who seems to have wished it entirely for the sake of that joy’ (that the Spirit gives).
That sketch of life as loving service to God and to his people gets to the heart of what Christian life and priesthood are about. Availability for what God wants and a life offered for others, those are the ideals Jesus set out for us. A reminder of these ideals is timely as we seek ways to bring about renewal of the Church and of priesthood. In the past it took saints to renew the Church. More than likely, the same will be necessary in our time. Renewal is first of all God’s work in us. Inherited wisdom teaches us that silence is necessary if God is to renew our joy, our enthusiasm, our gratitude, our generosity. The content of this silence can be gleaned from a couple of lines in the Book of Revelation, When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour(8:1). The silence is filled with God’s presence, his word, attentive listening, openness to communion.
Presence. Be still and know that I am God (Ps 46:10). Renewal begins with letting God be God. He invites us to come as we are now, to be present to him who is always present to us. His great gift to those who pray is his Spirit who is charity. Robert Frost spelt out the fruits of this gift when he said, ‘Always fall in love with what you are asked to accept. Take what is given and make it over your way’. That is precisely what Jesus did. We need prayer that integrates, that heals our pain points, that makes us whole, that allows him to fill us with enthusiasm and so make our ministry more joyful. Part of our renewal is knowing that God rejoices in giving this gift to those who know their need of him.
Word. His word can evoke gratitude, wonder, adoration, intercession. It extends our horizons. ‘The word silenced my chattering’ said one convert. Being is more important than doing, saying, having. We need to learn how to be with God if we are to offer quality presence to people and be alert to God’s presence in them. The gospel we proclaim is a message that opens people to the wide world of God. Wonder and mystery characterise it. In these days of Holy Week one of the key words is transformation. Jesus transformed the way of the Cross into a way of life by living it in love. He transformed the silence and finality of death into a gateway to new life and hope. He built bridges from sadness to joy and from cowardice to courage, renewing the joy and confidence of his disciples.
Listening. On the Sundays of this year we have been listening to the gospel of St. Matthew, a gospel that reflects on what it means to be Church in a time of transition. In these days of Holy Week Jesus asks us to be with him as he chooses his response to evil, as he turns his suffering and death into prayer on our behalf. In his prayer he did not seek to bend the Father’s will to his, but listened and said ‘yes’. He died praying. Like him, we are being broken so that we may be given to others. There is no ring road around Calvary. To share in the joy of his resurrection we have to carry the cross of our own unique personal struggles with love, as he carried his cross with love.
Communion. The Holy Spirit, who prays within us, puts us in touch with the deeper things of God. So, through prayer we begin to see the world as God sees it. The Spirit enables us take on the mind of Christ, to interiorize his values and his attitudes. Holy Week reminds us that when we are experiencing Calvary then resurrection is not far away. Hope begins with facing reality. It is nourished when we stay close to God, listen to his word and let that word be our guide and inspiration.
‘You’d better get busy living or you’ll be busy dying’ (Morgan Freeman in Shawshank Redemption).
Bishop of Galway, Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora