Cathedral of Christ the King, Mullingar
· Saint Columbanus has given us a noble and honoured tradition for us to ponder during this Year of Consecrated Life – Bishop Smith
· The ‘throw-away culture’ to which Pope Francis refers is very present in the events of Holy Week – Judas willing to put a price on Jesus, Barabbas the murderer preferred to Jesus, the crowds encouraged to shout ‘crucify Him’, the abandonment by all by a small few of His closest companions. Likewise today, ethical and moral considerations are easily disposed of, considered irrelevant in informed public discussion. When the behaviour or the decisions of adults cast aside received values, the environment in which children grow up is changed as well – Bishop Smith
Welcome to all who have come here to the Cathedral this evening for the celebration of the Chrism Mass. You come from the different parishes around the Diocese, priests, religious and lay faithful joining in this act of prayer and worship.
This year there are three dimensions to our celebration that merit highlighting. Pope Francis has dedicated this year to a reflection on what is called ‘consecrated life’. It honours many who echoed those words of Peter in our Gospel. Jesus asked His disciples “will you go away too.” It drew from Peter, speaking for the twelve, “Lord to whom shall we go, you have the message of eternal life, we know, we believe you are the Holy One of God.” Down the ages many have answered that question by giving their lives to God in religious and consecrated life. I welcome the many that have joined us from the communities in our Diocese here this evening.
Obviously we are at a time of change in religious life. That is nothing new if we look back on the history of faith in our own country. Saint Patrick mentions in his Confession that many young Irish were consecrating their lives to God. Within a generation of Saint Patrick’s death Saint Finnian had gone to Wales to learn about monastic life and came back to found the first of the great teaching monasteries at Clonard in 520AD. It earned him the title ‘the teacher of the Saints of Ireland’ and from this beginning an extraordinary flowering of monastic life took place in Ireland. Soon it expanded beyond our shores and over the following centuries had an enormous impact on the faith and culture of Europe.
This year we celebrate the 1400th anniversary of the death of Saint Columbanus who died at his final monastery in Bobbio, outside Genoa in northern Italy, in 615AD. In terms of his legacy and influence no greater Irish man has existed. Not only did he found Monasteries in France, Germany, Switzerland and Italy he inspired an extraordinary flourishing of monastic life that rescued Europe from decay and disintegration. It is a noble and honoured tradition that responds in different ages in different ways, with new manifestations arising in every age, including in these times. It is a response centred on seeking to draw all into a relationship with Jesus Christ.
In a few moments the priests present will be invited to make a public renewal of their priestly commitment. In the aloneness of their individual commitment to the service of Christ they are united in a common bond of priestly service, linking them to one another and to all who seek to walk in the way of the Lord. At the beginning of the actual rite of Ordination the one to be ordained is publicly called forward, presenting himself freely for Ordination. Time and time again he is called to reflect and ponder ‘to what did I say my yes’. He is called to stand in the name and person of Christ mediating the wonders of God.
Christ told us very directly to pray for labourers to come into the harvest of the Lord. Vocations come from the faith and prayer of worshipping and believing communities. I thank the many who have responded to this invitation, especially those involved in Eucharistic adoration. Pray for those who serve you as priests.
In different ways all are called to say yes to the Lord’s invitation to walk with Him. This is expressed in the blessing of the Oils which will follow the renewal of their commitment by the priests. Anointing with oil is rooted in the Old Testament indicating setting apart for God, for fidelity to the call of God. The anointing with oil is central to our Baptism and Confirmation and is also central to the preparation for the final journey to God. It is also central to the ceremony of ordination of priest and bishop.
These days of Holy Week invite us to ponder and reflect on the call to faith, on how it seeks to mould the values and attitudes we bring to living and witnessing our faith. The invitation to reflect and ponder is ever present. Pope Francis has several times talked about our present day throw-away culture – this includes casting aside values and obligations with little thought or discussion and extending that to central areas of life, including that of the unborn and the old. That throw-away culture is very present in the events of Holy Week – Judas willing to put a price on Jesus, Barabbas the murderer preferred to Jesus, the crowds encouraged to shout ‘crucify Him’, the abandonment by all by a small few of His closest companions.
In the same context another recent comment of the Holy Father merits reflection: “where there is no honour for the elderly there is no future for the young.” Ethical and moral considerations are also easily disposed of, considered irrelevant in informed public discussion. Too easily we forget that when the behaviour or the decisions of adults cast aside received values, the environment in which children grow up is changed as well. Personal fulfilment has for many taken total priority as the only goal of life, no matter what the social and cultural consequences might be. We don’t stop to ask why there is such emptiness in many lives, why so many lose hope.
Christ invites us to walk another way. The Church must never compromise the integrity of its message. In upholding that message it will, many times, find itself in conflict with society and its values – that was what Christ told His disciples and tells us also as in our Gospel “will you go away too?” It must preserve the integrity of its Sacramental and prayer life. Priests and Religious too are called, like Christ, to be signs of contradiction, witnessing to the call of Jesus Christ. Priests and Consecrated life, extraordinary saints like Columbanus, the oils symbolising the sacredness at the heart of it all, draw us to the enduring presence of God, a presence that continues to give hope meaning to the journey we are called to walk. These days invite all of us to ponder and to reflect. They also invite us to examine our own consciences as we seek to walk the path of faith.
Notes for Editors
Bishop Michael Smith, Bishop of Meath, celebrated Chrism Mass at 7:00pm on 1 April 2015. The diocese includes the greater part of the counties of Meath, Westmeath and Offaly, and a portion of the counties of Longford, Louth, Dublin and Cavan.
Holy Week Chrism Mass – or Mass of the Oils – is the celebration of the Eucharist at which priests and representatives from every parish in the diocese gather with the bishop for Mass, during which Holy Oils are blessed for the coming year and priests renew their priestly service. The Chrism Mass is a clear expression of the unity of the priesthood and sacrifice of Christ, which continue to be present in the Church.
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