‘Our own faith is being tested. Faith is the ability to live with delay without losing trust in God’s promises’ – Archbishop Neary
Today we celebrate the Feast of St. John Vianney, the Cure of Ars, the Patron Saint of Parish Priests. It is an appropriate day on which to celebrate our Chrism Mass which had been postponed due to Covid-19.
As priests we have been called upon to meet various challenges in the past and by the grace of God we have responded generously to those. In many ways we are at our best when coping with difficult situations. It is when things are sailing along and there is a relative calm and equilibrium that our priesthood becomes less effective and we get distracted by side issues which are only marginally related to the essentials of priesthood. The present situation is difficult and demanding for us as priests; we want to be with our people and yet we have to respect the social distance which is being imposed for health reasons. The great efforts which you made to minister to your people during the lockdown and the way you provided for them to make Mass available through various means has been warmly welcomed and very favourably commented on by your parishioners.
As we gather to celebrate our Chrism Mass and renew our priestly promises we do so in a situation which we have never previously experienced and we wonder how best to cope with and respond to the fear and sense of inevitability and hopelessness which threatens to grip our people.
The secure predictable world of God’s people seems to be falling asunder, they are unsure of the future, fear for the loss of jobs and are desperately trying to make ends meet in order to feed and educate their families and wonder where to turn. Covid-19 has triggered an enormous challenge for all, priests and people alike. We are not defined by what happens to us, rather by how we respond to what happens to us. It is our vocation as priests to try to encourage and empower our people.
The present crisis encourages us to reflect on our vocation. At a time like this it is helpful to see how others responded to God’s call and in many ways we can identify with them. The Prophet Jeremiah has a vigorous sense of his own call. He was ministering at a time of turmoil. He sensed the death of a culture, a society, a tradition. He was pained by this and especially by the fact that his contemporaries failed to notice, care or even admit. They were too busy, too sure of themselves.
Jeremiah had the freedom and the courage however to march to a different drummer as his life was shaped and defined by God. You will remember his vocation was summed up in terms of “tearing down and plucking up”, “planting and building”. It was a case of letting go of an old world and receiving a new world. Vitality for such a tough ministry must be rooted in God.
We are in a season of transition today. We are watching the collapse of the world as we have known it. We are deeply conscious of our brokenness but like Jeremiah our vocation as priests is to be with a broken people and in doing so remind them that God is attentive to their pain and will bring healing and new possibilities. The hurt however will be incurable if God’s healing is not administered. As priests we have to comfort genuinely disillusioned and dejected people and this will not be possible without God. Recent events have left many people fatigued and perhaps close to despair.
Our own faith is being tested. Faith is the ability to live with delay without losing trust in God’s promises; to experience disappointment without losing hope, to know that the road between the real and the ideal is long and yet be willing to undertake the journey. Faith is not certainty; it is the courage to live with uncertainty. A necessary gift of the priest as leader will be the ability to keep going despite opposition, envy, false accusations and repeated setbacks. As priests we need to plant a vision in peoples’ minds, hope in their hearts, discipline in their deeds and strength in their souls that would never fade. As priests and leaders we need lines of support: the God in whom we are rooted; others with whom we can work; teams to whom we can delegate and very close friends to whom we can confide our doubts and fears, who will listen without an agenda other than being a supportive presence and who will provide the courage, confidence and sheer reliance to carry on.
In our celebration of the Eucharist since this pandemic arrived, our people and ourselves as priests, experience our dependence on each other as we celebrate the Eucharist in empty churches and Cathedrals and yet we realise and are deeply grateful for the prayer that sustains all of us as people avail of modern technology, radio and webcam and other means to join in the Eucharist. At our Chrism Mass I join with our people in expressing our appreciation of yourselves our priests, recording your availability, generosity and the way in which you are there with your parishioners in the gardens of their Gethsemanes and the way in which you journey with them through difficult and demanding situations.
Joining with our priests I want to thank our people for their support, their encouragement and their prayers. As a Eucharistic people we thank the Lord for giving himself to us in the Eucharist and we ask His support as we endeavour to give ourselves to God’s people in our priestly ministry.
Notes for editors:
- Archbishop Michael Neary is Archbishop of Tuam. This Chrism Mass homily was delivered in the Cathedral of the Assumption on 4 August 2020.
- The Chrism Mass is usually held during Holy Week in every Catholic diocese. During this Mass, the priests, deacons and representatives of the entire diocesan community gather around their bishop, who blesses the Holy Oils for use in the coming year. These are: Oil of the Sick, Oil of Catechumens, and Sacred Chrism. Whenever the Holy Oils are used in a diocese, the ministry of the Bishop who consecrated them is symbolically present. The Chrism Mass reminds us of our oneness in Christ through Baptism and its holy anointing, made possible by the ministry of the bishop and his priests. The Chrism Mass is also a key moment in which the unity of the Bishop with his priests (together, they form the presbyterate) is manifested and renewed. During the liturgy, the entire assembly is called to renew its baptismal promises; deacons and priests also renew their vow of obedience to the local bishop and their commitment to serve God’s people. At the end of the Chrism Mass, the Holy Oils are brought back to parishes of the diocese for use in the coming year.
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