My sisters and brothers, gathered here at this evening’s Mass, we—the people of this diocese, of this ‘church’—in our diverse roles and different stories, form the visible sign of the unity of the Church. All of us—lay women and men, deacons, women and men in the consecrated life, priests and myself as bishop—celebrate our oneness in Christ. All us are baptised, baptised into Christ’s life, into his death and into his resurrection. All of us sharing in our various ways this common purpose of “putting on Christ” (Rom 13:14). Clothing ourselves in him for our own sakes, because we need him, and for the sake of the world, because it is our conviction that the One who was given to us by the courageous welcome of Mary, has something to offer our world: he is the One who, as we heard in tonight’s Gospel, brings good news to the poor, to bind up hearts that are broken, to proclaim liberty to captives, and in these troubled days, to comfort all those who mourn (Luke 4: 18).
Last year, at the Chrism Mass, I announced my intention to establish a Task Force. As you know, we called it Building Hope. Its purpose is to develop a strategy by which our parishes could undertake a process of radical renewal, and the Archdiocese could act in the current time to be effective in serving the people of God for the future. I have accepted the recommendations of the Task Force and we have been following its approach: through a period of prayer during Advent and by the presentation to the Archdiocese of a Statement of Mission.
Now I am inviting the whole diocesan family to journey a step further along the pathway to renewal. We are all coming to the realisation that the Church in Dublin will look very different in the future. It will have significantly fewer priests ministering in our parishes. It will require us to organise ourselves differently and apply our resources creatively. It will be necessary to welcome new forms of ministry on the part of the women and men, serving and leading in their parishes alongside ordained clergy. We have already seen the power of new technology to connect with people in new and unexpected ways. However, we fool ourselves if we feel the future pathway of the Church is to be found in some platform. No! The future of the Church is its people, because the Church is its people. We have certainly seen signs of hope in the midst of great challenges. Turning again to tonight’s gospel, the community Jesus gathers is a prophetic community. Living prophetically, as Jesus found out among his own people, is never an easy way to live. Putting on the prophetic Christ is a difficult path to follow. But is there any other way, if we seek to follow the One who is our saviour. If we want to be a prophetic church, we must take risks. A safe church risks leaving the way to salvation to one side; it risks missing the narrow door (see Luke 13:24).
Over the coming weeks, I will be inviting all parish communities to reflect on their own pastoral situation, and the opportunities and challenges which it presents. In particular, I will invite them to begin to work more closely with neighbouring parishes so that we can create effective pastoral units where best use can be made of all of the opportunities that the Lord is giving us in these days to witness to His truth and minister His grace.
While the Spirit guides the Church, we must also keep before us that the Church is ours, and we are the Church. “We are all responsible together for what the church is or becomes. All the members of the church have a role to play in determining what the church is and what the church says and what the church does” (Joseph Komonchak).
Together, we bear a responsibility for what the Church is and what the Church becomes. Our faith, while rooted in history, and having an inalienable historical dimension, is not primarily about our past, but, is first and foremost, about our present, our today: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing,” as our Lord puts before again in tonight’s gospel. “The life of the Church is never merely ‘a past to remember’, but a ‘great future to build’”—to use Pope Francis’s words from last Saturday (Homily, Gozo, 2nd April 2022). Our faith is about our today, and how our today opens to the possibility of a new future. It is in this perspective that we might hear the hope expressed in the Preparatory Document for the Synod:
The ability to imagine a different future for the Church and her institutions,
in keeping with the mission she has received,
depends largely on the decision to initiate processes of listening, dialogue,
and community discernment,
in which each and every person can participate and contribute (n. 9).
This is no denial of the past; rather, it is an opening to the future. As disciples we follow Christ today—we seek to live as he lives in this day, and we follow him into the future he opens up before us and for us. Yesterday is not the horizon of the Christian. Tomorrow is the horizon of the person of faith. This is not a flight from the past; rather it is an embrace of the present, but a present which is not confined to itself, but a present which is open to change, open to other ways of living, open to “a different future.” (see Preparatory Document, n.9, above): “Today, you will be with me in Paradise,” (Luke 23:43) as we heard in last Sunday’s Gospel. To be clothed in Christ is to embrace the present in the conviction that we are not conscribed by what we had been up to now.
At this Mass, in which the sacramental priesthood is the focus, it is important to address a word to priests about their vital role as leaders, and their specific ministerial identity in this process. While it is the responsibility, and indeed the joy of all God’s people to proclaim the gospel, it is vital in the journey towards the Synod, that “the ordained ministers’ special charism to serve, sanctify and animate the People of God… come to the fore in a new way” (Letter of Cardinal Grech and Archbishop You Heung sik to Priests, 19 March 2022).
It would be a mistake to think of this as yet another task, yet one more thing to do. It is better considered as a renewed way of living our priesthood in a new time. Let me put one aspect of this before you: our ministerial experience, and the knowledge of our people we have from journeying with them. This experience and this knowledge permit us to be servants of “mutual listening and mutual acceptance.” Rather than looking for immediate results, let us come to see that deep dialogue and honest encounters are of great value in society and in our Church. They will bear wholesome fruit in due course. However, they need the voice of experience, and the horizon of those who have no self-interest, the horizon of those who have been called to serve. As Cardinal Grech put it in the letter to Priests ahead of the Synod, “wherever we listen deeply to each other, learn from each other, value the gifts of others, help each other and make decisions together, there is already synodality in action.”
“The purpose of the Synod … is not to produce documents, but ‘to plant dreams, draw forth prophecies and visions, allow hope to flourish, inspire trust, bind up wounds, weave together relationships, awaken a dawn of hope, learn from one another, and create a bright resourcefulness that will enlighten minds, warm hearts, give strength to our hands’” (n. 32). Simply put, we cannot do Synod by questionnaire. Nor can we “do the Synod” on our own! On the threshold of the Paschal Triduum, let us make our own its way of living: all Christ could do was lay down his life. “Father into your hands I commend my Spirit” (Luke 23:46) was both his prayer and the summation of his life. Nailed to the cross, constrained by weakness, he could do no more than entrust his mission into his Father’s hands. And his Father did not fail him. He rescued him and his mission from “the realm of darkness” (Luke 22:53) and brought what he ‘had begun in Christ to completion’ (see the Rite of Ordination). In our prayer, day-in-day-out, may we never cease to place our mission and our lives in God’s hands.
At this Chrism Mass, as we renew our priestly commitment, and bless the Holy Oils we will use to bring strength and healing, consolation and hope to our people, may Christ the Priest, renew our hearts, and deepen our faith, and send his Spirit to fill our heart with the warmth of his love.
+ Dermot Farrell
Notes to editors:
- Archbishop Dermot Farrell is Archbishop of Dublin. This homily was preached at the Annual Chrism MAss which was celebrated in Saint Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin on Wednesday 13 April 2022.