PRESS RELEASE Thursday April 2nd
“Times are changing, perhaps more for priests than most other callings in life”– Archbishop Martin
Mass of Chrism Homily Notes from Archbishop Diarmuid Martin
10 am St. Mary’s Pro Cathedral, Dublin
The Mass for the Blessing of Oils is a unique event in the life of the diocese. It is a Mass in which we remember especially the ministry of priests. We come to give thanks for the service and the witness of the priests – diocesan and religious – who minister in this diocese. It is a moment in which we as priests renew our commitment to the call we have received from the Lord.
It is also a moment in which, with the presence of representatives from each parish in the diocese, we celebrate the one faith which unites all of us. We gather as priests and people who represent the deep life of faith of our diocese and especially the sacramental life which is symbolised in the oils that we will bless and consecrate.
I greet the Apostolic Nuncio and his counsellor who have joined with us. I greet Bishop Walsh and Bishop Field, the Vicar General Monsignor Callan and the episcopal Vicars. I greet all the priests who have come here this morning with their parishioners. I greet our permanent deacons, parish pastoral workers and all who assist in the ministry of the Church.
Our greeting goes out to the bishops and priests who cannot be here with us either because of duties of ministry or because of illness or infirmity. The elderly priests are very much in our prayers because it was in so many ways through them that our faith was built–up, as was that bond of ecclesial communion which marks our presbyterate and diocese. I greet our diocesan seminarians and especially our two deacons at the Mass who will be ordained priests on the Feast of Saint Kevin. Keep them in your prayers.
This is a moment in which we give thanks. It is a moment in which we renew our hearts and our enthusiasm. It is a moment in which the theme of ecclesial unity is in our thoughts as all of us – beginning with me myself – ask forgiveness of each other for our failings and turn to God, who is the source of all mercy, for forgiveness and strength.
Not everyone likes Pope Francis. There are even priests who do not like him and Pope Francis recognises that himself. Speaking last year to the priests of the diocese of Rome he said that some priests had spoken to him or had written to him saying: “But Holy Father, what have you got against priests?”. And he noted that they had said to him that he “bashes priests! That is a direct quote.
Has Pope Francis something against priests? The answer is a decisive no. Does Pope Francis say just nice things to priests? The answer is a decisive no. Pope Francis has such a high respect for the vocation of the priest that he will never cease to encourage priests and at the same time to challenge priests to live their vocation faithfully, enthusiastically and to the fullest.
He can however be very critical of priests. Just as before Christmas Pope Francis listed fifteen sicknesses which affect those who work in the Roman Curia and he is not shy in listing the professional illnesses of bishops and priests. As someone who has spent more than half my life working in the Roman Curia and many years now as a bishop, I may well be in for a double bashing.
What are the themes that Pope Francis wishes to present in a particular way to priests in his call for them to live their vocation more enthusiastically and more authentically? One of these themes is undoubtedly that of mercy. You will know that the Pope has called for a Holy Year of Mercy to be celebrated in the entire Church beginning in December next. You will also remember how much the theme of mercy is at the centre of the reflections of the Pope around the Synod of Bishops on the theme of marriage and the family.
Curiously, the Pope’s comments on mercy have given rise to strong yet very differing reactions. Some say that there can be no mercy without truth and that truth cannot be subordinated to mercy. And that is true. Others say that mercy can never be brushed aside as irrelevant. And that also is true.
What we have to remember is that truth and mercy are united in God. The problem is that we tend to develop our own idea of the relationship between mercy and truth, and at times we do so with an absolutism which belongs to God alone, rather than day by day attempting to allow our hearts to be captured ever more deeply into an intimate relationship with the God revealed in Jesus Christ who is a God of truth and mercy.
Where can we attempt to find a starting point in our reflection concerning mercy in our ministry as priests and in our understanding of the Church? Let me quote a little from the spontaneous words of Pope Francis to the priests of Rome at that meeting I have already mentioned:
“Where was Jesus most often, where he could most easily be found? On the road! He might have seemed to be homeless, because he was always on the road. Jesus’ life was on the road. He especially invites us to grasp the depths of his heart, what he feels for the crowds, for the people he encounters: that interior attitude of “compassion”; seeing the crowds, he felt compassion for them. For he saw the people were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”.
Our ministry, as a starting point, must bring us close to all those in our parish, in our city, in our diocese, in our country who feel harassed and helpless. In our own culture how many people suffer deeply personally, socially economically and spiritually? How many feel lost in their identity and without the anchor of a “true shepherd” in their lives. How many young people in our times are lost and disorientated to the point that they lose all confidence in their own self–worth? How many are there who feel that our culture offers them fulfilment and yet never seem to reach the happiness that they seek. How many are frustrated into resorting to violence – just think of the brutal murders on our streets? How many find themselves trapped into a culture of empty consumerism, of drugs or even of morbid depravity. These are all our brother and sisters who are in their way the harassed and helpless of our times. Where are we addressing their call? How can we reach into the depth of troubled souls and bring them a message of mercy and hope. Our only version of truth cannot just be one of condemnation? Do we believe that the message of the mercy of Jesus can really touch and change such hearts?
Pope Francis speaks to us about reaching out to the peripheries. In his comments at the final meeting of the pre–conclave Congregations of Cardinals Pope Francis explained what he was speaking about:
“The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographically, but also the existential peripheries: the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents, and of all misery”.
It is easy to say that we should reach out to the peripheries of economic poverty and we must do that. Indeed I cannot repeat enough my admiration for the generosity of the Mass–going people of this diocese in their repeated response to appeals for help.
More difficult is to reach out to the existential peripheries. This is something that it much more difficult to quantify and it is something that we can never do so simply with strategies and programmes or even money. There is no way we will even understand the existential peripheries of our times if we somehow or other do not change our hearts and remove every element of smugness and self–righteousness and actually feel something of the suffering of those who are without an anchor.
Our readings today speak about bringing the good news to the poor and the oppressed. Saint Luke speaks of liberty for captives, sight to the blind and freedom for the downtrodden. But the Book of Isaiah, from which Jesus read, spoke also of binding hearts that are broken, of comfort for those who mourn and of praise for those who are despondent.
These are tasks which cannot be attained only through doing things. In today’s culture of activism on one side and a culture of indifference on the other hand, we can easily reduce the very notion of mercy to doing things. In today’s world however there is something deeper which men and women long for in their troubled search for meaning, hope and peace. Our task is to lead them to find the answer to that searching in Jesus Christ. To find does not mean to impose, but to attract and the most effective form of attraction is that of witnessing.
The great challenge of the Church today is not that of the many problems we read about in the papers: about falling numbers of Church attendance or the falling numbers of vocations to the religious life, or of the many challenges which we face from within the society and culture in which we live. These are all symptoms.
The greatest challenge, the area in which we as Christians fail most is failing to witness in our lives – as individuals and as a Church community – to the love and the mercy of God. This stems in the first place from our failure to understand God’s love. God’s love is unbounded, but we constantly attempt to place human boundaries and limitations on that love. By setting our boundaries, we fail in our witness to God’s love and perhaps more important we fail to accept the love that God offers us. We end up looking on activity and good works as the real discerning factor regarding religious belief. We have in many ways constructed a church of buildings and activities and institutions. We develop strategies to foster renewal based on human activity. We overlook that it is God’s compassion which brings the men and women of any time to God.
The oils which we bless here this morning are the oils which bind wounds and which restore strength and health and bring meaning into lives through consecration to God. We must learn to see them and use them as true oils of gladness. Our use of these oils in the liturgy must never be purely ritual but one which is accompanied by a genuine sense of prayer.
We renew our priestly ministry not by doing things, but by changing our hearts. God’s mercy will help us to scrape away from our own hearts the vestiges of those very things which we know are the things which cause the alienation around us. Like Jesus himself we must be out on the road and become homeless to the comforts which trap into narcissism – another word often used by Pope Francis. If we do not live our calling to the full then we are fooling ourselves. God’s people in this diocese readily rally around priests who struggle or even fail – and we must thank God for that love of priests which marks the men and women of this diocese – but they have little time for the priest who is self–seeking.
There will be no renewal in the Church except a renewal which is driven by the mercy of God. Pope Francis constantly stresses an image of the Church as a “field hospital on the scene of a battle”. At the field hospital what matters is the first contact with one who is wounded. It is not a place for diagnostics, or displays of personal expertise. It is the place where people are taken up into the caring arms of someone, where their wounds are washed and cleaned and they receive a welcome of care and concern.
One Bishop at last year’s Synod took up Pope Francis’ image of the Church as a “field–hospital” where wounds are healed, saying that too often the Church appears more like the city morgue where all the pathologies of the things that have gone wrong are examined without emotion.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, let us not get bogged down with all the problems we encounter – and they are there and must be tackled – but let us go away this morning committed to witnessing in our lives and ministry to a message of hope and encouragement. Let us not allow divisions and disappointments to fester. The challenge to bring hope to those around us will never be achieved if we give in disillusionment and despondency much less to cynicism.
The oils that we bless are oils of gladness, the gladness of the healing and renewal which Jesus brings and of which we – all of us – are called to be minsters and witnesses.
Times are changing, perhaps more for priests than for most other callings in life. We come this morning as a Christian community to pray for and with our priests. This diocese is blessed with great priests, who work hard, who pray quietly and who work quietly and work generously. Before we proceed with the blessing of the oils let us all take a moment to pray for a moment in silence for our priests, that the Lord will bless them and that all of us will be blessed through their fruitful ministry. ENDS
- At the Holy Week Chrism Mass or Mass of the Oils, Priests and representatives from every parish in the Archdiocese gather with the Archbishop for Mass, during which Holy Oils are blessed for the coming year and priests of the Diocese renew their Priestly Service.