Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland
Holy Thursday, Pro-Cathedral, 5th April 2007
Luke stresses this through the citation from the Prophet Isaiah and also through reference to the fact that Jesus interpreted this text through the gracious words that came from his lips, evoking fascination among his listeners, at least at the first moment.
Jesus presents himself clearly as a prophet, anointed by the spirit to announce the good news. And the good news is to be announced to the poor, to the blind, to those who are in captivity and to the oppressed.
This is not a political proclamation. There is rather the sense in which the reading is not a message about the phenomena of poverty and oppression, but about his listeners: Jesus’ preaching will be only be understood by those who are poor, blind, in captivity and oppressed. The self-satisfied feel no need for redemption. The self obsessed will never understand freedom. The self-centred will never understand the beauty of generosity.
If we are to be disciples of Jesus then we must become poor. The Jesus we encountered in the Gospel of the Blessing of the Palms on Sunday last, the Jesus who entered into Jerusalem to claim his kingship on a borrowed donkey, free from all possessions and pretensions of wealth and power is our model. From the moment of his entry into Jerusalem onwards as the drama of Holy Week unfolds, we see Jesus’ Lordship unfurl and be revealed through constant self -giving even unto death on a Cross. Through Jesus’ giving himself up, the Cross was to become the tree of life for all. That Cross is the obligatory path along which our ministry as priests also unfolds.
Jesus is anointed a prophet. In the Old Testament, anointing is the sign of being taken into service: the king, the prophet, the priest, each does and gives more than what comes from himself alone. In a certain way, he is emptied of himself, so as to serve through being available to one who is greater. Our priestly ministry of service to others will only be fruitful to the extent to which we make our lives available to Jesus. Our ability to give ourselves will be realised only when we recognise that God loved us first and that his love carries us as we abandon ourselves.
Jesus gives us then, through his own life, a new kingship, a new priesthood, a new way of being a prophet who does not seek himself but lives for the One who chose him.
In his recent Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist, which I hope each of you has received, Pope Benedict describes the priestly ministry in terms of service. “The priest is above all a servant of others, and he must continually work at being a sign pointing to Christ, a docile instrument in the Lord’s hands”.
Speaking about the role of the priest in the liturgical assembly, the Pope on more than one occasion stresses that the priest should avoid “anything that might give the impression of an inordinate emphasis on his own personality”, noting that “any attempt to make ourselves the centre of liturgical action contradicts our very identity as priests”.
This is not simply an appeal to observe the rubrics of the Mass. There is certainly a sense in which this same principle can be applied to priestly ministry across the board. Our ministry is one of service and self-giving love, being a sign pointing not to ourselves, but pointing to Christ, through being a docile instrument in the Lord’s hands.
Who are we priests of this generation? Who am I priest today? Certainly the circumstances of our ministry today are different to what we expected when we were in the seminary. They are different to the circumstances of ten years ago. When I entered Clonliffe plans were underway to double the size of the seminary to cater for the number of vocations. Religious orders were also in the same climate of expansion. Parishes were busy and Churches were full, but priests were also in great supply. Dioceses in Ireland were turning candidate’s way.
Today things are different. Priests and the Church have experienced difficult and saddening moments. But we should never succumb to the temptation of wanting to go back to other so-called “better” times. We are called to live in 2007, in these times. We have to live this moment, as we live the Christian life at any time in history, as a moment of purification, a moment in which we seek to return to our own priestly identity more authentically and to be more effective witnesses not to the things we like doing ourselves but to what is essential in our ministry, the challenge of letting Jesus bring out the most authentic that is in us.
The circumstances of our ministry have changed. We have to address them, realistically with optimism and enthusiasm. There are many positive things underway. I am sure that the representatives of the parishes here today would be the first to agree with me that the priests of Dublin have so much of which they can be proud.
A new and more mature relationship between clergy and laity is emerging. Our Parish Pastoral Councils have become in many parishes a real encouragement to lay persons to take on their responsibilities within the Church and we have reason to be most grateful. The response of these Councils has gone way beyond my own expectations.
In the same way, School Boards of Management have taken over with real commitment the management of schools and the expression of their Catholic identity. We have extraordinary teachers proud to make our Catholic schools real places of educational excellence. One could get the impression from some pundits that the principal problem with Irish education was Catholic schools. The facts tell us the opposite. I am in favour of a plurality in patronage of schools which respects the wishes of parents of different faith convictions. But let us be clear. It is parents who choose Catholic schools. They want to send their children to Catholic schools. Our Catholic schools have been welcoming to people of different cultural and religious backgrounds who come to them, not as some second best option, but precisely for the values that come from the Catholic identity of our schools.
Fewer priests have to carry out more and more work. I understand the frustration of priests who have seen parishes which in the past had four priests reduced to having only one. But I would reject the idea that ours is a presbyterium marked by frustration. We have great priests. We have priests who are as enthused by the ministry today as at any time in the past. We have priests who inspire and touch the hearts of their people by their generosity and by their passion for the truth of Jesus Christ. How could you not be moved to see, as I have seen on more than one occasion, grown men cry at the funeral of their parish priest?
I am proud of what the priests of Dublin are doing. I am hurt and ashamed by the actions of priests who have damaged the lives of others, especially vulnerable children, and have damaged the image of all priests. But I am hurt and angered also by those who use such betrayal to attack all priests and to attack the priesthood and the Church indiscriminately.
Hurt and angered, yes. But disheartened no! When we look at today’s Gospel and the context in which it is placed, we see that Saint Luke, different to the other Evangelists, places this event of Jesus visiting Nazareth as a story of contestation right at the beginning of his Gospel. Jesus is rejected by his very own. The fascination of his own townspeople by the graciousness of his words is short lived. They react quickly with their lack of faith and their rejection: a foretaste of Jesus’ ultimate fate at the hands again of his own.
Jesus’ message and the graciousness of his words have constantly been received throughout history with rejection and lack of graciousness. The way to react is however not to close in on ourselves but to make our lives more available for the message of Jesus. The worst thing that we could do is to loose that spark of generosity which inspired us in the first place to answer the call of the Lord. When we close in on ourselves we curtail our freedom. When we open ourselves to the challenge, then we find ourselves again.
We have great priests young and old who are open to whatever call is made on them. I am delighted for example that we will now have a diocesan priest as Parish Priest of the Parish for the Travelling Community. I am glad to see once again that we have priests out there is new developing areas in the forefront of creating community and service. I am delighted that we have five diocesan priests working in mission territories. I am delighted to see renewed vigour in our fostering of vocations. Our older priests are real models of life-long dedication. Our sick priests – of all ages – are an active part of diocesan life through their suffering and their desire to be back soon to full ministry.
The years to come will see even greater renewal of the laity in the diocese. We shall soon be launching a training programme for lay parish pastoral workers. There are plans for enhancing marriage and family life. There are plans to foster a renewed sense of justice and social commitment and action in our parishes.
Enhancing the place of the laity, women and men, in the Church will also enhance the specific vocation and service of the priest. Who are we priests of this generation? Who am I priest today? We are those who are charged to ensure that the Church can celebrate “in memory of me” and in “the person of Christ” the saving actions of Jesus Christ. May the Lord keep us faithful in our ministry. May he be a merciful judge of our inadequacies. May he strengthen us all on our path of following Jesus Christ, who did not cling to the outward signs of power and possession, but humbled himself, even unto death on a Cross.