21/04/2011 Chrism Mass Homily

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Holy Thursday 2011

Homily Notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland

Pro-Cathedral, 21st April 2011

Once again on this Holy Thursday morning we gather as a Diocesan Community here in the Pro-Cathedral, the Mother Church of the Archdiocese, for this unique liturgy, for this remarkable liturgical celebration of our unity in faith.

This liturgy has a special significance for us ordained priests as we renew our commitment to priestly service and as we celebrate the unity of our presbyterate.   The priests of the Archdiocese of Dublin join with priests belonging to religious Institutes and from other dioceses who work together with us in the service of God’s people.

This remarkable liturgy is truly a special expression of the reality of the great faith community which is the Church of Jesus Christ in the Archdiocese of Dublin.  Our ministerial priesthood – let us never forget – has been generated and is sustained by that great faith community to which we as priests belong.   We are gathered as a faith community of 198 territorial parishes in Dublin City and County and in parts of Wicklow, Kildare, Wexford, Laois and Carlow, as well as the Parish of the Travelling people, the deaf community, men and women religious and of other ecclesial groupings.  We come together as brothers and sisters to express in prayer and in the Eucharist what is deepest in the life of our diocese. I greet each and every one of you.  I send my prayers and good wishes to the communities you represent, especially to the housebound, to those suffering economically and to those who are troubled.

This blessing of the Oils reminds us of how our fundamental unity within the Archdiocese is built upon the sacramental life of the Church which these oils represent.  The oils represent our initiation into the life of grace and into the Church in Baptism and Confirmation.  The oils represent the special consecration of priestly ministry.  They represent the community which brings Christ’s care in a special way to the sick and those at the end of their life.  These oils remind us that the Church is the community within which we realise how our entire life is embraced by the loving care of God.

The oils also recall the fundamental unity of Church life.  The oils are blessed on just one occasion during the liturgical year.  They are blessed in this remarkable celebration of unity, this celebration of the unity of priests and people around the bishop.  The oils consecrated just on this day are used then for the entire year ahead of us, reminding us that their use at any time in the year is fundamentally linked with the mysteries we celebrate in these days of Holy Week.

The readings of this Mass have stressed the idea of anointing.   In the Old Testament, anointing was a sign of being taken into God’s service.  For us Christians then, anointing is never a question of being endowed personally with earthly power and status.  It is quite the opposite.  Those anointed to serve in the Church, those called to any ministry in the Church, can no longer consider themselves to be the central figures of their own ministry.  We are taken into God’s service.  Our ministry is not something then that derives from us ourselves.  It comes from our anointing with the oil of the Holy Spirit. We become ministers of the Spirit in the measure in which we follow the path of Jesus whom we remember in Holy Week as the one who emptied himself. 

We have heard in the Gospel of the words and action of Jesus in the Synagogue of his own town.   Jesus tells his hearers that the prophecy of the anointed one, who was to come, is realised in himself: he is God’s Anointed One.   He is not a prophet for himself or of himself; all his actions are entirely at the service of the Father’s mission.  His does not cling to equality with God; he does not seek himself but lives for the One who sent him.

Jesus is telling his hearers that he portends a priesthood that is radically new. This newness applies to both to God’s priestly people and to his ministers.  Priestly ministry is a sign of being taken into God’s service.  Priestly ministry is not a call to prestige or privilege; it is not an opening for personal protagonism. 

The ordained priest does not fulfil his mission through his own protagonism, through putting himself at the centre of his mission.  In ministering the sacred mysteries, the priest does not represent himself; he does not speak about himself, but speaks “in persona Christi”.
Being anointed to speak in persona Christi requires that our way of living and thinking and acting reflect our relationship with Christ.  Ministry is about putting aside self in order to witness to the one who has anointed us and sent us.

Priestly ministry is not a form of personal protagonism.  When we affirm the theological distinction between ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood of God’s holy people, we are not affirming a position of social status or difference. That would be clericalism.   We know just how such clericalism can deviate us from our true ministry.  And clericalism has many forms.  Clericalism is not about clerical dress or what we might call traditionalism. We can be clerical in the wrong sense whatever way we dress, in whatever role or rank or responsibility we are called to.  There is clericalism with conservative overtones and clericalism with progressive overtones.  Clericalism, in whatever outward expression it appears, is fundamentally a desire to use our ministry for personal protagonism and self satisfaction.  Clericalism is a perennial temptation.

When I say that we, as bishops or as priests, do not fulfil our mission through our own protagonism, this is not an attack on priests.   It is in an encouragement to priests!   It reminds us that, with all our weaknesses and inadequacies, each of us can achieve more through trusting in God’s working through us than in putting ourselves in the forefront.

This is a great celebration for unity.  As Bishop whose ministry in the Church is a ministry of unity, I am acutely aware of my own lacks and inadequacies.  I apologise to anyone whom I may have offended personally in this year and to those who have expected more from me.  I know, however, that my inadequacies as a pastoral leader are made up for a hundredfold for by the goodness and love of the community of faith which I am called to lead, but from whom I also receive nourishment, inspiration and support.   For that support – which may also come in the form of criticism – I am sensitive and also grateful.

Our challenges as the Catholic Christian community in Dublin are not just our own.  I am aware that the challenges that we as Catholic Christians face are the same challenges that other Christian communities face also.  All Christians must learn to work together.  I would like at this special moment in the life of the Catholic community to anticipate – I believe in all your names – a word of welcome to the new Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, Michael Jackson, as he is about to initiate his mission.   His predecessor, Archbishop John Neill showed himself to be a real Christian support to me personally and I look forward to working with and learning from Archbishop Jackson.  

Archbishop Jackson has already accepted my invitation to lead a Liturgy of the Word during the 50th International Eucharistic Congress which we will celebrate in Dublin in 2012.   If we work together, this Eucharistic Congress will not be simply an outward week-long spectacle or the triumphalistic celebration of an inward-looking Church.  If we work together, it can become a moment of real renewal in the life of the Church in Dublin and a true celebration of what the Church authentically is and should be. 

We often hear it said that: “We are the Church” and I understand – and would not wish to downplay – what people mean when they say that.  But we are not the Church, just as the Church is not ours.  The Church is the Church of Jesus Christ.  It is built around the celebration of the Eucharist.  This is what we experience in a privileged way this morning at this great liturgy of unity.  The Church is not our construction; its strength is linked with the way in which each of us as individuals and as believing communities enter into personal communion with Christ.   We need a real renewal of our catechesis which focuses on helping young people develop that sense of personal communion with Christ.

The theme of the Eucharistic Congress wishes to stress the unity between our communion with Christ and our communion with each other.  There is no way we can separate one from the other.  Holy Communion is never just something for ourselves.  In the Eucharist we “become one body and one spirit in Christ”.   Our communion with one another is however not just another expression of mere human or political solidarity.  The Christian life is by its nature a life of communion and must reflect that unity of life which was characteristic of the Church of the Apostles.  

Renewal in the Church means in the first place renewal in personal communion with Christ.  Renewal can never be simply a renewal of structures, however necessary that renewal may be.  True renewal of the Church necessarily requires renewal in that communion with Christ which only comes from prayer.  Prayer is placing ourselves in the presence of God and recognising the otherness of God.  Prayer is never just meditation or introspection.  There is a real temptation in our world where the dimension of transcendence can remain suppressed, that our prayer might become what Pope Benedict called “a form of self-contemplation”.  Being anointed always means going beyond ourselves; it involves overcoming self preoccupation;   overcoming self preoccupation is a precondition for attaining the freedom and the peace which only God can give.

These have been difficult years for the life of the Archdiocese of Dublin and for its priests and its people, and for its Archbishop.  Perhaps today, at this blessing of these oils which will accompany us in our Christian journey in the coming year, we should remember that the Psalms speak of oil as the “oil of gladness”.   

At the recent liturgy of Lament and Repentance here in the Pro-Cathedral I affirmed that the wounds of our recent scandals mean that Archdiocese of Dublin can never be the same again.  The diocese will live with its wounds as long as those abused continue to suffer.   We celebrate this morning the “oil of gladness” not in any sense of denial or wishing to bury the past.   Christian gladness and optimism is authentic in the measure that it is never the gladness of narcissism, but a gladness which comes from our authentic search for what is good and truthful and loving.

It is not a platitude to say that the coming years will be among the most crucial years in recent history regarding the life of the Church in Dublin and regarding transmission of the faith to future generations. We live in what, I believe, will be probably the most challenging years that the Church will have encountered for many generations.  The future will bring new difficulties.  But these are exciting years.  The Lord has called all of us here today to live our Christian life and to build up the Church of Christ at this moment and not in imaginary better days.

May the oil of gladness accompany us as we set out to renew our Church; may the oil of authentic gladness heal the hurt of those who have been wounded with our Church; may the oil of gladness bring light and joy and peace into our hearts; may we bring that gladness to those who are weary and alienated or in grief; may that gladness flourish in our families; may the coming generations learn of the gladness of knowing Jesus;  may our priests minister and serve God and their people in gladness, through the witness of their priestly commitment which they now publicly renew.