Archbishop Martin “we should all take a lesson from Pope Francis who speaks of “being a sinner”
Holy Thursday MASS OF CHRISM
Homily Notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin
Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, 17th April 2014
We gather this morning to bless these oils which will be used during the coming year in the administration of the sacraments of the Church. We come together at this unique gathering in which priests and people of all our 199 parishes join with me as your bishop in the celebration of the Eucharist at the beginning of the most solemn days of the Church’s year.
I welcome each and everyone here; the Auxiliary Bishops, Priests, Deacons, Religious and lay men and women from the parishes of our extensive diocese which includes parts of Counties Wicklow, Kildare, Wexford, Carlow, Laois, as well as Dublin City and county. I greet those involved in specialised ministries in hospitals, prisons, universities and schools. I greet the seminarians of the Archdiocese of Dublin. I greet representatives of the Parish for Travelling People and of the Deaf community. I greet you and I wish to thank you most sincerely for your commitment to building up the Church in this Archdiocese.
Parishes are the places where the sacraments are celebrated. A parish is not established just by a canonical document or by parish social events but by the celebration of the Eucharist and the sacraments. Parishes are communities of the missionary disciples of Jesus Christ, nourished by the word of God and by the saving power of Jesus, the sole High priest. In that priesthood we all share, whether as priests, or as deacons or as the baptized. Each of us was anointed with the oil of catechumens and with the oil of chrism at our common Christian initiation in baptism.
In the sacraments we celebrate the redemption that has been won for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus, who humbled himself so that we could share in his riches. Each of these oils which we bless this morning is a symbol of how the Lord himself continually acts within his Church. These oils represent the holiness of the Church, a holiness which springs from the perennial presence in the Church of the saving work of Jesus.
In a special way at this Mass on Holy Thursday morning we celebrate the consecration which comes with the priestly ordination. Priestly ordination is not the conferring of a professional qualification. It is a consecration and a configuration with Christ the High Priest and a call for us to emulate the holiness of Christ himself. It is an anointing and a consecration not for personal privilege, but for service. We are anointed to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ and the freedom that the Good News brings with it.
That is why those of us who are priests are called in today’s Eucharist to renew the commitments we made at the time of our ordination, which in turn were the maturation of the hopes and aspirations and the ideals which first drew us towards priestly ministry. We must never loose that sense of idealism and dedication.
Many things have changed in the Church and in society since each of us was ordained. For those of my age and older the social image and position of the priest has changed enormously. Many of the functions which a priest used to exercise in the Church have now been rightly assumed by lay men and women. Many of the general social functions which a priest used to exercise in society are assumed now outside a specific church framework. Many of the traditional social supports for the priest have been weakened.
I would like to pay a special tribute this morning to our older priests who have experienced rapid and deep social change on many occasions during their life, yet who still remain fresh and continually renewed and indeed personally happy in their commitment and their understanding of ministry. Their personal dedication has never diminished. It is shown in prayer, in reflection on the word of God and in the celebration of the sacraments and in a deep attention to the needs of those entrusted to their pastoral care. They show those of us who are younger how holiness is not something about outward practices or a seeking for recognition, but something embedded in the heart and in a real love and gratitude for having being called to be a minister of the saving power of Jesus Christ.
I would like also to speak to priests whose ministry has been difficult, or who experience anxieties and even failure. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that you are on your own or that somehow there are others who have not also shared your experiences. All of us are sinners; all of us have our weaknesses; all of us have failed; none of us lives in a world where the black and white of good and evil, of success and failure are clearly and distantly separated. All of us live in the greyness of our own interior lives and in the greyness of the challenges of the world in which we are called to witness as best as we can and to seek perfection.
The Lord has chosen each of us knowing our weaknesses and knowing that when we recognise our weakness then we allow his strength to work through us. The priest is a minister, not a solo runner. Sometimes we become frustrated because we place too much hope in our own capabilities and with the passage of time and of the years we become more and more aware of how much our life has become compromised by our preoccupation with ourselves and by our sinfulness. We should all take a lesson from Pope Francis who has consistently spoken of “being a sinner” as being perhaps the most significant element of his personal identity as a man and as a Pope.
Recognising our sinfulness is not about morbid introspection or a constant feeling of guilt. Recognising our sinfulness allows us to keep on the constant path of conversion and of developing an ever more close relationship with the Lord and an ever more generous response in ministry. Those of you who have come this morning as representatives of your individual parishes to celebrate this diocesan occasion are daily witnesses to the goodness, the generosity and sincerity of your priests. We have great priests in the Archdiocese of Dublin. I know that many priests and people feel hurt by a cartoon in yesterday’s Irish Times. I am a strong believer in freedom of speech and of the vital role of satire in social criticism, but I object to anything that would unjustly tarnish all good priests with the unpardonable actions of some. We have great priests in the Archdiocese of Dublin.
The sacrament of penance itself is greatly misunderstood both within and outside the Church. Pope Francis has called for a renewal of the sacrament in the life of the Church. In the past there was so much emphasis on the sacrament of penance as representing Christ the judge. The sacrament was even spoken of as the tribunal of penance. Catechesis at times tended towards trivialization of the reality of sin and a mechanical notion of forgiveness. The sacrament of penance is a privileged encounter with the mercy of God and the place where the mercy of God lifts us up above our anxieties and reminds us that Christianity is a faith of new beginnings for those who honestly face the darker realities of their lives. Our diocesan initiative providing wide opportunity for confession in Dublin city-centre Churches: The Light is Still on for You continues again on the day after tomorrow, Holy Saturday.
Jesus knows us as we are and he loves us as we are. God never created anyone whom he did not love and that love is never obliterated by our infidelity and sinfulness. Pope Francis describes the Church as a “battlefield hospital”, where immediate healing and restoration of wounded humanity should be the first mark of every encounter with the Church of Jesus Christ. In our ministry as priests and as lay men and women – as missionary witnesses of Jesus Christ – we must rediscover that sense of faith in Jesus Christ as a faith in the one who revealed to us that God loves us. A heightened awareness of how every encounter with the Church of Jesus should be an encounter with a God who loves us, should also lead us to a necessary and ever more sensitive understanding of the horrendous sense of betrayal felt by those who were abused or wounded within the Church of Jesus Christ.
Holy Thursday and this Chrism Mass are special moments when we renew our commitment to ministry. The Lord will give us the strength if we recognise our weakness and place out trust in him. This is not simply to sit back and leave everything passively to the Lord. Renewal can be painful and means moving out of the comfort zones that each of us create for ourselves or allow ourselves to slip into. Cynicism or scepticism are never the responses of the genuinely committed. Cynicism is not smart. Cynicism is not noble. Cynicism robs creative energy. The challenges we face within this diocese requires new energy and new enthusiasm and new realism.
Over these past months I have been encountering the beginnings of a renewed energy in parishes. I have been inspired by liturgies and encounters, with the enthusiastic collaboration of priests and laity which are indicating the path towards a different way.
Ten years ago, shortly after becoming Archbishop, I said that I could not forecast at that moment what kind of parish would exist today. Today I can only repeat that the parish of ten years hence will be even more different, but probably more lively and participatory. Over these years we have seen this diocese doing pioneering work in establishing new approaches in ministry. I would like to thank in particular those who have been active members of the Diocesan Council of Priests over these years who have contributed to Dublin being a pioneer in areas such as the establishing of Parish Pastoral Council in every parish, the introduction of the permanent deaconate, the introduction of full time lay parish pastoral workers. We are now launching a renewal of Deaneries as focal points for coordinating pastoral activities with the participation of priests, religious and lay men and women. We have a strong network of pastoral care for immigrant communities and I greet the immigrant chaplains who are present with us this morning. The office for priests is strengthening forms of consultation and listening to the needs of priest. We have much to be proud of as we face ever growing challenges.
I spoke earlier about the hopes and aspirations and the ideals which first drew us towards priestly ministry. The moment we loose those aspirations and ideals the less we become true ministers of the joy of the Gospel and become trapped in our own frustration. We have to rediscover those hopes and aspirations and the ideals if we have lost them. We have to learn to transmit those same hopes and aspirations and the ideals to others who might be thinking of dedicated their lives to priestly ministry. We need priestly vocations.
I ask you all to pray for our priests and I ask priests to pray for those to whom we are called to minister. All of us will remember the gesture of Pope Francis on the evening of his election when, before imparting his Apostolic Blessing, he asked for the prayers of those present in Saint Peter’s Square. We all share one Baptism. As the prayer of Consecration of Chrism will remind us, all of us are all sharers in Christ’s office of Priest, Prophet and King, through being anointed with the same Spirit and conformed to Christ.
Let all of us then pause for a moment in silent prayer now, asking God to bless each other in our varied ministries and callings and that each of us, in our own way and with our own specific responsibilities, will go away this morning renewed in our commitment to be true missionary disciples of Jesus and to work – confidently and joyfully and united under Jesus the Lord – to build the future of this local Church which is the Archdiocese of Dublin.