Archbishop Longley thanks priests for their service to one another
At the Chrism Mass held at St Chad’s Cathedral, Birmingham earlier this week, Archbishop Longley thanked priests, diocesan and Religious for “the many ways in which you support one another in the priesthood.” He expressed his gratitude “especially for the watchful eye that notices your older or frailer brother, and for the kindness that prompts a word of recognition or encouragement for a younger priest.”
The new Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham, Fr Robert Byrne, will be ordained at the Cathedral in less than a month, and Archbishop Longley noted the prayers of all “for Fr Robert Byrne as he prepares to dedicate his life to serve the Church, and especially the priests of the Archdiocese alongside his brother bishops.”
The Archbishop recognised that as priests, there are times “when we sense that the bond between us has been threatened or diminished by some experience that seems to distance us from others” and that physical distance can sometimes lead to isolation. And it is at these times that we need to “find fresh ways of expressing the bonds that unite us as priests” and to express “the brotherly support of one another”.
The Archbishop concluded with words of encouragement, expressed by Blessed John Henry Newman to a friend “Put yourself into the hands of your loving Father and Redeemer, who knows and loves you better than you know or love yourself. He has appointed every action of your life. He will never fail you – and He will give you what is best for you. Be courageous and generous, and give Him your heart, and you will never repent of the sacrifice.”
Homily – Archbishop Longley
CHRISM MASS – ST CHAD’S CATHEDRAL, BIRMINGHAM
16 APRIL 2014
The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me.
The words of the Prophet Isaiah re-echo through time as we hear them proclaimed again today. All of scripture is divinely inspired but some passages are infused with a meaning and significance that stand out in each new set of circumstances where they are proclaimed and for every generation that hears and receives them. That is especially true for those passages from the Hebrew scriptures of the Old Testament which our Lord takes up and applies to himself.
At every Chrism Mass, year by year, it is important for us to recognise that this moment is part of a long story of faith. We are participants in a centuries-long pilgrimage that has its beginning in the events we are going to celebrate in the coming Easter Triduum and we have willingly taken on our share of the journey in communion with those who travelled before us and preparing the way for those who will follow.
This pilgrimage, as we shall recall during Saturday’s Easter Vigil, was foreshadowed by the exodus and wandering of the People of God until they found their longed-for homeland. Christ’s own exodus, his bursting from the tomb, sets the course for the Church’s pilgrimage on which we are now engaged.
The Spirit of the Lord, once settled upon prophets, priests and kings to guide and govern God’s people is now settled upon the Body of Christ, the Church. Jesus, the Anointed One, the Christ, has poured out the Holy Spirit upon us, especially through our sacramental anointing in baptism and confirmation and for those who are ordained through the sacrament of orders.
During the Chrism Mass the same Holy Spirit is invoked as the oils are blessed and consecrated. These things of earth and of human fashioning take on a new and precious significance for the part that they will play in our ministry and our service of others and as they evoke the presence and the priorities of Christ through the working of the Holy Spirit.
The Oil of Catechumens signifies the attractive appeal of Christ and the strength he offers to those who are preparing for baptism. The Oil of the Sick shows forth the tenderness of Christ for those who suffer and are sick. The fragrance of Chrism manifests the setting apart of those people and places we anoint and their dedication to achieving God’s purposes.
Bishops, priests and deacons, in different sacramental settings, must administer these oils which bring strength, healing and purpose to the lives of those we anoint. As we do so we recall that we have been anointed ourselves so that we can in turn anoint those called to be, in the words of Pope Francis, Spirit-filled evangelizers.
As these oils are blessed and consecrated we should hold in our prayers all those who will be anointed during this coming Eastertide and the year that follows. It is a moment in which we can thank God for sending us to baptise the children whose families have approached us – even those whose motives may give us cause to doubt – or the adults who have found faith. Let us ask that our administering of the Oil of Catechumens will strengthen those whose faith is not well-formed and influence those yet to be touched by faith.
We ask the Lord who sees all that lies ahead of us to enable us to greet with compassion those who will ask us to anoint them in times of sickness and suffering. As priests we are often profoundly strengthened by the witness of the sick and by their selfless trust in the Lord and we pray for those to whom the Oil of the Sick will bring comfort and hope in the coming year – at home, in hospital or in Lourdes.
As priests we are privileged to support fellow Christians who notice and reach out to those who need the healing balm of Christ’s love. On Monday, with Bishop David Urquhart, the Bishop of Birmingham, I visited SIFA Fireside, the centre in this city that welcomes homeless and needy people with food and shelter, facilities for hygiene and health and a wide range of services. We pray for such centres and projects as the Oil of the Sick is blessed
As we receive the Lord’s gift of Chrism we keep in mind those being baptised and confirmed and our catechists and teachers who have a special role in this. They need our understanding and support as they look for new ways to ensure that those anointed by the Holy Spirit do not lose their first enthusiasm as believers or fall away from the faith they have so recently professed.
Within a month this freshly consecrated Chrism will be poured out upon the head of our new Auxiliary Bishop in a sacramental moment that recalls the Lord’s own anointing for the service of others. I know that you will also pray today for Fr Robert Byrne as he prepares to dedicate his life to serve the Church, and especially the priests of the Archdiocese alongside his brother bishops.
Today’s Chrism Mass offers us an opportunity to reflect particularly on our ordained ministry as priests. We believe that the sacramental anointing we have each received unites us with the priesthood of Christ and that it establishes a bond of brotherly affection between us. Much of the year we experience that bond only partially, with the priests of our own deanery, when we gather for a priest’s jubilee or funeral, or whenever we can meet together socially.
I know that there are other times when we sense that the bond between us has been threatened or diminished by some experience that seems to distance us from others. As priests we can feel isolated because of physical distance, because the priorities that steer our lives don’t seem to be shared by others, or because of some disagreement or estrangement. Sometimes these experiences indicate a need for us to find fresh ways of expressing the bonds that unite us as priests and it is important that we can communicate them without fear of being misunderstood.
At such times we need the brotherly support of one another as an expression of the support of Christ himself. That partnership with our brother priests helps us to serve others as fully and effectively as possible. Today I thank all of our priests, diocesan and Religious, for the many ways in which you support one another in the priesthood, especially for the watchful eye that notices your older or frailer brother, and for the kindness that prompts a word of recognition or encouragement for a younger priest.
I am especially grateful for the dedicated work of our eighteen Deans, for the untiring work of the Vicar General, Mgr Menezes, and for Bishop David and Bishop William. I know how much Bishop Philip is looking forward to Fr Robert’s episcopal ordination on 13 May – but do, please, remember that the resident of Grove House would still like to celebrate the occasional Confirmation.
As we prepare in these coming moments for the annual renewal of our commitment as priests, I shall leave before you some words of encouragement written to a friend in 1866 by Blessed John Henry Newman – words that reflect the trust that our priesthood draws out from within us:
Put yourself into the hands of your loving Father and Redeemer, who knows and loves you better than you know or love yourself. He has appointed every action of your life. He will never fail you – and He will give you what is best for you. Be courageous and generous, and give Him your heart, and you will never repent of the sacrifice.
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