CHRISM MASS – ST CHAD’S CATHEDRAL, BIRMINGHAM
Homily preached by His Grace, Archbishop Bernard Longley
He made us…priests to serve his God and Father.
A few weeks ago I was in conversation with one of our priests, reflecting on our experiences of ministry over the years. We went on to think about the different influences on our lives, the people and the events that had fostered our sense of vocation and the way that the years had shaped our expectations and our response to the Lord’s calling. At different times we had had to rely on a variety of skills, as well as help from others, depending on the demands or needs of the particular ministries we had been asked to fulfil.
My companion recalled the unforgettable day of his ordination by Archbishop Maurice. He told me how he had felt on approaching the moment of ordination in front of his parents, family members and friends from the parish and beyond – the overwhelming sense of joyful gratitude and the excitement about what lay before him in the parishes and chaplaincies where he imagined he would serve. At the heart of all this was his unquestioning trust in our Lord and his sense that, whatever challenges lay ahead, he was receiving grace sufficient to meet them with peace of mind.
Our conversation reminded me of the first stirrings of curiosity that made me wonder as a young altar-server about the life of my parish priest at home. I remember the strong sense he conveyed of being part of a brotherhood of priests, his sense of belonging to the local diocese and his well-rehearsed stories of diocesan clergy that amused and intrigued me. It was evident to me as a child that he enjoyed being a priest and that he couldn’t imagine a more fulfilling way of life than this life of service at Christ’s bidding.
When ordaining a priest the bishop will often refer to, and occasionally use in its entirety, the ordination homily in the Roman Pontifical. As we consider the gift of the priesthood, our daily invitation to be configured to Christ the anointed one, we do well to recall the model of priesthood which was set before us on the day of our ordination, as well as our own energy and zeal, making the prospect of priestly service so compelling and desirable.
At our ordination we were anointed to become teachers and witnesses. The homily invites us to focus on the people we are ordained to serve. Let the doctrine you teach be true nourishment for the people of God. Let the example of your life attract the followers of Christ, so that by word and action you may build up the house which is God’s Church.
At the Chrism Mass we celebrate our relationship with Christ and with one another as brother priests. This is one of the few occasions each year when we are called together by the Church from across the many communities of our widespread Archdiocese. Today we pray for each other and at the renewal of our priestly promises we also witness side-by-side to our fidelity to the irrevocable call we received from the Lord when we were ordained.
But one of the defining characteristics of our ministry which we also share is its focus on the community from which we have been drawn by our sense of calling and which we have been commissioned to serve. The ordination homily invites us to recognise what we owe to the people who have helped to shape our faith and the priorities that should shape our mission today. Remember that you are chosen from among God’s people and appointed to act for them in relation to God. Do your part in the work of Christ the Priest with genuine joy and love, and attend to the concerns of Christ before your own.
This year we will have special opportunities to reflect on our priesthood in the context of our service of God’s holy people. It may be through helping families or couples prepare for the World Gathering of Families in Dublin this August. As priests we are privileged with the opportunity to help couples to prepare for the sacrament of matrimony. We are also challenged by the unwillingness or unpreparedness of so many genuinely good people today to celebrate this sacrament before establishing their home and family together. We must try to enable them to see Jesus Christ more clearly and to see his abiding presence within the sacramental union to which he is continually calling them.
This year we also encourage our people to deepen in their devotion to Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist as we prepare for the Adoremus National Eucharistic Congress in September. Our response as priests to Adoremus will be seen through our manner of celebrating the Mass, for this is the gift of Christ’s presence that he has sent us to bring into the heart of each parish community. We shall be conscious of this most of all at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Maundy Thursday.
Adoremus should also inspire us to speak of our love for the Lord’s presence in the Blessed Sacrament when we preach and to witness to it when we come together in Eucharistic adoration. At such times we hear another echo of the ordination homily: you must carry out your mission of sanctifying in the power of Christ. Your ministry will perfect the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful by uniting it to Christ’s sacrifice, the sacrifice which is offered sacramentally through your hands.
I am looking forward to inaugurating a diocesan Year for Priests on the Feast of the Sacred Heart this June. There will be a number of opportunities for us to come together to reflect on the gift of the priesthood and to share our sense of vocation with our parishioners. As priests we try to foster a culture of vocation which enables all the baptised to hear and recognise the call of Christ in their lives. But, just as married couples are the best promoters of marriage, Religious brothers and sisters of the call to Religious life and deacons to the Permanent Diaconate, so priests have a unique gift to awaken within the hearts of others the call of Christ to share in his priesthood along with us.
As we prepare for the Renewal of Priestly Promises may these words of Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia encourage you, as they have encouraged me, to be grateful to the Lord for calling us to be his priestly witnesses in the world today.
While all Christians have the duty to preach the Gospel, priests are the Word’s special stewards. And, like the servants in the Parable of the Talents, we who are priests will be held more accountable in this missionary task than our people, for we are their shepherds. But second and more importantly, faith that is not shared dies. “Maintenance-mode” Christianity does not exist. Happiness for the priest depends on our bringing others to know Jesus Christ, and deepening the roots of the word in the hearts of those who already profess him. If priests do not live the ministry of the word ardently and actively, we cannot be happy, because we are made to be a model and sacrifice for others. We are made to witness.
For more photos see: http://www.stchadscathedral.org.uk/gallery/