Homily of Bishop Kevin Doran for the Mass of Chrism 2018
Just a week ago today, Pope Francis announced that he would be coming to Ireland for the World Meeting of Families in August. We have known for a while that it was a possibility, but now it is a reality. In recent months we have been thinking and praying a bit more than usual about the family. If I was to ask you what a family is, I wonder what your answer might be? You might describe a family home, or you might think of the people who make up your family.
Suppose I say to you that one of the key features of any family is the love that we have for one another. It is:
- a love that strengthens, protects and encourages
- a love that is ready to serve and to take responsibility
- a love that heals and consoles
Pope Francis tells us that the Church is a “family of families”. Today we gather as God’s family in the Diocese of Elphin to celebrate in a rather unique way this love that we have for one another. It is what we call Communion. While we gather in our own parish Churches on a weekly basis to celebrate that Communion with Christ and with one another, it is rare enough that the whole community of the diocese is represented here in the Cathedral. This is one of those moments. It symbolises the fact that the bishop is called to be the “father of the family”. He is the one who, in Christ’s name, is called to be a visible sign of unity in the diocese.
I am conscious that there are many people here who are stronger in faith and more generous in service than I am. I was already an adult before it dawned on me that my father was vulnerable; that parents are not perfect. In much the same way, I am reminded that I am not the bishop because I am better than anyone else, but simply because I have been called in spite of my human weakness to perform this service. I know that there are a lot of people out there who pray for me and I deeply appreciate that. I can assure you that I need all of those prayers.
It gives me great joy to gather with you once again for our Mass of Chrism. This year, the symbolism of our gathering is enriched by that fact that we are joined by our neighbours in the Diocese of Achonry. Since they are currently awaiting the appointment of a bishop, I have the unique privilege for this year to bless the oils which will be used for the Sacraments in Achonry as well as in Elphin during the coming year. I want to take this opportunity to welcome Father Dermot Meehan, who is the Diocesan Administrator of Achonry, together with the Caulfield family who have come with him. I’m not sure, Father Dermot if it would be pushing the analogy too far to describe you as the “foster-father” of Achonry.
Let’s turn back now for a moment to the characteristics of our diocesan family.
The Oil of Catechumens is a sacramental symbol of protection and strength for those who are new in the faith and who are preparing for Baptism. Through the anointing, they are helped to reject what is evil and to choose what is good. As I bless this oil in a few moments, I hope we can be renewed in our awareness that faith is not something private. We are called as a family of faith to play our part in protecting and strengthening the faith of those who are recently Baptised. But that is only part of the story. We are also called to encourage each other in faith, in every situation and every stage in life. The discipleship business is not just a private thing between me and God.
The ministry of healing has always been a central element of the mission of the Church. The way we care for the most vulnerable among us is a measure of our humanity. This year, as we bless the oil of the sick, I invite you to remember all those throughout our diocese who are sick or frail due to old age. As we celebrate the Sacrament of Anointing for them during the coming year, we are not simply going through an empty ritual; we are invoking the healing presence of Jesus who continues to live and work among us through his Holy Spirit. The healing ministry of the Church is also exercised through the work of Christian healthcare professionals. They need the support of our prayers (and our appropriate political engagement) to ensure that their unique vocation to be advocates for life is not compromised by changes in our culture or in our law.
- Taking Responsibility – Mission
As children growing up, my sisters and I were introduced at an early age to doing the dishes and keeping our rooms tidy. In summer time we were also expected to weed the flowerbeds and cut the grass. Everyone in the family has some responsibility. The Christian family is no different. The Oil of Chrism is the symbol of being entrusted with responsibility in the Church. That responsibility – or mission – begins with Baptism and it is renewed or confirmed in the Sacrament of Confirmation. It finds expression in all the different ways in which we serve one another; in our prayer for one another, in our service within the parish community, in the liturgy, on parish committees and through the works of charity and mercy. Today is a good day for us to remember our Baptism and our Confirmation and to renew our commitment to be missionary disciples.
The same oil of Chrism is used to anoint the hands of a priest at ordination, as a sacramental sign of his mission to stand in the person of Christ. It is unlikely that the oil of Chrism will be used for that purpose in either of our two dioceses this year. For that very reason, I would suggest that the oil should serve as a reminder to us to take individual and collective responsibility for mediating the call to priesthood in our own families and faith communities, and also to pray for the seminarians we do have, who are preparing to dedicate themselves to the priestly ministry. It is just possible that the Chrism we bless today may be used to anoint the head of a new bishop in Achonry and, to adopt the image used by Jesus at the last supper, we pray that they will not be left orphans for too long.
As I bless the oil of Chrism, I invite you in a particular way to pray for all our priests, particularly those who are unable to be here because of ill health, including Bishop Christy, Father Pat Hughes, Father Dominic Gillooly, Father Hugh Lee and Father Thomas Leahy. We pray for those who are serving the Church outside the diocese. We remember Father Jim Tighe and Father James Creaton who died during the past year.
People sometimes say on Sunday, sorry to disturb you Father, on your busy day. The Sunday Mass is – you might say – our shop window. Everything else we do and are as priests, flows from the Eucharist. I am aware, however, that much of what you priests do in the service of God’s people is done discretely and remains unseen. You will never know the ways in which the Holy Spirit works through you, to touch the lives of the people who are entrusted to your care. You support parents in sharing faith with their children. You are particularly close to the sick and the elderly. You are called, often on the same day, to accompany young couples who are preparing to celebrate their love and to walk with those who have lost a spouse, a parent or a child. In recent years – and I understand this – you have been challenged with the need to implement new administrative procedures. It is not an easy time to be a priest, but it is a great time to be a good priest.
In a few moments, you will be invited to renew the promises of your ordination. These promises call for a generous gift of self. You are asked to be people of communion, exercising a ministry of leadership in your parishes. But nowhere are you asked to do everything all by yourself. To be a leader in a Christian community as in any other organisation is to inspire others to take responsibility and to support them in doing so. I go back to what I said before; in a family, everyone has responsibilities. An authentic communion is one in which each person is helped to develop and to use the gifts he or she has received from nature and through grace. In God’s Church, either we all grow together, or nobody grows at all.
Now let us, with confidence, receive from the people the oils for blessing and let us prepare ourselves prayerfully to invoke the Holy Spirit.