Homily of Bishop Kevin for Mass of Chrism 2019 – Anointed for Communion and Mission
Anointed for Communion and Mission
- Jesus, the Anointed One of God
Our Scripture readings introduce us to the hope of the people of Israel. They are described in the prophecy as “a race whom the Lord has blessed”. They are blessed in the land that they have been given and in the produce of the land, but more particularly they are blessed in their close relationship with a God who loves them. We are invited this evening to rejoice with them, because God is close to us in the person of Jesus, who is his anointed one; the one He has sent.
When Jesus had finished reading the words of the prophet Isaiah, he handed the scroll back to the attendant and he began to speak to the people. He said: “this text is being fulfilled today, even as you listen”. He is the one who, in the power of the Spirit, proclaims good news, opens the eyes of the blind, binds up those who are broken, sets prisoners free and proclaims the Lord’s favour. When we look at what actually happened in the life of Jesus, his ministry is very much about forming disciples and entrusting them with mission. He invites his disciples to imitate him in carrying the cross, so that they can also share in the glory of his resurrection. This is, what you might call, a common sense, historical reading of the Scriptures. But it may at times seem very far removed from the experience of our own lives two thousand years later.
The Mass of Chrism is a gathering of the faithful and the priests of the Diocese around the Bishop, whose mission – like that of Jesus himself – is to be a sign of communion. You are not here this evening just because we needed someone to bring the Holy Oils back to the parish. You are here as the representative of your local faith community in this gathering of the whole Diocese, which is part of the universal Church. I am aware that, for many of you, being here has required that you make a sacrifice of time and energy. This gift of self for others is an integral part of our communion. It is what makes a parish work and it is what makes a diocese work.
Our presence here is not just a way of remembering what Jesus once did. It is a way of celebrating what he is doing still. The question we might ask ourselves this evening – how are the words of the prophet Isaiah, as understood by Jesus, being fulfilled today, even as we listen?
Over the past few months, at meetings of the Diocesan Pastoral Council and at meetings of the priests in each of the Deaneries, we have been asking ourselves questions like:
- How is the Spirit at work in the Diocese of Elphin and in all of our parishes?
- In what sense is good news being brought, or liberty proclaimed to captives, or new sight to the blind?
- How are we actually going about the task of forming disciples, entrusting people for mission, or accompanying people on the way of the cross?
Our blessing of the Holy Oils is directly connected to those questions, because the Holy Oils are used in our Diocese and throughout the whole Church as visible signs that the sanctifying ministry of Jesus is continuing in our presence, “even as we listen”.
- Invited into Communion in Baptism
There was already a tradition of Baptism, even in the Old Testament. John the Baptist continued this tradition of baptism “for the forgiveness of sins” and preparing them for the coming of the Messiah.
The baptism given by the disciples of Jesus was about people becoming disciples. It was about belonging to Jesus and about communion with him and with one another. The Oil of Catechumens, which we bless this evening will be used to anoint those preparing for Baptism, so that they will have the strength to choose what is good and, in particular to choose Jesus; and of course the strength to turn away from whatever might be in contradiction with being a faithful disciple of Jesus.
How do we, as Christian communities, form disciples (whether children or adults)? Some of us, as parents, are called to be the first and best teachers of our children. All of us are called, through the witness of our lives, to bring the Good News to those who have never heard it, or who seem to have forgotten it. So, while the priests routinely baptise new disciples, we need to ask ourselves, to what extent are our parish communities engaged in the process of forming disciples. Are we, like the oil of catechumens, being used by the Holy Spirit to strengthen those whom God has called?
I take the opportunity in that context to welcome this evening the men and women from parishes around the Diocese who are in their third year of the Partners in the Gospel programme, in preparation for taking on the role of volunteer parish catechists.
- Entrusted with Mission – Confirmation, Ordination
Nobody is called simply to be a disciple. Through Baptism we are already entrusted with mission and this is symbolised by the anointing with Chrism that is part of the ceremony of infant Baptism. In Confirmation, the Chrism is used again, as the sign of our fuller participation in the mission of Christ. Over the past month I have been travelling around the Diocese, literally bringing the gifts of the Holy Spirit, for the building up of the body of Christ. Our celebrations are uplifting and I am genuinely impressed by the enthusiasm and the engagement of the young people.
Today, as we bless the Oil of Chrism, it may be no harm to ask ourselves, however, what is happening to those gifts in the days and months that follow? What about us, who were Confirmed ten, twenty or even fifty years ago? Are we truly aware that each one of us who is Confirmed has received the same Spirit that came upon Jesus at his Baptism and that we still have those gifts, which are there for us to draw on, in exercising our own mission as disciples today?
The oil of Chrism is also used, of course in the Ordination of Priests and Bishops. This evening, we priests have the opportunity to renew our commitment to the mission entrusted to us at our ordination. I want to welcome all of you and to thank you for the witness that you give through your ministry and through who you are.
The mission of a priest is the same from one generation to the next, to celebrate the Eucharist and the Sacraments, to preach the Gospel and to build up the body of Christ. The context is always changing, and I am aware that the challenges facing you today are not necessarily the same as the challenges that faced you when you were younger. I think it is important for us to be realistic and say that we cannot do everything we would like to do, especially as we grow older. Perhaps the more important thing is that we remember who we are called to be. We are called to be the visible sign of Jesus the pastor, among the people who we are called to serve. I take this opportunity to invite you all to remember priests who, for one reason or other, cannot be with us this evening, and of course those who have died during the past year.
The Oil of Chrism also represents a challenge for the parish communities and for the families in our Diocese. It is a reminder that the Church depends on the ministry of priests for the Eucharist, as well as for many of the Sacraments. We are depending very heavily in this diocese on the generosity of religious congregations and missionary societies and on Diocese in Africa and Asia, who have lent us priests. While this is an expression of their communion and a response to our real need, we do have to ask ourselves seriously what we are doing in our parishes and in our families to encourage young people, in the first place to be disciples, but then to respond generously to the call to priesthood and religious life, even if that involves making sacrifices. Are we praying for vocations and, if we are, is our prayer an expression of trust in a God who is calling, or an expression of disappointment because we think God has stopped calling.
- Called in a unique way to share in the Cross of Christ and in His Resurrection
Healing was an essential element of the mission of Jesus, and so it is an essential element of the mission of the Church. The healing action of Jesus was not just about making people feel better, but often about drawing them back into the community and back into mission.
There have been some wonderful advances in healthcare in the past fifty years and, in so far as this is about “binding up hearts that are broken”, it is certainly very much in keeping with the Gospel. In all of our parish communities, however, people continue to carry the cross of suffering and pain and the response to that cannot be left entirely to the healthcare services. We also have our part to play.
The Sacrament of Anointing is the visible sign of the healing presence of the risen Jesus in our parish communities. Just as he calls us to share in his cross, he also invites us, even now, to live the new life of the Resurrection. As we bless the Oil of the Sick this evening, we are reminded of the gift that is entrusted to us for those who are sick or who are frail due to old age. We are also reminded that we ourselves can bring and are called to bring the healing presence of Jesus to others, by ensuring that nobody in our parish community is abandoned or isolated in a time of illness.
This evening, especially, we pray for our doctors and nurses, our paramedics and all who work with them in the care of the sick. We ask God’s blessing on them and on their work, which is a sharing in the healing ministry of Christ himself. We pray that they may always have courage to be advocates for life. Our prayer is all the more authentic, of course, when our own words and actions reflect a deep respect and reverence for every human life as a gift from God.
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Sligo. Wednesday 17th April 2019.