Homily of Bishop Kevin at Mass of Chrism 2017
A few weeks ago, I sat down one evening with my sister to watch a DVD. The movie is called Wit and it stars Emma Thompson. It is the story of a Professor of English, who discovers her own vulnerability when she has to undergo chemotherapy for Ovarian cancer. The treatment of cancer seems to have improved a lot in recent years and some of you here can probably bear witness to that. But you will also know how scary it is to get the diagnosis and how easy it is to feel isolated.
Professor Vivian Bearing (played by Emma Thompson) becomes a patient. Who she is in herself and what she has done in her life is not really that important to the consultant treating her. He doesn’t hold out much hope for her, because her condition is too advanced, but for that very reason, he expects to learn a lot by trying out a new intensive treatment. Her cancer will benefit his research.
This morning we have heard the good news that new state-of-the-art drugs are to be made available to people who have cystic fibrosis. This is great and, of course, it would not be possible without biomedical research. Pharmaceutical research and the development of new technologies bring many possibilities with them for which we can be truly grateful. At the same time, we have to make sure that the focus is on the care of the person who is sick as a whole person; not just a body that has to be fixed.
We welcome this evening all who care for the sick at home and in hospital. Our hospitals and nursing homes are not easy places to work. The systems and the technology which are designed to improve the chances of recovery also have the potential to become a barrier between those who are sick and those who are tasked with caring for them. Like parents, these days, doctors and nurses seem to have more to do and less time to do it. Yet we depend on you to make sure that the holistic care of people remains central to our healthcare institutions.
In the movie, WIT, we meet nurse Susie, who represents everything that is good about healthcare. In the final days of Professor Bearing, Susie is the one who finds time to listen and there is one very beautiful scene where she draws the curtains, turns her back on the busy hospital, and anoints the hands of her patient with moisturising cream. It is a simple gesture and it is not just about the cream. It is a reminder that, in the midst of all the treatment, people need tenderness. They need the healing that comes from the touch of another human being, who sees them as more than just a body in need of repair.
In the Gospel of St. Luke, we read the story of the Good Samaritan who brings the wounded traveller to a place of safety and pours oil on his wounds. It is the same kind of symbolic gesture. Healing is part of the ministry of Jesus and it is has also been part of the mission of the Church. Here in this Diocese, we can be particularly grateful for the generous commitment of religious sisters, such as the Sisters of Mercy, the Nazareth Sisters and the Daughters of Wisdom, who have given particular witness to the healing presence of Jesus down through the years. Today, the sisters are greatly reduced in numbers, but the Church continues to be active in healthcare through the dedicated service of so many Catholic lay people.
It is no harm for us to remember this evening that, when you were baptised, you were anointed with Chrism, the oil which symbolises being entrusted with a mission. This is not an empty gesture; it is a sign that, in each one of you, Jesus the healer is present.
In the Sacrament of Anointing, in a gesture very much like that of Nurse Susie or the Good Samaritan, the Church celebrates the healing presence of Jesus through the ministry of the priest. This is not an empty gesture either. It is rooted in our faith that Jesus is alive and that he still cares for the sick, as he did during his earthly ministry.
This evening we bless the Holy Oils which will be used in the celebration of the Sacraments throughout our Diocese during the coming year. They will be used at Baptism and Confirmation, for Ordination and for the Anointing of the Sick. The French have parties to celebrate the new wine. As a community of faith we gather in a spirit of thanksgiving, to celebrate the new oil.
Central to that Sacramental Ministry in which Jesus is made present in the life of the Church are the priests whose ministry is conferred by the laying on of hands, and whose mission is symbolised by the anointing of their hands with the oil of Chrism. It is traditional that at the Mass of Chrism the priests renew the promises of their ordination and, in a few moments time I will invite all of the priests here present to do that.
I would like to take this opportunity however, to reflect briefly on the nature of that commitment. At the time of his ordination a priest is incardinated into a Diocese. Incardination is a word that literally means “hinged on”. This is reflected in the promise of obedience that a priest makes to his bishop. In our modern culture, there is a certain negativity about obedience and it is certainly unhelpful if we think about it as a control mechanism. Obedience is really about letting go of my need to always have things my own way. It is about the gift of myself in the service of others. Obedience to the bishop is not about the bishop, it is about sharing with the bishop in the mission of caring for God’s people.
As a bishop, I must say I sometimes feel a bit sad that the nature of my own work is less directly connected with the pastoral care of people, but I take some comfort from the possibility of being able to support and encourage you the priests, who are so generous in your commitment to the communities in which you serve. I want to express to you, both on my own behalf, but more importantly, on behalf of the people of the Diocese a deep appreciation for the warmth and generosity that you bring to your ministry, especially at this time, when the life of the Church is undergoing such significant change.
A particular word of thanks to those priests who have come to us on loan from missionary societies and from other dioceses overseas. In order to be with us and to share in the mission of our Diocese, you have taken time away from the Diocese or missionary society to which you belong, through the promises of your ordination. We are very grateful to you for that act of generous solidarity.
I want to welcome the deacons of the Diocese here this evening. While it is not the tradition that deacons publicly renew the promises of their ordination at the Chrism Mass, it is certainly true that their ministry flows very directly from the events of Holy Week, and is especially associated with the symbolic washing of feet, which we will celebrate at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper tomorrow evening.
Finally, speaking of solidarity, I am very conscious that no Diocese stands alone. Every Diocese is part of the Universal Church. It is appropriate this evening that, as a Diocese we would join in solidarity with the Christian communities who are being persecuted for their faith in various part of the world, and particularly with the Coptic Christians who, in a particular way, during these days, share in the cross of Jesus Christ. May they also experience the joy of His Resurrection.
Bishop Kevin Doran
12th April 2017
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Sligo