Homily: Chrism Mass, 2016

15th March, 2016
Is 61:1-3a, 6a, 8b-9/Rv 1:5-8/Lk 4:16-21

In this second decade of this century, we well understand that times are changing; perhaps more for priests than for most other callings in life. We come today as a Christian community to pray for and with our priests.  This diocese is blessed with great priests, who work hard, who pray quietly and who work quietly and generously.  
In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, where can we attempt to find a starting point in our reflection, concerning mercy in our ministry as priests, and in our understanding of the Church?  Let me quote a little from the spontaneous words of Pope Francis to the priests of Rome earlier this year:
“Where was Jesus found most often? He might have seemed to be homeless, because he was always on the road. Jesus’ life was on the road. He especially invites us to grasp the depths of his heart, what he feels for the crowds; for the people he encounters: that interior attitude of “compassion”: ‘seeing the crowds, he felt compassion for them’. For he saw the people who were ‘harassed and helpless’, like sheep without a shepherd”.
Our ministry must bring us close to all those in our parish, in our city, in our diocese, in our country, who feel harassed and helpless.  In our own culture how many people suffer deeply - personally, socially, economically and spiritually?  How many feel lost in their identity and without the anchor of a “true shepherd” in their lives?

Then too, how many young people in our times, are lost and disorientated to the point that they lose all confidence in their own self–worth?  How many are frustrated into resorting to violence – just think of the brutal murders on our streets?  How many find themselves trapped into a culture of empty consumerism, of drugs or even of morbid depravity.

These are all our brothers and sisters who are in their way the ‘harassed and helpless’ of our times.  How can we reach into the depth of troubled souls and bring them a message of mercy and hope?  Do we believe that the message of the mercy of Jesus can really touch and change such hearts?
Our readings today speak about bringing the good news to the poor and the oppressed.   Saint Luke speaks of liberty for captives, sight to the blind and freedom for the downtrodden.  The Book of Isaiah, from which Jesus read, spoke also of binding hearts that are broken, of comfort for those who mourn and of praise for those who are despondent.
These are tasks, which cannot be attained only through doing things.  In today’s culture of activism on one side and a culture of indifference on the other hand, we can easily reduce the very notion of mercy to doing things.  In today’s world however there is something deeper which men and women long for, in their troubled search for meaning, hope and peace. Our task is to lead them to find the answer to that searching in Jesus Christ. To find does not mean to impose, but to attract - and the most effective form of attraction is that of witnessing.
Perhaps the greatest challenge of the Church today, the area in which we as Christians fail most, is failing to witness in our lives – as individuals and as a Church community – to the love and the mercy of God.  Perhaps this stems in the first place from our failure to understand fully God’s love.  God’s love is unbounded, but we constantly attempt to place human boundaries and limitations on that love.

The oils that we bless here today, are the oils that bind wounds and which restore strength and health, and bring meaning into lives through consecration to God.  We must learn to see them and use them as true oils of gladness.  Our use of these oils in the liturgy must never be purely ritual but one that is accompanied by a genuine sense of prayer.
We renew our priestly ministry not by doing things, but by changing our hearts.  God’s mercy will help us to scrape away from our own hearts the vestiges of those very things that we know are the things that cause the alienation around us.   

Like Jesus himself, we must be out ‘on the road’ and become homeless to the comforts that trap us into narcissism – another word often used by Pope Francis!  If we do not live our calling to the full, then we are fooling ourselves.  God’s people in this diocese readily rally around priests who struggle– and we must thank God for that love of priests which marks the men and women of this diocese – but people have little time for the priest who is self–seeking.
Dear friends, let us not get bogged down with all the problems we encounter – and they are there and must be tackled  – but let us go away today committed to witnessing in our lives and ministry to a message of hope and encouragement. The challenge to bring hope to those around us will never be achieved if we give in to disillusionment and despondency, much less to cynicism. Francis also said that mercy and forgiveness “must not remain beautiful words, but must be realized in daily life.”

Before we proceed with the blessing of the oils let us all take a moment to pray in silence for our priests, that the Lord will bless them and that all of us will be blessed through their fruitful and compassionate ministry.