Homily Notes of Bishop Brendan Leahy
St. John’s Cathedral, Wednesday, April 13th
Sisters and Brothers, it is good for us to be together at this Chrism Mass. After Covid postponing or cancelling this occasion in the past two years, we don’t take it for granted. There is a joy in assembling together. The Church is Assembly. And by assembling we make a statement of encouragement and support for one another, and recognise we are bound together in unity, in the deep bonds of faith, hope and love. In blessing the oils at the Chrism Mass we are reminded that, as the Opening prayer put it a short while ago, we are “sharers in Jesus’ consecration”. In him we live the page of the Gospel just proclaimed: we celebrate our being sent in the power of the Spirit.
Afflicted but not Crushed
We cannot deny, however, that this year we come troubled. War is raging in Europe once more for the first time since the Second World War. Concerns of climate change are ever more pressing. Bread and butter issues of price hikes are a cause of concern for many across the Diocese. Coming out of Covid, there is a certain sluggishness in the resurgence of parish life. Our energy levels are less. And we note priests are ageing, illness has struck some of our members, a good number are preparing in the next two to three years for retirement. And the ever present pressures of work are taking their toll. So it is not wrong for us at times to cry out “We are tired, Lord, so tired under the Cross”.
And yet the virtue of hope in our heart spurs us on to make St. Paul’s words our own: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies”.
Yes, despite challenges, we know we want to do our part so that the glorious faith that was handed on to us will be communicated through us. I thank all of you here, lay faithful, religious sisters and brothers and priests for nurturing that desire. Brother Priests, you will shortly be renewing your priestly promises, I thank you for continuing to serve the cause of the Gospel after many years of ministry, bearing the burden in the heat of the day.
A great future to build
During his recent visit to Malta, Pope Francis commented on the great history of the Church in that country with its many spiritual and pastoral treasures. Nevertheless, he said, ‘the life of the Church – let us always keep this in mind – is never merely “a past to remember”, but a “great future to build”, always in docility to God’s plans.’ We can also apply these words to our own situation. Yes, the Church, though fully realised and modelled in Mary, and so deeply a part of Ireland’s story, is always a work in progress in history. We are a journeying, pilgrim Church. The life of the Church in Ireland and in our Diocese is not simply a past to remember but a great future to build.
This requires a personal and pastoral conversion on our part, a conversion to another way of seeing things, to a deeper listening to the story behind our history, to a prophetic recognition that God is saying to us: “I am doing a new thing… can you not see it?”. I believe God is at work in our Church and in our Diocese that has deep roots. I believe he is re-creating us for the purposes of his mission. We see it in the new face of the Church that is emerging – a greater lay profile, an internationality of members, a focus on new directions. The Risen Jesus, the Omega point of history, the “One coming on the clouds” as the second Reading puts it, is drawing forward into his future, inviting us: “Come, build the future with me”.
Personal and Pastoral Conversion
How are we to live the personal and pastoral conversion to which God is calling us today? There are three points I would like to suggest.
First things first: communion with God. Conversion begins by recognising that in baptism and again in ministerial ordination, we have received a new origin. We have been taken hold of by the God who is Love, the living God, the God who has chosen us to be his instruments, to bring ahead his project however, wherever and whenever he knows best. Our first step in conversion is that we renew our focus of working in communion with God, trusting in God the Father’s providence, uniting our difficulties with Jesus on the Cross and cultivating our relationship with the Holy Spirit, Friend of our soul. In this way we move forward confidently as co-builders with God of his project for the Church. The very last page of the Bible provides us with a prayer that we can make our own as a mantra-like prayer for this first step of conversion: “Come, Lord Jesus”. “Come, Lord Jesus, Come the future you want, Come, the new thing you are doing, Come, Lord, Jesus”. And that becomes a daily prayer: “Come, Lord Jesus, in this person I am now meeting”, “Come, Lord Jesus, in this task I am now doing”, “Come, Lord, Jesus, in this difficulty I am now facing”.
Contemplative Gaze. A second point in conversion has to do with the way we see the world. We need to check out our glance. How do I see things? Am I tempted to view things as all falling asunder, compared to some glorious golden era of the past? Do I secretly believe and hope that if only we could get ourselves back to solid numbers in the church and the devotions we once had so clearly, then things would be okay? Do I figure the problems of today are all due to the bad teaching of the faith? When Pope Francis speaks of us living not just in an era of change but a change of era, I think the kind of questions he wants us to ask are: where do I see the positive around me today? Where are the green shoots of the resurrection? Do I see the gold in my city? God does not love our generation less than the past. We are invited to a new contemplative glance at reality, not succumbing to the glass half-empty syndrome.
Living the Synodal Priority. A third point in conversion is to decide to really take the qualitative leap of living the synodal priority of the Church. Today pastoral conversion requires we really believe in synodality, journeying together, team work, co-responsibility, as a way of being Church not just a box to be ticked. Synodality is some kind of latest ecclesiastical craze. It expresses clearly what the Spirit has been insisting on since the Vatican Council the opening of which occurred sixty years ago this year. On the plane coming back from Abu Dhabi a few years ago, Pope Francis commented, “Historians say that for a Council to sink its roots in the Church it takes 100 years. We are halfway there”. Synodality is a clear direction put before us by the Spirit today in the unfolding plan of God’s plan for the Church today.
Dear Brother priests, I invite you to re-read the recent letter addressed to you by the Secretary-General of the Synod of Bishops Cardinal Grech and the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, Archbishop Lazzaro in which they urge us to continue fearlessly on the synodal path. It can impact on so many aspects of our ministry – lay faithful and priests co-responsible together, lay faithful leading funeral prayers, lay faithful taking our community leadership roles in our Church, lay faithful sharing their sense of mission. So let’s go forward in synodality and shun the ever present temptation of thinking “I’d be just as quick doing things myself”.
Entering the new thinking
Sisters and Brothers, we are the people at the crossroads of new directions in the Church. We don’t know all the details of those directions. But we are not alone in working them out. The Holy Spirit, the One who knows the mind of God, the One who sent Jesus to bring the Good News, comes to help us enter into the new thinking that is necessary today. We cannot keep going the way we have been doing. We cannot hold on to everything as it once was. We need to check out what is it we are holding onto that is really an obstacle to our moving forward.
We are busy and too busy. And I recognise that sin in myself! But we know the story of the woodcutter working furiously only to discover he was chopping less and less because he hadn’t stopped to sharpen his axe. We risk becoming increasingly busy servicing a flock becoming increasingly smaller. We need to stop, allow new ways to emerge, let God do the 99%. All too often we believe it’s we who do the 99% and poor God is left only with 1% of the action.
In conclusion, then, it is good for us to recall in this Mass of Chrism that in Baptism and again in ministerial ordination we have received an invitation to move into the future. On ordination day, priests are re-created to be instruments of God’s future breaking into our world, renewing it with the Gospel life. We are ordained not to wait for retirement but to be aglow with the zeal of the missionary discipleship the Spirit inspires in us as we are sent give sight to the blind and set the downtrodden free. While we may at times feel tired or discouraged, let’s pray for the grace to recognise that the setbacks and discouragements we experience are birth-pangs of a new future that is coming into existence. Let us ask Our Lady, Spouse of the Spirit, to assist us.
Hail Mary, Mother of the future, inspire in us thoughts, attitudes and actions of hope.
Hail Mary, Sister along the Synodal Way, help us to recognise that it is more important to work in unity, in synodal processes, than alone, no matter how capable each of us may feel, that our communion with one another is more important than action.
Hail Mary, songster of the Magnificat, pray that we enter the new thinking of pastoral conversion and the social revolution of the Gospel.
Hail Mary, Queen of Peace, as we entrust ourselves, our Diocese, and our world at war, to you, may the Spirit lead us all along the way of peace. Amen.