Chrism Mass was celebrated Wednesday 5th April in St John's Cathedral, Limerick. It was a great diocesan event marked with the blessing of oils, renewal of priestly vows and "Sending Forth" of new Lay Pastoral Leaders. Below is Bishop Leahy's homily:
St. John’s Cathedral, 5 April 2023
At the Athlone Synod gathering last June, one of the delegates told us of how that morning on his way to the hotel where we were holding the meeting, his car broke down. The mechanic who came to his aid offered to drive him to the hotel. During their conversation on the way, the mechanic asked him, “are you going to that big church gathering in the hotel? What will you be discussing? I suppose you’ll be talking about all those red button issues, change this, change that…”. The delegate mumbled maybe yes, something like that. The mechanic confessed he wasn’t much into church himself but he wanted to offer a word of advice “go deeper”.
Dear Sisters and Brothers, the Chrism Mass is a privileged moment each year to “go deeper” and savour in this liturgy the wonder of what the Church is, what it contributes to our world, and what a great gift we have received to be followers of Jesus Christ. All too easily, our picture of Church can get reduced in our minds to liturgical ceremonies and prayers, meetings and parish rosters, buildings and boundaries. We can end up losing sight of the deep calling of the Church – to be the People of God communicating God’s words and deeds of mercy and freedom, building community, offering social friendship and communicating a life rooted in Jesus Christ, the Son of God that is full of meaning and vision. The Church, in its spiritual resources is called to be an oasis of hope for a world in turmoil.
Our world needs to glimpse Jesus’ vision.
In this evening’s Gospel, we see Jesus, looking into the future, enter the Synagogue and, quoting the prophet Isaiah, lay out his mission that will mark the community of his followers forever. Among the Jewish people of his time, Jesus is a layman. The programme he outlines is directed towards the transformation of our world. He has come to bring about a new humanity, a new world, a new creation where poverty will be transformed, where the various forms of imprisonment will be released into freedom, where light will shine in the realms of darkness.
Our world needs to glimpse Jesus’ vision. Our world is at war with talk of missiles growing more intense. There is much fragility today leaving many feeling quite vulnerable and anxious. Too often toxic messaging can lurk on social media. Sadly, violence is always ready to strike, and social issues of homelessness cause great fear. Yes, the world needs Jesus’ good news, his presence and his community of hope. For all own personal and institutional limits and sinfulness, as the People of God we are called to be Jesus’ continuing message, presence and hope. Unworthy though we may be, as the Eucharistic Prayer puts it, we can be grateful to God for counting us worthy to stand in his presence and serve him.
Dear brothers in the priesthood, this evening you renew your promises. This is no small thing. You are promising to serve a mission that is great, Jesus’ mission, a mission that is life-giving, a mission that is for others, a mission that builds a new world. In your service of the People of God, as you prepare to renew the promises, I invite you to feel again with the senses of your soul what attracted you to lay down your life in imitation of Jesus, and what you have seen and experienced over the years in many situations of your pastoral outreach, and what you have witnessed in the many Spirit-filled conversations in which you became instruments of hope.
Keep our eyes fixed on Jesus
In thanking you on my own behalf and on behalf of all here, I also invite you, as you renew your promises, and indeed, I invite all gathered here this evening, to keep your eyes fixed on Jesus just as those in the synagogue did as he laid out his missionary programme. Let’s do so keeping in mind that, as the Second Reading tells us, at the end of time we will have our eyes fixed on him as he comes again, seeing him having gone through the completion of his mission in his death and resurrection.
To keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. This is the “going deeper” to which we are called as we renew our commitment to build up the Church according to God’s will not ours.
Do we feel at times we’re being asked to take steps we never imagined when we were younger or in the seminary, having to minister to people so different to us, people who no longer come to church regularly, people who have different faith convictions? Keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, we see One who entered into dialogue with the Samaritan woman, an “enemy” and “outsider”, and in his meeting the Syro-Phoenician woman asking him to heal her daughter, we see Jesus experiencing his categories of thought and logic being stretched.
Do we feel at times overwhelmed with so many duties, wide-ranging demands on our time, competing tasks? Keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus we see One who even with crowds pressing around him knew how to come away, to rest, to pray, to discern.
Do we have many questions stirring within us about the future, about decisions that need to be taken, about directions feared? Keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, we see One who did not go it alone but rather marched forward facing the future in company with others, conversing with them, entering into dialogue with them, and building a team around him of women and men, each with different gifts, charisms and services, always inspired by desire to love one another.
Do we feel at times bewildered at the pace of change and challenge? Looking at Jesus, we see One who had to change tack half way through his ministry after the death of John the Baptist, when the crowds stopped flocking to him, when opposition grew forcing him to move in a new way, focussing on a different way of formation of his disciples.
Do we sometimes feel dejected that the noble ideal of the Church we serve has become tarnished and tainted by persistent news of horrible scandal and crime, causing us to be feel sad at the “decline” of the Church and the sudden collapse of her influence? Keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, we see One who entered right into the abyss of sin, experiencing monumental collapse of his mission and crying out “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, his “why” becoming the question without an answer that embraces and answers each “why” that cries out in our heart.
The Core of his Mission is Love
To keep our eyes fixed on Jesus is to go deeper and discover the core of Jesus’ programme is love. His life was one extended act of love. Love is the deepest note of his mission. And so when all else can seem bewildering or disorientating, we remember the one thing we have to do: love God and love our neighbour. We have the great quote from Augustine: “If you keep silent, keep silent out of love: if you speak, speak out love; if you correct, correct out love; if you pardon, pardon out love; let love be rooted in you, and from the root nothing but good can grow. Love and do what you will”.
Our love must extend to future generations. It is love of them that makes us want to prepare for the future. Here the process of synodality is very important. It is the pathway of the future. It is love that will open us to contribute in prayer and commitment to the Year for Vocations to the Diocesan Priesthood that will begins at the end of this month. It is love that will welcome, promote and integrate the new lay pastoral leaders who we will shortly be “sending forth”. It is love that keeps a particular eye out for how we can keep contact with young people in this year when there’ll be the World Youth Day with Pope Francis in August.
Yes, at this Chrism Mass let’s decide to fix our eyes on Jesus, to go deeper and to let him direct our diocese, our pastoral units, our parishes, our communities. And, dear brother priests, as you renew your promises, let your renewed commitment be also a promise to one another in the one presbyterate to look out for one another, to care for one another and to encourage one another as we all look to the future with realism and hope, knowing that Jesus’ mission launched that day in the Synagogue 2000 years ago is still today at work among us.
Sending Forth of 21 Lay People
I am delighted now to be “sending forth” 21 lay people into particular voluntary ministries in the diocese. They have completed a programme of Formation in Lay Ministry and Leadership run in conjunction with the Institute of Pastoral Studies at Mary Immaculate College. The voluntary roles they will be taking up are many and varied: some of the group will be involved in local parish initiatives – they will assist in sacramental preparation, lead opportunities to pray with scripture, develop music ministry, provide funeral team ministry and bereavement support. Others will be engaged in activities beyond the local parish – generating further awareness around our responsibilities in the environmental crisis, assisting in Cuan Mhuire Addiction Centre or with the GROW Mental Health organization, providing catechesis to children. Others again are involved in creative ways of evangelizing through the Alpha Programme or by developing small Christian Communities. There is also an awareness of issues around social justice and some participants will provide outreach to Ukrainian refugees while someone else is working as a Trócaire volunteer.
Recently Pope Francis said words that speak to what we are doing here this evening. He reminded us of the primacy of the baptismal vocation. We all are rooted in that first calling to transform our world. It is as a People we evangelise. The Pope went on to quote the Puebla Document that says laypersons are men and women “of the Church in the heart of the world”, and men and women “of the world in the heart of the Church”. He continued:
True, the laity are called to live their mission chiefly amid the secular realities in which they are daily immersed. Yet that does not mean that they do not also have the abilities, charisms and competence to contribute to the life of the Church: in liturgical service, in catechesis and education, in the structures of governance, the administration of goods and the planning and implementation of pastoral projects, and so forth. For this reason, pastors need to be trained… to work collaboratively with laypersons, so that communion, as a lived experience, will be reflected in their activity as something natural, not extraordinary and occasional.
The lay people being sent forth this evening are a reminder to us that lay people and women in particular, must be better appreciated for the skills and for the human and spiritual gifts they bring to the life of parishes and the diocese. I want to express my gratitude to them for persevering in their course of studies and for their willingness now to take up these new roles. I thank all involved in accompanying them during the programme, particularly Fr. Éamonn Fitzgibbon, Rose O’Connor and Sr. Betty Baker. The new development we are marking this evening flows from our own 2016 diocesan synod. I pray the blessing of God the Holy Spirit upon you.
So, at this point, I ask you express your commitment publically here this evening after which Rose and Sr. Betty will hand you certificates of Agreement for Ministry.