What would you like to search for?

Homilies - Bishop Brendan Leahy

Chrism Mass 2018 - St. John's Cathedral


At this year’s Chrism Mass, we have really good news in our heart– Pope Francis is coming among us in a few months’ time for the World Meeting of Families. The visit of this great messenger of hope and mercy offers us the gift of a new focus on family. Pope Francis’ message is clear: no family drops down from heaven perfectly formed. Each family is on a journey. Each member of our family is on a journey. We cannot claim any one of us should be perfect. But what we can do is to promise to help one another on life’s journey. The good news of the family is that there is always room for more love. Do not let ourselves be robbed of hope.

Each year at the Chrism Mass we celebrate Christ’s priesthood shared in through baptism and in ordained ministry. But this year, our celebration brings with it an invitation to renew our conviction that yes, just as Jesus was sent by God the Father to bring good news into our world, Our Lord has sent us out to with the good news of the family. We can decide this evening to set out with vigour towards the World Meeting of Families with a new sense of responsible gratitude that God the Father has given us a share in Jesus’ own mission, to bring about God’s marvellous plan for humanity, to make of all one family, sisters and brothers of the one Father.

And that also means, building up our church communities as family. Parishes are more than structures. The Church is not simply an organisation. Priests are not merely functionaries. Parishioners are not clients or customers. I have always found inspiration from Pope Paul VI’s words spoken many years ago during a parish visit:

“Are the faithful united here in love, in the charity of Christ? Then certainly this is a living parish. The true Church is here since the divine-human phenomenon that prolongs the presence of Christ among us is blossoming here. Are the faithful gathered together merely because they are registered on the local area register or the baptismal register? Are they gathered together simply because they’re here on Sunday to hear mass without knowing each other even though they stand shoulder to shoulder? If that’s how it is, the Church is not connected together; the cement that is to form everyone into a real, living unity is not yet working…  Remember Christ’s words. They will know you are my disciples if you love one another; if there’s this warmth of affection and sentiment; if true love is really pulsating (in the parish)….with a greatness of heart and a capacity of generating Christ among us….[1]

The World Meeting of Families offers us a chance to focus on building up our church communities through relationships of mutual love so that the family dimension of the Church will be more keenly seen and felt.

I thank all of you here, lay faithful and consecrated women and men, for your commitment to building the Church as family. Firstly, thank you for the church you’ve built day by day with your family or your religious community – essential building blocks for the life of the Church of Christ. I know too of your love for the Church expressed in the generosity of time, energy and competencies dedicated to your parish not without challenges and moments of discouragement. I thank you for being missionaries of the cause of life, keeping alive in people’s heart and mind the importance of protecting life at all stages. And I thank you too not only for the faith-filled service of your sisters and brothers in the parish, but also your encouragement of priests who I know greatly value your support. May God reward you and strengthen you as you live out your baptismal priesthood.

Dear Brother Priests, this evening we will be renewing promises made on our ordination day. Let’s do so rekindling gratitude in our heart. The Lord of History, the Alpha and Omega, who is “coming on the clouds” as the Second Reading puts it, is not only coming again at the end of time. He comes each day into our world through our ministry of word and sacrament.

When we made the promise of celibacy, in response to Our Lord’s call, it was a declaration of love. Far for suppressing love in our hearts, our vocation to celibacy has been a call to expand our hearts in love. We live not for one particular family but rather we are called to generate and build the universal family of the children of God.

I’m sure that as you look back over your years of ministry, you will recall the many occasions that God has given you to be present so deeply and meaningfully in the lives of families at key moments of joy and sorrow, hope and celebration. You have been there welcoming when infants were brought in exuberance by young beaming parents and family members to the baptismal font. Your fatherly presence has accompanied proud parents, grandparents and relations, as children make their First Confession, First Communion and Confirmation. When love blossoms into life commitment, you have warmly expressed the Church’s blessing on couples getting married. And then when suffering knocks on the door of people’s lives, your compassionate heart has communicated the healing touch of Christ through words of advice, prayers of hope, and rituals of healing. And as the earthly journey is drawing to an end, through the sacrament of Anointing and your priestly presence, you have prepared the dying for Heaven. How often, people recall with gratitude the kindly consoling presence of priests at the time of funeral liturgies.

Yes, day by day, you have accompanied families. And your expanded heart has also woven patterns of light and love in the communities to which you were sent. You have played an important role through your presence and ministry, nourishing prayer groups and sustaining pastoral councils, attending sporting or cultural events, arranging pilgrimages or sometimes attending to the mundane issues of repairing buildings and organising finances.  All the while, you’ve been serving the local community in ways perhaps unknown to most. And in our day, knowing closely so many personal life stories, you have continued to do your part to promote a culture that cherishes the life of both mother and child, working to encourage the protection of life at all stages.

I want to thank you for your commitment and continuing, if not indeed increasing, hard work, despite advancement in years. Thank you for your resilience. Yes, there is, indeed, a resilience, in priests which is admirable. The life of a priest isn’t always easy. While I know, as I have said, that you are grateful for local support, I know too there are some who today treat priests as objects of critique and scorn, some of it justified, as we pay for sins of the past, but some also simply irrational. And yet priests continue to exhibit a tenacity that is remarkable. Indeed, surveys have shown that most priests are people of joy. They are happy men and generate joy in those they meet. So let us be grateful for this gift. Let’s be grateful that we have not let ourselves be robbed of hope.

But while grateful for our past and present, as we renew our priestly promises this evening, we are called to strive towards the future with renewed responsibility. The Lord of History is coming. He expects us to open ourselves to living priesthood in vastly changed circumstances to when we were ordained.

As we look to the future, we can recall the Lord has given us someone to look too to see how to move forward in changing times. We can look towards the woman Jesus entrusted to us as our Mother at the Cross of the Cross, Mary, Mother of the Church-family.

It was at the foot of the Cross that the first cell of the Church-family began to beat as Jesus entrusted Mary to John the Beloved disciple. The Gospel tells us that from that moment he took her into his home. Neither of them could have known what the future would be like. But Tradition tells us that John learned so much from Mary. He could soar to the heights of contemplation of the Incarnation because he made himself a disciple of Mary.

Mary is indeed the model both of baptised priesthood and of ordained ministry. It is good for us to learn from her maternal heart because, as Pope Francis often repeats, the Church is a mother.

Mary didn’t set up any great activity or build any church building or give major addresses. But she did the most important thing of all – she gave us Jesus, the Word Incarnate. When we think of her, or remember how artists depict her, we don’t have an image of a woman rushing around, fretful, frenetic or lost in soulless activity. She is certainly a woman who moves in haste as St. Luke tells us, but she knows how to marry contemplation and action, because she believes, she loves, she hopes. She lived the spirit of communion with those she met, one by one, - with Elizabeth at the Visitation, with the young married couple and the stewards at the wedding feast of Cana, and, most significantly, with the Beloved Disciple at the foot of the Cross. It was that simple day-to-day relationships of love that allowed God’s plans be done.

Dear Brother priests, as we renew our promises this year, let’s focus on what I would like to call the Marian priesthood at the heart of our ordained ministry. Taking Mary into our homes, as John the Beloved Disciple did, we let Mary teach us what matters in building up the church as family.

Mary teaches to have a maternal and paternal love in our ministry for each person we meet. We meet such a variety of people. Some are believers and very committed Catholics, some agnostics half-in, half-out, some atheists, friendly or unfriendly, some in irregular situations, some hard to get on with, others a joy to be with, some keen to engage with us, some with no interest in what we’re about or with little desire to volunteer to help. Mary teaches us to love with a love that is universal. She sees each person as a candidate for the universal family of her Son, Jesus. Her love believes all things, endures all things, hopes all things. Her maternal love is always new. So, as well as saying our “totus tuus, I am totally yours” to Mary, and hear her whisper to us personally “and I am totally yours”, let’s decide to imitate Mary, Mother of the Church.  And with her, go out from this Chrism mass towards the World Meeting of Families with a renewed desire to fulfil God’s plan and build up God’s family. May your ministry always express worthily the maternal church with its universal embrace. Yes, “He has sent me to bring good news”, the good news that God’s invitation to be part of his family is for everyone.






[1]  Insegnamenti di Paolo VI, II (Vatican City, 1964), pp. 1072-1073.