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Homilies - Bishop Brendan Leahy

Chrism Mass 2021 - St. John's Cathedral


We’ve just heard Jesus say “He has sent me”. He is referring, of course, to God the Father who so loved the world that he sent his only Son not to condemn the world but to save. When Jesus spoke those words “He has sent me”, he wasn’t just referring to himself on that specific day in the synagogue in Capernaum two thousand years ago. He was also speaking about us. We are Christ’s Body, we continue Jesus’ mission. In and through us, the People of God in the Diocese of Limerick, Jesus still today continues to say, “God has sent me/us”, he has sent me/us to bring good news, to proclaim freedom, to give sight, to liberate the oppressed, to opt for those excluded, those on the peripheries. Yes, we all have been sent to generate new life in our world.

In our Chrism Mass this year, I invite you to let yourself be inspired by St. Joseph. He was so closely written into the first part of the story of Jesus sent by God the Father. Yes, the story of Jesus’ earthly life is ended but the story continues. We today are the story of Jesus sent into the world and Joseph is a model for us. All of us can find in Joseph a good guide as we renew firstly our baptismal commitment to be another Jesus sent in the power of the Spirit to generate new life, and also for priests as they renew their promises made on their ordination day.

Let’s just listen together to a few sections from what Pope Francis has written recently about St. Joseph in his letter on St. Joseph, Patris Corde. What the Pope is doing is reflecting on what a good father is vis-à-vis his child. Be he is helping us reflect on what good parenting involves, and based on that, he is inviting us all to reflect on how it is we help Jesus grow in others.

A first point he makes is that good fathers know how to introduce children to life and reality. Just as a good father accompanies a child as it grows and matures, so too all of us, and here we think of priests, journey with people as they grow spiritually every day in the ups and downs of life. Priests are so present in people’s lives. That’s what makes the Covid restrictions so hard on priests because it’s in their DNA to be in relationship with others, accompanying people day by day.

The Pope brings us to see the link between a commitment in celibacy and chastity and true genuine pastoral love. Purity is always at the heart of good relationships. That means not being overprotective or possessive in our relationships with others, but rather helping them be capable of deciding for themselves, enjoying freedom and exploring new possibilities. Fatherhood should never mean using people for our own personal or pastoral ends. Here is what the Pope says:

‘Chastity is freedom from possessiveness in every sphere of one’s life. Only when love is chaste, is it truly love. A possessive love ultimately becomes dangerous: it imprisons, constricts and makes for misery. God himself loved humanity with a chaste love; he left us free even to go astray and set ourselves against him. The logic of love is always the logic of freedom, and Joseph knew how to love with extraordinary freedom. He never made himself the centre of things. He did not think of himself, but focused instead on the lives of Mary and Jesus.’

Pope Francis goes on to guard against a false notion of celibacy or chastity. To see celibacy and chastity simply in terms of sacrifice, deprivation or lack of relationship would be a false cold notion. Celibacy and chastity does not restrict our heart but rather expands our heart, it is about having a heart of flesh, a heart that knows how to give. This is so important for us in pastoral ministry. Here is what Pope Francis says,

‘Joseph found happiness not in mere self-sacrifice but in self-gift. In him, we never see frustration but only trust. His patient silence was the prelude to concrete expressions of trust. Our world today needs fathers. It has no use for tyrants who would domineer others as a means of compensating for their own needs. It rejects those who confuse authority with authoritarianism, service with servility, discussion with oppression, charity with a welfare mentality, power with destruction. Every true vocation is born of the gift of oneself, which is the fruit of mature sacrifice. The priesthood and consecrated life likewise require this kind of maturity. Whatever our vocation, whether to marriage, celibacy or virginity, our gift of self will not come to fulfilment if it stops at sacrifice; were that the case, instead of becoming a sign of the beauty and joy of love, the gift of self would risk being an expression of unhappiness, sadness and frustration.’

Another point Pope Francis makes is that while good fathers accompany and help others to grow, they also know how to step back and let each person blossom in God’s plan for them. What matters is that we recognise that God has a unique plan for each person and we are the tools in God’s hands to let God design his work of art in each person we meet:

“Every child is the bearer of a unique mystery that can only be brought to light with the help of a father who respects that child’s freedom. A father realizes he is most a father and educator at the point when he becomes “useless”, when he sees that his child has become independent and can walk the paths of life unaccompanied. When he becomes like Joseph, who always knew that his child was not his own but had merely been entrusted to his care. In the end, this is what Jesus would have us understand when he says: “Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven” (Mt 23:9).’

Ultimately, each of us is called like Joseph to be a “sign” pointing to a greater fatherhood. Pope Francis says, “In a way, we are all like Joseph: a shadow of the heavenly Father, who “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Mt 5:45). And a shadow that follows his Son.’

As priests renew their promises today, let us express our thanks for their generous service also in many ways during this Pandemic that has not been easy for them. On their ordination day, priests set out to follow Jesus, being spiritual fathers for others, giving of themselves in pastoral charity, accompanying others growing in freedom and maturing in the life of grace. Let us pray for priests today that like St. Joseph they will always reflect the closeness of God the Father who gave his Son, sending him to express his tender, compassionate and life-giving fatherhood in our world.