I have already sent a letter so today I’ll propose just three words for our reflection before we renew the promises made at our Ordination.
Anointing. We recall today that we were anointed as part of our ordination ceremony. The Bishop poured the oil of chrism on the palms of our hands. Each of us can remember fondly that moment, so ancient a ritual, so full of meaning, so very personal.
Jesus was anointed and sent to preach the Good News. We were anointed and sent out in mission. To be anointed is a statement that our mission is not a self-appointment. We rely on God’s grace. It comes from above. This is something we need to recognise again and again: sine tuo numine, nihil est in homine, without your spirit, there is nothing in us.
Our lives and ministry have meaning as men immersed in God, signposts of eternity, instruments of the Mystery that has entered right into history, coming alongside each person we meet through us.
Our anointing is about letting the fragrance of Christ spread to each person we meet. And that fragrance is sensed by the People of God if we put ourselves “off centre”, as Pope Francis says, and let the Spirit put Christ at the centre in our lives. We do this not by closing our heart somehow to protect priesthood but rather by letting love shape and form the gift of God we have received in the way God wants it to be shaped – through love of our neighbour. It's not enough to do things for love, we must have love, be love and so let love keep the fragrance of Christ reaching others.
I was struck some years ago by what Pope Francis said at a Chrism Mass. “When people feel that the fragrance of the Anointed One, of Christ, has come to them through us, they feel encouraged to entrust to us everything they want to bring before the Lord: “Pray for me, Father, because I have this problem”, “Could you give me a blessing Father”, “Pray for me” – these words are the sign that the anointing has flowed down to the edges of the robe, for it has turned into a prayer of supplication, the supplication of the People of God.”
How true this is especially today in the face of a crisis without precedent in our life time. People turn to us as men of God, signposts of the eternal, men of the Mystery of God who wants to be close to them. And even though there is social distancing, cocooning, isolation, love has no barriers. Recalling our anointing, this is a time for us to feel deeply the fears, anxieties, and the uncertainties of those around us and, out of love, bring their needs to prayer, give voice before God to their cries, intercede, make petition, above all, celebrate Mass, the greatest prayer of the Church, for them.
Fidelity. A second word is “fidelity”. We set out on our ordination, full of lively and for most of us very youthful enthusiasm. While we might smile now in retrospect, realising how young and perhaps somewhat brash we were, we thank God that we were generous in our giving. One of the priests of the Diocese sent me a photograph of his ordination day with many familiar faces. Very young and innocent faces! Life, ministry, and experience have involved many twists and turns. But again, let’s thank God that despite our sins and failures, our times of obduracy and shortcomings in love, God has always been faithful.
We move forward recognising God’s immense mercy can make use even of our sins and failures once we hand them over to the Crucified Christ who can draw out of them seeds of the Resurrection.
A friend recently described visiting San Paolo and while being driven around in this enormous city (20 million live there) with an infinity of streets, junctions, side alleys, he noted the driver getting agitated at times as he took wrong turns and went down one-way streets. But the voice on the Satnav remained calm and simply repeated “re-calculate” every time he took a wrong turn. It’s a good image for us: God alone knows how many times he has calmly and simply “re-calculated” as he accompanied us in mercy along our journey. Mercy is the love that fills in the gaps. Our ministry has benefitted so much from that mercy. Let’s commit ourselves, in turn, to be ministers of the re-calculating mercy that brings peace, calm, hope to many, also in these days of the Coronavirus.
Renew. We renew our promises. None of us could have imagined we would be renewing promises in circumstances like we are today. Who knows what lies ahead of us. So we renew our promises recognising the future will call us, as a Diocesan, as priests, to something new. Let’s open our hearts and minds and hands to what God wants to say to us in and through this crisis and for what it will mean for pastoral practice and Church life in the future. This will involve watching out for the new signs of the times and listening really well to what people in the new circumstances will be saying. It will be a time for us to discover the Gospel in new, perhaps unimagined ways.
The words of a German Bishop I knew, Klaus Hemmerle, seem apt to me at this time. In approaching new situations, new people, new generations, he would say: “Teach me your life, your way of thinking and speaking, your way of asking and being, so that I may be able to learn once more the message I want to give you”.
We do this together as a body of priests. We need each other. We need to listen and to share. We need to be the communion that we are called to build up day by day as anointed, faithful and renewed ministers.
In thanking you on this day for your ministry so appreciated by many, many people, especially in these days; I entrust you to Our Lady, present in the lives of priests, not least in our priestly celibacy, that we may always know her as our Mother to whom, as the Memorare prayer puts it, we can fly for protection, implore help, and seek intercession, confident we will not be left unaided.