Dear brothers and sisters in Christ
Dear brother priests
As a child, when I was told to do something, and responded, shall we say, rather hesitantly, there was often a warning given by those in charge, whether at home or at school: ‘Don’t make me have to repeat myself,’ they would say, with a hint of threat, as if being told once was than enough.
In a perfect world, important messages would only need to be communicated once. But life isn’t prefect; and neither is discipleship. Sometimes, a message needs to be repeated, many times over, until we can accept it. How often are we told that God loves us; how often are we told that God forgives us; and, yet, it can never be enough. At some level, most of us struggle to believe in God’s love, especially when we know our sinfulness. Of course God loves us, we say, God loves everyone. But that’s not the same as saying, without reserve, and from the depth of our being, and I know that God loves me.
St Francis de Sales asked the important question: ‘When did God’s love for you begin?’ He answered ‘It began when he began to be God.’ So, ‘when did he begin to be God?’ he continued. ‘Never,’ was the reply ‘for [God] has been forever, without beginning and without end… He has loved you from all eternity.’ (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part 5, Chapter 14) He has love you; all of you, but you personally. If we only learn one bible reference by heart, it should be this: John chapter 3 verse 16: ‘God loved the world so much that gave his only son.’
Revealed in Jesus Christ, the Good News of God’s love needs repeating over and over, to ourselves and to others. And it needs to be put into practice, again and again, through selfless acts of service. This is, in essence, what it means to evangelise. To speak of God’s love and to be God’s love.
‘Grace and peace to you from Jesus Christ,’ announces St John: ‘He loves us and has washed away our sins with his blood.’ Proclaiming Christ’s love, and the forgiveness won by his sacrifice on the cross, sits at the heart of our desire to grow, ever more, as missionary disciples in our missionary Archdiocese. We are, my brothers and sisters, in the repetition business; sharing and re-sharing the power forever released in Christ’s resurrection and the hope he brings to our world.
Repetition is present in our scripture readings from Isaiah and from St Luke. Isaiah announces himself as God’s messenger, someone to whom the spirit of the Lord has been given, whom the Lord has anointed. These are impressive credentials and they carry important responsibilities. This anointing is not just for Isaiah. It has significance for others: for the poor, the broken hearted, the captive, and the imprisoned. Those anointed by the Lord must let the oil flow outwards from themselves to others. This is true for everyone anointed by Christ through Holy Baptism and Confirmation, and through Sacred Ordination, each according to their particular vocation. The Lord’s anointing is not to be kept to ourselves. Our anointing in Christ must overflow.
Isaiah was a messenger, a prophet. He pointed to someone greater. That someone was not a prophet, but a Saviour. That someone was not a messenger, but the long expected messiah.
In the synagogue at Nazareth, the scroll of Isaiah was given to the Lord Jesus. He chose to read words which became effective as he spoke, they were fulfilled in him: ‘The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me.’ This is not just the repetition of Isaiah. This is Isaiah supremely elevated in Christ who is himself the Good News of salvation, bringing hope to the impoverished, freedom to the shackled, sight to the unseeing, and restoration to the oppressed. All the necessary human ways in which we work for these truths to be enfleshed are the overflow of what happens radically to our human condition because of Christ’s self-giving on the cross and the victory of his resurrection.
Dear friends, our eyes are fixed on Christ because he really does brings purpose and hope to the world. Our eyes are fixed on Christ because there is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved. Our eyes are fixed on Christ because in his very person God’s love for all people shines out. And Christ’s anointing, his truth and his power, come to life in us through the Church’s sacramental life.
We gather for our Chrism Mass as God’s Holy people, as laity, as clergy, and religious together, representing our Archdiocese. In a moment, we will solemnly consecrate and bless the Holy Oils to be used in celebrating the Sacraments, through which we share Christ’s holiness. Each of us, all of us, in our own way, is dedicated to the Lord. Each of us, all of us, in our own way, is a witness, an evangelist, and a missionary. To all the lay faithful here today, and across our Archdiocese, I thank you for your commitment to the Lord and to his Church. To all the religious women and men here today, and across our Archdiocese, I thank you also for your service to the Church and to God’s people. To the deacons present here, and across our Archdiocese, again, I thank you for the ways your ministry builds up the body of Christ.
In a special way, I want to thank, from my heart, my brother priests in our Archdiocese, those with us and those unable to be present. To each of you a very sincere and heartfelt thank you. The gift of the ministerial priesthood is beautiful and precious, and never something to be taken for granted. It is given to us, clay vessels that we are, on sacred trust, to extend in time the ministry of the Lord Jesus to whom we are shaped interiorly forever through prayer and the laying on of hands. Someone once commented that a priest is anointed with Chrism at his ordination, but it takes a lifetime for that anointing to sink in. We, my brother priests, seek to deepen continually our appreciation of what it means to act faithfully in the person of Christ, to be servants with the compassionate heart of the Good Shepherd, to live not for ourselves, but for him, in unity, in fraternity, and in charity.
Today I invite you, dear brothers in the priesthood, to make an act of repetition, not mechanically or in a tokenistic way, but from your heart. With the prayerful support of our laity and religious, I will ask you to renew your priestly promises. So let your ‘I am’ resonate now as clearly as on the day of your ordination. Let the Holy Spirit rekindle the flame of your call in your heart.
My dear friends, in this time of synodal reflection and discernment, as the Church Universal prepares for the Synod of Bishops in October 2023, we have sought to journey in our Archdiocese to rediscover the Church’s mission, and our place within it. When Pope St Paul VI addressed the last General Session of the Second Vatican Council he spoke about the Church’s endeavour ‘…to carry out an act of reflection about herself, to know herself better, to define herself better and, in consequence, to set aright what she feels and what she commands.’
But ‘this introspection,’ he said was not ‘an end in itself.’ It was not ‘simply an exercise of human understanding or of a merely worldly culture.’ The Church did not gather herself in deep spiritual awareness ‘to produce a learned analysis of religious psychology, or an account of her own experiences, not even to devote herself to reaffirming her rights or explaining her laws.’
‘Rather,’ said Pope Paul, the Church gathered herself ‘to find in herself, active and alive, the Holy Spirit, the word of Christ; and to probe more deeply still the mystery, the plan and the presence of God above and within herself; to revitalise in herself that faith which is the secret of her confidence and of her wisdom, and that love which impels her to sing without ceasing the praises of God.’
My brothers and sisters, as we journey forward together as disciples, as lay people, religious, deacons, priests, and bishops, we seek to rediscover our sense of mission. We desire to find the Holy Spirit, the Word of Christ, alive within us and among us. Only with our eyes fixed firmly on Christ, and with renewed faith, can we dare to open our mouth and sing to the world God’s praises unceasingly.
In Christ, the spirit of the Lord has been given to us, for he has anointed us. Do you believe this? Yes, we do. We believe it with all our hearts. And we believe that Christ sends us out, to proclaim his favour and to announce the Good News. Amen.