As we celebrate our Chrism Mass the focus understandably may be on the ordained priesthood but the priesthood of all believers unites all of us, lay faithful, religious and priests, with the high priesthood of Jesus Christ. For many years people and their priests have been praying, working together, supporting and encouraging each other in team ministries as we endeavour to grow in deeper awareness of the gospel and the responsibility which we have for proclaiming it. In one way or other we find ourselves involved in ministry.
In this year dedicated to St. Paul and also the year of Vocations, the concept of ministry is central. We have become so familiar with terms like gospel and the good news that we tend to overlook the explosive power of the gospel in leading to salvation. As we renew our dedication to our particular ministry, perhaps we might reflect for a few moments on the way in which the apostle Paul responded to the gospel in his ministry.
Today, many would regard the contemporary mood of society as one of pessimism, punctuated as it is by revelations of fraud, corruption and greed. What we were deluded into thinking was a thriving economy now presents us with an uncertain future. In this kind of situation it seems to me we can adopt one of two possible approaches. One is to become cynical, search for scapegoats, become self righteous and self-centred. The other reaction is to search for hope and for ways which will enable us to create a new future. If we choose this latter course, and as followers of Jesus Christ, I believe that we are committed to doing so. Then we must approach the gospel with new enthusiasm. In this I believe that Paul can be an enormous support and a powerful pathfinder.
In Paul’s day the religious mood of the Mediterranean world could be described as a “failure of nerve”, a “climate of anxiety”. Insecurity was in the air. People were feeling lost and vulnerable, helpless and in some respects hopeless. The dominant mood called for deep, personal conviction and for strong loyalty to a saviour who would teach his followers how to hope and how to cope. Like Paul we are alive to the paradoxes and polarities in life; we experience the meaning of defeat and disappointment. We face paradoxes such as life in death, hope in despair, joy in suffering and power in weakness.
Paul was not an ivory tower theorist. Always on the move; he ranges over a wide expanse of human situations. Like the Apostle we too strive to express the depth of our faith in Christ at the point of intersection of different cultures.
Many of us at one time or another have suffered experiences of reversal in our lives. Events which had a certain pattern and coherence about them, suddenly seem to become unpredictable, challenging and call for a change of direction. Paul experienced a certain security and even predictability in his Jewish faith. As he pursued Christians on the Damascus Road Paul was quite unprepared to meet the one who had been crucified and risen. This meeting led to a reversal in Paul’s thought, brought about a complete change, and had a profound influence on him. It led him to rethink the whole of his past life, his reading of scripture, his view of the world, of the human person and of history.
After this Christ becomes the centre and his whole life hinges around this change in the human person. He can say in Galatians “I no longer live, Christ lives in me”. There is a radical change from a self-centred to a Christ-centre life. From now on the crucified Christ is at the centre of Paul’s theology: “when I came to you, brethren, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom, for I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified”. (1 Corth.2:1-2). Paul recognises that he no longer has to be an achiever, rather a receiver: it is not a matter of achieving salvation, but of receiving it freely from God’s hands in faith. He discovers that he is loved by God, freely and mercifully. It is this which gives the apostle energy, strength to keep going, courage to face controversy, fire for his ministry and staying power when things seem to be going wrong. Deeply conscious of his own weakness, yet because of his trust in God, he inspires confidence, providing consolation and encouragement for his fellow Christians. Embroiled in numerous tensions he nevertheless kept his focus on Jesus Christ. He recognises that Christians have their treasures in fragile earthly vessels. These vessels are the human beings themselves to whom God has entrusted the priceless treasure of proclaiming the gospel.
I believe that all of us have much to learn from the …..apostle to the Gentiles. Understandably, every age will recoil from the cross and ours is no exception. Paul presents himself as one who, in a paradoxical way, reveals the glory of God through the hardships he endures as Christ’s ambassador. There is a vital relationship between ministry and suffering. Indeed, authentic ministry inevitably entails suffering for the sake of the gospel. Those who do not understand the paradox of the cross see the suffering of the ministers as a sign of weakness and defeat, something unworthy of Christ’s apostle, or our own ministry. But for the apostle death and resurrection are so intimately intertwined that he already experiences something of Christ’s resurrection and the sufferings he endures.
Paul likens himself to a fragile tent that is liable to collapse at any moment: “for we know that if the earthly tent we are in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a home not made with hands, eternal in heaven”. (2 Corth. 5).
Our following of Christ, whether as married, single, religious or priest, like Paul’s ministry, paradoxically reveals the glory of the gospel through the suffering endured for the gospel. We too are Christ’s ambassadors through whom God calls to reconciliation “the love of Christ controls us” (2 Corth. 5:14). In other words Christ’s love guides us. Our ministry is guided by the spirit as we acknowledge the presence of the spirit within the life of the community, trusting that the spirit of God works in the lives of the faithful and listens for the murmuring of the spirit in the community of believers. This leads to renewal of ministry for all vocations as we together recover an experience of the spirit.
May our celebration of our Chrism Mass enable us to renew our dedication as ministers of Christ’s gospel.
Thank you all for your prayerful participation in the Chrism Mass this evening. I thank God for the generosity of our priests and the service which they provide and the support which I receive from them. With the priests I thank God for the faith, witness and prayers of the people and religious of the Archdiocese whom we are privileged to serve. I would like to acknowledge in a very special way the involvement, availability and wonderful work being done by so many in different committees, councils and groups.
I am delighted to welcome Archbishop Joseph Cassidy, to see him looking so well. I congratulate him and our Golden and Silver Jubilarians.
My thanks to Fr. Stephen Farragher, the Administrator, and the priests here at the Catheral, Frs. Ray Flaherty, Seán Cunningham, Des Fahey and Sr. Mary Corr and the liturgical Committee of the Pastoral Council. Our thanks to the acolytes, servers, sacristan, Eileen Heffernan, to our soloist, Anne McLoughlin.
I invite you all to share some food with us in St. Jarlath’s College after the ceremony. I wish you all a very happy Easter and pray that the risen Christ will lighten your burden, bring healing and hope to you and yours.