CHRISM MASS – EASTER 2013
As we celebrate our Chrism Mass here in our Cathedral, while the focus is primarily on the ministerial priesthood, nevertheless we must recognise the sharing of each one of us, married, single, widowed, religious and ordained in the priesthood of Jesus Christ. This is a celebration of the Sacramental life of our Archdiocese. The oils which are blessed at this Mass are used throughout the Archdiocese as a sign of our sharing in Christ’s mission, through the work of the Holy Spirit. For that reason our celebration is a celebration of the entire diocese.
Priesthood, whether the priesthood of the laity or the ordained priesthood, makes no sense if it is not related to the priesthood of Jesus Christ. Prior to Christ in the Old Testament, priesthood was seen as removing the priest from humanity while focusing on his relationship with God. By contrast the letter to the Hebrews underlines the way in which Jesus Christ, our High Priest, identifies with us: “we have not got a High Priest who is not capable of sympathising with our weakness, but a High Priest who has been tested in a similar way in everything, with the exception of sin”. As priests we are always challenged to ensure that we combine what the epistle to the Hebrews underlined, mainly, fidelity to God and compassion to the people of God. It can be so tempting and psychologically understandable in the age in which we minister today to concentrate on one of these realities at the expense of the other, namely, to focus on fidelity to God at the expense of compassion or concentrate on compassion while failing to see our priesthood as witnessing to the fidelity of God.
The whole value of the priesthood of Christ comes from the union of two priestly qualities: he is the merciful high priest who at the same time is faithful to God. Christ has experienced our difficulties; he knows our condition from the inside. He has acquired a profound capacity for compassion because to be truly compassionate one must have suffered. These days of Holy Week present us with an opportunity to identify with the sufferings of Christ. As we do so we are better equipped to understand the meaning of what we have experienced and suffered as a Church and as priests. This in turn renders us more compassionate. The first disciples stood between the sadness of the cross and the joy of Easter, tasting the silence of God and the full weight of his apparent absence in defeat.
As disciples we recognise the confusion, the yearnings and the fears that characterise our lives as believers today. The bewilderment and confusion of the disciples on Holy Saturday is something with which we can identify in so many ways. From Holy Thursday night onwards one unforeseen event had followed another and the disciples had been stunned into silence. They could no longer see things from the perspective of the future. They could see no escape from the catastrophic situation in which all their illusions had been blown apart.
As we endeavour to be ministers of Christ’s gospel today we find ourselves in a very changed situation from the one in which we were trained to minister. We have to cope with an environment of suspicion and scepticism and this in turn can contribute to a corrosive cynicism which tries to conceal the confusion and fear which we experience.
It would be so easy to become disillusioned. Non-belief is taken for granted while belief needs to be justified and at times we are expected to be apologetic for alluding to our faith. It is not surprising therefore to see a growing indifference to moral and ethical issues.
On Holy Saturday patience and perseverance are the virtues of one who waits, who does not yet see, but continues to hope. These virtues sustain us today. The impatience and haste which characterise our technological culture make it difficult for us to accept that we might have to wait for God’s plan to be fully revealed and the Risen One to be finally victorious. As we reflect on our experience we recognise times when we were able to perceive the presence of a strength that accompanied us at times of difficulty, even if we did not feel it when we suffered. At times we feel abandoned by God and by fellow human beings and yet when we look back over the events that have just passed we realise that the Lord will continue to walk with us and may even carry us.
While there are so many signs of defeat in the absence of God around us, nevertheless, what we witness in our parishes among the people of God is something wholesome, healthy and hopeful. Working together, people, priest and religious endeavour to forge a better future based on the assurance of the Lord with us in all our trials and tribulations. During this week and particularly on Holy Saturday we might reflect on the hope which people have in their hearts, on their patience, perseverance and their willingness to wait realising that the victory has already been won by Jesus Christ.
Whether we are baptised faithful, religious or priests we need to move over from the fast lane and the hectic pace of life, to take a break on our journey, to pause, reflect and find out where we are and what will sustain us as we recover a vision and draw breath on our journey. We need to understand the meaning of all we have experienced and suffered as a Church and remain open to hear what the Spirit has to say to us at this time.
The days of Holy Week provide such an opportunity. Holy Saturday is a day of deep silence. If we situate ourselves in the shoes of the first disciples it was a time of mourning. Their hearts were still full of sadness at the death of Jesus and what seemed to spell the end of their messianic hopes. What of Mary on that day? Holy Saturday for her was a time of tears but also an experience of strength of faith as she sustained the fragile hope of the disciples. On that day as they stood between the sadness of the cross and the joy of Easter the disciples tasted the silence of God, the full weight of his apparent absence and defeat.
In the disciples we recognise the confusion, the yearnings and the fears that characterise our lives as believers today.
In Mary we recognise our own waiting, our own hopes. We ask ourselves where is the Church heading at this time? The bewilderment and confusion of the disciples on Holy Saturday is something with which we can identify in so many ways. The disciples were immersed in utter confusion and dismay. From Holy Thursday night onwards, one unforeseen event had followed another and the disciples had been stunned into silence. Luke’s account of the two disciples who walked to Emmaus probably captures their mood. They had leftover lives and nowhere to go. They must have also experienced something of a sense of shame in that they had disowned the Lord, they saw themselves as traitors, only to face the present reality. They could no longer see things from the perspectives of the future. They could see no escape from the catastrophic situation in which all their illusions had been blown apart.
The age in which we live and in which we endeavour to proclaim the Gospel is one in which the “Good News” of the Risen Lord has been received by some and rejected by others. In many ways the Gospel is presented today in an environment of suspicion and rejection. The feelings of confusion and fear that the first disciples experienced must be opposed and overcome by faith and hope. Our age is marked by suspicion and mistrust and yet in a paradoxical way it calls for the grace of Easter joy.
In the anxieties and preoccupations of the disciples we can situate the anxieties and preoccupations of many believers today and this is particularly true of the Western society which is so frequently confronted by signs of God’s absence or defeat or the eclipse of God. Someone said that modern life suffers from an inability to remember. The present has become fragmented and there is a lack of vision for the future. We have to ask ourselves what the future holds. Non-belief is taken for granted, while belief needs to be justified and at social level it needs to be given legitimacy. Once our ability to remember the past becomes impaired then our experience of the presence becomes disjointed and we get that sense of being alone and lonely. It is not surprising therefore to see a growing indifference to moral and ethical issues. We become fearful rather than expectant about the future – something that manifests itself in the decline in vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
On Holy Saturday patience and perseverance are the virtues of one who waits, who does not yet see, but continues to hope. These virtues sustain us today. The impatience and haste which characterise our technological culture make it difficult for us to accept that we might have to wait for God’s plan to be fully revealed and the Risen One to be finally victorious. As we reflect on our experience we recognise times when we were able to perceive the presence of a strength that accompanied us at times of difficulty, even if we did not feel it when we suffered. At times we feel abandoned by God and by fellow human-beings and yet when we look back over the events that have just passed we realise that the Lord will continue to walk with us and may be even carry us.
The memory of the Disciples on the Emmaus road was inactive and incapable of filling them with energy and inspiring them to fresh undertakings. A stranger whom they met enabled them to relive the past in order to open themselves for the future so that they were able to understand how to marry the past of the Lord’s wonders with the future that the Lord alone causes to come about. Like the disciples on that Emmaus Road we too have to recover the sense that memory is not only an element of tradition, but also, and especially something that spurs us on to move forward. The disciples spent Holy Saturday in fear and in the dread that something worse was coming; the future seemed to have nothing but defeat and growing humiliation in store for them. Like them we too must learn to rediscover the importance of waiting. Hope alone is the antidote to indifference and frustration, to the temptation of living exclusively to the present moment, without any expectation for the future.
Believing in Jesus Christ, who died and rose for us, means becoming witnesses to hope through our words and our lives as we hope against all hope and believe in the impossible possibility of God beyond all the evidence of his defeat. While there are so many signs of defeat in the absence of God around us, nevertheless what we witness in our parishes among the people of God is something wholesome, healthy and hopeful.
Working together people, priest and religious endeavour to forge a better future based on the insurance of the Lord with them in all their trials and tribulations. During this week and particularly on Holy Saturday we might reflect on the hope which people have in their hearts, on their patience, perseverance and their willingness to wait realising that the victory has already been won by Jesus Christ.
In today’s gospel the ministry of Jesus, quoting a passage from Isaiah, has much to do with freeing people from the captivity of sin. Sin is not so much a situation of guilt that has to be forgiven but rather a plight from which one needs to be set free. The ministry which Jesus is inaugurating will continue after his death, resurrection and ascension is the mission of the Church of which as baptised faithful, religious and priests we are all part. The “acceptable year of the Lord” is the season of God’s “hospitality” to the human race. It is a time when people are simply accepted, not judged. It is a summons to conversion – an urgent and insistent summons to a deep and transforming conversion. But before conversion there is acceptance, welcome, a hand held out to the afflicted, the trapped and the bound. Indeed the whole mission of Jesus according to Luke may be summed up in the phrase “the hospitality of God”.
Wherever Jesus will exercise his ministry through us his disciples, “the today” or “year” of God’s acceptance – the welcome, the hospitality of God – prevails. The great question is, who will accept and who will not? The one who brings the “acceptance” of God will find acceptance in surprising quarters and a great measure of “non-acceptance” in others. This is the issue around which the drama of Luke’s gospel turns and is something which we experience very much in our ministry today. This all important scene in Luke serves a two-fold function. It establishes once and for all the start of Jesus’ ministry which is the message which we proclaim today the good news of acceptance, the invitation to all to come and be drawn into the hospitality of God. It also shows how this broad, inclusive outreach will meet with resistance and rejection on the part of those reluctant to undergo the conversion required. The prophet who comes as visitor offering the hospitality of God himself meets with inhospitality and rejection. But rejection does not have last word: it, too, can be drawn into God’s saving plan and made to further, rather than restrict the outreach of grace.
The scene in today’s gospel is far more significant than its brevity might suggest. It’s position at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, put emphasis on the spirit and scripture and its depiction of themes that will dominate the rest of the gospel of Luke all point to its pivoted character. Jesus moves among the poor, the outcast, the sick and the blind. His actions fulfil the scriptures, especially the prophets, but even those who wait for fulfilment of the scriptures took offence at Jesus and eventually put him to death. This scene suggests that the basis for their hostility towards Jesus was difference in the way they read the scriptures. The people of Jesus’ home town read the scriptures as promises of God’s exclusive covenant with them, a covenant that involved promises of deliverance from their oppressors. Jesus came announcing deliverance, but it was not an act of deliverance but God’s promise of liberation for all poor and oppressed regardless of nationality, gender or race. When the radical inclusiveness of Jesus’ announcement became clear to those gathered in the synagogue in Nazareth, their commitment to their own community boundaries took precedence over the joy that God had sent a prophet among them. In the end they were not open to the prospect of others sharing in the bounty of God’s deliverance. They themselves were unable to receive it.
This is a challenge for us in that we can never set limits or boundaries to God’s grace. We are instruments of God’s grace for others, but when we try to set limits who may receive that grace we are no longer true disciples of Jesus Christ.