HOMILY FOR CHRISM MASS ON 16th APRIL, 2014.
I welcome you all as we celebrate our priesthood in Jesus Christ. While traditionally the Chrism Mass has tended to focus on the ordained priesthood, nevertheless the ordained priesthood and the priesthood of believers cannot be understood independently of one another and they make absolutely no sense if not founded on and nurtured by the priesthood of Jesus Christ.
In his apostolic exhortation Pope Francis issues a challenge when he says that “evangelisation is the task of the Church” and he goes on to spell out that the Church is first and foremost a people advancing on its pilgrim way towards God.
Acknowledging that the world needs to be encouraged he says that “it must be given hope and strength on the way. If this is to happen, the Church must be a place of mercy, freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the Gospel”. In this context he reminds us that all the members of the people of God are missionary disciples.
Being a Christian is a result of an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. Touched by God’s love we are able to blossom into an enriching friendship and are liberated from selfishness and self-preoccupation. As baptised faithful, religious and priests we are influenced, energised and sent to work together as agents of evangelisation.
The scene depicted in the First reading today is more significant than its brevity might suggest. Placed at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry it will dominate the rest of the Gospel. Because it is a programme for the ministry of Jesus it must also be central to all who share the priesthood of Jesus Christ. All that Jesus does in the rest of the Gospel of Luke takes place under the power of the spirit. Jesus heals, teaches, and preaches. He moves among the poor, the outcast, the sick and the blind. Our whole priestly ministry is determined by and comes under the influence of the Holy Spirit. It is in the power of the Holy Spirit that we bring new members into the people of God in baptism, forgive sins in the name of Jesus Christ, change Bread and Wine into his Body and Blood. It is through the power of the Spirit that we endeavour to discern what the Lord is saying to us in what we might consider at times to be unwelcome and unpromising situations.
Luke carefully draws a portrait of Jesus as a prophet. To inaugurate his public ministry, Jesus turned to the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah had spoken about the lowly, the broken-hearted and the captives. Jesus himself belonged to that group and needed to hear the prophet’s words for his own sake as well as for the people assembled before him. He who came to give liberty to captives, was himself captured and imprisoned. He who gave sight to the blind, speech to the mute and mobility to cripples was himself reduced to absolute silence, total immobility and the darkness of the tomb.
Today we minister in a fractured world and at times do so as men who are ourselves disillusioned and disheartened. We endeavour to hear the silent cry of our people, share their distress, bring comfort and dignity to the deprived. The message of the bible is that civilisations survive not by strength but by how they respond to the weak; not by wealth but by how they care for the poor; not by power but by their concern for the powerless.
Someone illustrated this point by referring to the geography of the Holy Land. There are two seas in Israel: The Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee. The latter is full of life: fish, birds, and vegetation. The former, as its name suggests, contains no life at all. Yet they are both fed by the same river, the Jordan. The difference is that the Sea of Galilee receives water at one end and gives out water at the other. The Dead Sea receives but does not give. The Jordan ends there. To receive without giving in return is a form of death. To live is to give. In our priestly ministry we endeavour to light a candle of hope in a dark world. Jesus the Prophet became so thoroughly one with those to whom he ministered that he had to receive the strength and direction of the Prophets’ ministry in his own life.
At the beginning of his public life Jesus turned to Isaiah in order to discern the orientation of his own life. Prophets were agents of hope. For every sin there was atonement, for every exile a return. What Isaiah had announced to the people of his day is now being fulfilled in the ministry of Jesus. He signals that the time for the liberation of the impoverished and oppressed had come. He turned to these earlier prophets to sustain himself faithfully in God’s presence.
Jesus proclaims the “acceptable Year of the Lord” as the season of God’s “hospitality” to the human race. It is a time when people are simply accepted, not judged. True, 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. The whole mission of Jesus according to Luke could be summed up in the phrase “hospitality of God”.
The events which follow today’s Gospel and with which you are familiar are revealing. Initially the response of the local people to the sermon of Jesus is favourable. They take pride in the local boy made good. Jesus immediately challenges his audience and firmly resists their attempt to confine and control him. His mission is to range far beyond his own locality and particular interests: “no prophet is acceptable in his home town”. This serves a two-fold function in the Gospel – firstly it establishes that the heart of Jesus’ message is the good news of acceptance, an invitation to all to share the hospitality of God. Secondly, it shows how this broad, inclusive outreach will meet with resistance and rejection on the part of those reluctant to undergo the conversion required.
All too often in recent years the faith which religion presented to the world has been unconvincing: either strident and aggressive or weak and vague. Yeat’s lines come to mind:
“The best lack all conviction,
While the worst are full of passionate intensity”.
Neither strategy however offers a road map to redemption. Neither is adequate to God’s call in our day.
Returning to the Gospel for today reminds us that God’s grace is never subject to the limitations and boundaries of any nation, Church, group, or race. Those who would exclude others thereby exclude themselves. Human beings may be instruments of God’s grace for others, but we are never free to set limits on who may receive that grace. How much more might God be able to do with us if we were ready to transcend the boundaries of community and limits of love that we ourselves have erected? Surely this is the challenge which Pope Francis in “The Joy of the Gospel” holds out to all of us, baptised faithful, religious or ordained minister.