HOMILY FOR THE CHRISM MASS 2018.
Whether married, single, religious or ordained we share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ. It is this priesthood which we celebrate in our Chrism Mass this evening.
We may get a valuable insight into aspects of priesthood through the prism of other biblical figures.
I am reminded of David in the Old Testament when he was carrying out the census of the people. This in itself was a commendable exercise but the spirit in which he ordered it was questionable. David saw it as his own project and failed to recognise that the people he numbered were God’s people rather than his own. In his mind the census meant ownership, efficiency and power, with the implication that he himself was in total control.
The temptation of success can afflict us as priests, as ministers, as members of pastoral councils when we become obsessed with seeing results and with instant returns. It is the temptation to convince other people that they would recognise how our projects lend themselves to productivity. We could easily succumb to measuring evangelisation and the proclamation of the Gospel by the method of Multi-national companies. Perhaps we get instances of that approach today when we wonder whether God has deserted us, and why he doesn’t send more co-workers into his vineyard. In this situation it is very tempting to see our own personal project as God’s project.
I am not stating that success does not have an importance of its own and is part of our work. We don’t fall into the opposite extreme of rejoicing in failure. Human satisfaction is a good thing.
In the culture in which we are summoned to proclaim the Gospel today a necessary characteristic is courage. When people begin complaining about everything and locating the blame on each other, and are endeavouring to seek the causes why things are not going well, very often this an indication that we have fallen victim to Satan who inspires distrust and creates uneasiness. On the other hand when we succeed in rejoicing over God’s gifts, this gives us heart and confronts problems with greater clarity and consistency.
The situation in which we find ourselves today calls for courage. However, we see only too clearly that political prudence or political correctness is a huge temptation. While political correctness leads us always to be very sensitive to circumstances, to situations, to what other people may say, to what construction may be put on our words, our actions and our beliefs and while this is necessary, there is a great need for us to pluck up courage and move ahead. Perhaps we ought to question ourselves from time to time and ask ourselves: is what we are doing the fruit of courage, or is it in fact the fruit of political correctness which is unwilling to trust the Lord and the mission which he has given us. I am not stating that courage and political correctness are mutually exclusive, however if as a Church we are merely dictated to by political correctness then we can hardly expect to move forward.
The Gospel for this year is the Gospel of Mark and at the very beginning of the Gospel we see the courage of Jesus in his encounter with Satan the adversary. Jesus’ public life begins with this struggle, indicating that his Messiah-ship entails conflict. If as a Church we overlook this fact then we will be overwhelmed by difficulties and issues which are bewildering. As Christians we live our daily lives in the struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness, between Christ and the enemy of human kind. This is particularly true in the case of the priest who has been entrusted with particular responsibility of leading and sanctifying. As priests we require a courage which is born of faith.
Today’s gospel is very striking and informative with regard to Jesus and its implications for priestly ministry. Here Jesus inaugurates his mission. You will notice that he presents himself free of the expectations of the crowd; he is not hypnotised by desire for success, and he speaks without seeking approval or applause. In the Synagogue setting the eyes of all are fixed on him, they think he is going to say simply amazing things, but he is not concerned about what the people want to hear. If we continue the Gospel beyond the immediate verses for today we see that for a short time some of them listen to him with interest but by the end it seems to result in failure. Indeed, they hustle him out to the brow of the mountain intending to throw him off the cliff. Jesus reacts as St. Luke says, “passing through the midst of them he went away”, goes to Caphernaum and though, as nothing has happened, resumes teaching on the Sabbath day. There is here an extraordinary freedom of heart. He doesn’t alter his course to achieve a more favourable result; he simply moves on to another city.
Pope Francis in his homily in February of last year reminded us that courage, prayer and humility are the traits that distinguish priests and heralds who help the Church to grow in the world and who have contributed to its missionary character. He challenges us that the word of God is not something that can be explained to people as a mere recommendation or merely a good idea, but it requires courage, prayer and humility to preach with honesty – and he goes on to state that this is the only way that it will have an impact. He states: “the Word of God cannot be given as a proposal or like a good philosophical or moral idea. He emphasises “no”! It is something else. It needs to be proposed with frankness so that the word penetrates, as St. Paul says “to the bone”. From our love for the Lord and our faith in him we get the spiritual courage, the heart to speak God’s word with courage. Without this courage we may say something interesting, entertain, inform, but only the word of God proclaimed with courage is capable of transforming the people of God.
For the one who proclaims the Word of God, Pope Francis reminds us that without prayer it will not be God’s word. It is prayer which helps the Gospel to become embedded, take root and bear fruit in people’s hearts.
The true preacher is always one who knows his own weakness, the one who knows that he is dependent on the spirit of God in order to proclaim God’s message.