Following our baptismal calling takes courage - Chrism Mass homily

Following our baptismal calling takes courage - Chrism Mass homily

Bishop Geoffrey Jarrett

This is the edited text of Bishop Geoffrey Jarrett's homily at the Mass of the Chrism for the Lismore Diocese on 25 March 2002.

In this Mass of the Chrism, we are sharing in a very beautiful expression of the unity of the Church - this particular Church which is our diocese. The priests have come together around their Bishop, showing forth our unity in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ. Gathered around us are all of you, Christ's faithful, united with him in the common priesthood of all the baptised.

Present among us is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, whose origin is in Jesus Christ, the anointed of the Father, chief cornerstone of the whole structure, which he founded on Peter the Rock, whose successor is our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II.

We are celebrating the Eucharistic Sacrifice, that Sacrament which especially makes the Church; but in this Mass the other sacraments are also taken into its embrace, oriented as they are to that Sacrament which is Christ himself.

The Sacrament of Baptism is represented in the Oil of Catechumens, used to prepare them for the water of rebirth. The Sacred Chrism is consecrated to anoint the newly-baptised, to seal with the Holy Spirit those who receive the Sacrament of Confirmation, to anoint the hands of priests at their ordination and the heads of bishops at their consecration.

The priests present join with their bishop in consecrating the Sacred Chrism because they share in the sacred office of the bishop in building up, sanctifying, and ruling the People of God.

Finally, but first in order of being set apart, the Oil of the Sick is blessed to bring healing grace, comfort and support to the sick in their infirmity, and to be for the dying their final sealing in Christ. This is the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, for which Scripture tells us the priests of the Church must be called to pray over the sick and to anoint them in the name of the Lord.

As we listened to the First Reading of the Mass, each of us, priest or lay, could have related it to our own sharing in the anointing of the Spirit of the Lord, how each of us could understand for himself or herself the particular application of Isaiah's proclamation, "But you, you will be named 'priests of the Lord', they will call you ministers of our God."

We understand how each of us has a share as members of Christ's Body in the mission that our Lord began at the Jordan, when the voice from heaven proclaimed him the anointed One, and which he acknowledged in the synagogue at Nazareth when all eyes were fixed on him as the embodied fulfilment of all that the prophets had proclaimed.

Involved participants

Yes, my dear people, you are "priests of the Lord," consecrated in your sacraments of initiation to bear witness to the power, the beauty, the truth and the love of God in that everyday world, the secular world, which is, as it were, your natural habitat. In your marriage and families, in your school and your workplace, your sporting and leisure activities, in all that you are and do, you are apostles of Christ and his witnesses in this world to the world of higher things which is his eternal Kingdom.

You are expected to be involved participants, not inactive bystanders, in that drama which is working itself out in the world of politics, and the vast drama of human society which bears in upon you from the pages of the newspaper and the images of the TV screen. If Christ today has any voice, and hands and feet, any presence at all in this world he desires to save, it is only through you that he can speak, through your presence that he can be there.

This witness calls for extraordinary courage, because if we take our baptismal calling seriously we will find ourselves very quickly at odds, even perhaps in conflict with what is going on around us. The pressure to conform, to go along with the common thinking, to give in to the plethora of political correctnesses, is extreme.

Today we face a new hostility to Christianity, still somewhat veiled in our country, still just under the surface, which goes beyond a simple resentment of our moral teachings, on say, abortion, euthanasia and sexual immorality, and efforts to stop them intruding into public policy. It is a hostility that has everything in common with what the first Christians faced openly in the time of the Apostles: a resentment to the point of despising the very core of our faith, that salvation comes uniquely through Jesus Christ.

It meant then a refusal to see any spiritual value in Roman paganism, and an intolerance to such seemingly minor actions as burning a few grains of incense before the emperor's statue. It was a valiant faith which made martyrs of many ordinary Christian men, women and children, and bishops, priests and popes as well.

They were part of a tradition, as we are ourselves, going back to the ancient Israelites, who threw the images of Baal out of the Temple, and in later times fought heroically the might of the pagan Greeks who treated with contempt the law of the One True God.

The fact is that the Catholic Church is the world's greatest authority on conquering paganism in any of its historical manifestations. The Christian's totally confident appeal has always been to the person of Jesus Christ through absolute trust in his teaching and his power. If we seem to be weak today it is because many people still owning the Christian name seem to put more faith in the wisdom of academics, lawyers and psychologists than they do in the Word of the Son of God and the teaching of his Church.

Now, there is nothing at all wrong with listening to the advice that experts offer in their specialist fields, and it can be very good advice. But they cannot give us the ultimate advice. That comes from outside ourselves, and the only guaranteed contact we have with that source is the consistent, age-old teaching the Church delivers to us.

Yet it is not hard today to find, even among those who still regard themselves as practising Catholics, people who appear to have no confidence in the Church's teaching regarding sexuality (and, for that matter, a range of other established teachings), and whose opinions are hard to distinguish from those of professed unbelievers. A truce with modernity is struck before any prospect of a battle can emerge.

But it is a battle in which we are engaged. In recent decades it has become quite unfashionable among us to use military metaphors which treat the spiritual life as a kind of warfare - even if a concordance will give you a score of references in the Word of God to confirm that understanding. St Benedict was not the first to speak of taking up spiritual weapons. That we are engaged in a battle of supernatural dimensions has been in all ages the common experience of Christians.

Spiritual writers from the Fathers of the Church to post-Reformation teachers, Catholic and Protestant alike, have made free use of the metaphor. The moment has arrived, this moment of the new evangelisation, when we must go beyond the safe formulations of mission statements and communal visions, and do some more basic strategic planning, training up our officers anew and redeploying the divisions of those who are unapologetically faithful to Jesus Christ and zealous in his cause.

And who will lead you, who will support you, who will guarantee you the supply of rations that are necessary in the campaign of faith? Of course you will look to your bishops and priests, for that is why Christ has given them to you. It was a great Cardinal not long gone from this world who said that one of the priest's first services as a spiritual leader in Christ's cause is to tell the world the truth.

The strategy which the priest must advocate is the insurrection of consciences; the order which he comes to disturb is the apparent calm which covers up disorders, so that it can be said that his way of creating order is to start a ferment. His way of obeying the laws of men is to appeal unceasingly to the law of God. He must cry aloud and cease not, as he brings his people the Word of God with a voice that resists all temptation to be timid or toned-down.

Promises

We stand before you at this Mass, dear people, your bishop and priests, to renew our dedication to Christ as priests of His new Covenant. You will hear us reaffirm our promises to preach the Gospel and explain the Catholic Faith, to celebrate the liturgy faithfully and reverently, to model our lives on the mystery of the Lord's cross.

It is our extension as it were, through the Sacrament of Orders, of what you all will reaffirm when you renew your baptismal promises at the Easter Masses.

I need hardly add that these days are not easy ones for priests, chosen to be your spiritual leaders. In our own country and in other places the sins of a few of our number have brought a painful attention to the rest of us. By way of encouragement I cannot do better than to pass on here the words of our Holy Father writing to the priests of the world, all five hundred thousand of us, in this year's Holy Thursday message:

"As priests we are personally and profoundly afflicted by the sins of some of our brothers who have betrayed the grace of Ordination in succumbing even to the most grievous forms of the mysterium iniquitatis at work in the world. Grave scandal is caused, with the result that a dark shadow of suspicion is cast over all the other fine priests who perform their ministry with honesty and integrity and often with heroic self-sacrifice.

"As the Church shows her concern for the victims and strives to respond in truth and justice to each of these painful situations, all of us - conscious of human weakness, but trusting in the healing power of divine grace - are called to embrace the 'mysterium Crucis' and to commit ourselves more fully to the search for holiness. We must beg God in his Providence to prompt a whole-hearted reawakening of those ideals of total self-giving to Christ which are the very foundation of the priestly ministry.

"It is precisely our faith in Christ which gives us the strength to look trustingly to the future. We know that the human heart has always been attracted to evil, and that man will be able to radiate peace and love to those around him only if he meets Christ and allows himself to be 'overtaken' by him. As ministers of the Eucharist and of sacramental Reconciliation, we in particular have the task of communicating hope, goodness and peace to the world."

Please pray for us in this Mass with a special fervour, that the Lord will keep us as holy as the actions we perform day by day in your service. And add a prayer of gratitude to God for all that your priests mean to you, for the priestly service and leadership they have given you over a lifetime, and will do so till the end. It is a secret of God's dealings with us that new life always springs out of reverses and seeming disasters.

From the ranks of the faithful new responses to God's call are being made, new vocations are being realised, and young men are coming from our families and communities to prepare for the priesthood. Joseph and Nicholas have come from the seminary to be present with us tonight, and may we have the joy of seeing them one day receive the anointing of this Sacred Chrism on their hands, the first of a new generation of priests of the Diocese of Lismore.

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