This is the text of Archbishop George Pell's homily to priests of the Melbourne Archdiocese for the annual Mass of the Oils on 10 April 2001, at Saint Patrick's Cathedral.
At the Mass of the Oils it is always an appropriate moment for those of us who are priests to meditate on the great mystery of Love which we serve; that love which is a mystery of Trinitarian unity and which we are called to serve as witnesses and ministers.
It is a time of the year for us to reflect once again on who we are as individual priests and, as the Melbourne presbyterium, to reflect also on our journey to holiness, to a deeper unity with Christ.
As usual I will draw heavily on the annual message of the Holy Father to Priests, but I wish to begin on this occasion, which is my last Mass of the Oils as Archbishop of this great Archdiocese, by thanking you all for your priestly work, day in and day out, usually without much favourable publicity. As the Holy Father has pointed out for this year we are regularly tested by the resistance of a widely secularised environment, which pressures us to become tired and discouraged. I fully understand that you do not serve primarily any particular pope or bishop; you serve Christ and the Church, as I do. But as your Archbishop I want to thank you publicly for your faith, for your leadership and for your service to the community.
The Holy Father reminds us that our vocation is a mystery of mercy. God has chosen us, gratuitously (I am sometimes tempted to think personally, perhaps a little bit capriciously, but certainly gratuitously) , to be his ambassadors, to act as his representatives especially through the Sacraments.
We must never forget the mystical, supernatural dimension of our priestly identity and work, which is nourished by our lives of action, liturgically and in service, but especially by our regular personal prayer.
It was my ambition as Archbishop to encourage and strengthen the prayer life of our presbyterate. This was never explicitly resisted; there was significant co-operation and I would not want to underestimate the wonderful prayer life of many priests, but I am not sure how much ground has been gained during the past five years. This area remains as a challenge to progress further.
Regular prayer is of course what nourishes, first of all, the sense of the sacred identity of the ministerial priesthood. We should not be shy about our own role and office as ambassadors of Christ; not too embarrassed to pray for ourselves publicly.
We must also work hard to maintain the unity of the diocesan presbyterate around the bishop and the worldwide unity of priests around the Pope and the College of Bishops. The maintenance of the public unity and mutual respect of the clergy is the first external defence of this spiritual treasure and that public unity should never be breached in any circumstances.
The special theme of the Pope's message, the first such message of the Third Christian Millennium, touches on the priest and the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation.
The Holy Father urges each one of us as priests to use this sacrament regularly on our own personal pilgrimage. Christ chose his first ministers from among sinners and he has continued in that tradition with us. We know this well. We should thank God for the mystery of healing available to us also, to purify our hearts and make us less unworthy of the mysteries we celebrate.
When as priests we remember the tenderness of the Father's embrace, beautifully captured in the parable of the Prodigal Son, then we can pass on to others in the confessional the warmth and the pardon that we too have received.
The Pope acknowledges in this letter that the Sacrament of Penance, at least throughout the Western world, remains under a cloud, although huge numbers confessed personally during the Jubilee Year and especially in Rome. A weakened sense of sin is one contributory cause here and across the Western world; as is an inadequate realisation of the sacramental economy of God's salvation. Even in our own Archdiocese we must take care not to confuse the people with a too frequent use of the sacramental, of self-devised symbolisms, which can confuse and distract from the absolute primacy of the sacraments.
Sacrament of Penance
The Holy Father also mentioned another factor, not entirely unknown among us also, and that is a certain dwindling of our enthusiasm and availability as priests for the exercise of this demanding and delicate mystery of confession and reconciliation.
We must always, each week, be regularly available and we must teach and explain, especially if customers seem to be scarce and every sinner in the parish seems to be over the age of fifty! Basic human needs are never cancelled out by crises of culture, much less by passing fashions. The Sacrament of Penance meets the deep human need for forgiveness, and the need for this to be both ritualised and deeply personal.
The Holy Father urges us to put out into the deep in this new millennium. You will be doing this with a new Archbishop, but we will celebrate Easter together. The Church of Melbourne will always be in my prayers and I wish you all, priests, religious and people, every grace and blessing at this Easter and into the future.