1 Apr 2015

Chrism Mass 2015 - Bishop Brendan Leahy's homily

Marking the Year of Consecrated Life, the Mass of Chrism for the diocese of Limerick was celebrated this evening in the Redemptorist Church, Mount St. Alphonsus, Limerick.  

In what was a music filled and inspiring liturgy, the Oil of Catechumens, the Oil of the Sick and Holy Chrism, which will be used in the sacraments throughout the Diocese for the next year, were consecrated and the priests of the diocese renewed their priestly promises made at ordination. 

During the Mass, Bishop Brendan payed tribute to the contribution of the consecrated women and men and their immense contribution to the life of the diocese and the city and county of Limerick especially in the areas of education and health care.

Reflecting on the fact that the count down has truly begun to Synod 2016, Bishop Brendan reminded us of how we are all a missionary Church and that each of us is consecrated for this mission:

Chrism Mass 2015
Mount St. Alphonsus Church, Limerick
Bishop Brendan Leahy

This year’s celebration of the Chrism Mass is taking place one year before we are due to assemble for our Diocesan Synod. The countdown begins; the clock is ticking; the first synod in our diocese for our seventy years is fast approaching. Our preparation across the Diocese for the Synod has to be the priority for us all at this stage.

I have been very heartened to hear of the many and varied approaches to consultation throughout the diocese both in relation to our own Synod and the Roman Synod on marriage and the family. I thank all who are contributing so generously. Recently I have met with groups of the young church of the diocese, including a parish youth council. It was wonderful to see their interest, their honest and direct engagement, their youthful questions.

The Chrism Mass each year is a moment when a diocese renews its commitment to mission. How much more so this year as we begin the countdown to the Synod. 

Today’s Gospel and the Synod

Today’s liturgy puts before us the Gospel episode of Jesus proclaiming his mission statement in the Synagogue. It’s very appropriate for us on the Synod journey! Notice a few details. The Evangelist reminds us that Jesus comes to Nazareth, the place he had been brought up. So everyone knows him. He’s been a good observant Jew. He’s lived there for thirty years. He’s never been trouble to anyone! They had heard a few rumours of change recently but really it’s as if we are being told they didn’t see the extent of the change coming. When they thought about Jesus, they thought about familiarity and custom, routine and the way things always were. After all, for thirty years it had been like that. 

But suddenly the scene changes. Notice where the change starts. Within a gathering of his people (and here we see the importance of Tradition), Jesus is given a book – the book of Scriptures. He reads a radical section from the prophet Isaiah. Notice the first words of the Scripture passage: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me”. Jesus has come to shake things up. And it is the Spirit who will do it. How? By pushing Jesus out to “preach good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recover sight to the blind, deliver those who are oppressed.” Notice again that Jesus doesn’t come to tell others what they should do. He applies the message from Scripture and about the working of the Spirit of renewal that is to come to his people, and about outreach to others, first and foremost to himself. He is the prophet who is being made new for a new prophetic mission. He will fulfil, he himself will live the message he wants to bring.

There’s a lot here we can take for our Synod journey – the importance of the Word of God in Scripture and Tradition, the centrality of the Spirit of renewal, the urgency to make a new choice to reach out to peripheries, the essential need for renewal to begin with ourselves, living at a deeper level, each one of us personally and as a community.

Inspired by the Word of God, we are called to be Jesus, to continue his mission. We are to be his hands and feet and voice. But we cannot be Jesus on our own efforts. We rely on the Spirit of the Lord. 

Three Ways the Spirit consecrates us

That’s why this evening it is good for us to recall with gratitude that the Spirit comes to our help. The Spirit consecrates his people for mission so as to be inserted more deeply, more divinely, more dramatically into the world around us. This evening we are celebrating three ways the Spirit consecrates us as a people.

Baptismal Priesthood. First of all, let’s recall that in baptism the Spirit consecrates us in a new life in Christ. We become sharers in Jesus Christ’s own priesthood. As the Second Reading puts it, Jesus “loved us all, washed us from our sins by his blood; and made us into a Kingdom, priests for his God and Father”. That applies to all the baptised. How often people are surprised to hear that in baptism they have been consecrated priests, prophets and kings. The grace we have to pray for this Synod is that we will all grow in a deeper understanding of our baptismal vocation that has made us “other Christs” in our world today. This will require a deeper engagement with the Word of God, openness to the Spirit and renewed outreach to others. 

Here I might recall what Fr. Paul Philibert who spoke at our first gathering of the delegates said: it is important for all the baptised to appreciate we are not simply clients of an ecclesiastical franchise. It’s not enough to be observers of sacred, sacramental rites performed for our inspiration and spiritual comfort. We are called to be active members of a living community that is sent to bring Good News to others. We are called to work in constructing a credible sign of Christ-alive today in our world. 

I recall a woman I knew years ago going to Rome and seeing Pope John Paul who at that time was quite frail. She said that until then she had seen the Church as a big organisation with officials and a CEO and it was all “out there”. Suddenly it dawned on her that the Pope was just one man. He was frail. He needed her contribution. And then, she said, she came to a whole new realisation that she too was the Church.

Consecrated Life. Then there’s another way the Spirit consecrates his people. It is a way we are celebrating especially this year. I am referring to the consecration that comes about through those women and men who have dedicated their lives to God in Religious Life. They are shaped by charisms the Spirit has poured out upon their foundresses and founders for the benefit of the whole Church. This year Pope Francis wants us to remember them especially as we celebrate the Year of Consecrated Life. 

Charisms are gifts of the Holy Spirit that open up windows onto the Gospel, showing us how to live the Gospel from particular angles. Consecrated men and women, gifted with these charisms, are called to be prophets, showing how Jesus lived on earth and proclaiming how the Kingdom of God will be. Pope Francis says simple, “A religious must never give up prophesying”. 

Just a few days ago we had a wonderful gathering of the religious of our diocese. It was a chance to express thanks for all that the religious have contributed to the Diocese of Limerick in education and healthcare, outreach to the marginalised and care of the poor. How much poorer Limerick diocese, Limerick city and each of us would be without the witness and generosity of generations of consecrated women and men in our diocese!

In his talk at that gathering, Bishop Donal Murray remarked “Our question is not whether religious can apply the legacy of our past to the context of today, but how the Holy Spirit, who inspired the founders and foundresses, the same Spirit who is with us and in us, is inspiring us to live that legacy. The first step lies in being open, like the people who founded your institutes, to hope when hope is crazy, ready to see the Spirit’s action in the most unlikely people and places.”

Charisms endure even when various apostolic works decline. With their charisms, the consecrated women and men of our diocese are called to “wake up the world, illuminate it” with their “prophetic and countercultural witness”. And here again the Word plays a central place. 

As we approach the Synod, I believe the consecrated men and women will have a very important role to play in helping us in the dynamics of discernment. They have lived through years of change and renewal within their congregations. In a sense, they are specialists among us of how it is we hear the voice of the Lord in the midst of the clamour of many competing claims and counterclaims.

Ordained Ministry. The third way the Holy Spirit consecrates his people is through the service of priests who are ordained in the sacred ministry at the service of the priesthood of all the faithful and at the service of the charisms and many forms of consecrated life in our diocese. 

Priests form a presbyterate together. One of the aspects that I appreciate in our priests in Limerick is their mutual friendship and support. It is a particularly consoling aspect to realise how much our priests do support one another in varied ways. One of the greatest joys for me is the gatherings of priests we have from time to time. 

This evening we remember the priests who have died during the year, especially Fr. Michael Lane whose funeral liturgy we will celebrate tomorrow morning.

The fruitfulness of our ministry is in relation to how we see our service as an expression of the one presbyterate. As we prepare for the Synod it is important for us to encourage and help each other in welcoming what Pope Francis calls “God’s surprises” in the new things the Spirit wants to do in our time. 

I was struck recently by a line I read, “history is tempted to preserve more things than can ever be used” (Keep Watch, n. 10). We are moving forward. In front of us are new frontiers, new realities and this means new ways of ministry in our diocese. In many ways, priests are undergoing a ministerial conversion. We are learning a new way of ministering. It requires letting go of what does not need to be preserved and letting in what needs to come.

Priests are gatekeepers. On them depends much of how the wider people of the diocese will enter into the way God wants the Church today to be. We must pray for the grace during this time of Synod preparation that we priests will be gatekeepers who know how to keep the gates open, serving people also by facilitating their encounter with the Spirit today. It isn’t easy. It involves the Cross. There can be tensions and uncertainties, challenges and weariness. But the year ahead is a year of grace. It is offered to us to be as creative as we can in reaching out in dialogue with as many as possible so that many will come to a deeper awareness of the life of the Church.

At this Chrism Mass, then, let’s thank the Holy Spirit for the ways he has consecrated our diocese, making us fit to continue Jesus in our world. He wants to shake things up! 

Let’s thank the Spirit especially for the presence of the consecrated women and men in our diocese. Let’s entrust our Synod journey to the Spirit, the Creator God, Father of the poor, giver of gifts, light of our hearts.

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