Text: Archbishop Nichols at Birmingham Cathedral Chrism Mass


 The following homily was given by Archbishop Vincent Nichols during the Chrism Mass at St Chad s Cathedral. This year we celebrate our Chrism Mass in the context of a Year of the Eucharist. It is, therefore, a moment of particular thanksgiving, for that is the first meaning of the word "Eucharist". This Eucharistic Year, which we observe at the invitation of Pope John Paul, is surely a good reminder that the first call and purpose of all prayer is to give praise and thanks to God. Today we give thanks not only for the gifts of life and faith but particularly for the gift of the ordained priesthood. This is a wonderful gift to the Church, a charism through which some, chosen from the priestly people of God, minister to His people, serving them in love, nourishing them with God s word, and through the life-giving and healing sacraments. As a Church we thank God for these sacramental gifts, so clearly symbolised in the blessings of the oils this morning. The gift of priesthood comes in a personal way to those ordained into this ministry. And we priests are especially thankful for the gift we have received. I never cease to rejoice in the affection and esteem in which we priests are held by you, the people of the diocese. Despite our failings you support and encourage us; you give us so much. You do so because, with the eyes of faith, you see and recognise in us, men who have received the anointing of God and who have been given a role in the work of grace in the life of the church and the world. We thank you for this support and encouragement. We thank you for your steadfast faith. It is a guide and inspiration for us all. Indeed, this faith points to the true nature of the thanksgiving we offer this morning. We are thankful, quite simply, for the work of God in our lives the "mirabilia Dei". These wonderful works of God are eloquently described in the bold Scriptural themes with which we are familiar: deliverance from slavery, the healing of bodies, the forgiveness of sin, the restoring of life. Yet, I suspect, that the "mirabilia Dei" which we experience are not so clear-cut. They are less dramatic than those portrayed in the Scriptures. The action of God in our lives is more hidden, immersed in our daily realities, woven into the fabric of everyday events and experiences. What is written loud and clear in the testimony of the Scriptures is often hidden in the small print of our daily lives. And so easily there it can remain, undetected and unappreciated. For there is so much else taking place in our daily life which distracts us from this subtle presence of God. There are other texts written for our attention, other versions of salvation, of freedom, of fulfilment which catch our eyes and, at times, captivate our hearts. Our world is particularly eloquent in the appeal that it makes to us and it is important for us to be aware of how it does so. In our culture today, in the air we breathe, there is a constant message telling us that God is absent from human affairs and, what is more, that God is not missed. We human beings, at long last, are autonomous; we have no more need of God. The truth propounded by our society, its secular gospel, unfolds accordingly. Salvation is our self-fulfilment. Freedom is from the constraints that others would seek to impose, and it is a freedom for me to exercise my choice at every moment. History is progress, the inevitable unfolding, year on year, of better and better circumstances and prosperity. The measure of success is that prosperity which releases us from need and, most of all, from dependence. Truth is what we decide, and we will give meaning and justification to any course of action which we choose to follow. We rejoice in the autonomy of being able to do so. These are the things for which the world gives thanks. And, in all honesty, all of us have drunk deeply of this message. We have all raised a toast to success of this sort. We know we have. We see quite clearly that we have done so every time we complain about the circumstances, the demands, the consequences of our ministry which seem to constrain us in our pursuit of these aims. But today we raise a different kind of cup. It is a cup of thanksgiving. But in taking this cup we give thanks for quite different reasons and for quite different expectations. For a start, the thanksgiving we offer here is directed entirely beyond ourselves and our own achievements. Our thanks is directed to the Father. In Him we see and recognise the source of our well-being. Our thanks arise in and through Christ, and find their true expression, their true form in his sacrifice. Now indeed we begin to understand the scandal of the Cross. Here, perhaps more than anywhere else, we see and measure how much we are at odds with the world around us. When we take this cup of salvation we reject the successes and thankfulness of the world s gospel. Instead we drink deeply of the Gospel of Christ proclaimed in its fullness on the Cross. So today we give thanks for what we are given, not what we have gained. We are thankful that we can follow the will of the Father, in obedience, rather than the pathway of self-determination. We are thankful and how difficult this is - that we are men of weakness and marked, at times, by suffering, for then we can be more readily filled with the goodness of the Lord. We are thankful even when we are "persecuted" for then we are closer to our Blessed Lord. This is the small print we strive to read in our daily experience. It is so easily missed. How ready we are to interpret a successful moment in our ministry as our own achievement rather than as God s gift. How quickly we come to view our obedience as a weakness rather than an opportunity. How quick we are to complain about our burdens and suffering rather than see them as the road to the deeper union with the Lord. How ready we are to interpret unjustified criticism in the manner of an offended victim rather than see it as an opportunity to depend on God more completely. This is the message of our Eucharist, our thanksgiving today. We are thankful to our heavenly Father for all in ways in which he draws us closer to himself along the path first trodden by His beloved Son. For that is the only pathway to life. In his message to priests for Maundy Thursday, Pope John Paul invites us to allow our lives to be shaped by the Eucharist we celebrate each day. This surely means that, as priests, we must be men who constantly give thanks. We are asked, by our very celebration of the Mass, to live a life of thanksgiving, alert to all the hidden and paradoxical ways in which the Lord graces our daily lives. We are to see beyond the surface events, beyond the text which the world wants us to read to the deeper meaning of our struggles and our anxieties. We are to search out the sacramental nature of each moment, the manner in which it is bringing us closer into the life of God. In order to do this we are to be conscious of the particular temptation we face, the temptation to dwell on indignation and anger, to be marked by cynicism and bitterness, for such are the negative hallmarks of the ways of our world. Rather we as priests we are to be witnesses to the profound thankfulness which is the first and best stance of the disciple. In this we are not naive, not indulging in some pretence that all is well in the world, or in our own lives. But, with the strength and perseverance of faith, we go beyond the troubled surface of our lives and bring forth its deeper treasure: that, hidden in every circumstance, there is an invitation from the Lord for us to grow closer to Him each day. And for this we give heartfelt thanks. The Mass we celebrate each day is, of course, the fullest proclamation of this abiding presence of the Lord. At Mass we celebrate the truth that he gives himself to us, to our history, in every time and place, out of his unconditional love. So the Eucharist, our Mass, is never to be a brief half-hour at some point in the day. It should breathe life into every moment of the day, just as the presence of the Blessed Sacrament should breathe life into our churches. The Mass is never a tiny island of time on the edge of the day. Rather it is the summit and source of our awareness that in everything the Lord chooses to be with us, to stay with us and to be our joy and delight. In this calling to be men of thankful hearts and voices we are marvellously encouraged by so many others. What priest among us is not constantly inspired by the courage and goodness of women and men who, in faith, accept the burdens of their circumstances, of their illness, of their old age with dignity, calm and even thankfulness in their hearts. Faith such as that moves us priests to seek to renew our own dedication. We do so in the presence of our people who never cease to see in us the ones who, in a special way, stand in the footprints of the Lord, speak with the voice of the Teacher, love with the pastoral care of the Good Shepherd and bless with hands anointed in the name of Christ, the Anointed One of God. It is then, with humility in my heart, I ask the priests present here today to stand and publicly renew the promises of their priesthood and to strive, in the year ahead, to be thankful in all they do and say.

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