At the Chrism Mass today at St Chad's Cathedral, Birmingham, bishops, priests, deacons and lay faithful from the archdiocese saw Archbishop Bernard Longley blessing the holy oils, and priests and deacons renewing their promises to serve God and his people, the Archbishop invited those gathered to draw 'inspiration and courage' from the words of Blessed John Henry Newman:
'Let us pray for each other, as well as for ourselves, that the gifts He has given us may not be squandered on ourselves, and used for our own gratification or our own reputation, but for His glory and for the good of His Church.'
The Archbishop spoke of the importance of the cross: 'The cross lies at the centre of everything we believe as priests and it gives meaning to everything we teach.'
He said that: 'Christ has always seen our capacity to shoulder his cross for the sake of others, lifting their burdens and lightening their hearts.' Even though, 'we may not recognise this fully or clearly within ourselves.'
He emphasised how it is important for all to come together for the Chrism Mass because 'it is not good for us as priests to be isolated - it jars against the nature of our calling.' Adding that the Chrism Mass is a time when, 'we renew and refresh our relationship with the Lord as his priests in the midst of the Church - and where we also re-commit ourselves to take care of our brothers in the priesthood.'
The Archbishop prayed that friendships amongst priests 'may be a source of encouragement and inspiration' and called for 'understanding and acceptance (of) our brother priests who may be struggling with their health, with physical or mental frailty, with discouragement or disappointment.' He also spoke of his own need for prayers 'in order to be faithful to (his) ministry.'
The full homily text follows:
Everyone will see him, even those who pierced him, and all the races of the earth will mourn over him.
The ceremonies of this week are dominated by the cross of our Lord. We listen twice to the account of the passion, on Palm Sunday and on Good Friday. Our celebration of the Mass of the Lord's Supper is a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of the cross. When we keep watch tomorrow evening with the Lord we witness to his agony at Gethsemane where he began to feel the weight of the cross bearing down upon him. Then in the Easter Vigil the cross of death is transformed into the Lord's symbol of triumph and of love.
This morning my words are especially addressed to all the priests and brother bishops united with me through our incardination into the very fabric of diocesan life along with the Religious priests who share with us in the mission of this Archdiocese. The cross lies at the centre of everything we believe as priests and it gives meaning to everything we teach. We have been called to live within the embrace of the cross of Christ. On Good Friday we shall hold the cross before the assembly of God's people saying: This is the wood of the cross on which hung the saviour of the world...Come let us worship. And today, when we renew our priestly commitment it will be to Jesus, the crucified one, who is inviting us again to imitate him in his sacrificial offering.
Priests are united with all the baptised in the new life of the resurrection. At the same time we carry the cross in a distinctive way through our sacramental union with Christ the High Priest. So we should meditate on the cross in our lives and in our ministry in order to see and appreciate our own vocation more clearly. The cross reveals the meaning that lies within and beyond the priesthood that we are called by Christ to share. It illuminates the inscape of the priesthood which we all experience but rarely have time to explore. This deserves more of our time and attention in prayer and reflection.
Holy Week has a distinctive character for those who are ordained as priests. We sense more keenly what it means to be regarded as an alter Christus in the liturgies of the Triduum. When we celebrate the sacraments in the Easter Vigil we are more aware that we do so in the name of our Lord. We are moved that the saving events of his life now transform the lives of those we serve because of our sharing in his own priesthood.
That is why it is important for us to come together at the Chrism Mass, where we both receive from the Lord and from each other. It is not good for us as priests to be isolated - it jars against the nature of our calling. In this celebration the Church invites us to witness to one another in a way that is unique to Holy Week. The Chrism Mass is the one great annual liturgical gathering of the presbyterate where we renew and refresh our relationship with the Lord as his priests in the midst of the Church - and where we also re-commit ourselves to take care of our brothers in the priesthood.
In the second volume of his trilogy Jesus of Nazareth Pope Benedict writes: It is on the cross that the parables are unlocked. That is an enormously valuable insight for the preacher. Commenting on this insight, Bishop Christopher Cocksworth, the Bishop of Coventry, wrote: it is equally true to say that the cross opens up the meaning, not only of every other aspect of Jesus' teaching, but also of his miracles and other actions of compassion and judgment.
At the ordination of a priest the bishop asks about the candidate: Do you judge him to be worthy? - before calling him forward, in the name of Christ and of the Church, to be ordained. For each one of us, the cross opens up the meaning of this action of judgment on the part of our Lord. Christ has always seen our capacity to shoulder his cross for the sake of others, lifting their burdens and lightening their hearts. Although we may not recognise this fully or clearly within ourselves, we do know that he gives us strength and resilience in place of fatigue and discouragement.
Because Catholic priests are bonded together by the Lord within the diocesan presbyterate (and I'm sure that this has its parallels in Religious life too) we have time and opportunity to come to know one another. For our priestly ministry to be fruitful we should long to experience a deepening of our friendship together in Christ. It is a friendship that arises from priestly ordination and its character is shaped by the Lord's cross as both gift and sacrifice.
As I offer today's Mass for your intentions, I am conscious of my call to serve you. I also need your prayers in order to be faithful to my own ministry. I pray that your own friendships as brother priests may be a source of encouragement and inspiration as you tread the paths marked out for you by Christ himself. The quality of your fraternal love is reflected in the cross that you will invite your parishioners to venerate with a kiss on Friday. May it also find expression in the sign of peace that we offer each other today and as we wash the feet of those we serve tomorrow.
In a few moments the oils will be brought forward to be blessed and consecrated. Through the oil of catechumens wisdom, strength and a deeper understanding of the gospel pave the way towards fullness of life in Christ. As priests we can encourage one another by praising what the Holy Spirit achieves through the dedicated service of priests and by showing appreciation.
Through the oil of the sick come healing, freedom from pain and wholeness of body, mind and soul. May we always reach out in understanding and acceptance to our brother priests who may be struggling with their health, with physical or mental frailty, with discouragement or disappointment. We know how we feel lifted up by the Lord when we receive his love in this way.
Our hands have been anointed by the oil of chrism so that we might be inwardly transformed - and made temples of God's glory, radiant with the goodness of life that has its source in him. In our encounters with each other we should look first of all for that goodness of life that lies within every priest - the quality of our contact and the tone of our conversations can call forth the best of our human nature, redeemed and raised by the cross of Christ.
These three oils will become instruments of the priesthood of Christ who call us to be united in our mission and our ministry as priests. Each of the three oils highlights a dimension of the fraternal love that sustain our lives as priests. Our friendships in Christ, reflecting his love poured out on the cross, make us more fully human, more priestly and more like the Lord. They also help us to see the needs of God's people more clearly and impel us to serve them more generously.
Blessed John Henry Newman recognised the generous love of Christ and was inspired by it. I can never forget that his first experience of the sacramental ministry of a Catholic priest was when Blessed Dominic Barberi absolved him of his sins in the College at Littlemore on 8 October 1845. That experience must have helped to re-shape his view of the priestly ministry into which he would be ordained less than two years later in Rome.
As I invite you now to renew your priestly commitment, may the prayers of Blessed Dominic assist you and may the words of Blessed John Henry lend you inspiration and courage: Let us pray for each other, as well as for ourselves, that the gifts He has given us may not be squandered on ourselves, and used for our own gratification or our own reputation, but for His glory and for the good of His Church.