CHRISM MASS 13 April 2017
In a few minutes I will bless the Holy Oils that will be used in conferring the sacraments in our diocese during the coming year. Today we commemorate the institution of two of the sacraments in a special way – Holy Orders and Eucharist. The Eucharist is remembered later today in the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. The Chrism Mass, which we’re celebrating here, recalls for every priest the moment when we were anointed with the oil of Chrism during our ordinations to the priesthood. Today we renew our commitment to the promises we made on that ordination day whether it was five years ago or fifty or even more. We thank God for calling us to share in the priesthood of Christ and to serve his people. We thank God for keeping us faithful to this call. We are conscious that our service has been sometimes less than wholehearted, that we have sometimes failed in ways big or small, and for that we ask forgiveness. And today we pray and we ask you, our people, to pray that we may continue to dedicate our lives and our energies to your service and the service of God in his Church.
Most of us here were ordained into a Church and a society very different from the ones we are now experiencing. In an article in the Furrow some months ago (October 2016), a Dublin priest, Fr Paddy Sweeney, wrote:
Our environment until recently allowed us to be people of influence, not just in Church matters, but in the public square, in social and cultural arenas. People admired our choice of life, our sacrifices, our commitment, our contribution. This has changed. Priests have less and less influence, are listened to less and less, priests’ life choices and lifestyle are seen increasingly as anachronistic, and, what most priests want to offer, The Word of God, seems less and less heard. Worse still, some priests feel shame, shame because of the child…abuse scandals and other Church scandals, and feel victimized by the attitude of many to these scandals.
Fr Sweeney’s article is very well worth reading. It is about the need for supports for priests in a secular world which can be very draining, demoralising and downright stressful for us today. The main thrust of the article is about the importance of having good friends to talk to, about accompaniment, professional supervision and support groups and other such supports which we can avail of.
But he prefaces all that by some words about the importance of prayer. He recalls the story of the Risen Lord appearing to the disciples on Lake Tiberias where they had fished all night and caught nothing. The disciples had failed Jesus in his Passion, betrayed him and run away. They were floundering, confused, traumatised. They went back to what they knew best, fishing, but even that failed – they were out all night and caught nothing. And then Jesus appeared and the nets were filled. What was impossible on their own became possible because the Lord was with them.
Fr Sweeney concludes:
When I reflect on this passage the basic truth comes home again to me, the truth I was told again and again from the moment I entered the seminary, the basic truth that is so hard to get into my head. Our biggest support in ministry is the presence of the Lord, daily interaction with him. In a word, we must be people who pray constantly.
He quotes research by the American priest psychologist, Stephen Rossetti who did a large survey of priests in the U.S. in the wake of the scandals there to see what the effect on their morale was. To mention just two of the things that came out of the research:
1) that despite all expectations, priests were generally happy, happier than their colleagues in other helping professions and, 2) that ‘priests who pray more, were less emotionally exhausted, less depressed, less lonely, better able to deal with stress, had better mental health scores and lower burnout rates.’
As we renew our priestly promises shortly, one of the questions is: ‘Are you resolved to unite yourselves more closely to Christ and try to become more like him…?’ Another way of putting that might be, are you resolved to spend good time every day in prayer, in prayerful reading of the Prayer of the Church and in quiet prayer, contemplating God’s word in the scriptures, especially in the Gospels. That’s how we come close to Christ and become more like him. If we get that right, I think a lot of other things will follow.
Can I recommend to everybody that you bring home today’s Mass booklet with you and, when you have time, read the very beautiful reflection of Pope Francis on Holy Thursday and priesthood. You’ll find it inside the front cover. And inside the back cover you’ll find a prayer for vocations to the priesthood and to all ministries in the Church. Can I ask you to say it often – the harvest is great and the labourers are few – and we are ageing!