ST PATRICK’S CATHEDRAL, ARMAGH
HOLY THURSDAY – 1 APRIL 2010
CARDINAL SEÁN BRADY
All eyes in the synagogue were fixed on Jesus. Then he began to speak to them:
“This text is being fulfilled today, even as you listen”
St Luke tells us that they were all well impressed with him and marvelled at the eloquent words that he spoke. Perhaps some were even relieved and pleased, at the brevity of what must be one of the shortest sermons in history.
In the Preface of this Mass we are reminded that we honour God by our courageous witness of faith and love. Today the Church challenges all of us to believe, courageously and lovingly, that this text is being fulfilled today, even as you listen.
This passage of Scripture has come true today as you heard it being read today. Through your words and mine, the Good News is being brought to the poor. Through your celebration of the sacrament of Penance those oppressed with the shame and guilt of sin, are being set free.
But, to have the courage to honour God by our witness of faith and love is not always easy. I myself have found great strength in the Preface of today’s Mass. I read again, with great joy, the words:
“Christ gives the dignity of a Royal Priesthood to the people he has made his own”.
Father Enda McDonagh has written recently that ‘it is only by setting the ordained priesthood in the context of the broader priesthood of the faithful that the Church can seriously confront its current problems’.
In other words, the Church is the People of God. It is the community of baptized believers. The royal priesthood of baptism is the setting in which the priesthood of ordination must be understood and exercised.
• We – priests and bishops – come from a priestly people.
• We – priests and bishops – belong within a priestly people.
• We are called to serve a priestly people after the example set by the foot-washer, Jesus Christ.
• We – priests and people – receive great encouragement from a priestly people.
So, we must honour the priority of the sacrament of Baptism – as the root of all Christian existence. This honouring of the priority of Baptism will have consequences in many ways such as: clustering of parishes and pastoral councils. It could ensure that all of us, together – both baptised and ordained – assume our proper responsibilities within the Church. It could affect our attitude towards ecclesial movements, for example.
The Preface goes on to remind us that we have been chosen. The prophet Isaiah had foretold how the Spirit of the Lord would be upon Jesus – “because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor”. Brothers, let us continue to courageously believe – that we have, indeed, been chosen.
Chosen to do what?
To lead God’s people in love. We have been chosen to be leaders and, if we have been chosen to do a certain job, we will be given the strength to do it. Let us have no doubt about that. God is faithful. The Holy Spirit has come upon us. Also, we have been chosen to nourish God’s Holy people by the Word, hence the importance of our preaching and our study and our on-going formation.
I was reading some of St Oliver Plunkett’s letters recently. I was surprised to find the emphasis he placed on preaching – good preaching – It does not happen by chance. It takes prayer and preparation – lots of prayer and lots of preparation.
Finally we have been chosen, appointed and are called – to strengthen God’s royal priestly people through the sacraments. Today God’s royal priestly people – clergy and laity alike – have great need to be strengthened – to face the temptations of the Evil One. We believe they can be strengthened immensely by our ministry – by our ministry of the sacrament of Reconciliation for example. I hope we ourselves will set the example by ourselves during these days going to Confession ourselves.
Of course, we can sometimes find that we know exactly what we should be doing and still not be able to do it. Today’s Mass suggests to us that we try to grow more like Christ.
One of the promises contained in the Renewal of Commitment to Priestly Service tells us that we can grow more like Christ – by uniting ourselves more closely to him. It calls us to joyfully sacrifice our own pleasure and ambitions in order to bring the peace and love of Christ to others.
The Pastoral Letter of Pope Benedict calls us bishops to self-examination, inner purification and spiritual renewal. Pope Benedict exhorts us to renew our sense of accountability before God, to be holy, to live simply and to pursue personal conversion daily. He asks us to grow in solidarity with our people and to deepen our pastoral concern for all the faithful.
In particular he asks us to be attentive to the spiritual and moral lives of our priests. He goes on: ‘Set them an example by your own lives – be close to them, listen to their concerns, offer them encouragement. Stir up the flame of their love for Christ and their commitment to the service of their brothers and sister’. This is what I want to do but I want your help to do it. With your help, I believe we can do it.
The Holy Father reminds us of our failure and of our mistakes. We accept that we have made grave errors of judgment and that failures of leaderships have occurred. He urges us to remedy past mistakes and to guarantee that they do not happen again.
Pope Benedict asks all of us to encourage the lay faithful to play their proper part in the life of the Church. Has asks us to see that the lay faithful are formed in such a way that they can offer a convincing account of the Gospel. For this, in turn, the Pope says, ‘will help us, once again, become credible leaders and witnesses to the redeeming truth of Christ’.
Today I thank God for all those involved in taking or delivering the various formation courses throughout the diocese. I ask that they continue and be expanded, where possible, so that they can help us again become credible leaders and witnesses to the redeeming truth of Christ.
The Pope proposes concrete initiatives:
• Persevering and constant prayer for an outpouring of God’s mercy and the gifts of the Holy Spirit upon the Church in Ireland.
• Friday penances for a period of one year between now and Easter 2011.
• Reading of Scripture and works of mercy to obtain healing and renewal of the Church in Ireland
• A rediscovery of the Sacrament of Confession
• Eucharistic Adoration.
It is a great programme -a challenging programme but also a potentially daunting programme. However, I find great inspiration in the prayer – which will come at the end of the Renewal of Commitment in a few moments.
“Pray also for me – that despite my own unworthiness – I may faithfully fulfil the office of Apostle which Jesus Christ has entrusted to me.
Pray that I may become more like the High Priest and Good Shepherd, the teacher and Servant of all and so be a genuine sign of Christ’s loving presence among you”
So I see that the great task is for all of us to unite ourselves more closely with Christ. We are to get to know Him more intimately. If we do that then we become more like Him and so we become a genuine sign and instrument of His loving presence in the world.
I think that this is all closely linked to the Diocesan Aim
That of being ever more fully the Body of Christ
So that we may live like Christ.
The great Mission of Christ was to bring the forgiveness and healing love of the Father to a broken and sinful world. That message of forgiveness was the beginning – of his ministry – “Repent for the Kingdom of God is near”. It was also the end. “Father forgive them for they know not what the do and then he breathed his last.
May we all experience his mercy and forgiveness this Easter.
I welcome you all to this Mass of Chrism. Every Holy Thursday – we thank God for four great gifts: –
• The gift of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, given to us in Holy Communion under the appearance of Bread and Wine;
• The gift of the Priesthood – we had Mother’s Day recently – and we will have Father’s Day – but this is the Feast Day of the Priests;
• The third gift is the gift of the washing by Jesus of the feet of his Disciples at the Last Supper. It is the gift of Example – a powerful example for all of us to follow;
• Finally we have the gift of the great New Commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
So I welcome in a special way Bishop Clifford and the priests, who have come to give thanks and I personally want to thank God for a fifth gift today – the gift of the love and understanding, the gift of the prayer and petition, the gift of help and support of the priests and people of this Archdiocese in recent days and weeks.
I also welcome here today all who have come to celebrate the Blessing of the Sacred Oils. I welcome especially girls and boys who are receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation this year. Today the priests of this diocese will carry these sacred oils to the four corners of the diocese, and then to the four corners of their parishes – to Baptisms and Confirmations, to anoint the Sick and the Dying.
As they do so they will explain that these Holy Oils are at once signs and means of the Coming of God’s Love into the lives of those to be anointed. We remember Cardinal Daly who for the past twenty years attended this ceremony.
To prepare ourselves to do all of this Sacred Work – let us plead for God’s mercy and forgiveness – well aware that we have sinned and are in great need of pardon and peace.