ST PATRICK’S CATHEDRAL, ARMAGH
TUESDAY 18 MARCH 2008
CARDINAL SEÁN BRADY
I welcome you all to this Chrism Mass and a very special welcome to the
priests of the diocese who, with Cardinal Daly and Bishop Clifford, are
here to celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ has made us a Kingdom of
Priests to serve His God and Father.
On our ordination day we were moved by the Spirit of God to take on the
responsibilities of being a priest. We were reminded that, yes, God
has made His entire people – a priestly people – a Royal Priesthood in
Christ by baptism. But we were also told that Jesus chose, and
continues to choose, some of his followers to carry out publicly, in
the Church, a priestly ministry in His name on behalf of humankind. We
rejoice in that call and today we rededicate ourselves to hearing that
I welcome all of you faithful who have come here today. We rejoice in
seeing you here and ask you to pray that we may be worthy of serving
you as priests and that many others may follow in our footsteps in this
service of the Lord.
Some people find this Mass a little hard to follow. After the homily,
the priests, in answer to a series of questions, will renew their
commitment to the responsibilities of being a priest. They promise to
do this by united themselves more closely to Christ. by celebrating
the sacraments with sincere devotion and by teaching the Christian
faith. Then we move on to the Blessing of the Holy Oils and the Sacred
The reason is that anointing with oils occupy a central place in the
worship of the Church. Oils are used in anointing to do at least four
1. To cleanse
2. To heal
3. To protect and
4. To make beautiful
God sent Jesus to heal the world. The Church and the priests carry on
that work of healing – by forgiving and consoling – advising and
guiding. By praying and blessing.
The oils are used in Baptism, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick,
Ordination of priests and Bishops and in the consecration of altars and
So, as we bless these oils, we ask God to send the power of the Holy
Spirit, the Precious One, so that the oil may be a remedy for all who
are anointed, healing them in body and soul…
The First Reading today deals with being a Prophet of God. It has a particular relevance in this Mass when, later in the ceremony, we hear the question: Are you resolved to imitate Jesus Christ – the head and shepherd of the Church – by teaching the Christian faith – without thinking of your own profit – solely for the wellbeing of the people – you were sent to serve?
By our baptism, and by our priestly ordination, we priests have been given a special share in the work of Christ, the Prophet. The prophet is someone who speaks on behalf of God. It is not, and never was, an easy task – as the prophet Isaiah clearly tells us. The prophet is watched carefully to see if his own life-style corresponds to what he teaches and what he preaches.
But that is not the only problem. The teaching and the preaching meet immense resistance and indifference. The prophet, Isaiah says it well: “I was thinking, I have toiled in vain. I have exhausted myself for nothing”. He is deeply upset – bordering, at times, on despair – at the poor reception that is given to his message.
It has been commented that the prophets belong to no people or nation because they are sent to all peoples. Their whole identity is rooted in God. The very name means someone who speaks on behalf of God. So, before the prophets presumes to stand up and speak, he should first listen and consider carefully what God might want said. The job of the prophet is to interrupt the lives of others – to pierce through shallowness and superficiality and to expose ruthlessly what is evil and what is shame and what is hypocrisy. Isaiah uses the powerful image of the sharp arrow – that cuts though the flesh to the bone.
When we hear prophetic words they disturb us. One frequent response is to seek the death of the prophet – by a sort of character assassination or ridicule. But the fact is, that it is the prophet who will be the death of us unless we admit the truth of what is said and repent and change our ways. Every prophet is sent by God, to speak for God, a loving God – to a stiff-necked people. And yet, the faith of the prophet is strong. They know that God is their ultimate strength. If God is on our side – who can be against us? No-one can hold out against God because no-one can prevail against God for very long.
In today’s First Reading the message of Isaiah develops. It comes from gathering up the scattered flock of those who believe. They are gathered up so that they can become the light of the nations. God’s plan will not be frustrated. God’s saving word will reach the ends of the earth. God’s word simply cannot be blunted by the response of indifference or disinterest.
Today the Gospel is no less disturbing. It deals with betrayal and denial
• The betrayal of Jesus by Judas, and
• The denial of Jesus by Peter.
Once again it can come close to the heart.
Jesus was troubled in spirit.
He is troubled at the prospect of being betrayed by one of his chosen twelve.
He is troubled by is vision of the presence and power of Satan.
He is troubled by the power of darkness and death that has already taken possession of Judas.
This Jesus solemnly announces: “I tell you solemnly, one of you will betray me”. This causes a certain amount of confusion among the disciples. Whom could Jesus mean?
It seems that the disciples are so wrapped up in themselves and in their own business that they don’t know what is happening. I find it can happen to me. I can become so obsessed with my own problems that I forget what is happening to the Body of Christ in other parts of the world. How often have we prayed for the Church in Kenya in recent months of for the Church in Iraq in recent days?
Peter asks John to find out more. “It is the one” replied Jesus “to whom I shall give the piece of bread that I shall dip in the dish!” He takes a bit of food and dips into a dish and gives it to Judas.
It was a sign among tribes to take a piece of food and dip it in oil or wine and feed it to the other as a sign of closeness, of honour, of kinship. Judas takes the food but, even bound as close as that to Jesus, he still intends to betray him!
Judas eats the food from the hand of Jesus and goes out. It was night. Once again Jesus tries to explain what is going on. Now is the Son of Mary glorified and God is glorified in him.
The hour of Jesus has come. In suffering and in dying with patience, with dignity, with forgiveness, God will be glorified.
Of course there will be sadness and anguish at the separation and the death and the loss, but God will be glorified. God’s ways are not our ways.
Peter insists that he will be able to come with Jesus and will, in fact, lay down his life, if necessary, for Jesus. Can you imagine Jesus looking at Peter? Peter who really does not know himself at all. Peter, who is really unaware of his own limitations and weaknesses and is totally unaware of the power of the Evil One arrayed against Jesus. Within hours, Peter’s “cock sure” attitude of self-confidence is shattered by his statement of utter betrayal – ‘I know not him’.
The Reading ends with the words: “Before the cock crows you will have disowned me three times”. Here we are left to deal with our own thoughts and emotions. Where do we really stand with Jesus in these days before his death?
Are we close to him –
in our relationships with other priests,
with other people,
Or, are we blissfully unaware of our shallowness and our betrayals? Do we insist on clinging to our strong egos and self-reliance rather than humbly listening to the weak who challenge us to reassess our motivation and our priorities?
Today we are called, by Jesus, to repent of our betrayals – whether they be big or small – and to move from them to intimate friendship. If truth be told, we are all betrayers at least. We have betrayed the Good News by refusing to forgive others, though we ourselves expect forgiveness from God over our betrayals.
We are like Peter – brash and blindly trusting in our strengths which have often be shown to be pitifully inadequate. We can sometimes be even like Judas, intent on our own agenda and forcing the hand of God. But, more often, we are disciples, sitting at table with Jesus, content in our relationship with God but not really willing to hear to change- afraid to stand with Jesus – on the side of the poor and the weak.
Today, we are all invited to unite ourselves more closely with Jesus Christ – the Jesus who never gives up on any of us as he never gave up on Judas, even to the end.
Today we are urged to try to become more like the Jesus who gave his all – body – blood – life – example – commandments – Jesus the washer of feet. By this, will all know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.