You may be aware that Pope John Paul wrote his letter to priests this year in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. There, according to tradition, Jesus and the twelve, gathered for the Passover Meal. There the institution of the Eucharist and the Ordination of the first priests took place.

Today we gather in our own upper room to give thanks to God for the gift of priesthood. We thank God for the gift of Eucharist. We thank God for so many priests who are to be found standing courageously at their place of work toiling generously and with great spirit of sacrifice. We thank God for their commitment, friendship and loyalty.

This is the day on which we celebrate the Church as communion. We celebrate the fact that the love of Christ has made us, out of many, one. For in our midst is dwelling God’s eternal Son. So, we thank God for the communion that exists between God and His people, for Holy Communion and for the Communion among God’s people, It exists, not only among the priests and bishops but among the secular and religious, between the clergy and the lay faithful of our diocese. We thank God that so many of them are represented here today.

On the first Holy Thursday the disciples watched in amazement the actions of the Lord. They listened, with deep emotion, to his words at the hour of great struggle between good and evil. Pope John Paul II says that in the Upper Room, he tried, as he wrote that letter, to imagine the priests in different parts of the world. Some are experiencing joy and enthusiasm, for other perhaps, it is a time of suffering or tiredness or discouragement. But he says in all of us he wants to honour the image of Christ. We received that image on the day of our ordination. That image is a sign of the special love which each one of us has come to know that Christ has for us. Upon that love we can always rely. Let us never forget that. We can rely on that love for the energy and enthusiasm to renew our commitment to press on with the work entrusted to us. We can rediscover that love to make a fresh start.

Today we remember that we have been each one of us, chosen from among mortals. We have been put in charge of things pertaining to God and called to offer gifts and sacrifices for our sins. We are well aware that we ourselves are subject to weakness and so we are able to deal gently with the ignorant and the wayward. We must offer sacrifice for our own sins first of all and then for those of the people. We know that we have been called and chosen to continue the work of Jesus. To offer up prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears, for ourselves and for all people.

In our moments of weakness and discouragement it is important to create the time and the space, to hear again those magical words of Christ,
‘Come to me all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart. You will find rest for your souls for my yoke is easy and my burden is light’.

These words of Jesus are re-echoed in today’s Gospel. He was sent to bind up broken hearts, to console the afflicted and to bathe them in the oil of gladness. We can be certain of this – if the Lord has called us to serve him here and now as priests and bishops, it means that he will provide us with more than enough grace and resources to do the job. He will give us what is necessary to ensure that God’s name is glorified and that we ourselves can grow in holiness, and in faith and in hope. If we remember the patrons of our dioceses, Patrick and Malachy, and the martyr Bishop, Oliver Plunkett, we realise that they all worked in difficult times. There were huge divisions and conflicts and obstacles to be overcome.

As we gather today to renew our commitment to act for people in their relations with God, we review again the resources that are available to us. We look at the sources of energy for the work. Today’s words from the Introductory Rite of the Chrism Mass give us hope: Jesus Christ has made us a kingdom of priests. Through his cross and resurrection he has made us a chosen race, a royal priesthood. That is said about all Christians. For all Christians share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ. It is our job to lead them to see what this is all about. Granted it may involve a lot of persuasion and affirmation. It will take encouragement and patience. It also means that we let go and share with them the task, not because we are compelled to do so because of lack of priests but because it is their right by reason of their baptism and confirmation.

Today is one of the days in which we celebrate the diocesan communion – the communion that exists between us, between the parishes and people of this diocese. That is symbolised in a very special way by the presence of people from as far apart as Beragh in the north-west and Dundalk in the south-east.
There will be other days for celebrating in this Jubilee Year, when we try and strengthen our diocesan identity. One such day will be Sunday May 21, the day of National Pilgrimage for the Great Jubilee. On that day I hope that you will do your best to ensure and pack the Cathedral here in Armagh with people who will be truly representative of the feeling that exists within the diocese from Termonmaguirc to Termonfechin.

There is one great temptation that we must resist at all costs. It is the temptation to think that this generation is any less suitable than others for the preaching of the Gospel. It is precisely here and now that God’s kingdom comes. God never asks us to be successful, simply to be humble and faithful. Jesus said, “learn of me because I am meek and humble of heart”. He never sought to impose on people, instead he appealed to their free will and he notes the refusals and the failures as well as the victories and the successes. Above all he knows how to draw happiness out of persecution. God Our Father will never allow us to be tempted beyond our strength.

Nowadays I detect among priests a need for great fraternity. We need to support each other a lot more in the faith and in the following of the Lord. In that way we can help each other to lighten the yoke of the Lord. Last year at the Chrism Mass in Milan, Cardinal Martini had this advice for his priests:
“Dear brothers, work less, work better, work more united together, pray more”.
And to some he says:

“Celebrate less Masses and spend more time listening to the Word”.
Pope John Paul has similar words in this year’s message, he says,

“May we always celebrate the holy Eucharist with fervour. May we dwell long and often in adoration before Christ in the Eucharist. May we sit at the school of the Eucharist. Through the centuries countless priests have found in the Eucharist, the consolation promised by Jesus on the evening of the Last Supper, the secret to overcoming their solicitude the strength to bear their sufferings, the nourishment to make a new beginning after every discouragement and the inner energy to bolster their decision to remain faithful. The witness which we give to the people of God in celebrating the Eucharist depends in large parts upon our personal relationship with the Eucharist”