Thursday, March 27, 1997

Grace and peace to you from Jesus Christ the faithful witness.
The words from the Book of Revelation, which we have just heard, were written during the time of persecution. They were meant to give hope and determination to people suffering for their faith. They are read today to give us hope and determination.

Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, carried out his Father’s plan for the world. He revealed his Father’s love for all of us. No one has ever seen God – we read in the Gospel of St John. It is the only Son who is nearest to the Father’s heart, who has made Him known.

Jesus not only revealed the love of God. He himself loves us and has washed away our sins with his blood. He has made us a line of Kings – to serve his God and Father. Christ has come as the High Priest of all the blessed. He has entered the sanctuary once and for all, taking with him, not the blood of goats and bull calves, but his own blood.

It is Holy Thursday. Today we remember the events of the first Holy Thursday: The Last Supper of Jesus with his apostles. His farewell words to them. His washing their feet. His agony in the garden; his betrayal by Judas and his abandonment by the others.

Today we remember with gratitude the three great gifts given by Christ to his Church on this day: the Sacrament of the Blessed Eucharist; the Sacrament of Holy Orders and the new commandment: to love one another as He had loved us – a commandment dramatically illustrated by the washing of the feet. These three gifts lie at the heart of our faith.

This particular Holy Thursday occurs in the middle of the first year of immediate preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, the Millennium. The first year is centred on Jesus Christ.

The Mass of Chrism focuses our attention on Jesus Christ – the Priest. The Preface of the Mass sums it all up well. Addressing God the Father it says:

“By your Holy Spirit you anointed your only Son, High Priest of the new and eternal covenant”.
Jesus has come as High Priest of all the blessings. He has gone through to the highest heaven. He has offered himself once and for all on the cross.

God’s plan is that this priesthood of Jesus Christ should continue in the Church. Since it is God’s plan it will continue. We need have no fear or worries on that score.

Christ gives the dignity and gift of priesthood to the people. He has made his own by baptism. When baptised, people do works which are befitting followers of Christ, they offer spiritual sacrifices. When we live lives worthy of our dignity as children of God, we proclaim the power of God to the world. Whenever the followers of Christ pray and praise God, they make of themselves a living sacrifice which is holy and pleasing to God.

So offering sacrifices, proclaiming the “Word of God”, praying and praising God, these are all priestly works. Those who do them are faithful witnesses. They bear witness to the love of Christ active in their lives. Those who do these works are exercising their priesthood. That priesthood belongs to all of us by our baptism. We are all a chosen race, a royal priesthood.

Yes, Christ gives the dignity of a royal priesthood to those he has made his own in baptism. But from these, with a brother’s love, he has chosen some to share his sacred ministry by the laying on of hands.
Let us listen again to today’s Preface. He calls them to lead his Holy People in love. Nourish them by God’s Word and strengthen them through the Sacraments. The Letter to the Hebrews puts it this way: Every priest has been chosen by God to act for people in their relations with God. It is a tremendous honour. No-one takes this onto himself but each one is called by God as Christ was appointed by God, the Father, who said. “You are a priest according to the order of Melchisedek”.

Yes, it is a wonderful honour to have been called by God to lead his holy people in love. To bring them Good News and to strengthen them through the sacraments. It is a tremendous challenge to bring Good News to a world that is fed up to the teeth of bad news. It is something special to announce freedom to people who are captured and captivated in so many ways by the superficial, the cynical and sensational. It is a joy to be called to announce new sight to people who have been blinded by hatred and anger and despair.

We are to bind up broken hearts, hearts aching from broken promises and broken hopes, hearts hurt by broken resolutions.

The Good News that we announce is Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the first-born from the dead. The amazing thing is that despite all our sins he continues to love us and has washed away our sins with his blood. To those held in captivity by sin it is our privilege to say: “I absolve you, I set you free from your sins”. Yes, this text has been fulfilled in our regard. We have been anointed by the spirit of the Risen Christ.

Today, in his message to priests, Pope John Paul suggests that we meditate on the words of Christ’s farewell to the apostles at the Last Supper. “There is no greater love than this: that someone would lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants for the servant does not know what his Master is doing, but I have called you friends”.

Jesus calls the apostles ‘friends’. This is what He wishes to call us, who, thanks to the sacrament of Holy Orders, share in his priesthood. As priests of the new covenant Jesus allows us to act in his name. Is there any more eloquent proof of his friendship? Jesus has chosen all of us and has appointed us to go and bear fruit that shall last. Today we give thanks to God for the fruits of our priestly life, for the service given to God’s people. We ask the Creator spirit to raise up new generations of young people who will be ready and willing to go to the Lord’s vineyard, to spread the Kingdom of God to the ends of the earth.

Yes, we are called to be like Christ, faithful witnesses. In fact so often we find ourselves having to settle for being just weak witnesses. This must not discourage us, but rather spur us on to put our trust in Jesus. The Letters to the Hebrews tells us to never let go of the faith we have professed. For it is not as if we had a high priest who is incapable of feeling our weaknesses with us, but we have one who has been tempted in every way that we are, though he is without sin. Jesus understands our weaknesses and wants to help us overcome them.

Yes, we know that we are quite unworthy servants. Nevertheless we are very thankful to God for having wished to make us His servants.

It is our privilege to carry the Holy Oils from this Cathedral to the parishes and to the people we serve.
Perhaps we sometimes let that word ‘serve’ slip too easily from our lips, but it is a fact that the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the priesthood of the faithful. When we celebrate Mass and administer the sacraments we lead the lay faithful to a greater awareness of their own sharing in the priesthood of Christ.
Bearing the Holy Oils is a privilege, bearing the blessings of God of which the Oil is a sign is a far greater privilege. For oil is at once a symbol of love and friendship, a sign of happiness and joy. What a challenge then to be at once the ministers of God’s love and friendship to His chosen people. To be the bearers of joy and happiness to the people Christ has redeemed with his precious blood. The world will always need that love and friendship. It always welcomes that joy and happiness.

Perhaps this is a day for us to ponder how Jesus has in fact been faithful to us down through the years. It is a day to get in touch with the deep causes of our joy at being a priest and to savour and to let that joy sink in – to the depth of our being – not in any sense of smug superiority or complacency but in a spirit of profound humility and gratitude.

We can all make our own the prayer that Pope John Paul wrote to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of his priesthood:

And you, Mary, Mother of Christ,
who at the foot of the Cross accepted us
as beloved sons with the apostle John,
continue to watch over our vocation.
To you we entrust the years of ministry
which Providence will grant us yet to live.
Be near us to guide us
along the path of the world
to meet the men and women whom your Son redeemed with His blood.
Help us to fulfil completely the will of Christ,
born of you for salvation of humankind.
O Christ – you are our Hope.
In you Lord we put our trust, we shall never be put to shame.