Given on Tuesday 15 April 2014 at Westminster Cathedral
At this Mass of Chrism we seek renewal and refreshment in our life of faith. In blessing these oils we ask God to refresh the sacraments in which they are used: baptism, confirmation, the anointing of the sick and the ordination of priests and bishops. In the renewal of priestly promises, we priests dedicate ourselves anew to our ministry and look, confidently, to all our faithful people to support us with their love and prayers. Thank you for coming today to this Mass in such numbers. You represent here the love and prayers of so many more. And we have a special place in our prayers for the priests who are, at this moment, sick and in care.
There can be only one overriding emotion in our hearts at this moment; it is surely that of joy: the joy of knowing Christ as our loving Lord, the joy of together being with him, of being part of his great company, the Church, the joy of being heralds of the message of his unfailing love in our world.
Of course, this joy is central to the rallying cry of Pope Francis. He has summed it up in a single phrase: 'The Joy of the Gospel', the title of his Exhortation addressed to us all. He writes: 'The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew.' (N.1) This is surely the spirit in which we celebrate this Mass and in which we priests embrace again our duties, our privileged vocation.
This note is struck powerfully by the response of the Psalm we have just sung together: 'I will sing forever of your love O Lord!' When his joy has taken root within us, we awake each new day with a song of praise in our hearts and a readiness to serve him afresh. Some, of course, wake up more quickly than others!
The verses of the Psalm spell out the reasons for our joy. Like David, who couldn't stop singing, we too have been 'anointed with his holy oil.' Isaiah, in the first reading, expressed the promise to be fulfilled: that through this anointing we will receive the gift of the Spirit of the Lord in order to carry out all that is asked.
The Psalm also tells us that the wellspring of our joy is the knowledge, the awareness of heart, that his hand shall always be with us, that our strength will come from the continuing presence of the Lord in our lives. There is no other source of joy to compare with that! Not even the result of Sunday's very special match!
Today we seek a renewal not just of our individual or personal joy, but of our common sense of joyful purpose, our shared identity as the body of the disciples of Jesus, bound together by him, and joyful in each other's company. This is true of us as a Church; it is true in our parishes and it is true among us priests in our precious fellowship of the priesthood. Here, in this company, in our beloved Church, we are not afraid of different personal strengths and weaknesses, of difference of character and temperament, for we are bound together by a far stronger bond, by the Lord himself. And we know, in joyful faith, that if we keep our eyes on him then we can see beyond the tensions, disagreements and stresses that daily life so often brings between us.
In wonderful words Jesus says to us: 'Come to me all you who are burdened and I will give you rest.' Well, yes. Sometimes we are indeed burdened. It’s the experience of every parent, of every youngster and of every priest - not to mention every bishop!
Speaking last October to families, on the theme of living the joy of faith, Pope Francis reflected on these words of Jesus. He said, and we can take it to heart, that often our biggest burden is a lack of love; or the distances that grow between us; or the sense of loneliness in which we carry out our ministry. But Jesus knows that, and he promises to be with us always, 'so that', he says, 'your joy may be complete.' He says, 'Come to me; I will give you rest....so that your joy may be complete.'
He promises to be with us, to walk with us, whatever we may have to face.
Today in our turn, we renew our priestly promises to Him and, in consequence, we make promises to each other: we promise to be present and attentive to one another, beyond the circles of friendships, beyond the scope of working circumstances, to be faithful to each other simply because it is the same joy that springs up in the heart of each of us, because we love the same Lord and want to serve him. In this we are indeed brothers; we are indeed his family.
As we seek this renewal it is wise for us to take heed of the obstacles in our way. We live in a world of individualism. The air we breathe tells us to 'do our own thing'. The culture which forms us tutors us to be in competition with each other, teaches us self-protective mechanisms designed to safeguard the spaces between us and the zones of privacy which, we are told, are so essential to our well-being.
You and I have to be attentive here. Of course there is an element of truth in these claims, but if they come to form our dominant mind-set, we end up cultivating what Pope Francis calls ‘an inordinate concern for our personal freedom and relaxation’ (78). Then we risk cutting ourselves off from the sources of the very joy and peace for which we long.
Pope Francis consistently offers particular advice as an antidote to the tendencies of our day. He offers it to the family. I offer it today, in our family of the priesthood, in our families of the parishes. Simple advice, yet asking pertinent questions!
The Holy Father presents what he calls three magic words which must find a prominent place in our vocabulary. Daily doses of these words will, of themselves, break down the drift towards isolation and self-absorption that we all experience. The words are simple: Please; Thank you; Sorry.
Every time we say 'please', we are inviting others into a real participation in the work of our ministry. Every time we say 'thank you' we acknowledge our need of them, our mutual dependence. Every time we say 'sorry' we express an awareness of our own failures and shortcomings. When our talking rarely includes these three words then we are drifting into a false world of self-sufficiency and personal isolation. Pope Francis remarks that sustaining and deepening peace within a family doesn’t need a UN Peace-keeping force, but the regular and sincere use of these three words: please, thank you, sorry, and all that they carry.
I use them now. Thank you, my brother priests, for all your hard work in our service of the Lord. I ask you, please, to sustain your ready cooperation with me and with each other, especially in matters which are demanding and irritating. I readily say ‘sorry’ for the ways in which I get things wrong and add to rather than help carry your burdens.
Now we continue with our Mass, with the consecration of the chrism and the blessings of the other oils. We come to the renewal of our priestly commitments. May these be causes of great joy for each one of us in the depth of our being, and for us all in our life together in Christ in our Church. Then we shall be ready, in the right place, to be his missionary disciples, conscious of the joy we receive from him daily, amidst the little things of life, and only too willing to share that joy with all who seek the peace and the mercy that comes with knowing Christ Jesus.