Tuesday 26 March 2013
Our reflection at this solemn Mass of Chrism and the renewal of the ministry of our priests takes its key from the reading we have heard from the Book of Revelation:
'Jesus Christ is the faithful witness. He loves us and has washed away our sins with his blood and made us a line of priests to serve his God and Father.'
A constant theme of the Gospel message, especially for St John, is that he is the faithful witness to the Godhead, the one on whom we can rely. Because he is the Son of God incarnate, He speaks to us from first hand knowledge of the Father. To Nicodemus Jesus said: 'We speak of what we know and we testify to what we have seen.' (Jn 3.11). To the Pharisees he said that his witness was reliable 'because I know where I came from and where I am going.'
Through our baptism we are all called to share in that witness to speak out on the things of God in our world. He has made us 'a line of priests to serve his God and Father.' This is the work of the Holy Spirit, poured out through the shedding of the Precious Blood of the Lord, ' who has washed away our sins.' We pass on the saving Word of this faithful witness, given to us in the gift of faith, in the faith of the Church.
Through the action of the same Holy Spirit and drawing out from this common priesthood of the baptised, another line of priests is constituted in the Church, the lines of ordained priests who are here, gathered with me about this altar. The same Spirit of the Lord is given to us so that we may act in the life of the Church in the name of Christ its Head, serving you, the holy People of God, so that together we may indeed serve our God and Father and witness to his love, his truth and his goodness.
It is this work of the Holy Spirit in our ordination that we seek to renew today. And our renewal is sought in prayer and in humility. Just as the first words of Pope Francis were to ask for the prayers of the people of the Church, so too our request today is that you continue to support us priests with your love and prayers.
We need it. We priests, in a special way, are called to be faithful witnesses. Yet we fail. Sometimes our failure is spectacular. Sometimes it remains hidden from general view, known only by those who have been hurt. Yes, in every case our failure does harm to other people. That is why our request for your prayers is made in humility of heart and our seeking of renewal is coupled with our sorrow for our offences.
The Spirit, by whose power we are constituted as a single people, also forms us priests into a single body, a true brotherhood with Jesus himself as our model, our guide, our unity and our joy. So we priests constantly strive to encourage one another, through our words and actions, our patterns of friendship and our ready cooperation. I thank our priests today, as I am sure so do you all. I thank you my brothers for your faithfulness, for your generosity, for your constant, daily effort. I thank you most sincerely and whole-heartedly.
At this time the Church is setting out on a new phase of its pilgrimage with a new Chief Pastor, a new Holy Father, Pope Francis and he gives us much encouragement. His meditation on St Joseph is a blue-print for the ministry of the priest: the priest as a man 'constantly attentive to God, open to the signs of God's presence and receptive to God's plans, not his own'; a man who 'looks at things realistically and is in touch with his surroundings', who serves discreetly, humbly, with 'utter fidelity even when he finds it hard to understand.' These words can guide us priests in the year ahead.
Listening to the words of Pope Francis, it seems to me that he is clearly showing us the shape of the witness that we are to give. There are two clear strands to the priority he shows. The first he expressed in those remarkable words: 'Oh how I wish for a church that is poor and for the poor.' He knows that this is a perspective that will lead us closer to the Lord, that will give the credibility of practical charity to the message we wish to bring to our world.
The second strand of Pope Francis' witness is equally clear: it is to the priority of the mercy of God. This, I believe, is the key to his Pontificate, and a key to the witness which we are to give to the world. Again and again he offers to all people the vision of a God whose face is that of a merciful Father, who never tires of forgiving his children, even when we tire of seeking that forgiveness. He has said: 'Only someone who has encountered mercy, who has been caressed by the tenderness of mercy, is happy and comfortable with the Lord.' And again: 'This is Jesus' message: mercy. On my part, I say it with all humility: this is the Lord's strongest message: mercy. The righteous can justify themselves...Jesus came for sinners.'
And these two messages are intimately linked. The poverty which we are called upon to recognise is first of all the poverty of each of us as we stand before the Lord in need of His mercy. When we truly embrace this poverty, our total helplessness and dependence on God for life and hope, then we can begin to recognise that, in such poverty, I am indeed a brother and sister to all, especially to those who are most in need. This is the radical poverty of St Francis of Assisi, whose name our Holy Father has taken as his own.
Without this inner, profound sense of our own poverty, our response to those who are materially poor, or in other ways on the margins of life, will quickly become distorted, lacking a true heart, patronising. Without this grasp of our own poverty we will cease to see others as truly our brothers and sisters and see them as people in need who require our assistance. On the other hand, the radical poverty which we must embrace, which gives rise to true action, is recognised and grows only in our relationship with the Lord, in prayer. Only when we truly grasp our own poverty will we become a Church that is poor. Only then we will be a Church that will serve the poor in right judgement.
My brothers in the priesthood, my sisters and brothers in Christ, at the beginning of his Pontificate, and with refreshing directness, Pope Francis invites us to be renewed in simplicity, in which we demand and take much less for ourselves. He calls us to renewed compassion and tenderness, in which we live by the mercy of God. May this be time of a fresh announcing of the Gospel in our land, a time, we pray, also of renewal in the Church of England with its new Archbishop of Canterbury, and in all our other sisters and brothers in Christ. Today we set ourselves afresh to be the faithful witnesses of Christ, sealed by the action of the sacraments, by the oil of Catechumens, the oil of Chrism and, in our moments of physical weakness, by the oil of the Sick. These are our great gifts in the Catholic Church. We accept them joyfully and in their strength go out to serve the Lord with gladness.
My brother priests, let us now stand and with equally joyful hearts renew the promises of our priesthood, relying on the mercy of God and the loving prayers of our people.
X Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster