Given at the Chrism Mass on 16th April 2019 at Westminster Cathedral
This beautiful Mass of Chrism centres on a strong Scriptural theme: ‘The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me, he has sent me, to bring the good news... to be the faithful witness’.
These words apply to Jesus, ‘the firstborn from the dead’. Yet they also apply to us, to us who have been anointed with holy oil, who have received the spirit of the Lord and who are sent by the Father to share the tasks he has given to Jesus, his only begotten Son.
Each of the oils to be blessed or consecrated tells of God’s way of working in our world. Each anointing with these oils reveals something of what the Father gives to us and asks of us. Called by the Father in baptism we are to follow his Son; strengthened by him in Confirmation we are to give witness in the world; consoled by him in sickness we are to make of our suffering a worthy offering for our brothers and sisters; set apart by him we are to be companions of his Son in the ordained priesthood. In each of these moments, we are chosen, anointed and sent. This is the day on which we try to deepen and renew within our inmost selves these three great acts: The Father has chosen us; he has anointed us; he sends us out to praise his name, to serve with his Son and to proclaim his Good News.
Every vocation is a gift given by the Father. In his recent Exhortation 'Christ is Alive', Pope Francis speaks to young people about the nature of a vocation. His words are a timely reminder for us all. He writes:
‘A vocation, while a gift, will undoubtedly also be demanding. God’s gifts are interactive; to enjoy them we have to be ready to take risks. Yet the demands they make are not an obligation imposed from without, but an incentive to let that gift grow and develop, and then become a gift for others. When the Lord awakes a vocation he thinks not only of what you already are, but of what you will one day be, in his company and in that of others’ (CV 289).
The Father's invitation, then, is to see our lives as an unfolding gift, to be lived in his loving presence. We are to live each moment of each day ‘turned towards the Father’ who has chosen us, anointed us and sent us out. And this is especially true for us priests who seek to follow the Lord in our particular path and who today renew our dedication and, I trust, our enthusiasm.
Our priestly renewal, so needed amidst the dramas of our days, must be rooted in this conviction: that we are to live with our face constantly turned to the Father.
Jesus, we can say, ‘turned towards his Father in every moment’. Some insist that the opening words of the Gospel of John can be properly translated as ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was towards God’ (John 1.1). Certainly, this orientation and stance characterised Jesus’ entire life and mission. His will was always attuned to the will of the Father; his decisions were made after silent prayer to his Father; his death was the final offering of his entire being to his Father.
This is the stance of mind and heart and will that shapes our lives too. Then, we remember every day from where our vocation has come, whose will it is that we seek to obey, who fills our hearts with fresh readiness every morning. Only then is it possible to respond, day by day, to all the demands made on us, not with a sense of duty but with a freely given service. All we are and all we have is a gift of the Father. It is our perfect happiness to give back to him each day all that we have received, and ultimately to make of our lives a total sacrifice to him, in whatever circumstances he chooses for us.
To live with our faces turned to the Father means that prayer is at the heart of our lives. During our celebration of Mass, we are certainly turned to the Father, praying through, with and in Jesus. But what about the rest of the day? Do priesthood, prayer and a silent presence before the Father go hand in hand in our daily life?
Speaking personally, in the manner of a mild public confession: I wish dearly it were so! So I ask myself: What is it that stops me?
Maybe that keen sense of duty, caught from my earliest years, which makes me think that doing something useful is more urgent and important than silent prayer? Yet the core of my priesthood is not about my usefulness but about my being, through no virtue of my own, an instrument of grace, flowing from the Father. For that to happen I need to be constantly in his presence.
Maybe, as the Pope said to the priests of Rome, it our reluctance to turn off the television or the iPhone or the iPad and spend more time in the friendship of the Lord? Why not just turn it off?!
Maybe it is just that I forget that he loves me and wants me to spend time with him?
Here we can all reflect on the words ‘Cut off from me you can do nothing!’ If the branch is cut off from the vine, it quickly loses its sap, becomes dry, brittle, and is easily brought to snapping point.
Yet if the branches are united with the vine, then they are also united amongst themselves. It is together, from our unity with him and with one another, established and strengthened in prayer, that the Lord wills that our lives should bear fruit.
Our priestly renewal must start and end in our prayer. Each one of us has been chosen for this great calling by the Father: we can refresh our lives only in his presence, awaiting his touch. This is what binds us together. And every person present, every family circle and group of friends can join in this great project of renewal both for ourselves and for our priests. In this way, the holiness of the Church will be renewed, in humility, in courageous fidelity and in great compassion.
To end, let us look to Mary, the Mother of the Church. At the Annunciation, she was ready in silent prayer. Her ‘Yes’ sprang from that silence. At Pentecost, when the emerging Church was struck by fear and uncertainty, they were gathered around Mary, present among them in silent prayer. There they received the powerful Spirit, launching them into joyful service. Today, again, she is with us as we set our hearts on this pathway of renewal. Chosen, anointed and sent, we priests now renew the promises of our ordination and commit ourselves to live with faces turned to the Father. May he renew and reinvigorate us in his service and recreate in us his joy!