Given at the Chrism Mass in Westminster Cathedral on Tuesday 22 March 2016.
For me, this is one of the most joyful celebrations of the year, every year! We gather embracing and expressing the sheer joy of our faith, the joy of knowing Jesus as our Lord, the joy of being together as his beloved in his Church, this great family of faith.
So it is with joy and thanksgiving that I speak to you today. I thank you all for your presence, filling this Cathedral with prayer, with love and with such dedication. I thank parents and parishioners, grandparents and youngsters, religious sisters and brothers, deacons, teachers and, well, everyone! But especially I want to thank our priests, here in great numbers, ready to renew their promises, the promises that underpin the generous service each one strives to give, day by day, in parishes, homes and schools, universities, hospitals, prisons, airports, docks, and in not a few pubs and restaurants too! And I know I speak for everyone in the Cathedral when I express these thanks. I only say what everyone wants to say to our priests: thank you, thank you most sincerely! Indeed today we pray especially that many more men will respond to the call of the Lord and give their lives in his service in the ordained priesthood. You see we come in all shapes and sizes!
There is, actually, one place in my list I forgot to mention: Archbishop's House. This is important because today I want to thank Fr John O'Leary who shortly finishes a spell of over five years as my Private Secretary. His work is not so public, but it is priceless. So, John, thank you very much indeed.
We have just heard the very familiar words from St Luke's Gospel in which Jesus tells us that he is anointed by God ‘to proclaim the Year of the Lord's favour’!
Well, to me it seems that we are living in that Year of the Lord's favour precisely in this Jubilee Year of Mercy. It is proving to be such a very special year. I hear that in parish after parish, in school after school, among young people and the not so young, we are responding with gratitude and joy to this invitation to enter more deeply into the great mercy of God. As Pope Francis teaches us, mercy is the way God's love comes to meet us in all our needs. It is not surprising, then, that so many people, both in and beyond our community of faith, welcome this year of favour with its gift of mercy.
Sister Raymunda told me of one man who saw the notice proclaiming this Year of Mercy which had been placed in the convent window. He stopped to ask her what it meant. She invited him for a chat. Before long he was telling her how much he needed this mercy, how glad he was to have seen the notice, because that morning he had set out intending to commit suicide.
During this Holy Week Jesus will be lifted up before us. Remember this phrase: When I am lifted up I will draw all people to myself. This is our task: to lift up Jesus before others, in our words, our actions, our responses, our expressions.
But we priests are privileged to lift up Jesus before you in some very special ways. Let me explain.
Over and over again, I have been told that in this great Year of Mercy, increasing numbers of people are coming to confession, to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It has been called the forgotten sacrament, the neglected sacrament. No longer. The beauty of reconciliation is being rediscovered, a journey into the mercy of God, a moment to be caressed by the mercy of God, a meeting with Jesus from which we come away with joy in our hearts and a fresh spring in our steps.
Every time we priests hear a confession, we are lifting up Jesus before the penitent, holding him there so that he can welcome, forgive, encourage and restore everyone who comes to meet him. Hearing confessions is a great joy and a wonderful insight into the goodness in people's hearts. And it can be tiring. So we priests must take such care that our tiredness, our own mood, never gets in the way of the words and work of Jesus whom we hold before his beloved penitent.
Thank you, my brother priests, for your great work in the confessional. May you be busier than ever, always looking out for the times and opportunities for confessions that best suit your people so that they may indeed enter deeply into the mercy of God through this wonderful sacrament. Through your effort these words of Jesus are surely fulfilled: 'Come to me all you who are overburdened and I will give you rest'.
There is another moment in which we priests are privileged to lift up Jesus before the people. It is, of course, in our celebration of the Holy Mass. At the elevation at the consecration we raise the Body and Blood of the Lord for all to see. Now Friday this week, Good Friday, is the only day we do not do so. But, in the unveiling of the Cross, we will hold before you all the image of the crucified Jesus. The two actions are so closely linked. In the Eucharist we see the Crucified Lord; in the Crucifix we see the Lord who gives himself continually for us all especially in the Eucharist. And these two actions disclose their fuller meaning when we remember that Jesus, lifted up before us, is the very face of the Father's mercy, the true expression of all that the Father does to get each of us back on track towards our heavenly home. In these moments, when we raise our eyes to look on Jesus, lifted up before us by our priest, we see just what our Father will do to free us from the burdens of our sins and of the sin of the world which touches us all in so many ways. Yes, the Jesus lifted up before us is God's judgement on our world, a judgement not of condemnation but of endless mercy and love. How fitting then at the last elevation of every Mass we priests are privileged to say: 'Behold, the Lamb of God! Behold him who takes away the sins of the world!'
My brother priests, let's never rush those glorious words, never let them leave our lips without there being a deep adoration in our hearts. We are so privileged.
Today we have sung these words: 'I will sing forever of your love, O Lord!' Indeed we shall, both in this earthly life and in the life to come. Every day we shall sing of his Love, which is his mercy, which is our joy and our salvation!
Now, for the renewal of our priestly promises and the blessing of the sacred oils. Here we come to the great symbols and sources of grace. So filled with joyful prayer let us proceed!