Homily for the Solemn Chrism Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, 12 April 2017
Dear brothers and sisters, fellow religious and clergy,
It is with great joy that we have come to celebrate this Chrism Mass together and renew our commitment to be the body of Christ in Parramatta. For me, it has an added significance since this is my first Holy Week with you as your bishop. The last Chrism Mass I presided took place in the Diocese of Sale, in rural Victoria. They were expecting a new bishop at the time and I had to tell them that I was a bishop for rent and not for sale.
Happily, I feel very much at home among you. I’d like to thank you for your welcome, support and partnership with me in the work of sharing the Good News. Despite the enormous challenges that we face as the Church in Western Sydney and in this country at this critical time, we can go forward on a New Exodus, trusting in God, walking as pilgrims together, accompanying one another as companions on the journey.
We are in a time of pivotal transition, a watershed moment in our history. The ordained ministry used to have an aura of mystique and social stature. Now that aura has turned toxic. Instead, Paul’s words have come to pass: “We have become the spectacle to the world and the refuse in the sight of others”. These words don’t seem like an exaggeration in the light of the Royal Commission and its impact on the public perception of the Catholic Church and its representatives. We clergy can resonate with the sentiments of The Beatles song: “Suddenly we’re not half the men we used to be. There’s a shadow hanging over us”.
No wonder many of us long for yesterday, the yesterday when there was a lot more security, splendour and deference. Suddenly the temptation to go back to the proverbial good old days is as real for us today as it was for God’s people wandering in the desert. But as Pope Francis challenges us in the Joy of the Gospel, it is not time for us to raise our drawbridges. It is not time for us to cling to the triumphalism of pre-modernity. Our time is marked with chaos and fear of the unknown. At times, as one prelate remarks, it even feels like we’re on a rudderless ship. Nevertheless it is time not of fearful retreat, disengagement and self-referential pomp, but of faith and courage as we ministers are called to accompany our people in the New Exodus.
The readings today, friends, embolden us in the time of transition. Isaiah in the first reading announces the message of hope in the time of great exile. In the wake of the destruction of the temple and the temple-based priesthood, he calls the people to a new way of worship and witness. They themselves are to be ‘priests of the Lord and ‘ministers of God’. They need not yearn nostalgically for the power and glory of the past but exercise their priesthood and enact their call to holiness by way of being attentive to the poor, the vulnerable and the broken.
We see something of the prophetic boldness in Pope Francis and the way he challenges us to discern new ways of living, ministering and witnessing to the Gospel. The Church, he insists, must be the Church of the poor and for the poor. We must abandon our culture of comfort and go to the periphery. We must be less of an enclosure for the virtuous but more an oasis for the weary and downtrodden. We must die to attitudes and practices of exclusion and rise to those of radical love, inclusiveness and solidarity. We must die to a leadership of power, control and clericalism in order to rise to a diakonia of a humble and suffering servant.
In the Gospel, Jesus takes up the message of Isaiah and turns it into a kind of personal manifesto. The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the dead raised and Good News preached to the poor constitute the messianic signs of God’s reign. Wherever he goes, people experience the in-breaking power of God’s reign through his person, teachings and actions. Thus, we hear him proclaiming and defending the dignity of the least. We witness him befriending and socialising with the tax collectors, sinners and prostitutes; we see him challenging ingrained attitudes of prejudice and exclusion; we even see him breaking social taboos and expanding the boundaries of human love, acceptance and friendship.
Brothers and sisters, fellow religious and clergy,
It has never been so tough to be Catholic, let alone to be a missionary Catholic. Even the bare minimum link through the three basic rites of passage appears to be weakening. They are baptism, marriage and funeral or otherwise known as hatching, matching and dispatching. These oils that we consecrate tonight mean that we are a missionary Church, accompanying, healing, strengthening others.
We must never shirk from our call to be the visible sacrament of God’s love even in the midst of diminishment, uncertainty and despair. This tough time can be the catalyst for rebirth and transformation. We can only be sure of a new springtime for the Church when we are prepared to die to that which is not of Christ, to empty ourselves of all that is contrary to the Gospel. As we celebrate this Chrism Mass, let us renew our commitment to pattern ourselves to the paschal rhythm. Let us commit ourselves to be the Church that strengthens the weak, heals the broken-hearted, lifts up the fallen and invites all to the communion of love.
May we be like the prophet Isaiah for our people during this our contemporary exile. May we be strengthened to walk the journey of faith with them, proclaim the message of hope, the signs of the new Kairos and lead them in the direction of the kingdom. May we enact the rhythm of the paschal mystery of dying and rising in the pattern of our Lord who is the Alpha and the Omega.
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