The Celebration of the Mass of Chrism, Ossory Diocese 2023
Homily of Bishop Niall Coll
It’s a great privilege for me to be present here this evening as a priest of the Diocese of Ossory … as the new bishop gathered with the presbyters and many representatives of the lay faithful and religious of the diocese to celebrate the Chrism Mass. Because of the particular nature of this celebration most of my comments will be directed to the priests but will hopefully have a resonance for all present.
The line from scripture which I chose recently as my episcopal motto springs readily to mind – ‘Christ Jesus our hope’. It is in our shared hope, in our faith as it looks to the future, that we clergy find the motive and confidence to reaffirm now in this liturgy our commitment to Christ and to our share in the priestly ministry which we carry out in his name … serving the people in the life and work of the parishes and pastoral areas of the diocese.
That line found in the first reading this evening from Isaiah and taken up again in the words of Jesus in the Gospel – ‘The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me’ – was surely part of our original discernment of our priestly calling. Whatever the ups and downs, it has been a sustaining conviction since allowing us to persevere in ministry, in service of the Lord and his people.
In saying that I am not seeking to overlook or diminish the bewilderment and loss of confidence that many of us – priest and people – have experienced over the last few decades in the shape of secularisation, the abuse crisis and, more recently, the Covid 19 pandemic.
All of us, priests and people, know that in the face of such ordeal and anxiety that we have a choice. Either we surrender to despair or choose to hope against hope that the life of faith will endure, that mercy upon mercy will lift us up.
Truth be told, some of us may have been on the verge of losing our nerve or tempted to despair. Some indeed have been overwhelmed. We need to be reminded over and over again that in the power of the Spirit nothing can separate us from Christ’s abiding love and the saving promise of our God.
In this abiding love and saving promise … we look, without fear, to the renewal and ongoing transformation of the diocese. I invite us all to put our hearts and souls into renewing our own ministerial gifts and promoting those of the lay faithful in the new pastoral areas which will become the main hubs of worship and experience of Christian life and community in the years to come.
We know that behind the changing face of parish and diocese remains the same Lord Jesus, the alpha and the omega. In his service the priests of this diocese, whatever their age, are the gatekeepers to the future that is opening up. Whatever new develops … I am convinced that it will only thrive to the extent that we priests facilitate, nurture and encourage it … allowing it to germinate, take root and flourish.
Not just gatekeepers … it seems to me that in conjunction with the lay faithful, we clergy must also be the architects and artisans of this new expression of faith and church, and, thankfully, this work is already underway in many hearts and communities.
This vital work of transformation means stepping into a vulnerable place, not seeking to be in control … sharing authority as appropriate … allowing co-responsibility with our people to emerge in terms of pastoral councils, liturgy committees, pastoral ministry, finance committees and so much more …
Developing people and structures to facilitate the nurturing of faith and catechesis, and not just for children, but also for young adults and indeed for the not so young who hunger to deepen their lives of prayer and knowledge of the faith. … I think this is a very large part of what journeying along Pope Francis’s synodal way means in practice.
As I look to the future, my dream is that the ordained priest will be largely freed up from routine administrative and management duties, work which can be done better by others better suited to it. My dream would also be that priests would be able to focus more on being true pastors to their flocks and be recognised more and more as men of spiritual depth, seats of wisdom in the ways of God.
Ministers whose main focus will be on helping people deepen in their lives of faith so that we may form communities of ‘missionary disciples’ everywhere as Pope Francis constantly urges.
All this presupposes, of course, that each priest must cultivate and take care of his own spiritual life, the indisputably necessary anchor to a fruitful priestly ministry. Put simply we must find space to pray.
Meeting regularly with a spiritual director really helps. We must know and love our people. We should reflect on God’s Word and read widely and deeply in the related fields of theology, spirituality and pastoral care so as to be constantly forming and updating our priestly identity.
Ultimately, our priestly identity is a way of loving both God and the people entrusted to our pastoral care. And real love, in all dimensions of life demands sacrifice, a concept which is decidedly unfashionable in modern life.
As the former UK Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, observed: ‘Now … the idea of love-as-sacrifice has grown thin in many areas of life. We see this specifically in relationships … Lose the concept of sacrifice within a society, [he goes on] and sooner or later marriage falters, parenthood declines, and the society slowly ages and dies …’ A spirit of sacrifice is no less essential to priestly life than it is to marriage and in pursuit of anything truly good and lasting in this life.
‘The Spirit of God has been given to me, for the Lord has anointed me … sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up hearts that are broken …’ May the Lord deepen our resolve to be constant and faithful to the end …!