Chrism Mass 2016
Before you leave the Cathedral today I invite you to take a good look at the priests of the diocese who have gathered for this Chrism Mass. Most of them are here. They are men with natural, God-given gifts and talents who could have pursued successful careers in the world and who could have been great husbands and fathers. In fact, it is often said that a man who doesn’t have what it takes to be a good husband and father doesn’t have what it takes to be a good priest either!
These priests are men who out of love for Jesus Christ answered the Father’s call to make a choice: the choice to choose Him over everything else, and to lay down their lives for God and the Church, that is, for you and for the salvation of your souls. In the name of the diocese and on behalf of the people of the diocese I say “thank you” to each one of you for that love and generosity which first prompted you to answer God’s call and for your practical living out of this vocation every day since.
The “face” of the priesthood in the Diocese of Armidale is changing. We have 25 priests in active ministry in our Diocese: 15 of them (or 60%) were born in Australia and 10 of them (or 40%) were born in other countries. Today I particularly wish to welcome to their first Chrism Mass in Armidale two new missionary priests who have come to us from the Archdiocese of Onitsha in Nigeria: Fr Christopher Onyekousi now at Moree and Fr Thaddeus Ike now in Gunnedah. We also have 10 retired priests and 3 deacons, one of whom, Rev Deacon Kingsley Etoh, was ordained in Tamworth on Saturday.
Our priests in active ministry range in age from 36 to 87, the average age is 60. Eleven of the priests are under 60 years of age, 14 are over 60. With two exceptions all our priests over 60 are Australian born and with two exceptions (including me) all our priests under 60 are overseas born.
I, along with the whole diocese, gratefully and happily welcome our priests who come to us from across the seas as missionaries. But I also pray every day that men from our own diocese will hear and answer God’s call to choose Him. I urge all the faithful to pray that men from our own local Church will respond to God’s call. And I plead with every young man of the diocese to ask God whether He might be calling you to the priesthood too.
So the “face” of the priesthood in the Diocese of Armidale, as in the rest of Australia is changing and has been changing for some time. It’s getting less Anglo-Irish Australian and more Multicultural Australian. But the priesthood itself is still the same and, whilst some of the demands upon priests have changed significantly in recent years, what people want from their priests, I think, is still essentially the same.
People still want their priest to be “a man of God”; a man who prays; a man who will lead them in prayer especially in the Mass; a man who will forgive their sins in Jesus’ name; a man who will teach and instruct the truth with wisdom and love; a man who will show courage; a man of genuine compassion and mercy; a man who is prepared to give of himself, to empty himself as Christ did. In short, they want a man who will reflect Jesus Christ. When people come to the priest, especially in Mass and confession, they want to find Jesus.
The blessing of the oils and the consecration of the Chrism for use in the sacraments around the diocese for the year ahead is a reminder to us that the priest is not expected to try and undertake his awesome responsibility with only his own gifts and talents at his disposal. These blessed oils and consecrated Chrism will be used in baptisms, confirmations, ordinations, and anointing the sick and the dying. These blessings and consecration today are a reminder to us that God himself works through those things and those people who have been “set apart” for his exclusive use: oil, chrism, bread, wine, priests, and religious women and men. People will indeed find Jesus if they come to a priest in whom the grace of God has found a home.
We need our priests and we need the sacraments they celebrate for us. Our souls need the nourishment they give. We all know that our bodies need nourishment. And when I say “need” I mean “they have to have it”. If our body is not nourished with food we become sick and we die. To satisfy this craving for food, to fulfil this need for nourishment, it’s amazing what people will eat when good nourishing food is lacking. Just one example can be found in the great Chinese famine under Mao Tse-tung from 1958 – 1962 in which an estimated 20 to 43 million people died of starvation. The hungry people resorted to eating bark and mud. Not what the body was made for but desperate people will do desperate things.
The human soul needs its nourishment too. In some ways our souls hungers and cravings are even greater than our bodies. The soul needs love, peace, joy, truth, and grace. Some of this nourishment can be provided by healthy relationships, meaningful work, and creative or rather re-creative leisure. But much of this nourishment for the soul can only be provided by the one who made my soul, by God. This may sounds a little corny but I once heard someone say that every soul has a God-shaped hole in it and only God can fill it. Yes, this particular expression may be a little cheesy but it is true that only God can properly nourish the human soul.
Prayer, Word, and Sacrament: This is how God nourishes the soul. Time spent with the Lord in personal prayer; reflective reading of the inspired Sacred Scriptures; and most importantly the sacramental life, especially the Eucharist.
If I neglect the nourishment and life that comes through the most holy Eucharist, its respectful celebration, its worthy reception, its faith-filled adoration, then the principal nourishment for the soul will be lacking and the spiritual life will waste away.
And because the soul cannot live without nourishment, like the starving Chinese, if our souls do not receive their good and proper nourishment from God, we will seek our soul’s nourishment from elsewhere: in material things; in self-glorification, in popularity; in psychology; and in sensual things - all just bark and mud compared with God’s sacramental nourishment! The Eucharist is the most sublime nourishment that God offers to the human soul, and the priest’s most sublime priestly function is the celebration of the Eucharist, the offering of the holy sacrifice of the Mass.
We rightly expect our priests to be an image and reflection of Jesus. The best means possible for the priest in his personal way of life to be an ever clearer image and docile instrument of Jesus Christ is that union with Christ which the faith-filled, respectful, and loving celebration of the Mass brings about. Saint John Vianney remarked: “if a priest becomes negligent in his way of life, it is because he does not celebrate Mass devoutly.”
I once remember hearing a priest say “The priest is most transparent when he offers Mass and hears confessions.” I’ve reflected quite a bit on this. It is above all when I celebrate Mass and when I sit in the confessional that the parishioners see what kind of priest I am and what kind of man I am. They see whether or not I reflect Jesus. In these sacramental moments the people sense whether or not my actions, my gestures, my words, the way I say them, the way I touch and handle the Eucharistic host, and the way I treat the sinner, they sense whether or not these accurately reflect and portray Jesus Christ. Ultimately then the priests transparency in Mass and in confession must enable people to see Jesus Christ in and through us.
In the end it is God who touches, fills, and nourishes each human soul, not we priests. Yet in his unfathomable wisdom he has chosen to do so through his priests. Please join me in praying for your priests as they now renew their priestly promises.