Homily - Chrism Mass, Westminster Cathedral
posted on 06 April 2004
Today, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor will preach at midday Mass at which the oil of Chrism used at baptisms and in the anointing of the sick, will be blessed. Traditionally, most of the priests of the Diocese attend this special Mass during which they renew their promises to serve the community of the faithful.
The Cardinal will deliver the following Homily:
I wonder if, like me, you have noticed that in the Gospel story the closer Jesus comes to his Passion the less he says, and the more he is silent. The Last Supper is a supper of few, though momentously important words. In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus withdraws to be silent and alone with the Father. At His trial, Jesus makes no answer to many of the questions that are put to him by Pilate or the High Priest. How few and poignant are the words He speaks on the Cross. Those words which are spoken come from a place of deep silence, and it was in silence that the mystery of God's will was fulfilled in his last hours.
Silence is how we ought, perhaps, to begin to prepare ourselves in these next few days. Our inner ear can be deafened by the noise of everyday life. We are bombarded by visual images and wordy messages, and increasingly at risk of becoming bereft of interior life, and the need for silence before God. I am not talking just about refraining from speaking, but rather of an interior silence which brings us face to face with ourselves and with God. I am talking about that inner space within each one of us where God dwells and out of which we may more authentically love our neighbour and ourselves.
It is out of this silence that we might reflect on the goodness and gift of God to each of us who are here today. In the liturgy we celebrate we find the signs and symbols that express the gift and grace whereby God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - lives within us. Oils are blessed that are signs of His sacraments, the Word of God is proclaimed, the Eucharist is celebrated, the Holy Spirit is invoked and we acknowledge that that same Spirit lives in us in such a way that in Communion with God and with each other we are the living presence, the living body of Christ. We are his Church, his people.
So the first words that come to my mind today are words of thanksgiving to God for calling us to belong in this unique way to his Church. Jesus said, 'I will not leave you orphans, I will come back to you.' (John 14:18) He has, he does come back to us. Through these means: through Word and Sacrament celebrated in the silent mystery of God's life, and by the power of the Holy Spirit present in the Church, Jesus remains with us always.
Today we also celebrate another of God's gifts to us his people - and that is the gift of priests and priesthood. Yes, we all, by virtue of our baptism share in the priesthood of Christ because we all praise and give sacrifice to God and try to live lives inspired by the values of His Kingdom. But the ordained ministry of priests is a unique and particular gift to his Church. I would like to say a special word to the priests who are here today, because at this Mass the priests reiterate their promises to be faithful ministers of the mysteries of God, to continue to imitate Jesus Christ the good shepherd and to unite themselves more closely to Him.
My first word to you, dear brothers, is this. I have recently come back from my retreat and at the monastery where I stayed there was a plaque with the image of an owl on it and underneath there was a saying: 'An owl was perched on an oak tree - the more he was silent, the more he knew - the more he knew the more he was silent'. The message to me was 'do not neglect your spiritual life'. That is my first message to you - do not neglect that time of prayer when we stay silent before the Word of God and listen. It is impossible for we priests to speak about God, about Jesus, unless we are in communion with Him, unless we listen to Him, unless we speak out of our hearts, our own faith, our own life, and our own experience of Him.
Don't forget that the whole of your life is in a very real sense your spiritual life. The Word of God, the liturgy, your preaching, your building up of your parish, your service of people, are all part of your discipleship. This is the particular way in which the spirituality of the secular priest is lived, a spirituality involving the dedication of his whole life, in all its variety, in all its crosses, in all its joys and all its sorrows. The Lord makes His promise, 'You will have your reward'. The words of the reading today are appropriate 'But you will be named priest of the Lord. They will call you Ministers of our God. I reward them faithfully and make an everlasting covenant with them' (Isaiah 61).
The second point I want to make echoes that of St. Paul when speaking to the Ephesians (Acts 20:28) and in his letter to Timothy (I Tim.4: 16) when he says: 'Look after yourself'. And that is what I want to say to you today, I want you to look after yourselves. I am not thinking so much about food, house, clothing, or even rest and recreation. I want you to make your presbytery a home, which speaks of life. I want you to have meals, occasionally, that are convivial with fellow priests or friends. I want you to have healthy interests, whether it is music, or art, or books, or sport or whatever. I want you to live a human life, because the priest evangelises by the human person that he is, not just by the words and actions that he performs. That seems to me to be what it means to be an alter Christus, another Christ, not by what we say and do, but in virtue of who we are. I know the pressures that you have to undergo and the stresses that often come your way. That is why I repeat that your health, physical, spiritual, human - is of such importance to me, and to the people of the diocese. So, in the words of St. Paul, look after yourselves.
Let us not forget, all of us, that we are together the Church of Christ. We are Christians together on pilgrimage, on a journey back to the Father and on our way we sing a song of hope and meaning which is so badly in need of being heard by the people of our time. What is it that Jesus says 'The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for He has anointed me, he has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord's year of favour' (Luke 4).
Each in our own way, whether as priest, or religious, or lay person, we all proclaim the goodness of God, His message of forgiveness and of love. Our world needs to hear that message, so do not be afraid, nor anxious, but be aware, the Lord Jesus is with us and it is His grace and His power which uplifts us and enables us to be his disciples and his witnesses. No wonder we should be thankful, no wonder we should be grateful to God, no wonder, as today's Psalmist proclaims, 'I will sing forever of your love oh Lord' (Psalm 88).