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Chrism Mass celebrated at Westminster Cathedral

posted on 18 March 2008

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor has celebrated the annual Chrism Mass on Tuesday 18th March  2008 at Westminster Cathedral in the presence of the priests of the Diocese of Westminster.


The full text of the Homily given by the Cardinal can be found below.


My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,


During a few days’ retreat last week, the words of the French writer, Francois Mauriac, came to my mind:  “The only sadness is not to be a saint”.   It applies to everyone in this cathedral today, but especially it applies to those of us who are priests.   The question I will ask them after this homily is this:  “Are you resolved to unite yourselves more closely to Christ and to try to become more like Him by joyfully sacrificing your own pleasure and ambition to bring His peace and love to your brothers and sisters?”    To be a saint – or try to be a saint – is the same as trying to become holy.  


 To try to become holy is to try to become more like Christ, to pray to Him, to meditate on Him and to find communion with the Father in and through and with Him.   We cannot become holy without a life of prayer.  How can we preach Christ and communicate His mercy and His love without ourselves being in communion with Him in our prayer?   I often think that a priest should spend at least ten minutes in the church on Sunday before every Mass so that the people can actually see the priest as a man of prayer.   They then will know that this is at the heart of his life.  
 
 To try to become holy means also bringing the love of Jesus to our brothers and sisters by our lives.   A couple of months ago I paid a visit to Zimbabwe.  It was a quite horrifying experience because of the depth of misery and suffering and poverty among most of the people there.  One of the priests looking after the people in a shanty town where people were just sitting by the road looking for some food or some help with their poverty and hunger, said to me, “I wonder sometimes where God is in all this?”   But God is there in his ministry just as God is with the Sister I met who had spent the last 20 years caring for people living with HIV/AIDS.   She said to me,  “The situation is hopeless, but the only antidote to hopelessness is love”.   And she, and those who worked with her, gave them love.  


The Catholic Church, it seemed to me, is at its finest when there is love and loving kindness.   At times the devil can distract us from our quest to be holy by making us cynical or just selfish and make our distractions a substitute for what should animate us in our love of God and of His Church.   Remember that we are to put on Christ; unite ourselves more closely with Him, and to become more like Him.


 At times, it seems rather a daunting task but we have to be patient and, above all, we have to be merciful, not only with others but with ourselves.  Every day there is an opportunity for a small advance: the attempt to pray, the good humoured word, the service for another person, the aches and pains accepted in union with Christ on the Cross.   We are to keep going and realise with joy that in a mysterious way the work of holiness has already been accomplished.  Our faltering and our failures in discipleship are taken up in what Jesus did on Calvary.   St. Augustine said, “We, too, were represented there.  What hung upon the cross is not the humanity that He had taken from us.  Christ nailed our weakness to the cross where, as the apostle says, our old self was crucified with Him”.  


 Each of us knows that this is not a solitary struggle to become holy but it finds its fruit in companionship, in the Church.   It is there that we are constantly recalled to pray in and through and with Him; where we are confronted with the needs of our neighbour and reminded of our failures, and offered the forgiveness of God.


  The Church is our family and our home.   When John Henry Newman accepted his nomination of Cardinal, he said, “Christianity has been too often in what seemed deadly peril, that we should fear for it any new trial now.  Commonly the Church has nothing more to do than to go on in her proper duties, in confidence and peace, to stand still and see the salvation of God”.  


Speaking back in 1879 from his own experience, he was saying, in effect, “Times are tough.  Religion is under siege.  The Church has her back to the wall.  But it has all happened before and we have only to do our duty before God and He will look after us”.   Is it not true that we are in the same position now?   Times are tough.  Religion is under scrutiny.  The Church may seem to have her back to the wall.   But it has happened before.  God will look after us and we have to be faithful to Him.   It took a long time for Newman to learn to carry out the task God had given him with confidence and peace, awaiting patiently the salvation of God.  You know, my dear fellow-priests, my dear people, with becoming holy there are no quick fixes.  It’s a life’s work, day by day.  


 A short time ago I attended the funeral of one of our bishops, Bishop Kevin Dunn.   It was a very moving occasion because he died at a comparatively early age and he had only been a bishop for four years.   His mother, his family and the family of his diocese were there, as we bishops were, mourning the death of a good pastor, a good friend and shepherd to his people.   During the Mass we sang the hymn, Lead Kindly Light, and it was sung with great feeling.   Lead kindly light, amid the encircling gloom, Lead thou me on.  The night is dark, and I am far from home, Lead thou me on.  Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see the distant scene; one step enough for me.”   So it seems to me it is always one step for each one of us on the road to becoming holy.   So today I speak about this, not to discourage you but rather to encourage you so that, step by step, gradually, we can become more in union with Jesus Christ and bring His love and peace to our brothers and sisters.
 
 I would like to thank all of you, dear people, for all that you do in your own life to strive to become holy and for the example of your faith and your prayer and your love.   Especially today I thank my fellow-bishops here in our diocese who are such a wonderful support and encouragement to me in my shepherding and, with them, to thank all the priests with whom I share the ministry of preaching and sanctifying and shepherding.   I am one with you in all that you do and constantly give thanks to God for your perseverance and your faith, united with Jesus in your ministry in bringing His love and peace to all your brothers and sisters.

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posted on 18 March 2008

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