This is a unique moment in the life of the diocese. It is a unique and important gathering from every corner of the Archdiocese of Dublin on Holy Thursday here in the Pro-Cathedral for the blessing of oils and in a special way to celebrate priesthood. I greet and welcome each one of you. Together we form the Church of Jesus Christ in this diocese.
I greet the priests of the Archdiocese and all the priests, diocesan and religious, who work minister in the diocese. It has not been an easy year for the diocese. It has not been an easy year for the priests of Dublin as we all grapple with a dark moment in the past history of our presbyterium. In his Letter to the Catholics of Ireland Pope Benedict reached out to priests who feel discouraged and even abandoned. “I am also aware”, he said, “that in some people’s eyes you are tainted by association, and viewed as if you were somehow responsible for the misdeeds of others”. I thank the priests of the diocese for the continued commitment to their calling. I thank the lay members of our parish communities for the support you have given to your priests at a moment which was trying for all of us. I thank the priests whose first thoughts in the midst of such a situation went out not to themselves, but to the victims and survivors and their families and also to the need for reparation and renewal in the life of the Church.
The Church in Ireland is not a large anonymous conglomerate structure. The Church in Ireland is built up in communities where the Word of God is proclaimed and the Eucharist is celebrated and where the Christian message is lived. Renewal must begin and take deep root in our parishes.
I greet the parish representatives present here this morning, priests and people. I wish to express my appreciation to Parish Pastoral Councils, finance committees, baptism and funeral teams, parish organizations and liturgy groups, child protection representatives, teachers and boards of management, parish sisters and parish secretaries; indeed I greet all those who have worked in communion to transform our parishes over the past years. Renewal is well underway.
Many have written to me in these months. I thank those who have been frank and even sharp in their criticism of the past and of the slowness of the present. I thank all those who are fostering fellowship among parishes in the common service to the mission of the Gospel. I thank parents in their challenging work to pass on the faith to their children.
This ceremony of the blessing of oils speaks to us about the life of the Church. The oils are symbols of the centrality of the sacraments in our Christian lives. The oils we bless are symbols of the way the Church accompanies us on the journey of our lives, beginning with baptism and confirmation, or even beforehand as catechumens, until finally the Church comforts us in the sacrament of the sick at the last moments of our lives. The Church should be a place where we all feel accompanied, welcomed, understood, instructed and comforted and where we pray together and receive the support of a praying community.
All ministry is linked to the Eucharist. The priesthood which Jesus instituted on Holy Thursday is something new: Jesus replaced all the sacrifices and practices of the Old Covenant by the gift of his body and blood, the gift of himself. Priesthood, and indeed any ministry in the Church, is no longer a question of lineage or title or privilege, as in the Old Covenant, but of identifying oneself with Jesus Christ as the one who emptied himself and became humble even unto death. We must know Jesus. We must shape our lives to be like Jesus. We too must empty ourselves so that we too can make our lives available to witness to the Jesus who came to serve.
Today at this Mass we celebrate the special call to the ministerial priesthood. The ministerial priesthood is a special calling, but it is a calling, as the Preface of this Mass recalls, which comes to us within the priestly community established by our common baptism. When we speak today about working together for mission we must always do so in the awareness that that mission belongs to each of the baptised and takes place within that communion which is shaped by baptism and the Eucharist.
I might add that we should never overlook the fact that we share the same baptism with Christians of other confessions. In a more and more secularised world we must remember that our common baptism requires common witness of all Christians to what we share in common. We need to develop new and more practical forms of common ecumenical witness. In that sense I was so pleased that I could launch our project of the Gospel of Saint Luke together with the Church of Ireland Archbishop, John Neill. It is good that we have been able to witness together on various occasions during this year and I thank him for his unfailing kindness.
As Christians we share the one baptism. We also share our one call to holiness. One of the central teachings of Vatican II is that all Christians, in whatever state or walk of life, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of love. The call to holiness is common to all ministry in the Church and once again sets ecclesial ministry aside from any other form of service within a community. Holiness is the most original contribution of the believing community and its members to social endeavour. Holiness, which involves a coherent practice of goodness and integrity of life, inspired by the Jesus of the Gospel, is a vital contribution that we as Christian should be bringing to our society and to all who are seeking authenticity in their lives.
This has been a difficult year. We see how damaging failure of integrity and authenticity are to the Body of Christ. Shameful abuse took place within the Church of Christ. The response was hopelessly inadequate. I do not wish to give the impression that I want to go on forever hammering home a message of grief about the past, that I am obsessed with the past. Some ask me: “can we not leave all that aside now, proclaim closure and move on?”
I cannot agree. There can be no overlooking the past. There is no short-cut in addressing the past. The credibility of the Church in this diocese of Dublin will only be regained when we honestly recognise the failures of the past, whatever our share of responsibility for them. There can be no rewriting history. There is no way we should impose fast-track healing on those whose vulnerability was abused.
We have to address the past but we cannot become imprisoned in the past. We cannot allow the freshness and newness of the Gospel message to be anaesthetized; we cannot allow the enthusiasm of our desire to share that message with others to be smothered. We do not seek to impose a message or a way of life on others. We must, however, witness to what the message of Jesus means to us and what it can bring to society and our world. In that sense we must move forward, but we can only do so bearing within us the wounds of what has happened. Yet recognising our woundedness may indeed be our strength, if we witness more authentically to the Jesus who renounced all arrogance of power.
Where do we go from here? We can work on strategies and programmes, but in the first place we must turn to Jesus. He alone has words of eternal life. He alone is the way the truth and the life. Renewal must begin with knowing Jesus and deepening our relationship with Jesus; he alone will give us the strength and the confidence to renew the Church.
Many say to me – especially young people - that they have lost confidence in and even reject what they call “the Church as an institution”, but that they still hold and cherish the message of Jesus. But where do they turn to find that message? They will not find it in popular culture. They will not keep it hoping that their knowledge of Jesus acquired as a child or in school will keep their faith alive as they face the challenges of adult life.
This is where I believe that our project around Saint Luke’s Gospel is so important. If we do not know the scriptures then we will not know Jesus. If we do not know the Jesus of the scriptures then we may end up with a Jesus of our own construction, which will entrap us within our own outlook and never free us. Read the scriptures with an open heart!
Faith in Jesus is not an ideology or a personal view on life. Jesus established a people, not a collection of individuals. Jesus established his Church as communion. The Church is not a group of individuals each with their own faith, but the Body of Christ of which we are all part.
I know that everyone here this morning is here because of their love of the Church and their commitment to the Church. I know that everyone here hurts because of the hurt caused to the body of Christ. May the Church of Christ, built on the Word of God and on the Eucharist, once again appear in our world as a community which reflects the love and the care and the mercy of Jesus.
Let us follow Jesus on the path of his emptying himself of all attachment to false values and allow him to bear and heal the wounds which our own sinfulness and that of others have placed on us. Lord, by your Cross and Resurrection, set us free, Saviour of the World.