Homily of Archbishop Dermot Farrell for Chrism Mass 2021
31st March 2021
St Mary’s Pro Cathedral
I extend a warm welcome all those priests and lay faithful who are participating by webcam with us in the celebration of our Chrism Mass. “The spirit of the Lord is given us … to bring good news to the poor, to bind up hearts that are broken, to proclaim liberty to captives … and comfort to all who mourn” (Isa 61:1–2). In this tumultuous year, these words of the prophet Isaiah, resonate not just with the charism of priesthood, but even more deeply with our people in this very difficult time—so filled with worry and threat, living—maybe trying to survive—in the shadow of death. This circumstance—with its weariness and lack of liberty, but also with the generosity, courage, and hope shown by so many—should not prevent us from being in communion with one another through God’s Word and Spirit. We may be at home, but we are not alone. Although we are physically separated from each other, we are one in Christ, as we join together in celebration of the deepest mysteries of our faith … and indeed of the precious life God gives us.
Last evening the country learned of the Government’s strategy regarding the return to public worship. I think we all understand the worrying context in which the decision was made. It is clearly a matter of concern that the reported level of Covid-19 infection has stayed well above what had been expected, while the pace of vaccination has been much slower than promised.
I welcome the announcement of the increase in the number of family members who can attend the funeral Mass of their loved one, although it is not clear why this measure has been delayed for one month.
However, I will continue to emphasise to Government the importance of the earliest possible return to the public worship, and that the easing of restrictions must not be subordinated to powerful commercial interests, even those considered “non-essential.” There will be further direct engagement with Government to ensure that specific positive consideration is given to public worship by the end of April. The significant care with which any re-opening of churches for public worship will be approached by Church authorities is well attested. Furthermore, the vulnerability of many of those attending Mass is not lost upon those of us in ministry. My call for easing of restrictions on public worship is based on a fair process for the reopening of society as conditions permit.
Jesus began his public ministry by making his own the mission of the prophet Isaiah: “The spirit of the Lord has been given to me … to bring the good news to the poor, to bind up hearts that are broken; to proclaim liberty to captives, freedom to those in prison, to comfort all who mourn” (Isa 61:1–2). This passage speaks plainly to us. We too are called and sent by the Lord to share this same mission. We know this. It is not always before our eyes, but we know it.
We are sent out to heal and to comfort, to set free and to reconcile, to raise up and make glad, and to be a proclaimer of the Gospel, a minister of reconciliation and of liberation, in the world that is sometimes cynical, which in many respects is undergoing rapid and continual evolution.
When Jesus spoke, people who considered themselves authentically religious, forcefully rejected him. The same can happen when we are concerned by, and critique certain aspects of how life unfolds in our society and culture. And life is threatened in so many dimensions—from its most fragile and intimate, to its most global: we remember that the very survival of our planet is under increasing threat. To become effective ministers in the hands of the Lord for the sake of all, we must summon up the courage to confront our fear and speak the word of God to the culture as Jesus did in his day. Without the “hand-in-hand sacraments” of the Word and the Eucharist to nourish us and challenge us, what has the Church to offer our contemporaries?
Let us not forget that the Church throughout its 2,000-year history has always had to cope with new conditions and new challenges. Responding effectively to this rapidly changing culture is a new challenge for the Church in Dublin. While there are indeed many challenges facing us right now, we should not be despondent or lose hope as we pastorally respond to a much more culturally diverse society. However, only an effective exercise of synodality—and by this I mean a mode of being Church where people and clergy exercise collaborative leadership and co-responsibility by journeying together and gathering in assembly, listening to each other and to the Spirit—within the Church can help us read the signs of the times today and interpret them in the light of the gospel which is an essential task for the Church in a diocese at any particular time (See Gaudium et spes, 4).
All of us who care about the life the gospel offers are called to real engagement with people in our parishes, with their problems and struggles, with their contradictions and their values, with the opportunities and difficulties. Like Jesus, we simply cannot be detached from our people. Our years ministering will be years of suffering for and with other people. Like Jesus, we will love others only if we walk with them in the valley of darkness—the dark valley of sickness, and the dark valley of moral dilemmas. “The evils of our world—and those of the Church—must not be excuses for diminishing our commitment and our fervour. Let us look upon them as challenges which can help us to grow. … Our faith is challenged to discern how wine can come from water and how wheat can grow in the midst of weeds” (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 84).
There may be no roadmap for our engagement with parish communities, but as priests, deacons, religious and laity it is necessary to have the courage of witness, to choose the uphill path of the new pastoral mind-set and not to take the downhill path of the sound pastoral strategies of the past. To turn to Pope Francis, “people who have not yet received the Gospel message do not live only in non-Western continents; they live everywhere, particularly in vast urban concentrations that call for a specific pastoral outreach. In big cities, we need other ‘maps’, other paradigms, which can help us reposition our ways of thinking and our attitudes…” (Christmas Greetings to the Roman Curia, 21st December, 2019).
Sometimes as clergy we overlook the fact that the laity too are called to share in the mission and ministry of the church. The ordained ministry does not exhaust or monopolise this ministry, for it is the Church as a whole that is ‘ministerial’ and all its members share in that responsibility. Parish by parish we need to encourage the active incorporation of all the baptised in the life and responsibilities of the Church. “Making a synodal Church a reality is an indispensable precondition for a new missionary energy that will involve the entire People of God” (The International Theological Commission, “Synodality in the Life and Mission of the Church”, 9). Every member of the Church, starting with the young, will participate in the synodal practice that henceforth will be part of the life of the Church. Clergy must try to walk together with women and men with ever greater enthusiasm and without thinking that we already have the best answer or all the answers. We must try to draw on many people and listen to many voices. Such an approach requires both humility and courage, to recognize that one cannot do everything on one’s own.
The Church in Dublin faces challenges which require immediate action, not least to prepare a recovery from the severe impact of the pandemic. We are called to undertake a journey of regeneration confident that, “the future does have a name, and its name is Hope...the virtue of a heart that doesn’t lock itself into darkness, that doesn’t dwell on the past, does not simply get by in the present, but is able to see a tomorrow” (Pope Francis, TED Conference, 26 April 2017).
To advance analysis and encourage dialogue and engagement, I established a Task Force on a Church for the Dublin of Tomorrow, under the title Building Hope. Composed of clergy, religious and laypeople, the Task Force will prepare an assessment of the needs of the people of the Archdiocese of Dublin as we emerge from the Covid-19 crisis. In the light of that analysis, I am asking the Task Force to prepare an approach to a pastoral strategy that supports parish communities of faith to undertake a radical renewal, looking to the future with creativity.
I want the Task Force to stimulate reflection and creative thinking across the whole community, in parishes and in organisations committed to the well-being of the people, to guide a process of dialogue which will continue as we develop and implement our plans for the future.
To assist the Task Force, I am also establishing an expert panel in the areas of the economic, social and pastoral situation in Dublin, and the trends which will shape our situation over the next 25 years. Their advice will help us to consider the views and priorities of the many organisations delivering services to the people of Dublin.
I have asked the Task Force to complete its work by the end of the Summer. There is an urgency, and this cannot be an endless process. It will give us all a basis for moving forward together with hope, confident that the Spirit is with those who respond to the call to follow the One who is the Lord of tomorrow as well as today.
As we renew the priestly promises of our ordination, we pray that we will realise that we are chosen, anointed and sent to minister to all the people in our pastoral care. We are not alone, however, as “the Risen Jesus accompanies us on our way and enables us to recognize him, as the disciples of Emmaus did, ‘in the breaking of the bread’ (Luke 24:35). May he find us watchful, ready to recognize his face and run to our brothers and sisters with the good news: ‘We have seen the Lord!’” (John 20:25) (Saint Pope John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte, par 59).