Bishop Denis Nulty’s Homily
We gather once again to celebrate our Diocesan Chrism Mass. I am delighted to welcome the huge numbers of priests and people who have travelled this evening from the 56 parishes of the Diocese that together make up our Diocesan family. I am especially pleased to warmly welcome Bishop Jim Moriarty as he joins the Diocesan faith community on this Monday of Holy Week. In particular I welcome members of the Diocesan deaf community to this year’s Chrism Mass for the first time.
Our Chrism Mass takes its name from the consecration of the Chrism Oil later in the liturgy. Your parish oil stocks will be replenished at the end of this Mass as another sacramental year begins. Priests will renew their priestly promises in the presence of parishioners, family & friends. We are here to support one another and to pray for one another … as we gather in communion, let us call to mind what separates us in sin …
Choosing the Monday of Holy Week for our annual Chrism Mass I believe is inspired, because coming immediately after Palm Sunday it sets in train our journey through the most sombre and solemn days of the Church’s year. The Chrism Mass can liturgically be celebrated on any day during Holy Week. In many dioceses it has customarily been celebrated on the morning of Holy Thursday. Some dioceses in more recent times have moved to Spy Wednesday evening; here in Kildare & Leighlin we are getting used to pencilling in the Monday of Holy Week for our annual blessing of the oils, consecration of the chrism and the renewal of priestly promises. Growing up on a farm, the meticulous task of changing the oil in the tractor was carried out by any of us as soon as we knew what we were about. This evening’s Chrism Mass is in many respects our annual oil change and tune up.
I welcome warmly each and everyone of you here this evening – the priests; the permanent deacons, their wives and families; the religious sisters and brothers in this great year of consecrated life and above all you the lay men and women who contribute to the vibrancy and life of so many aspects of our parishes. As I mentioned last year, identifying with your parish banner speaks volumes. Next year we look forward to making greater visible use of the individual parish banners during our Chrism celebration. Fifty-six parishes; fifty-seven banners in a diocese that includes nearly all of County Carlow, the larger portion of Counties Kildare and Laois, a sizeable slice of County Offaly, a significant corner of Counties Kilkenny and Wicklow and a few townlands in Wexford! Plenty of ticket options when it comes to a Leinster final! Fifty-six parishes sprawled across a terrain stretching over seven counties but making up one diocese. This is the evening when we all physically and spiritually unite under a much larger banner than our individual parish ones – the banner of Kildare & Leighlin Diocese! We gather appropriately in the mother church and spiritual home of our diocese – the beautiful Cathedral of the Assumption here in Carlow.
Parishes of course are the places where the sacraments are celebrated, where the oils blessed this evening will tangibly become the balm of Christ in a wounded, fragile and broken world. Last year these very oils were used for 3,879 baptisms; 3,948 confirmations; we might only hazard a guesstimate at how many of the sick in our hospitals, in our nursing homes, during our monthly communion rounds, over at Knock or on pilgrimage in Lourdes were anointed with these oils – perhaps 10,000+. The oils were used for 1 ordination – together as a diocese we are responding very well in our promotion of vocations to the priesthood. Our prayer is that the oils of next year and beyond will be used for further ordinations.
Tonight’s gospel from Luke captures that moment when Jesus went into the synagogue and stood up to read. There is something coincidental in that this very gospel of St. Luke 4:16-21 is the gospel I chose for this years Confirmation ceremonies. My journey began in Skeoughvosteeen on February 26th and the most recent ceremony was in Ballyroan last Saturday afternoon. To date 1,313 have received the sacrament this current year in 23 ceremonies. The Confirmation journey around the diocese resumes on the morning of April 15th over in Leighlin. There is a great and revered tradition of priests confirming in the diocese, and I encourage that; however equally I see the value and merit of my own Confirmation visit. Next year I will make a renewed effort to make space on the diocesan schedule for those parishes where I haven’t yet had the privilege of celebrating the sacrament.
In the synagogue, Jesus unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “the Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me …” A particular aspect of this years Confirmation celebration is the writing of individual letters by every aspiring candidate to the Bishop telling me something about themselves and why they would like to be confirmed. The letters often list out all the family names, including the pets; the letters tell me what’s happening in the class and in the parish for the sacrament and occasionally there is a wry sense of humour or wit. Such wit as evidenced in the boy from Clonaslee who told me he got on with his brother and sister, ‘most of the time’; or the girl in Askea who could get a job with Tourism Ireland, having listed all the shops: ‘there is Centra, Luigi’s and a few others … we even have a pharmacy’ or the boy with special needs in Kill whose letter suggested to me he had a deeper understanding of the sacrament than most. I’m just going to give you an insight into one extremely frank and honest exchange in the bundle of letters that were dropped through my letter box: ‘Dear Bishop Nulty, I want to be confirmed so that I can finally be a full Christian. I am not that holy and don’t go to Mass most Sundays. My family is not holy. But I would like to be holy but it is a bit harder when your family don’t go to Mass’. The letter goes on a little longer, but that’s enough to give a sense of that young person’s difficulty in what is probably one of the most honest letters to date. It spells out the issues in very stark black and white, issues that are very real in every parish – receiving the sacrament but never renewing the grace.
So what exactly does Jesus quote from Isaiah: “to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight …” In Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis wrote: “I dream of a missionary option, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, issues and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of todays world rather than for her self-preservation”. He goes on to speak about “pastoral conversion”. Our recent deanery conversations around how we celebrate funerals in the Diocese provided a great opportunity for priests, religious and laity to work and reflect together around issues of mutual interest. Perhaps one issue that has come to light in these conversations is the virtual disappearance of the evening removal liturgy to the Church. Did it go overnight? It didn’t. But we must revision and re-imagine the ceremony so that it returns to being a pivotal part in our bereavement journey. The funeral liturgy gives us a context for that journey.
Here in Kildare & Leighlin we must realise with a growing population and a depleting number of priests, that it cannot be business as usual. A parish isn’t really a geographical territory, only when it comes to club football! A parish is where you feel welcome, where you feel valued, where you feel that openness and missionary outreach. A parish is not established just in some canonical document, but by the celebration of the Eucharist and the availability of the sacraments. As I journey around the diocese, I see huge strides and terrific endeavours to realize this parish vision. Priests are not private practitioners. Priests can’t be solo runners. Just as in the recent ‘Deanery Funeral Conversations’, there is a need for a partnership of the priests and the people working together towards a common understanding, working towards a Diocesan Pastoral Renewal Plan.
A Diocesan Pastoral Renewal Plan that is teased out in different strands perhaps around leadership, liturgy, prayer, youth ministry, adult faith formation, safeguarding and communications. A Diocesan Pastoral Renewal Plan that positions the work of Faith Development Services, Carlow College and Bishops House into the bigger picture. A Diocesan Pastoral Renewal Plan that must be born out of a series of listening afternoons and evenings over the coming eighteen months. A Diocesan Pastoral Renewal Plan that allows us to look at what we do, how we do it and why we do it in the light of our faith and our calling. A Diocesan Pastoral Renewal Plan that is not just something that looks good in a glossy brochure but something that takes flesh in the real lived experiences of priests and people working in communion for the good of their parish, their banner and the enrichment of their diocese, that much larger banner. Tonight’s words from the prophet Isaiah perhaps offer us a very good starting point for this conversation: “good news to the poor, liberty to captives, the blind new sight, the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour”.
A very small aside just as I finish; over in St. Brigid’s Church, Ballinakill last Thursday morning, one young man by the name of Cian told me he was taking Denis for Confirmation ‘after the Bishop’. I am reminded of the story well told of the young boy who told the Bishop he was taking John; the Bishop very impressed asked him ‘was it after John the Baptist?’, to which the young lad replied ‘no, it was after the John Deere tractor’! Once again I thank the priests for their huge commitment to the shared vision of diocese and thank you, their family, parishioners and friends for supporting us in our ministry as together we renew our priestly promises …
Words of Appreciation:
- All involved in our splendid liturgy this Monday of Holy Week
- The Diocesan Commission for Liturgical Formation – chaired by Eileen Good
- The Diocesan M.C. – Fr. Liam Morgan
- The 130 strong Diocesan Choir conducted by Fr. Liam Lawton, accompanied by Marian Gaynor, and for special mention the Diocesan Choral Scholars this year.
- John Cummins Adm, Fr. Rory Nolan, Sr, Dolores & The Cathedral Parish Team
- The two Permanent Deacons who assisted at this Mass and indeed the service the eight Permanent Deacons offer our Diocese.
- Julie Kavanagh and the team at FDS for their help with printing the booklet
- All of you who travelled from the 56 parishes of the Diocese
- Kevin O’Neill & Carlow College for hosting the refreshments once again after our Chrism Mass