In 496 days time we will gather, hopefully in the company of Pope Francis, for the World Meeting of Families in Dublin. This is an international gathering, which happens every three years, centred on strengthening our understanding and appreciation of family. In 97 days time we will travel on our first ever Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes – we will journey as one Diocesan family.
The Chrism Mass tonight is a gathering of the family of the Diocese. I am delighted to welcome the huge numbers of priests and people who have travelled this evening from the 56 parishes that together make up our Diocese. I am very pleased as always to warmly welcome Bishop Jim Moriarty as he joins us for our Chrism Mass.
The word Chrism comes from the root word for Christ, meaning “the anointed one”. This evening’s Chrism Mass takes its name from the consecration of the Chrism Oil later in the liturgy – Oil that will be used during the next twelve months in every parish of the diocese as the cycle of a new sacramental year turns.
Priests renew their priestly promises in the presence of me, their Bishop, you their parishioners, family & friends. These are sacred moments; this is a sacred evening; now is a sacred time. We are here to support one another and to pray for one another … as we gather as a family we become acutely aware that family isn’t always what it’s meant to be, we let each other down and most of all we let Christ, the anointed one, down and so …
Luke’s gospel, which has just been read, is the same text read at every Chrism Mass in Cathedrals around the world. It tells the story of Jesus returning home; perhaps we might speculate he was catching up on family, maybe recharging his batteries, certainly getting some down time. The text begins “Jesus came to Nazara”. Scripture commentators remark on the unique spelling of Nazara that gives an authenticity to the source for this text. It’s like someone talking about Ballymurphy in Borris Parish, Cooleragh in Kildare or Tinryland just outside Carlow – people know the sound of where they come from, they know how its spelt and much more importantly how its pronounced. How you pronounce a name tells a great deal of where you are from.
Returning home. I like to see the Cathedral here in Carlow as the home church of every one of our parishes. We have all come home, as is now traditional, on this Monday of Holy Week to renew priestly promises; to replenish sacramental oil stocks and to rejuvenate our Diocesan family. As I mentioned in my introductory words, in 496 days time we will have the opening ceremony of the 9th World Meeting of Families which will be hosted in Dublin from August 21st – 26th 2018. In 97 days time we will go as a diocese on pilgrimage to Lourdes. The Diocese has a deep sense of pilgrimage. In last year’s ‘Jubilee Year of Mercy’ we highlighted the pilgrimage traditions around St. Fiacc of Sleatty, St. Brigid, St. Fintan of Cloonenagh & St. Moling. The best part of a pilgrimage is the journey together, together as one family.
At the time of the Eucharistic Congress, some wondered was it a good time to host the Congress in the aftermath of the scandals that rocked our church; I hear people ask today is it a good time to be the host country for the World Meeting of Families when so many of our reference points around faith and family are shifting. I return to the strength conveyed in the words of the prophet Isaiah tonight: “the spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up hearts that are broken”. There is no better time than now to reenergize, to renew, to revisit our understanding of family. Luke’s gospel ends: “this text is being fulfilled today even as you listen”. It is the work of today, the mandate of the present, the mission of now.
I loved the vision given to us by Pope Francis in his letter affirming the World Meeting of Families in Dublin, which he issued only last week, when he said: “I dream of an outbound Church, not a self-referential one, a Church that does not pass far from man’s wounds, a merciful Church that proclaims the heart of the revelation of God as Love, which is Mercy”. His wish is that the Church would be missionary, that the Church would move beyond its comfort zones, that the Church would be a place of dialogue and encounter. Last week the preliminary results from Census 2016 were released, suggesting 78% of our population classify themselves as Roman Catholic; while the media may focus on percentage trends, we who are so immersed in the life of our parishes, must all agree much remains to be done in reaching out to that 78% – how richer our Church and faith will be for it in the future.
I remember someone asking me years ago if I ever gave any thought to working on the missions. I recall my answer, acknowledging a deep admiration for missionaries, my uncle Michael Balfe being a Columban priest, and indeed witnessing the great presence and commitment of the Kiltegan Fathers since coming here to Kildare & Leighlin, I answered back then that for me the mission was very much at home. I saw myself then as a Diocesan Priest working in the Diocese of Meath. My mission I assured them would go no further than Drumraney in the west or Drogheda in the east! Little did I know then! With Pope Francis, little do any of us know and that is what is so endearing about this 265th successor to St. Peter.
‘Missionary’ is the mandate now for all of us priests and people. It’s not a task for some priests or some people, but for all of us. As I write this I am acutely aware of the pressure points and strains that exist in a very real way in some parishes where the age profile of the priesthood continues to rise, and where sometimes even to organize relief cover is next to impossible. Obviously we need a radical reappraisal of what a parish might look like into the future, how it should be organized, coordinated, funded and ministered. I am aware discussions have happened on these matters in the past, on the clustering of parishes and the reorganisation of Masses but without today’s urgency.
Later this month I intend to address this very important and immediate issue in a pastoral letter to all people and priests of the Diocese which envisages a process of structured meetings during May at local deanery level involving laity, permanent deacons and priests towards a larger gathering of all in June. Next August I will have been with you as Bishop for four years. I have visited by now every corner of the Diocese, celebrating Confirmations, visiting Parishes, and commemorating jubilees. I enjoy meeting priests and people, schools and societies, associations and clubs that keep reminding me this Diocese is very much alive and energised around shared gospel values. On a night like tonight I am very cognizant that I must ensure steps are taken to augment the vibrancy of our Diocese into the future.
A future where the oils blessed tonight will lavishly flow around the Diocese over the coming year. Immediately the 3,632 whom I confirmed with last year’s oil come to mind. I think of the many who will be baptized in the coming year; I look forward with great joy to the priestly ordination of David Vard next June in Newbridge. Tonight I am also aware of the many sick and invalided who will travel with us to Lourdes and be anointed there and those who will receive the sacrament in our hospitals, nursing homes and churches.
A parish is not just established by some canonical decree but by the celebration of the sacraments. Tonight I thank the many lay people who invest hugely in the fabric of parish life, our sacramental co-ordinators, our eight permanent deacons, their wives and families and our very committed priests and religious who live tonight’s words from the prophet Isaiah every day of their life.
Family was important to Jesus, he returned home to Nazara. Family is important to us, let us renew our understanding as we prepare together to celebrate the World Meeting of Families in Dublin in 2018. Family is important to our Diocese as we prepare to travel to Lourdes next July and dream up other opportunities that bring us together from our individual parishes so that we may be renewed in our mandate to together reach out to the peripheries and the edges.
Let us pray for our priests as they prepare to renew their priestly promises on this Chrism Night …
 Lk. 4:16
 Is. 61:1
 Lk. 4:21
 Pope Francis, Letter to the Prefect of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family & Life for the Ninth World Meeting of Families, Dublin, issued: 30.03.17