St Eugene’s Cathedral
Francis Street, Derry
BT48 9AP | Tel: 028 7126 2302
It is wonderful to be able to celebrate the annual Chrism Mass with at least some of God's holy anointed people. All those who have been baptised have been anointed with Chrism. The same anointing has been given to those who are Confirmed. And the Oil of Chrism has also been used for those who are ordained to priestly ministry in the Church. This morning, we celebrate the fact that we are a priestly people – as the second reading tells us – but not merely because we have those who are called priests. The scriptures tell is that we are a priestly people because we all share in the priestly ministry of Jesus. It is just that we share in that ministry in different ways. Thus, Chrism Mass is incomplete without some of those who have been Chrism-ed, anointed with the Spirit. What does it say to us this year?
Firstly, the Gospel reading makes it clear why Jesus the Christ has been anointed by the Spirit. He is anointed to bring the Good News to the poor, to be a comforter who brings gladness. And that was the mission that he carried out faithfully, whatever the cost. He could not do everything for everybody. But he did what he could with the individuals whom he encountered. And he sent out his disciples to the ends of the earth to continue his mission in the infinitely varied circumstances of people's lives. He didn't say that the mission should be carried out only when it was easy and within our comfort zone. St Paul knew that when he exhorted Timothy to preach the Gospel in season and out of season (2 Tim 4:2).
The Chrism Mass challenged the anointed people of God to look to Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One as we discern how we prepare to come out of the lockdowns into a changed world and how we minister there in Jesus' name to that changed world. The extent of the problem is meant to challenge us to do great things in Jesus' name. The problems we face are never an excuse for feeling sorry for ourselves.
Secondly, it is right to ask how we get back to offering the liturgies and services that we were accustomed to celebrating until March 2020. For many people, it will be vital to gather in church and to be nourished with the Word of God and the Sacraments of Christ's grace. Churches are places where our minds and hearts are lifted up to God and we can face life's challenges with Jesus on the Cross. Lockdowns have been lonely times for so many. Without our regular routines and chances to meet people, days can become shapeless. And an unstructured life is not healthy. It is vital that we can be together for we are communities of faith and not merely individual believers. In the Body of Christ, we are bound together to the Lord and to each other. We are accountable to God and to each other. For Christians, Easter is not just a time to have a little quiet bit of reflection. It is a time to celebrate together. Thus, no-one should underestimate the problem that the ongoing closure of churches for worship causes for parishes that lie in the Republic. For Christians, on-line worship is no substitute for being together as the Body of Christ.
But, thirdly, this crisis is about more than church people getting back to what we want to be doing. Jesus will ask us to gather so that we can better identify those in our communities who have been most impoverished by the last year. The pandemic will have terrible economic consequences that will leave many of the most disadvantaged materially poor. Children who are affected by poverty often struggle to make the most of their educational opportunities. Jesus prioritises bringing good news to the poor. It is important that our parish communities – whatever the challenges that we face – look out for those who feel most left behind and forgotten. We gather as communities of faith around Jesus, so that he can use us to go out in his name. Poverty is not just a financial limitation. It can damage self-esteem and not just the stomach. Those in poverty can feel left behind and invisible, unable to take part in many things that others take for granted. Jesus would not have ignored that experience of poverty and deprivation. That is why he proclaimed the love of God to them in word and deed. Our planning for the future will show whether we are really a people of faith or merely a people where human fear dominates.
Over the next days and weeks, we face into the serious questions that afflict the people of our day. Good Friday asks how we face death and violence with Jesus.The emptiness of Holy Saturday faces us with the cold reality of lifeless graves. Easter asks us to proclaim Resurrection here and as well as hereafter. And Pentecost will challenge us to be open to the uncomfortable Holy Spirit who pushes us, like frightened chicks, out of the nest and challenges us to grow up. So, today's Chrism Mass tells us that, if we are followers of Christ, we are, by definition, anointed with the Holy Spirit to be bearers of Good News. Like Jesus, we have been called to be bearers of that Good News, not for our sake but for the sake of our world in all its pain and confusion. Walking that path for Jesus meant going to Calvary. If we are to bring good news and gladness, it will cost us. We may be – in St Paul's words - only earthenware vessels bearing a great gift (2 Cor 4:7). Our trust in human strength and influence can be a barrier to Christ's powerful work. We ask for the power of the Holy Spirit to inspire us in our weakness. If we do not allow Jesus, the anointed one, to use us to bring good news to the poor, can you blame people for doubting us and wondering whether and where God is alive and working in our day?
+ Donal McKeown