Readings for the Chrism Mass
Wednesday, 4th April 2012
Saint George's Cathedral
My brothers and sisters, we are living in challenging times, and the reasons for that are many and various. Much of that challenge is coming from a more strident breed of secularism which denies the existence of God and the things of God. In some circles in our society there is a growing intolerance of religion, which, it is asserted, should have no place and nor voice in the public forum. Religion, we are told, has nothing to give to society and should be kept firmly in the private and personal sphere of life. And if we challenge this intolerant attitude, we can be subjected to abuse and insult because religion in any form, and Christianity in particular, is considered to be harmful to the common good - it is divisive, exclusive and harmful. The pundits of our day refuse to accept that there is any objective morality, and by implication, there is no objective truth. Morality and truth have become simply a matter of personal opinion, and one opinion is as good as any other! And those attitudes are compounded by a level of ignorance of Christianity amongst the general public, and young people in particular, that is reaching alarming proportions.
In the face of what amounts to a militant atheism, we can begin to lose our confidence. We are tempted to reach for our tin hats and run for the bunker. It is easier not to make a fuss, not to put our heads above the parapet, not to be different to anybody else in our society. When that happens, the worm of doubt can begin to gnaw away at our faith. Then we lose trust in God’s providence and the teaching of Christ and his Church. The light of our witness to the person of Christ grows dim and we lose any sense of joy in proclaiming our faith to those around us.
Well, there’s nothing new under the sun, as the book of Ecclesiastes put it so pithily! When Jesus began his public ministry he was welcomed and revered; people came from long distances to hear his words, to seek his help and healing. But as time went on the response of the people became divided. Some retained their faith in him, some became confused and others began to doubt the evidence of their eyes and ears. Others again began to hate him and all his works and determined to kill him. The story of Christ’s ministry on earth is an epic of human tragedy, which on the face of it ended in total failure when he was put to death on the Cross as a common criminal.
But unlike those who witnessed his death on Good Friday, we have the benefit of hindsight. Through the gift of faith that has been given to us, we know it was not the end but a new beginning when he was raised from the dead and ascended to sit at the right hand of his heavenly Father. By his total faithfulness to his Father’s will, he once and for all conquered sin and death, so that we could be reconciled with God and one another; and he opened the way for those who believe in him in the gift of God’s eternal life and unconditional love. That is what we believe, that is what we profess, and that is the truth that we are called to live by in our daily lives with courage, conviction and joy.
Each and every day Christ challenges us to grow together in love; to grow in communion with him and with one another other, encouraging and supporting each other especially in times of difficulty and distress. That, as we know, can be very costly; but then so was the cost of his sacrifice on the Cross which in very truth “cost not less than everything.” That generous self-giving to one another in a communion of unconditional love is what our journey of faith commits us to, so that we can become the light of the world and the salt of the earth. “See these Christians, how they love one another.”
At the same time we need no reminding that whilst we strive to walk faithfully in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, we remain broken, weak and wounded people, both individually and as a community. We simply cannot do it alone and from our own resources, but only with God’s grace and presence, and only if we commit ourselves to journey together as God’s people, God’s family, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. And to do that we need the continuing help and guidance of the Holy Spirit, by whom we were anointed in Baptism - and whose presence in our hearts was sealed, confirmed and strengthened in the sacrament of Confirmation.
If our faith is not firmly rooted and nourished by the celebration of the sacraments, and by daily personal prayer, is it any wonder that we too begin to doubt, to lose our courage, become confused and downhearted? How often, over the years, have we listened to Christ’s words: “If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you too!” Yes, we face difficulties, we face rejection and scorn because we proclaim Christ crucified and risen - with all that that implies. But that has been the case from the beginning of Christ’s ministry on earth. What he calls us to do now is to place our trust and hope firmly in him, to be united in heart and soul as his brothers and sisters, and to build up his body, the Church in the unity of the Holy Spirit. We need to drink deeply every day the living waters of God’s grace which flowed from the side of Christ on the Cross and which give us life and strength to follow in his footsteps.
I have no doubt at all that the Holy Spirit is with us today and every day, calling us to work ever more closely together as the people of God. We all have something unique to offer the body of the Church, and indeed the society in which we live. But we must work together - priests, deacons, religious and laity - for the building up and strengthening of the Church. Not as an end in itself, but so that we can do as Christ commanded us, and fulfil the mission he gave us: to proclaim the Gospel of his life and love with joy, courage and perseverance. Then, whatever the powers of this world which assail us, we will be given Christ’s gift of his peace and joy in our hearts and the courage to live to the full the Christian life, confidently witnessing to the world the truth of the Gospel. “Courage! Do not be afraid. I am with you until the end of time.”
Through the anointing of the Holy Spirit, we all share in different degrees the one priesthood of Christ. We all share in the one mission of Christ, to preach the Gospel. And as Pope Paul VI reminded us: “… the first means of evangelisation is the witness of an authentically Christian life, given over to God in a communion that nothing should destroy and at the same time given to one’s neighbour with limitless zeal … Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses … It is therefore primarily by her conduct and by her life that the Church will evangelise the world, in other words, by her living witness of fidelity to the Lord Jesus - the witness of poverty and detachment, of freedom in the face of the powers of this world … in short, the witness of sanctity.”