at the
Chrism Mass


Saint Francis of Assisi

Readings at the Chrism Mass
Isaiah 61:1-3,6,8-9
Revelation 1:5-8
Luke 4:16-21

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Spirit calls us to be 'a more deeply prayerful Church'

Saint George's Cathedral
Wednesday, 27th March 2013

“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.” Those words taken from the prophet Isaiah, reminded me of what our new Holy Father, Pope Francis, said when he spoke to the media: “Oh, how I wish for a Church that is poor and for the poor!”

In saying that, I’m sure Pope Francis was thinking of the great saint he decided to be named after, St. Francis of Assisi. He received his vocation in the small, semi-derelict church of San Damiano in Assisi when he was contemplating the crucifix one day, and heard Christ say to him, “Go and repair my house, which you see is falling down.” So, very dramatically, he renounced his inheritance and even his clothes, in front of the Bishop and set out to fulfil his vocation. Francis lived a life of extreme simplicity, a life which was focused totally on his determination to love Christ crucified and to imitate the life of Christ perfectly. He was most certainly not a sentimental nature-lover, or a hippy drop-out from society, as some in more recent generations have attempted to portray him. No, his sole motivation was the love of Christ crucified and risen. He was a true son of the Church to the very marrow of his bones, devoted to the sacraments, utterly faithful to the teaching of the Church and obedient to Church authority, all of which he saw as manifestations of Christ himself.

The legacy St. Francis left to the Church, was to give all of us who are disciples of Christ the vision of a life lived wholly in the power and spirit of the crucified and risen Christ. That, it seems to me should also be at the heart of our vision today; for ourselves as individuals, for our families, our parish communities and the wider community of the Diocese. The Church in our time certainly needs some repairing. It has suffered the scandal of child abuse particularly by priests, the reported scandals relating to the Roman Curia and the financial mismanagement of the central finances of the Church. In our families, parishes and in political life, the scandal too of Catholics who fail to live the Gospel and uphold the teaching of the Church. Our faith in the crucified and risen Christ, and our proclamation of the Gospel is also being severely tested by the resistance to it of the widely secularized and sometimes quite aggressive environment in which we live. The barque of Peter is having a rough ride through stormy waters, and we might well be forgiven for sometimes feeling like the disciples in Matthew’s gospel when the waves threaten to overwhelm their boat, and all the while Christ is sleeping soundly, seemingly oblivious of the danger. So they woke him and said, “Save us, Lord, we are going down! And he said to them, ‘Why are you so frightened, you men of little faith?”

The first question we need put to ourselves today is, “Am I frightened too? Do I too have as little faith as the disciples in that storm tossed boat?” And the next question must be, “Lord, what must we do?” And I think, the Lord’s answer to us will be the same as it was to St. Francis in that dilapidated little church in San Damiano, “Go and repair my house!” That seems to me the message that Pope Francis is strongly hinting at in these early days of his ministry. So the third question is, “How do we do it?”

First of all, I firmly believe that the Holy Spirit is calling us to be a more deeply prayerful Church, as individuals, as families and as parish communities. We need to hear the living word of God spoken deep in our hearts, and that means a more contemplative, quiet form of prayer and meditation on the Scriptures. We need to deepen and develop our personal relationship with Christ by taking on board the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 36: “Be still and know that I am God.” In that form of prayer we begin to put the person of Christ back into the centre of our daily life, fulfilling his command to abide with him, to be one with him. “As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, but must remain part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me you can do nothing.” Or as Pope John Paul II, put it: “The Christian life to be aimed at cannot be reduced to a mediocre commitment to “goodness” as society defines it; it must be a true quest for holiness ... Being a Christian means to receive a “gift” of sanctifying grace which cannot fail to become a “commitment” to respond personally to that gift in everyday life.”

Secondly, we need to become much more familiar with the faith we profess and be able to explain it. As St. Peter puts it in his First Letter, “Simply reverence the Lord Christ in your hearts, and always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have. But give it with courtesy and respect ...” For that we need to develop a more widespread and accessible catechesis and adult formation, so that especially you, the laity, can have a confident voice in the public square to bring the light of Christ to a society which seems to me to have largely lost its moral compass. We all have an obligation to know and understand our faith and be able to present the Gospel message in a way “which is dynamic, complete and demanding.”

There is much for us to do but we must not be disheartened or discouraged. Under the leadership of our new Holy Father, Pope Francis, there are intimations of a new Spring for the Church. So we need to take to heart the words of Our Blessed Lord, “Courage! Do not be afraid for I am with you until the end of time.” What has encouraged me so much during this Year of Faith, is the initiatives taken in so many of our parishes to promote catechetical formation, prayer and the building up of our parish communities. In visiting parishes I have found that you are in good heart despite the challenges facing the Church. I thank God for that and for the firm faith and commitment you have to the Gospel. I also want to thank you, the Religious in the Diocese, for your dedication and commitment to the vows you have made, and the example you give us of commitment to Christ. Finally, I want to thank you, the clergy, for your faithful ministry in our parishes, schools and hospitals and, brethren, for the apostolic work you do every day; work that is often hidden and which doesn’t make headlines, but helps people come closer to Christ our Saviour and to grow in love for God and neighbour. Thank you all and may God bless you this Easter and fill you with his peace and joy. And, as St. David, the Patron Saint of Wales said: “Be cheerful and keep the Faith.”