(Gospel: Lk 4:16-21)
Jesus, at home with his own people in the Synagogue of Nazareth, searches out in the Book of Isaiah the passage that was our First Reading today, and proclaims it for his own people. Everything Jesus does in this short dramatic reading is very deliberate. Most of all, this is true of the word he spoke at the end, when all eyes were fixed on him: “This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen”. [And please God it is being fulfilled today through our agency]
When Pope Francis spoke to the assembled Bishops and other participants at the end of the Extraordinary Synod last October in Rome, he might have been commenting on this reading when he said:
“The first duty of the Pastor is to nourish the flock that the Lord has entrusted to them, and to seek to welcome, with fatherly care and mercy, and without false fears, the lost sheep”.
But then the Holy Father immediately corrected himself: “I made a mistake here”, he said, “I said ‘welcome’…rather it is ‘to go out and find them’”.
The challenge Pope Francis has been putting to us constantly and unrelentingly since he succeeded to the See of Peter has been the challenge to become a missionary people: each one of us personally, and together also, to be a community of men and women who go out to the very people Isaiah speaks about in this text that Jesus searched out and proclaimed to his own people at Nazareth at the beginning of his public ministry.
‘Missionary’ now for us, then, means going out to our own people primarily and finding them. And it’s not a task for some priests or some people, but for all priests and all people. It is what we must turn our attention to in our diocesan and parish councils, in our teaching and preaching and above all in our renewed prayer. And there is room in this mission for all: for all adults of course, but also for all children, for all who are ill, suffering or disabled, and for all who are in the Golden Years of old Age. All of us Missionary together, going out actively if we are able, and in spirit if not so able, but going out to the lonely and the lost, the poor and the friendless, going out in our hearts all of us, and with our feet if blessed with physical energy and limbs that are still strong …
We live in a very inward-looking, self-regarding world. Even the most critical and noble of human quests, like the quest for justice, fairness human rights or freedom, can be turned into a narrow and egotistical pursuit. Realistically, this has always been the case. The love Jesus proclaimed and modelled for us supremely in the events we commemorate this week, was never easy for people to accept, not to mind embrace. Peter very blatantly and the other apostles too (except for the youngest, John), not to mention the crowd who cheered Jesus on last Sunday, demonstrate that this week so well. Showing scant regard for the greater good of society and the future of humanity is not new.
To love is to go out of oneself, to put the other before oneself, to serve the other and to die in his or her defence if it comes to that.
In other words, it is the Way of the Cross, as this week that we call ‘holy’ proclaims. To love in this way, the way Jesus loved, is not easy.
But our call is to live ourselves the love he lived ‘to the end’ during these days. It is not for us to demand it of others, but to be examples of this love to them ourselves. With regard to how others may act, he set down the marker for us all: ‘Father, forgive them. They know not what they do’.
The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians. Laying down our own lives is what achieves the society we wish to build. There is no other way to establishing the Kingdom of God.
The first prayer of this Mass today, our prayer today, asked God to grant: ‘…that being made sharers in Christ’s consecration, we may bear witness to His Redemption in the world’
The arena in which we live out our priesthood is ‘the world’. We are secular priests. For you and I, that world is now the world of 2015 here in the diocese of Achonry.
Our gift for this world is that we be ‘witnesses of His Redemption’ in it. Otherwise our words are empty.
This witnessing comes because we have accepted the call of God to share in Jesus’ consecration, as the prayer puts it. That is what happened when we were solemnly anointed with Holy Oil of Chrism at our ordination: we were made participators in Jesus’ own consecration as the Christ, Redeemer and Saviour. So we are part of Christ…which means Jesus has washed my feet and I continually allow him do so. “If I do not wash you” Jesus said to Peter setting him straight, “You can have no part with me”.
To know how much I need this washing and to want it is the first step always… And tonight we will be challenged again with Peter….and there must only be one response, the response of Peter: “Then, Lord, not only my feet, but my hands and my head as well”.
In other words, I come to him all the time to be cleansed, refreshed, and restored. I am to be Act of Contrition, morning noon and night. The first word of Jesus with which he began his public ministry was the cry: “Repent!”. If we have not made this first invitation of Jesus public’ ministry our own as priests – or is it not rather a demand, a sine qua non? -, we have no right to proclaim to anybody the second part of that invitation/command: ‘believe the Good News’
This means surely regular reconciliation, along with constant intimacy with him in reflection on the Gospel, prayer and contemplation. So that we ourselves be believers, first and foremost.
A lifestyle based on these foundations is what makes me a worthy and suitable minister of Christ’s sacraments to God’s people, the Sacraments so present to us all today in the Solemn Blessing of the Sacred Oil of Chrism, along with the other Holy Oils of Baptism and the Sick, to which we will proceed now as soon as we have made the renewal of our priestly promises.