The text of the Archbishop’s homily at the Mass can be found below.
HOMILY CHRISM MASS – 1st APRIL 2021
IMMACULATE CONCEPTION PARISH, PAROW
First and foremost, I would like to express my gratitude to the priests ministering in this Archdiocese. The year-long lockdown, at various levels, has disrupted the lives of everyone, and it has disrupted the life of the Church. Nonetheless, new and creative ways have been found by priests to continue their ministry of evangelisation and pastoral care of the flock entrusted to them. I know that it has not always been easy for you. I know that for many there has been a deep sense of loneliness, frustration and inner turbulence. But you have continued, relying on your inner strength and your commitment to priesthood and many have used the time for more prayer and reading. For fidelity to ministry and your creativity I am very much grateful, as I am grateful to the deacons of the Archdiocese who have given support to their priests and continued faithfully in their ministry to God’s people.
And to you, the Family of God, our parishioners, thank you for the support and strength you have given to all of us. Without you, we would not be able to minister effectively, but you make our responsibility an easy one, even in those times when we disappoint you or fail you. We are particularly appreciative of your prayers for us, for the Lord fills us with his grace and courage through those prayers. We know that for many of you, this past year has been burdensome and painful. It is part of our responsibility as priests – both Baptismal Priesthood or Ministerial Priesthood – to intercede for others and pray for them. Please know that we pray for your continually.
I would like to speak to the priests as they will renew their priestly vows today – not all priests can be present due to the restrictions, but I hope that those joining us virtually will use the opportunity to renew their vows as well. In the Gospel Reading of today’s Mass Jesus reads from the Prophet Isaiah. We then hear:
He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the assistant and sat down. And all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to speak to them, ‘This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.’
We who share in Jesus’ ministry should reflect on this verse and question ourselves whether we too can say that through us ‘This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.’ We are called to bind up hearts that are broken, to proclaim liberty, to set the downtrodden free, to give sight and to bring good news, proclaiming God’s year of favour It is perhaps difficult to see the past year as being one of “God’s favour”, yet it is often in times of disruption that God reveals truths to us, truths that we possibly already know but of which we are neglecting to take notice. One such truth is the brevity of time – we have seen how quickly life passes and how suddenly we ca be called from this life. St Josemaria Escrivá puts it this way, Time is a treasure that melts away. It escapes from us, slipping through our fingers like water through the mountain rocks. Tomorrow will soon be another yesterday. Our lives are so very short. Yesterday has gone and today is passing by. But what a great deal can be done for the love of God in this short space of time! Time is indeed a treasure that should not be wasted, and surely the past year has reminded us how precious time is, and to look at how we use time. Combatting against good use of time is complacency, when we become comfortable with how much we do and how we do them. Complacency implies that we have lost the sense of energy and idealism that we once had, the sense of being God’s ministers who can make a difference in the world. It means we have got into a rut, but in his mercy God has disrupted us from that rut. Witnessing the pain and suffering of so many people, as well as the fragility of human life, should be sufficient cause for us to recapture our sense of mission and the urgency to bring the light of Christ’s compassion and truth to the world. The pandemic has brought into sharp focus the disparities that exist in our society, the injustices that continue to degrade millions of people and new forms of domination that are appearing, often disguised by being couched the language of greater freedom and prosperity. We should not allow the time we have been given to trickle away by allowing ourselves to be minimalistic in living our vocation.
Associated with the use of time is another aspect of the pandemic that has made apparent the weakness of human life. That is the fragility of the the foundations that we have built our lives on, the support structures that we depend on. Many of them can be swept away in the blink of an eye, reminiscent of Jesus’ parable of the person who built his house on sand rather than rock. During the past year, we have had to rely on inner resources that we have built up over the years. If those inner resources are shallow, under-developed or built on a false foundation, they will not be able to withstand the gales and torrents of rain. How do we strengthen our foundation in faith in Jesus Christ? The obvious answer is through prayer, but I was recently reminded of what Karl Bart said. Prayer without study would be empty. Study without prayer would be blind. Our prayer is essential but even when it is individually done, in needs to be informed by the experiences and thoughts of others. To give depth to our prayer life it is incumbent on us to continue to read – to read spiritual books, theology, hagiography or whatever can help us to think and reflect more deeply on God’s action in the world. It is prayer, guided by “study”, that will strengthen the bond of communion between ourselves and God.
The second pillar in ensuring that the foundations of our inner life are strong is to love. As priests, we face not only the usual difficulties of life but also the difficulties of working with people. At times we face hostility. As disciples of Jesus we can never treat people badly, even if they treat us badly, we have to learn to live together and to make allowances for differences of perspectives. St John of the Cross said, where there is no love, put love and you will find love. Love promotes love. The only way to elicit love where it is lacking is through love. There is always the temptation in priesthood to become selfish, set in our ways, and carving out for ourselves a kingdom. But our mission is to love: to love God, to love his Church, to love our priesthood and to love those who have been entrusted to our pastoral care, whether they are co-operative or whether they wounded us. Jesus is “the wounded healer” who heals those in pain us through his wounds. We, who share in the mission of Christ, must allow our own woundedness to be a source of healing for others. If we are, in the words of the Prophet Isaiah, to “bind up hearts that are broken”, we have to come to terms with our own brokenness, to own it, accept it, and allow it to transform us. The sense of weakness and brokenness can make us turn inwards in pain and self-pity, or it can find healing and wholeness when we turn to our fellow human beings who are in need to accompany them and show solidarity to them in their own pain, confusion and loss. Our sense of brokenness should spur us on to seek those things in life that continue to bind so many in the chains of injustice and oppression, which keep them in brokenness and degradation. Rather than deny or hide our weakness we embrace it as a source of grace. As St Paul says, That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.2
The third pillar for a strong priestly foundation is the support we need from our fellow-priests. In times of difficulty we may feel unsupported by our brothers. The question we should be asking is how much do we give support to our brother priests? It is similar to the famous statement of President John F. Kennedy, do not ask what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country, and the words of Jesus, the standard you use will be the standard used for you (cf. Luke 6:38).Building the bonds between priests is not an option, but belongs to the very nature of priesthood itself. We are not meant to be lone-wolves. As with any significant relationship, it is a responsibility that requires effort and sacrifice.
All in all, on this beautiful Feast Day, we can thanks joyfully and whole-heartedly for the gift of priesthood. It is one of the greatest gifts God can ever bestow on anyone. Together with the people we serve, we face the winds and storms that life brings – we cannot fail them and we cannot fail God. Our spiritual foundations have been shaken over the past months – they will be shaken and tested even more in the future. Through prayer, love and supporting each other, may we persevere and grow in our sense of vocation, serving God, using our time consciously and efficiently. Our vocation requires that we grow in greater sincerity, – avoiding creating a false image of ourselves, or by trying to be what we are not – but through simply and humble obedience to his will, serving him in the everyday events of life faithfully. So may the words of Isaiah find fulfilment in us.
+Stephen Brislin Archbishop of Cape Town
1 As quoted in Friends of God: Homilies by Josemaria Escrivá de Balaguer, no.9 2 2 Corinthians 12:10