BISHOP BRIAN’S HOMILY FOR THE CHRISM MASS 2023
The Holy Spirit radiates from tonight’s Chrism Mass readings. This is hardly surprising for the Gospels show that, from the Annunciation, the Holy Spirit is integral to the life and ministry of Jesus. Similarly, the Acts of the Apostles and St Paul’s letters testify to the guidance the Spirit gave to both individual disciples as well as to the Church.
Led by the Spirit is our diocesan discernment process. The title is deliberate. Tonight we will invoke the Holy Spirit to bless our Oils which will we use when celebrating the Sacraments. That same Spirit continues to bestow every gift we need to share in Christ’s ministry. At our baptism we all became Temples of the Spirit and every disciple and Christian community should therefore be humbly open to the Holy Spirit. In Led by the Spirit I am asking our diocese to go much deeper than mere restructuring, for we are missionaries of Jesus. I boldly ask that together we have the courage to seek the divine will.
Where is the Holy Spirit guiding us today? This is a question I have been praying about for some time. Recently I have had three privileged experiences of the Church: over winter our Parish Open Meetings and during February participating in the European Assembly for the Synod in Prague as well as a SCIAF trip to Ethiopia.
The synodal process initiated by Pope Francis will last several years and the European Assembly was one stage of it. Bishops, priests, religious and laity gathered from every country to reflect on the Church within Europe. Nothing like this had ever happened in Europe before and I felt blessed to be there. I was fascinated by the reports and discussions. Of course, there were the tensions; frustrations at the Church and painful experiences were expressed but my abiding impression was being in a room with 200 people from every country in Europe where the overwhelming sentiment was love of Christ and love of his Church. In a more modest but no less important setting, I am delighted that during our own recent parish meetings, regardless of how many people were present or the matters discussed, it was clear that everyone, clergy and laity, loved Christ and the Church. We may live in challenging times but the Spirit is moving!
Prague reinforced my belief that synodality is the way forward for the Church. All our discussions took place within an environment of prayer and reflection, with a particular emphasis on Scripture and the Eucharist. We were not there on our own initiative. No, Pope Francis had summoned us as he has done similarly for the world’s other six continents. I returned to our diocese encouraged that our own Led by the Spirit, where we aim to discern together God’s Will for Argyll and the Isles, encapsulates the Successor of Peter’s vision for the Universal Church. I don’t claim that all the details are identical, not at all, but the concept and intentions are.
I have thought much about discernment, its necessity but also potential difficulties. It is my opinion that communal discernment - searching together for God’s Will - must be first built upon the regular practice of personal discernment. If I am not discerning God’s presence in my own life, then I cannot be attuned to the Lord’s ways which will, in turn, hinder effective communal discernment.
So, is God inviting our diocese to promote discerning prayer? We are not starting at Ground Zero. The fact that our clergy are faithfully living their vocations, that you are here tonight but that you also long for your children and grandchildren to know Christ means that you have already discerned God’s love and you desire to respond to it. This is good, but I ask, do we still need to give a greater significance to discernment? Yes! We priests and deacons must be men who daily look for the Spirit’s movements in our own lives and in the world around. We must also participate in regular Spiritual Direction. I also ask, how can our lay faithful be supported in the art of discerning God’s Will?
During my SCIAF trip to Ethiopia, I saw first-hand how war and climate change has inflicted terrible suffering, especially on the poor. I again saw the beauty of the Church. Tonight’s Readings reveal a Messiah who has a special care for the vulnerable, bringing them hope and healing. Christ declared that he was fulfilling this text. In every generation Jesus continues his ministry of mercy through his disciples. We are all missionaries of mercy.
For Isaiah disciples are ministers of God called to build a just society which would, in turn, become a beacon for the whole world. I have already alluded to the extreme poverty of many Ethiopians but I was amazed that, despite being so small (less than 2% of the population) how much care and development is provided by the Church across that entire country. This gave me fresh reason for confidence. We are only too aware of how small numbers are in most of our parishes and we can be forgiven for sometimes wondering what impact we can realistically have and, yet, throughout Argyll and the Isles so much good is already being carried out by faithful disciples.
Tonight I thank you, our priests and deacons, and you our lay faithful who, day in and day out, bring the love of Christ into the lives of others. God alone knows the good that you quietly carry out in his name.
However, God is always calling us to deeper conversion. When blessed, the Oils will remind us of our baptism when we were consecrated as priests to serve God (c.f. Second Reading). Our vocation is not to do our own will but God’s and we can only know God’s Will through listening. Therefore, we must continuously ask the Lord: who are the marginalised within our parishes, families, presbyterate and communities? Who is left behind? What can we do? What must I do?
Yes, recently I have been blessed to witness within Argyll and the Isles, across Europe and in Africa a profound yearning to seek God’s Will; a deep love for the Church and for the poor; and that, with God’s grace, small numbers can do great things.
Of course, I am well aware of our Church’s failings and the hurt we have at time caused. But I am also aware of the Church’s beauty as the Body of Christ.
I rejoice that across our diocese there are many, many examples of disciples cooperating with the Holy Spirit. We continue to be an instrument of Christ’s grace for countless people. Let us rejoice and give thanks for that. But let us not be content with it either. Let us have the humility, courage and love to allow ourselves to be increasingly Led by the Spirit.
St Columba's Cathedral, Oban, 29 March 2023