Homily preached by The Most Reverend Malcolm McMahon OP, Archbishop of Liverpool, at the Mass of Chrism. 7.30 pm on Wednesday 13 April 2022 in the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, Liverpool.
As we gather this evening for the Chrism Mass it is as though we have come together for the first time. Recent times have been very difficult for every one of us as we have gone through the Covid pandemic, and we are now emerging into a new light - a light which will shine in the dark places of our lives - the light which will show that we are God's people. The prophet Isaiah tells us that we are priests of this new world, the Kingdom of God. And that means for every one of us a new way of living our Christian lives. To say that we are priests is not a glib expression at all. Every person who has been baptised into Christ and anointed with the Holy Spirit is a priest of the new people of God this is made clear to us by the prophet Isaiah in the reading we've had this evening. The people of God have found a new liberty and new freedom as they have returned from exile in Babylon and the prophet Isaiah is encouraging them in their new way of being. He is saying to them that they are a people of priests, that they are a new nation in a new way, that they are going to continue the old traditions but at the same time find something that is new in the way in which they express their fidelity to God. Isaiah says to the people who have returned from exile that ‘the Spirit of the Lord has been given to me for the Lord has anointed me’ but it's not just for me because he sent me to bring good news to every one of you, to proclaim liberty to the captives freedom to those in prison he goes on to say they will be named priests of the Lord. So, Israel became a priestly people and we inherit that tradition because we are the descendants of those people as the new people of God. Can we say that we are truly a priestly people? Yes of course we can because we are his new people, his new priestly nation, we are the people who will connect earth to heaven, we are the people who will bring a new way of being into the world because we are the ones who have been anointed by God’s Spirit. And looking forward rather than looking backwards the apocalypse also tells us much the same, it says that we are kings and priests to serve our God and Father and to him will be the glory and power. That is why we should be confident in understanding who we are. Exile or lockdown or confinement due to Covid had a deep effect on our identity we can feel that sometimes we don't really know who we are because one of the main aspects of being a human being is that we know who we are by our relationships with each other but what this Reading from Isaiah expresses for us is the knowledge that we are God's people, we have a new relationship with God and we are his new people and that as such we live in him and for him since we are anointed by the Holy Spirit.
One of the most exciting thing that has happened to our diocese during this period of its history has been the Synod. and we are like the people who have come out of exile. We are people who've returned to the land and things are not the same as they were before. Churches are not as full as they were, a lot of the parish activity has been much reduced because we have been distanced from each other but now the way forward is by being together on the road. Synodality and synod are new words for us that indicate to us a new way of being Christian they remind us of that deep sense of identity that comes from our relationship with each other and God. Synodality only works because we are we are anointed with the Holy Spirit. Walking on the road together accompanying each other companions on the way. The Second Vatican Council reminded every person in the Church that their mission was to make the world holy - to sanctify the place where they found themselves by their presence, whether it's the home or the office or the factory or whether it's in the social club or pub. Being holy you inevitably sanctify the world around you, that is both a gift and a challenge. Holiness is usually reserved for God, but God has chosen to share his Spirit with us and it's in that understanding of ourselves as en-spirited people that we can take up our new mission. The interesting thing about this word synodality is that it is not essentially about new structures in the Church, although inevitably there will be some to accommodate this new way of working, but what it is mostly is a new attitude a new way of being a Christian in the third Millennium. Another new word to help us understand this new way of being Christian is the word accompaniment - you can easily see that this is about sharing the bread it's from the same root as companion, but what I would suggest is that because we are people of the Holy Spirit who have been anointed with Chrism in our baptism and confirmation. When people accompany another whether that is a short engagement or perhaps a long one over a period what happens is that the spirit within both of us, the one spirit, unites us and enables us to discern new ways of being, new ways of supporting each other in new ways of living the life of a Christian. So being a nation of priests of the new covenant is not simply a title, an accolade or even an honour it is a challenge for us. The gift of the Holy Spirit which we received in our sacramental life challenges us to be holy ourselves and to make the world around us holy and bring us closer to other people who we will meet on the road.
What does holiness look like? Sometimes it takes a disaster for this to be clear to us and the invasion of the Ukraine is undoubtedly a tragedy and the disaster is not only for the people of the Ukraine themselves but also for the world in which we live. The way in which this archdiocese has come together to support the people of Ukraine with humanitarian aid through our friend Bishop Gregory Komar of Sambir–Drohobych but also through the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church here in England have shown that the Spirit of the Lord is alive within us. From all over the diocese people have given goods, money and their time in driving trucks to Poland and sorting the donations, to help our fellow Christians and human beings in the Ukraine. This amazing upsurge of energy within the people of the Archdiocese of Liverpool from one end of it to the other is undoubtedly a clear sign of the Holy Spirit. We are very blessed in this diocese because of our close connections with Father Taras, our Ukrainian Catholic priest, and Father Francis Marsden who taught in a seminary in the Ukraine and is in close contact people in the Ukraine.
Those of us who have been ordained to the sacred priesthood have a particular part in the mission of the church to bring the good news to the poor. We have the grace of sanctification which we received at our ordination. We have the sacred power to make things holy and that is why being the steward of these mysteries is such a heavy responsibility. It demands of us that we serve the people of God, this nation of priests, which is the Church, and we serve them through supporting them with the food of life and through reconciliation. As ordained priests of the diocese we should remember always that our duty is to serve. Quite often ordained priesthood is referred to as ministerial priesthood. The word ministerial really sums up who we are and what we do, we are ordained to serve. The pandemic has been difficult for us too - we have been through an awful time of isolation and separation from our people. We have been unable to bring them the sacraments when they were most needed. At times we have wondered about our own purpose and yet out of this dark situation new ways of communicating the gospel have developed. I want to thank all the priests here tonight and those who are not here for the great fidelity to their people and the love they showed. Who would have thought that we would have been able to have held our Synod online? Who would have thought that many thousands of people who couldn't get to church even during normal times could attend Mass remotely through online streaming? The Word of God was preached into people's hearts and even though their yearning for Holy Communion was not fully satisfied the fact that the Word of God penetrated deep into the into their beings meant that Christ was truly present to them. I want to thank the priests personally for their joy and faithfulness during these difficult days. The ways in which they served through delivering food parcels or cooking meals for people who were isolated, arranging for shopping or setting up streaming services. I can honestly say that I am very proud of our priests who without exception have gone the extra mile to serve their people.
The journey from exile continues because that is almost always it because that is what the Church is. The Church is always on the move. This exodus for us is the passage from darkness to light is a passage from sin to grace, it's a journey from captivity to freedom. Our journey continues as we head towards that time at the end of time when the joy of being together will not just be passing as it is tonight but will be the way we will exist for eternity in God.