During Lent I’ve been reading two fine books, English Catholic Heroes and English Catholic Heroines: 40 brief biographies of outstanding laity, priests and religious, from St. Aidan, Richard Challoner, Leonard Cheshire to Lady Margaret Beaufort, St. Anne Line, Caryll Houselander. What unites these different people from different eras is their impressive holiness: the gift of deep faith, a personal-passionate love for Jesus, a real determination to put Catholicism into practice, however countercultural, with bravery, even martyrdom. Meanwhile, we’ve begun updating our Diocesan Liturgy Supplement. Our Diocese of Portsmouth is itself blessed with numerous saints, holy women and men, holy bishops, abbesses, martyrs, not to forget the great St. Edmund himself, nor the many un-canonised saints from our schools and parishes. You and I today, we are heirs to a glorious Tradition, one we need to be much more in touch with, if we’re effectively to respond to the new evangelisation. But more on this in a moment.
For first, I thank you for being here today. The Chrism Mass manifests the communion of the Church in Portsmouth, bishop, clergy, faithful. But as ever at the centre of the Mass is not ourselves but Jesus Christ, Who, by the power of the Holy Spirit, offers Himself to the Father, uniting us with His self-sacrifice. It’s always a shocking error to think of the Liturgy as about ourselves rather than Him. It’s a serious error too when our faith becomes focused on the Church rather than on Christ: ecclesio-centric rather than Christo-centric. Even worse is to view our parishes and schools as ends in themselves, self-referential communities, rather than chaplaincies that exist to serve those around. When this happens, parishioners lose their bearings; they turn into demanding consumers, while priests, exhausted trying to please everyone, end up grooming one needy sheep, while the 99 others are lost, some on the cliffs. Don’t get me wrong! As the diocesan plan Go Out and Bear Fruit rightly puts it, communion and mission always go together. But we deepen our communion by engaging in mission.
So in this Chrism Mass, we honour Christos, the Anointed One, Jesus Christ filled with the Holy Spirit. We bless the holy oils: the Oil of the Catechumens for Baptism, the Oil of the Sick for Anointing and the Sacred Chrism for Confirmation and Ordination. These holy oils make Christ present and confer the Holy Spirit. But as we honour the Christ, we also renew our commitment to be ourselves Christoi, other Christs, missionary-disciples sent to bring good news to the poor, to bind up hearts that are broken, to proclaim liberty to captives. In baptism we’ve all been anointed in Him priests, prophets and shepherds. Yet today above all we pray for our priests. The other day I noticed one of our recently ordained priests, smiling, full of enthusiasm, helpful, up for anything: then I looked at myself in the mirror, 30 years on, and wondered what’s gone wrong! As a priest, it’s crucial every day to do Eucharistic Adoration to reconnect with the original call from Jesus to be a priest and the joy of ordination. Priests get busy, a bit bashed and dented, weary affront a tsunami of initiatives, corroded by wear and tear, the paint peeling. So pray for them. Pray for them as they renew their self-gift. Pray they’ll never lose sight of their first Love, the Lord.
One last thing. Recently, our Social Research Unit has been engaged in a mapping exercise that shews statistics for every parish, pastoral area and deanery, with social and ethnic data, plus indices of poverty and deprivation for the communities they serve. What a huge mission we have in our Diocese of Portsmouth: 3.1M people, served by 250K Catholics, 76 schools, 43 religious communities and 130 priests and deacons. Yet numbers can never be as critical as authenticity, clarity of witness, the love we shew, orthodoxy and orthopraxis. This is what the Year of Mercy is all about: putting God’s mercy into action in corporal and spiritual works. It’s about holiness. In this we have so much to thank God for! Thank God today for all our inspirational priests and deacons. Thank God today for our seminarians, for our new students, for Ross and Mark to be ordained priests this year. Thank God today for our married couples, for our consecrated women and men, for the young about to be confirmed. Thank God today for all our amazing laypeople. May the Holy Spirit, through Called and Gifted, through our Evangelisation Strategy Teams and the Framework for Collaboration, through the Academies Program and through everything we do in our parishes, schools and families, transform our Diocese with holiness.
Jesus Christ loves us; he has washed away our sins in His blood. He has made us a line of kings [and] priests. In this Mass, let us turn to Jesus, Whose Heart is the Fountain of Life and Holiness. Let us ask Him, through Mary Immaculate, St. Edmund and our patron saints, to fill us with the Holy Spirit. May we become holy. May we become heroes and heroines. May we have the grace to live out our baptism at home, at work, at play. Indeed, may the Church in this magnificent Diocese, so full of life and potential, be a sign of Christian holiness reaching out corporally and spiritually to everyone around, especially the neediest.