Chrism Mass Armidale 2021
We Are Christ’s Anointed Sent on Mission
“The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the Good News to the poor” says Isaiah prophetically. Some 700 years later Jesus enters the synagogue in Nazareth and repeats these words in reference to himself, declaring that the prophecy is now fulfilled. The anointed one is finally here! But a few years later the Christ - or anointed one – returned to the Father in Heaven. No sooner had the anointed one arrived than he seems to be gone! But the Spirit and the anointing continue in us who as Christians bear the name of Christ – the anointed one. Through the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders, we too receive the Holy Spirit and are anointed with Holy Chrism, just like the Chrism that will be consecrated at this Mass today.
In recent months I have been drawing the attention of the priests to something Pope Francis said in his first year as Pontiff in his first Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium - The Joy of the Gospel. He said: “I dream of a “missionary option”, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channelled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.” (Evangelii Gaudium 27).
You know, Pope Francis didn’t say these words just to the ordained priests of the Church. He said them to all of us, to every baptised and anointed member of the Church. So, lest you think I was talking only to the priests, I’ll say them again for you: I dream of a missionary option, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that everything we do can be suitably channelled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for our own self-preservation.
I find these words more striking now than I did when I first read them nearly eight years ago, because I now see just how seriously the Pope meant what he said. For eight years now he has been encouraging us and challenging us with his words, and leading us by his example to “go forth”: to get up off our couches; to put on our working boots; to move out of and beyond ourselves; to go to people on the margins; to heal their wounds; to accompany them; and to share with them the joy of the Gospel. (And these are his words, not mine.)
A lot has happened in recent years to increase the temptation and the pressure to choose the option of “self-preservation” in our Church communities: A steady decline in Mass attendance now for two generations; the shameful abuse crisis; the challenging effects of the COVID 19 lockdown; increasing administrative demands, and a subtle yet real hostility from some sections of our contemporary society and culture. It is indeed tempting in these circumstances to ‘batten down the hatches’ or ‘circle the wagons’, as they say, and focus our efforts on survival so that at least we might live to ‘fight another day’, or rather ‘go forth another day’. Yes, it is indeed tempting, but like all temptation it is illusory and trickery. It presents to us something that is worthless or evil as if it were something attractive and good.
The last thing that Jesus said to his Church, was “Go!”, “Go and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19). The Church, and every baptised member of her, is missionary by nature: we are sent out on a mission by Jesus Christ to bring the Good News to the poor; to comfort all those who mourn; to set the downtrodden free. In a word, to bring them Jesus Christ. A Church, and indeed a Christian, who focuses solely on self-preservation is in managed decline and heading for ruin.
Pope Francis’ dream of a missionary Church echoes the challenge that Saint Pope John Paul II had already extended to the whole Church in 2001 when he said in Novo Millennio Ineunte (NMI) – At the Beginning of the New Millennium: “Duc in altum! Put out into the deep!” (NMI 1) Evoking Jesus’ command to Simon Peter to leave the safety of the shallow water and venture in his boat out into the deep water and let down his nets for a catch, John Paul was imploring us – the Church of the early third Christian millennium - to overcome our fears and anxieties, to leave the safety of our churches, our sacristies, our offices, our living rooms, and venture out into the world with Jesus Christ in our hearts, on our lips, and our hands.
And just as Pope Francis seems to be evoking Saint John Paul, John Paul in his turn was evoking the Second Vatican Council which in many places highlighted the missionary nature of the Church, the universal call to holiness for every baptised Christian, and the Holy Spirit allotting to every member of the faithful particular gifts for the renewal of the Church and her mission in the world. (For example, Lumen Gentium 12, 32, 35, 39)
In fact, in Novo Millennio Ineunte Saint John Paul said: “I thought of (the Jubilee Year 2000) as a providential opportunity during which the Church, thirty-five years after the Second Vatican Council, would examine how far she had renewed herself in order to be able to take up her evangelizing mission with fresh enthusiasm.” (NMI 2) As we come together today – bishop, presbyterate, deacon, religious, and lay faithful – may it be a providential opportunity for us as the local Church of the Diocese of Armidale and for each of us individually to examine whether and how far we have renewed ourselves in order to take up our mission with fresh enthusiasm.
And so I conclude with a question. On a personal level we each might ask: Are my prayer, my sacramental life, and my works of mercy focussed exclusively on preserving my own faith and personal salvation (which of course is important) or are they also focussed on becoming the missionary disciple whom Jesus has called me to be and for which he has anointed me? And as a parish we might ask ourselves: Are our efforts as a parish focussed exclusively inward on preserving ourselves as a community faithful to Christ (which of course is important) or are they also focussed outward, suitably channelled for the evangelization of today’s world so much in need of meaning, fulfilment, and truth; in a word, a world hungry for Jesus Christ?