In his Chrism Mass homily for 2016 Bishop Seamus Freeman, Bishop of Ossory focused on the vocation of priests and the message of mercy. Speaking in Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Kilkenny on Wednesday evening Bishop Freeman said: “Priesthood is a call and a gift. A call to serve the people of God and a gift that the almighty Father has bestowed on each one of us, priests of our diocese – anointed on the day of our ordination with the Oil of Gladness – let us give thanks and rejoice.
“The priest is the person of Christ. The Alter Christi – another Christ. We are called to put on Christ, to serve, to heal, to nourish, to forgive, to bless, as Jesus would, in His name. In the name of all the lay faithful and religious men and women of the diocese, I thank you, the priests of Ossory for your faithful service. I also thank you for your collaboration on the many Diocesan Committees and various other ministries of consultation in our diocese.
“It’s not the easiest time to be a priest, but it’s not the worst of times. Being a priest can be challenging – but nothing that’s worthwhile in life comes easy – quite often life can be a challenge and a challenge can teach us something too. Each one of us gathered here this evening in this Cathedral, have our own personal struggles in life – our own personal challenges – nothing in life that is of such goodness comes easy. A life of service requires on-going dedication, commitment, perseverance and renewal. However we must place our trust in the Lord and allow his love urge us on. “For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all;” Cor. 5:14
“As priests we give thanks to the Lord for our calling. It’s always a tremendous joy when we are able to help others in need, in pain, in difficulty, those who are suffering. As priests we must always make ourselves available to the people we are called to serve. That’s a quality that people in parishes very much appreciate. We must make ourselves available. We give thanks to God for the good we have achieved in our ministry and with His help, we thank him for the good we will continue to do, for His people, to whom we are called to serve.
“This evening we gather to hear the call to holiness, to be renewed, to re-commit ourselves to the life and duties of our priestly life and ministry. It is also an opportunity for the faithful gathered here this evening to pray for our priests. We are most grateful for your presence and for your prayers. Let us continue to pray for one another.”
Also, let each of us dedicate some time to praying for vocations to the priesthood in our diocese. Last year was a significant year in Ossory, with the Ordination of our new priest, Father Brian Griffin. I welcome Father Brian who joins with us, the priests of our diocese, to concelebrate his first Mass of Chrism. Father Brian’s Ordination was the first in fourteen years in Ossory. The lack of vocations to priesthood in our diocese has reached crisis point with the average age of the priest 67 years. As Bishop of our diocese this concerns me greatly. We pray for vocations to priesthood and to religious life and we ask the good Lord to send labourers into His Vineyard, that is, the Diocese of Ossory.
Bishop Freeman went on to highlight the Year of Mercy in the Catholic Church saying: “2016 is a significant year for the Catholic Church throughout the world as we celebrate the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. Pope Francis elaborates the theological understanding of God’s mercy, explaining the role of mercy in the life of people and of the Church, who are both the beneficiaries and the witnesses to God’s mercy in the world.
“The Holy Father asked each bishop all over the world to include a Holy Door of Mercy in the Cathedral in the diocese in which he serves. On 13t December 2015, we inaugurated the Jubilee Year of Mercy in our diocese, with the opening of the Holy Door here in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, dedicated to Mary the Mother of Mercy. My prayer is that all who enters through this Holy Door during this Year of Mercy, will rediscover the infinite MERCY of the Father, who welcomes each of us and goes out personally to encounter each one of us. Pilgrims pass through the Door as a gesture of leaving the past behind and crossing the threshold from sin to grace and from darkness to light. ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2. Cor. 4.6). However, the door finds meaning only when the believer associates the door with Christ. Jesus is the door.
“Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life, the Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love. The motto chosen by the Holy Father for this Year of Mercy is “Be Merciful like the Father.” Wherever the priest is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident. Priests, called by the almighty Father, to serve the people of God, must do so, by showing merciful and compassionate love.”
Bishop Freeman concluded by making an appeal about the Sacrament of Reconciliation: “Pope Francis, in his Apostolic Exhortation, Misericordiae Vultus, asks us to rediscover for ourselves and to help others to rediscover the beauty of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In recent times for a variety of reasons, this Sacrament has passed through something of a crisis. On the other hand, I cannot fail to acknowledge the positive signs which, in this Jubilee Year of Mercy especially, have shown that this Sacrament, when suitably presented and celebrated, can have a broad appeal, even among the young.
“Its appeal is enhanced by the need for personal contact, something that is becoming increasingly scarce in the hectic pace of today’s secular society, but which for this very reason is increasingly experienced as a vital need. Certainly, this need can be met in various ways. But how can we, as priests, fail to recognise that the Sacrament of Reconciliation offers an extraordinarily rich response to this need.
“It does so by bringing the penitent into contact with the merciful heart of God through the friendly face of a priest. Great indeed is the wisdom of God, who by instituting this Sacrament has made provision for a profound and unremitting need of the human heart. We priests are meant to be loving and enlightened interpreters of this wisdom through the personal contact we are called to have with so many brothers and sisters in the celebration of Penance. With joy and trust let us rediscover this Sacrament. Let us experience it above all for ourselves, as a deeply-felt need and as a grace which we constantly look for, in order to restore vigour and enthusiasm to our journey of holiness and to our ministry. At the same time, let us make every effort to be authentic ministers of mercy. We know that in this Sacrament, as in others, we are called to be agents of a grace which comes not from us but from on high and works by its own inner power.”
Dear lay faithful, Pope Francis recommends you to be close to your priests with affection and with your prayers, that they may always be shepherds according to God’s heart. It is important also for us to bear in mind, that all of us, in virtue of our Baptism, are called to be apostles of Mercy and Compassion, called by the Lord to be sent to preach the Gospel good news, and to have power over evil (cf. Mk. 3:13-15). The love of God is described by other words in the Bible, namely Mercy and Compassion. The biblical references of the words mercy and compassion are to be found in the Bible at least 350 times. So, they are very significant words of evangelization.