27 April 2024 Homily of Bishop Alan McGuckian at Chrism Mass

Chrism Mass Homily 2024

The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor.

Jesus, the anointed one could as easily have said; he has sent me to BE good news to the poor.

Today I want to speak to you my brother priests about our call to ‘be good news’, which is simply another way of speaking about the call to holiness. Every one of us gathered here shares in the call to holiness, and in this Mass of Chrism I want us as  priests to reflect on the holiness that is central to our vocation.

When I set out on my journey towards the priesthood many years ago one of the scriptures that spoke most strongly to me was from the Letter to the Ephesians; ‘Before the world was made God chose us, chose us in him, to be holy and spotless and to live through love in his presence.’ Every single one of us was chosen by God before the world was made ‘to live through love in his presence’. I invite you my brothers to get in touch with the vision or the motivation that first drew your heart towards the service of God as a priest. This was the prompting of God calling you to be holy.

For a moment now, allow God to speak to you again just as he spoke once to Jeremiah the Prophet; ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you and before you were born I consecrated you.’ We need, all of us, to allow ourselves to be excited again by the awesome truth that the eternal God has a definite plan for each of our lives and that plan is that we should become holy.

What else would you really be looking for in a priest? Everyone wants a holy priest and our people need holy priests.

Pope Francis speaks so well about holiness in the exhortation Gaudete et Esxultate. He says that every one of us is called to be holy ‘each in his or her own way’. It will look different – unique – in the case of each of us. I must admit that over the years I have some times found myself inspired and encouraged by the lives of the Saints and at other times I have been completely overwhelmed. We Jesuits are meant to be particularly helped by the life of St Ignatius Loyola; when I have done the Spiritual Exercises I have recognised how wise and understanding he was about the strengths and weaknesses of different people and I’ve found that very helpful. Then at other times, St Ignatius comes across as a kind of spiritual Superman, who could drive himself to the utmost limits. The effect of that has been discouragement; ‘I’m never going to be like that so what’s the point in trying?’

Each one of us is unique and is called to walk our own path, always moving towards Jesus. Chiara Lubich, an Italian woman who founded the Focolare Movement, has a beautiful image of God’s relationship with us. God is like the sun and there are countless rays and each one of us has our own ray, coming out from God as He is constantly creating us; and moving towards God who will be our final fulfilment.

We are called to be Saints but the truth is that we are sinners and we will struggle with that all our lives.  In that regard Pope Francis says to us all:

When you feel the temptation to dwell on your own weakness, raise your eyes to Christ crucified and say: “Lord, I am a poor sinner, but you can work the miracle of making me a little bit better”. On Good Friday we will venerate the cross. It is the most powerful reminder that God has a plan to help make saints out of sinners like me and you.

Isn’t St Peter a fantastic example of this. He was headstrong, he could be stupid; he was a coward when it really mattered and disgraced himself in front of friend and foe alike. When he fixed his eyes on Jesus, poor old headstrong, stupid, cowardly Peter could do amazing things; he could walk on water. When he got frightened and took his eyes off Jesus he began to sink.

Holiness of course is not an individual pursuit. God works on us through our relationships. We are not saved on our own but as part of a people. Our brothers and sisters are given to us to help us know and love God. When we get serious about it we have to listen to Jesus when he says; ‘as long as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me’.

‘I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Holiness is practical. It pushes us and calls us out of ourselves. It is this communal dimension that helps us distinguish the real thing from pious platitudes. Holiness means welcoming the stranger and standing up for the weak and vulnerable even when it costs us. There is great power in holiness.

How do we access the power of holiness? It comes from the heart of Jesus. On the day of my announcement, I spoke of a great desire that all of us as priests would ‘Renew our hearts’.

As priests we need to emphasize again the love of the Heart of Jesus and help each other and help our people to grow in confidence in the personal love of Jesus for each one of us. This diocese needs priests who are close to Christ and to his people.

All of us, priests, religious, deacons and lay faithful, have an amazing call from God. St John Henry Newman puts it powerfully.


‘God has created me
To do Him some definite service.
He has committed some work to me
which He has not committed to another.
I have my mission.
I may never know what it is in this life.
But I shall be told in the next.
I am a link in a chain,
a bond of connection between persons.
He has not created me for nothing.
I shall do good, I shall do His work.
Therefore, I will trust Him.
Whatever, wherever I am, I cannot be thrown away.’

Wherever our priests find themselves; in parishes, schools, universities, hospitals and prisons, we entrust them to the heart of Jesus.

‘If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him.’

We entrust our sick and retired priests to the heart of Jesus.

If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him
He does nothing in vain, He knows
what He is about.

Oh Most Sacred Heart of Jesus I place all my trust in Thee.