A few weeks ago, I sat down one evening with my sister to watch a DVD. The movie is called Wit and it stars Emma Thompson.
It is the story of a Professor of English,
who discovers her own vulnerability when she has to undergo chemotherapy
for ovarian cancer.
The treatment of cancer seems to have improved a
lot in recent years and some of you here can probably bear witness to
that. But you will also know how scary it is to get the diagnosis and
how easy it is to feel isolated.
Professor Vivian Bearing (played by Emma Thompson) becomes a patient.
Who she is in herself and what she has done in her life is not really
that important to the consultant treating her. He doesn’t hold out much
hope for her, because her condition is too advanced, but for that very
reason, he expects to learn a lot by trying out a new intensive
treatment. Her cancer will benefit his research.
This morning we have heard the good news that new state-of-the-art
drugs are to be made available to people who have cystic fibrosis. This
is great and, of course, it would not be possible without biomedical
research. Pharmaceutical research and the development of new
technologies bring many possibilities with them for which we can be
truly grateful. At the same time, we have to make sure that the focus is
on the care of the person who is sick as a whole person; not just a
body that has to be fixed.
We welcome this evening all who care for the sick at home and in
hospital. Our hospitals and nursing homes are not easy places to work.
The systems and the technology which are designed to improve the chances
of recovery also have the potential to become a barrier between those
who are sick and those who are tasked with caring for them. Like
parents, these days, doctors and nurses seem to have more to do and less
time to do it. Yet we depend on you to make sure that the holistic care
of people remains central to our healthcare institutions.
In the movie, Wit, we meet nurse Susie, who represents
everything that is good about healthcare. In the final days of Professor
Bearing, Susie is the one who finds time to listen and there is one
very beautiful scene where she draws the curtains, turns her back on the
busy hospital, and anoints the hands of her patient with moisturising
cream. It is a simple gesture and it is not just about the cream. It is a
reminder that, in the midst of all the treatment, people need
tenderness. They need the healing that comes from the touch of another
human being, who sees them as more than just a body in need of repair.
In the Gospel of Saint Luke, we read the story of the Good Samaritan
who brings the wounded traveller to a place of safety and pours oil on
his wounds. It is the same kind of symbolic gesture. Healing is part of
the ministry of Jesus and it is has also been part of the mission of the
Church. Here in this diocese, we can be particularly grateful for the
generous commitment of religious sisters, such as the Sisters of Mercy,
the Nazareth Sisters and the Daughters of Wisdom, who have given
particular witness to the healing presence of Jesus down through the
Today, the sisters are greatly reduced in numbers, but the Church
continues to be active in healthcare through the dedicated service of
so many Catholic lay people. It is no harm for us to remember this
evening that, when you were baptised, you were anointed with Chrism, the
oil which symbolises being entrusted with a mission. This is not an
empty gesture; it is a sign that, in each one of you, Jesus the healer
In the Sacrament of Anointing, in a gesture very much like that of
nurse Susie or the Good Samaritan, the Church celebrates the healing
presence of Jesus through the ministry of the priest. This is not an
empty gesture either. It is rooted in our faith that Jesus is alive and
that he still cares for the sick, as he did during his earthly ministry.
This evening we bless the Holy Oils which will be used in the
celebration of the Sacraments throughout our diocese during the coming
year. They will be used at Baptism and Confirmation, for Ordination and
for the Anointing of the Sick. The French have parties to celebrate the
new wine. As a community of faith we gather in a spirit of thanksgiving,
to celebrate the new oil.
Central to that Sacramental Ministry in which Jesus is made present
in the life of the Church are the priests whose ministry is conferred by
the laying on of hands, and whose mission is symbolised by the
anointing of their hands with the oil of Chrism. It is traditional that
at the Mass of Chrism the priests renew the promises of their ordination
and, in a few moments time I will invite all of the priests here
present to do that.
I would like to take this opportunity however, to reflect briefly on
the nature of that commitment. At the time of his ordination a priest is
incardinated into a diocese.
Incardination is a word that literally
means “hinged on”. This is reflected in the promise of obedience that a
priest makes to his bishop. In our modern culture, there is a certain
negativity about obedience and it is certainly unhelpful if we think
about it as a control mechanism. Obedience is really about letting go of
my need to always have things my own way. It is about the gift of
myself in the service of others. Obedience to the bishop is not about
the bishop, it is about sharing with the bishop in the mission of caring
for God’s people.
As a bishop, I must say I sometimes feel a bit sad that the nature of
my own work is less directly connected with the pastoral care of
people, but I take some comfort from the possibility of being able to
support and encourage you the priests, who are so generous in your
commitment to the communities in which you serve. I want to express to
you, both on my own behalf, but more importantly, on behalf of the
people of the diocese a deep appreciation for the warmth and generosity
that you bring to your ministry, especially at this time, when the life
of the Church is undergoing such significant change.
A particular word
of thanks to those priests who have come to us on loan from missionary
societies and from other dioceses overseas. In order to be with us and
to share in the mission of our diocese, you have taken time away from
the diocese or missionary society to which you belong, through the
promises of your ordination. We are very grateful to you for that act of
I want to welcome the deacons of the diocese here this evening. While
it is not the tradition that deacons publicly renew the promises of
their ordination at the Chrism Mass, it is certainly true that their
ministry flows very directly from the events of Holy Week, and is
especially associated with the symbolic washing of feet, which we will
celebrate at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper tomorrow evening.
Finally, speaking of solidarity, I am very conscious that no diocese
stands alone. Every diocese is part of the Universal Church. It is
appropriate this evening that, as a diocese we would join in solidarity
with the Christian communities who are being persecuted for their faith
in various part of the world, and particularly with the Coptic
Christians who, in a particular way, during these days, share in the
cross of Jesus Christ.
May they also experience the joy of His