March 27, 2013
Mass March 21, 2013 at St. Mary's Cathedral
Imagine we are in the synagogue in Nazareth. Jesus opens the book handed Him, and His eyes focus on the great prophecy at the beginning of chapter sixty-one in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. The hour is ripe for Him to speak openly. He reads: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me.”
The words—they concern the Messiah, God’s Anointed, on whom the Spirit of the Lord had fallen. Anointing—the permeating all of one’s being with the sanctifying power of the Spirit; it is that soaking, that “sealing” of a person by which the Lord makes him or her His servant and sets that person apart.
This Liturgy is about anointing, about our being set apart, our call to holiness—what this Year of Faith is all about. As you know, a major feature of the Chrism Mass is the blessing of the holy oils—the oil for anointing the sick, the oil for anointing the catechumens, and the sacred chrism.
I will bless the oil of the sick. Concerning the very first mission on which Jesus sent the disciples, St. Luke tells us: “He sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal” (9:2). Proclamation and healing go hand and hand. Healing is one of the fundamental tasks entrusted by Jesus to the Church, following His example as He traveled throughout the land healing the sick. The anointing of the sick is the visible sacramental expression of this mission to the sick and suffering.
Who among us has not stood or knelt by those who need the Lord’s healing—those who go to bed hungry at night, that is, if they have a bed; those who suffer persecution for their faith, yes, even here in our own nation, once held by all to be “under God”; those who suffer from mental or emotional disabilities; those who suffer from cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, diabetes, debilitating arthritis; those who suffer from loneliness, physical, emotional or sexual abuse; and the list goes on. May all those who are anointed with this holy oil in our parishes experience the peace and comfort that only Christ, the Anointed One, can bring.
Then I will bless the oil of catechumens. This oil indicates an initial way of being touched by Christ and by his Spirit—an inner touch, by which the Lord draws people close to himself. Through this anointing which takes place before the pouring of the Baptismal waters, we look to people who are journeying towards Christ—people who are searching for faith, searching for God.
I’m reminded of the title of that James Bond flick, “The World is Not Enough.” With St. Augustine, you and I know that the human person is restless because the world is too little, not enough for us. Today we must delve deeper into the question of restlessness. Have we perhaps become resigned to God’s seeming absence? Do we not, at times, think we are self-sufficient? For too many, there is no search at all because, for them, there is no God, no need for God. Salvation, heaven and hell are words and concepts of an alien language that are not spoken, much less thought about today.
Yes, the oil of catechumens reminds us of our responsibility to invite the unbaptized and non-believers, as well as to challenge ourselves to continue the journey towards God, longing for Him, always open to receive His grace, never giving in to the deceptive lie of self-sufficiency. What a wonderful opportunity we have before this Year of Faith, to once again, re-energize the search for an even closer relationship with Jesus Christ.
And, finally, I will consecrate chrism, a mixture of olive oil and sweet smelling balsam oil. It is the oil used for anointing the crown of the head of the newly baptized, the forehead of the newly confirmed, the hands of the just ordained priest and the head of the newly consecrated bishop. Baptism and Confirmation are an initiation into this priestly people of God that spans the world. This is an anointing that confers active ministry towards humankind. We must make the living God visible.
This baptismal mission poses a serious question, particularly in light of our efforts at the New Evangelization: do we open up the pathway, the door to God for others? Have not many of the people of God, become to a large extent, a people of practical unbelief and distant from Him? Are Catholics today tired of our faith, maybe even bored by its history and culture, and no longer wish to know and live faith in Jesus Christ? I don’t think so. I mean, I’ve been so encouraged by the significant numbers of the faithful this year who have been attending Lenten parish retreats in several areas of our diocese. I’m encouraged by the busloads of pilgrim youth from the North Country who join the March for Life. I’m encouraged by the increasing number of folks who are celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation, particularly through our The Light Is On initiative. I’m encouraged by the wonderful response of the faithful throughout the Diocese to our Year of Faith initiatives. And, I know, we are all very encouraged with the election of our new pope, Francis, whose humble heart and love for the poor helps us set straight who and what are really important in our Church. I’m encouraged by such large numbers here today, participating at this Chrism Mass.
I am particularly encouraged by the faithful ministry of our priests. Yes, there is a hunger, there is a search. But, in his book, Jesus of Nazareth, Benedict XVI cautions us that “across the centuries, it is the drowsiness of the disciples that opens up possibilities for the power of the Evil One. Such drowsiness deadens the soul.” What a remarkable example of humility, courage and faith when the Pope Emeritus determined that he did not possess the personal stamina or vigor to rouse this sleeping giant through the New Evangelization efforts of this 21st century. I’m confident that our spirits will be aroused, our search for the living God will bear much fruit.
As we reflect on these three ecclesial oils, we naturally move to those whose hands anoint our sisters and brothers—our faithful, holy priests. Brothers in the priestly ministry, I stand before you today with deep gratitude for your priestly ministry among us.
You have so faithfully administered the life-giving sacraments of the church, anointing God’s precious sons and daughters with these sacred oils. The Diocese of Ogdensburg is truly blessed with extraordinarily generous, hard-working, holy priests. As I have mentioned before, perhaps, for many of us, our once smooth hands anointed with sacred chrism on the day of our priestly ordination have become somewhat wrinkled and calloused. But, not our hearts or our souls! Our hands continue to bless, to absolve, to consecrate, and continue to anoint. Your priestly hearts continue to beat God’s tender love with courage and such pastoral charity and renewed zeal.
For all of our weaknesses and shortcomings, let us renew at this hour, at this very moment, our ‘yes’ to the Lord’s call to continue to be intimately and humbly united to Him as a beloved son and priest.
photo by Betty SteeleBishop LaValley prepares the oil of sacred chrism, a mixture of olive oil and balsam, before blessing the oil during the Chrism Mass. He is assisted by Tanner Richards, a fifth grader at Augustinian Academy in Carthage. Children from schools across the diocese participated in the special liturgy which also featured a renewal of commitment to priestly ministry by the many priests in attendance.