A sign of life and salvation
Bishop's homily from the Chrism Mass April 14, 2011
As you know, we call this annual worship event of the Church the Chrism Mass. You have noticed that our first reading from the Prophet Isaiah, as well as our Gospel from Luke, speak about an anointing of oil. Soon I will bless the oil of catechumens and the oil of the sick and then I will consecrate the sacred chrism. All of these blessed oils will then be given to our pastors to bring back to their local parishes to be used in the celebration of the sacraments.
As we prepare to enter this most holiest of weeks, let us resolve to set no limits to the transformation the Lord seeks to influence in our lives. As we hear Jesus beckon each one of us, His anointed, “Follow Me,” we respond: “I’m ready Lord.” We seek to grasp the height, breadth, and depth of our vocation and embrace the process of our transformation in Christ in living it out to the fullest. May God be praised…forever may God be praised!
As I introduce the consecratory prayer of the chrism, you will hear me say: Let us pray that all who are anointed with it may be inwardly transformed. Isn’t that what we all yearn for—inner transformation?
The Chrism is a sign that every Christian shares in Christ’s kingly and prophetic priesthood. Chrism is used to anoint the newly baptized and to trace the sign of Christ on those to be confirmed. The newly ordained priest kneels before his bishop who anoints his hands with sacred chrism symbolizing the priest’s distinctive participation in Christ’s priesthood. As was Aaron, the high priest, the head of a newly ordained bishop is anointed with chrism by the ordaining prelate.
The anointing of chrism is a sign of our common priesthood. It serves as a reminder of the commitment made to Christ in baptism that we would open ourselves—ever ready—to be transformed into His likeness and love as we live out our particular vocation. The name “Christ” means the “anointed” One. So, by its very definition, to be a Christian is to be anointed, a sharer in Christ’s priesthood. Clergy and laity together make up the one priestly people. In virtue of their ministry, priests live in the midst of the lay faithful that they may, through Christ’s Spirit, lead and be catalysts for personal transformation. For the lay person, the priest, deacon, sister, brother, bishop—faith is all about inward transformation, allowing God to have His way with us—surrender to His will, His love.
You see, it is important to understand that the Christian faith is not just an immense packet of things to learn. It seems to me that if our message remains abstract and difficult to understand, people will not spend the time needed to reflect, to prepare the soil for the Lord’s grace to enter their lives, especially given our short attention span today. We need to translate complicated theological concepts into terms that will attract and keep a person’s attention. Ultimately it is simple: God is love. God revealed Himself in Jesus Christ. Conversion to God, faith in Jesus Christ, means readiness to receive God’s transforming grace.
But, there is so much that distracts us from openness to transformation in Christ. For instance, we might possess a well-intentioned work regimen, but we can forget our own soul, our own spiritual life, our own intimacy with Christ in the midst of tending to what needs to be done.
Certainly, my brother priests, we want to be servants of Jesus for the Gospel of God. It is imminently important that our passion not fizzle out, our joy of being called by the Lord, not wane. But loss of enthusiasm can easily creep into our lives, especially if life becomes comfortable and routine, and we figure that the world always seemingly stays the same anyway, no matter what we do. Then we might feel that ministry has become burdensome, not rewarding. To counter such a flagging spirit and energy zapper, we return even more faithfully to the Word of God, to prayer, to communion with Christ in the Sacraments. Such intimacy with Christ allows Him to renew our spiritual youth, helping us to re-capture our zeal.
My friends, we all need to sharpen our sense for the supernatural and reawaken the deep longing which exists in every human heart for what is above. It’s not enough to keep things the way they are. That’s not transformation. That’s lethargy. That’s a broken spirit. That’s not of God. There is a tremendous need for evangelization. No growth means death. My sisters and brothers, a vibrant Church has something to say to today’s culture.
We need to look beyond our own comfortable niche and pay attention to the greater community, a missionary charge that is less individual and more conscious of walking the journey of faith with others, bringing together our personal and parish energies, not just closing in on ourselves. This is particularly important as our diocesan planning further impacts our pastoral ministry. We are not entities unto ourselves, but pilgrims, fellow companions. We are linked by our baptism, our common priesthood. We are members of 1 Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, one, anointed family of faith.
For too many, the next life is off the radar screen. The world wants to exclude anything that transcends the world. Heaven is empty, not worthy of reflection by the serious person. There is no common journey to anywhere. We worry only about what is here and now. Our world wants to forget about death, the supernatural is disappearing.
Given this current reality, our Holy Father recently wrote: “What is most helpful to the church in these troubled times is a frank and complete acknowledgment of the weaknesses and the sinfulness of her ministers, but also a joyful and renewed realization of the greatness of God’s gift, embodied in the splendid example of generous pastors.” My sisters and brothers, let there be no doubt, the Church of Ogdensburg is truly blessed with extraordinarily generous, hard-working, holy priests. Perhaps, for many of our priests, their once smooth hands anointed with chrism on the day of their priestly ordination have become somewhat wrinkled and calloused. But, they continue to bless, to absolve and to consecrate, in addition to the shoveling, mowing, cooking, cleaning and all the other daily chores common to us all. These men’s tender priestly hearts continue to witness God’s love in their pastoral charity.
This day in which the Church of Ogdensburg gathers to witness my brother priests renew their commitment to priestly ministry, I wish to thank them for their selfless giving. These men who love God and seek holiness and inner transformation inspire all of us in our quest to follow Jesus.
Their priestly witness and the sacrifice of their lives have contributed greatly to more young men generously responding to the Lord’s call to the priesthood. I am hopeful, that we will see a nice increase in the number of men entering the seminary this fall, seeking to join this presbyterate that enjoys such a wonderful reputation well beyond the borders of the Diocese of Ogdensburg. We continue to pray that more young men and women will open their hearts to the Lord’s transformative grace and consider a life vocation in the Church. We will soon hear in the Consecratory prayer: Aaron’s anointing foreshadowed greater things to come. Make this chrism a sign of life and salvation. Yes, the anointings point to the future with hope because of what Christ has done for us, culminating in the events the Church will celebrate in our liturgies these next few days.