Tuesday, April 4, I was privileged to celebrate the Chrism Mass in the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul. The cathedral was packed, standing room only. There were almost 130 priests present, more than in many a year. Among those gathered was Archabbot Justin Duvall of the St. Meinrad’s Archabbey, permanent deacons, PLCs, religious, seminarians, and lay folk from all over the archdiocese. The music was superb, our singing accompanied and encouraged by a choir made up of singers from all over the archdiocese. I offer for those who desire a text copy of my homily.
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Chrism Mass Homily – April 3, 2012
This afternoon we gather in this cathedral to bless and consecrate the holy oils of the Church. From this altar and from this chair, the oil of catechumen, the oil of the sick, and the oil of Chrism will be carried out to the parishes of the archdiocese to be used in the holy rites of the Church. The chair of the archbishop is empty now, but the unity of faith and worship that it symbolizes still remains. We continue to pray for the health and well-being of our archbishop emeritus Daniel Buechlein and we offer thanks for his more than nineteen years of service to our archdiocese. We also pray for our Holy Father, Pope Benedict as he continues to discern who will be named our next archbishop. This “cathedra,” this chair reminds of that unity we share with the Chair of St. Peter, the earthly “rock” on which our heavenly faith is grounded. Each of us shares in that unity by virtue of our baptism, the sacramental moment when we were called to the Body of Christ, made visible and real in the Catholic Church. We continue to maintain that unity with Christ in His Church by our fidelity to the Church’s doctrine and life and our sharing in the sacraments of the Church.
Most of us, I’m sure, were baptized as infants and have no memory of that moment but many of us have had the joy of participating in the baptism of others, children and adults. I know I’ve mentioned this at other times in my preaching but I love the moment in the Rite of Infant Baptism just after the child has been baptized when the priest or deacon anoints the child’s head with the Chrism and says,
God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has freed you from sin, given you a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and welcomed you into his holy people. He now anoints you with the chrism of salvation. As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life.
It is such an intimate and gentle moment, to caress and anoint the child’s head with the softness and sweet fragrance of the chrism. Within the rite of infant baptism, it seems to fit. It comes across as a very natural and soothing action. There have been so many times that I have anointed the head of a fussy child who is still voicing her outrage over having water poured all over her head, and suddenly, the anointing seems to calm the child down. It’s almost as if the child is hearing, “there, there it’s okay – calm down – shhh.” The more intimate, natural sense of this moment though could easily lead us to miss the deeper theological import of what is happening. This act of anointing serves many things. It is a precursor to the sacrament of Confirmation that the child will hopefully receive later in life. It is an act of strengthening in the power of the Holy Spirit, strengthened with the sap and life of the tree. It is an act of missioning, an act in which the child is called forth from the Christian community, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people God’s own” as one who now shares in the actions of Christ as Priest, Prophet, and King and the mission of the Church.
To be anointed with Chrism is to be called forth by the Church for a particular use and mission, empowered and strengthened by the Holy Spirit. We heard this quite clearly in both readings from Isaiah and from the Gospel of Luke: empowerment – “The spirit of the Lord is upon me for the Lord has anointed me” and mission – “to bring good news to the poor, liberty to captives, sight to the blind, freedom to those oppressed, to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” In the gospel, Jesus has named himself the “anointed one,” the “Christ.” From this point early on in Luke’s gospel, Jesus moves forward, empowered by the Spirit, proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is at hand. Jesus, missioned by God the Father begins his public work – teaching, healing, feeding – eventually turning his face towards Jerusalem where his death on the Cross will bring about the reconciliation of God and man
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me for the Lord has anointed me.” As it was for Jesus, so it is for us. The act of anointing calls us forth in power to serve the Church’s salvific mission. In the Church, the believer is anointed with the chrism and is named a “Christian,” an “anointed one,” one with Christ. By our Baptism and Confirmation, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to the ministry of the Church and the proclamation of the “good news” of salvation.
It is no accident that the Church chooses to celebrate this Chrism Mass during Holy Week because that mission is always rooted in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. The Church intimately links the rituals of this Mass with the Paschal Feast of Christ. The oils that we will prepare and consecrate today will serve the Church’s Liturgy, the means by which the “work of our redemption” founded in the Paschal Mystery, “is made a present actuality.” [SC 2] The Oil of Catechumens will be used to anoint those preparing for the reception of the Church’s sacraments of initiation. In these pre-baptismal anointings, one can’t help but recall the image from yesterday’s gospel, of Mary, the sister of Martha, anointing Jesus’ feet as preparation for his death and now see in the anointings celebrated in the RCIA, a preparation of the catechumen for his or her own death to sin and burial in the waters of the font, rising to new life with Christ. With the Oil of the Sick, the priest will anoint the hands and head of the ill and the infirmed announcing Christ’s power over the brokenness of the human condition, offering hope and consolation to those most in need of the Church’s healing ministry.
And then there is the Chrism. With it, the Church will anoint the forehead of those being confirmed in the power of the Holy Spirit. With it, the Church will consecrate the hands of the priest and the head of the bishop in ordination. With it, the walls of the new Church and the mensa of the new altar will dedicated for a new and holy use. In the anointing with Chrism, something or someone is being named by the Church to the mission of the Church and we all cry out, “Amen!” “The spirit of the Lord is upon me for the Lord has anointed me.”
A few moments ago, I spoke of the call of the Christian to participate in Christ’s mission as Priest, Prophet, and King. While this is true for all of us who bear the name of Christ, there is a deepening and a furthering of that mission that comes from priestly orders. At their ordination, the priests gathered here with us were empowered and missioned to the salvific and sanctifying work of the Church within the order of the priesthood. In a few moments, I will ask them to stand before you and renew their priestly vows. I wish to speak specifically to them now in preparation for that renewal.
“The spirit of the Lord is upon me for the Lord has anointed me.” My brothers, as those words were true for Christ, so they are true for us who have been ordained and configured onto the Lord. “In the ecclesial service of the ordained, it is Christ himself who is present to his Church as Head of his Body, Shepherd of his flock, high priest of the redemptive sacrifice, Teacher of Truth.” [CCC 1548] Notice that “this priesthood is ministerial, … it is in the strict sense of the term a service” [CCC 1551] in the name of the whole Church. We are missioned and empowered by the Church to be of service to the Church particular and the Church universal. We cannot see our ministry as a “limited and restricted mission” but as one in which we “share in the universal dimensions of the mission that Christ entrusted to the apostles.” [CCC 1564]
There can be a tendency on our parts to reduce our ministry to the “here and now” of my particular parish or diocese. It can become, oh, so easy to fall into the trap of “adjusting” the Church’s teaching and discipline to fit our own opinions or the perceived pastoral needs of the moment. “Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.” You and I must be vigilant in our lives against this, no matter how good our intentions. We are ordained to serve the Church in its unity and in its fullness. We are ordained to be the servants of the Church’s Liturgy. When the people of God walk through the doors of our churches, they are entitled to the Church’s Liturgy. We are ordained to speak the truth of the Church’s teaching no matter how difficult it is at times. How much more effective will our preaching and teaching be if we consistently do so within the unity of the Church’s teaching? We are not preaching opinion. We are preaching truth. Ours is not one opinion among many out there. Ours is the truth. In a culture that does not hold to the reality of revealed truth and sees religious matters as simply one life style choice or opinion among many, we cannot fall into the trap of voicing “opinions “ because, if I may paraphrase Flannery O’Connor, if is just an “opinion,” then to heck with it. People will not give their lives to serve opinion, but they will give it to serve the truth.
This does not mean that we are called to be arrogant or condescending or dismissive of others. As servants of the Church we are called to be servants to all, as Christ became a servant for all. That is why we must model our lives after the life of Christ himself. When dealing with difficult situations, I often think of the line from the gospel where Christ encounters the rich, young man and it says, “Jesus looked on him and loved him.” (MK 10:21) We also recall his words to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” In the Passion from Luke’s gospel we hear the ultimate expression of that love when Jesus says, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (LK 23:24). To have Christ’s loving heart within us is to seek to see each person we encounter as loved by God, as a child of God, as brother and sister onto ourselves no matter how difficult it may be to love them at that moment – and… and as one to whom we must preach the good news of salvation. The truth of Christ’s message is not just a truth for the believer, it is a truth for all.
We must always seek to preach and act with humble and loving hearts. You know, it’s easy to love the people who are loveable. The challenge is to love the ones who aren’t. My brothers, I have found that the easiest way for me to accomplish this is to start in prayer. Many years ago, when I was in the seminary, I was meeting with my spiritual director and I was complaining about a couple of men in the house who just made me crazy. I really couldn’t stand being near them. I felt bad about this. I was in priestly formation, I really shouldn’t feel this way about anyone, etc. etc. My spiritual director said to me, “You should try praying for them.” Good advice, so I did. I prayed for them for the next few weeks but nothing seemed to change. They were still as obnoxious as ever So I went back to my spiritual director and complained that nothing was happening, those people who made me crazy were still doing the same things. They hadn’t changed! My spiritual director looked at me and said with a smile, “Oh, you’ve got it wrong. Your prayers for them are not supposed to change them. They are supposed to change you.”
When we pray for others, it changes us. This prayer moves us out of ourselves and out to others. It also doesn’t leave us in the chapel. If we are serious about it, intercessory prayer demands a response. If you are going to pray for peace, how are you going to be a peacemaker? If you are going to pray for the sick, when are you going to visit them? If you are going to pray for needs of others, how are you going to fulfill those needs? Intercessory prayer is at the heart of our priestly ministry. To pray in intercessions for others, to pray for our enemies, to pray for the sick, to pray for the world, to pray for whatever needs may be is to continue Christ’s earthly prayers and intercessions for the world. And, then, like Christ, we must come out of the deserted place and walk among our people. Our people know this. They look for us to do so. How often do we have people come up to us and say, “Father, could you pray for me … for my mother … for my husband … my friend?” They see and know us the ones who are to pray for them and they call us to remember this most honored task of the priest.
If I may offer a sincere note of encouragement to you, my brothers, it is to not short-change yourself when it comes to daily prayer. Daily prayer, especially in the form of a holy hour, is the wellspring from which we drink of the Lord. Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, “Each priest must first win the spiritual victory alone and within himself, before he can repeat that victory in the lives of others.” In another place he writes,
“Why make a daily Holy Hour? Because it is time spent in the presence of Our Lord Himself. If faith is alive, no further reason is needed. Because in our busy life it takes considerable time to shake off the “noonday devils,” the worldly cares which cling to our souls like dust. Because all our preaching, confessing, and other good works start with the Flame of Love in the Tabernacle.”
I end Archbishop Sheen’s comment with one last bit of advice he has for priests, “People will not turn to us if we do not appear to the unbeliever as different from anyone else. Priests willing to sacrifice and suffer for Christ always inspire.” We’ve all heard it said that “the best homily is the life of the preacher.” How better to win people over to the truth of what we believe than by the truth of our lives!
These are words of encouragement I speak to you today not words of critique. They are the words of one who walks with you in the great gift of ordained ministry. We who have been anointed in that ministry share the common bond of ordination that calls us to the service of the Church. I stand before you as one with you, anointed in baptism and confirmation, with hands like yours, blessed with the Chrism of ordination and say for all of us, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me for the Lord has anointed me. He has called me to proclaim “good news.” He has called us to proclaim “good news,” – the good news that will be sung with such great joy in the Easter Exultet, of Christ
“the Morning star:
the one Morning Star who never sets,
Christ your Son,
who, coming back from death’s dominion,
has shed his peaceful light on all humanity,
and lives and reigns for ever and ever.”