Chrism Mass Homily – March 31, 2015
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me” – to send me, to heal, to free, to announce, to comfort, “to place on those who mourn in Zion a diadem instead of ashes, to give them oil of gladness in place of mourning, a glorious mantle instead of a listless spirit.”
I cannot help but hear in this reading from Isaiah the clear, unmistakable call of the the Good News of salvation. It is a joy-filled reading, one that was echoed by Christ Himself in the synagogue in Nazareth as His announcement of Good News and joy.
Joy. It is that feeling evoked by wellbeing or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires. Joy does not mean I am going to be happy all the time. Happiness is more fleeting than joy. Joy is not about fun either. One author writes that “fun is to joy as a puddle is to the ocean.” Joy is deep. It is that deep foundation of wellbeing, of solidity, rooted in a firm foundation. Some may say that their joy is rooted in the things they do, in their good fortune, in their relationships with others. But those things come and go. Relationships end. Good fortune passes. They are houses built on sand that when the rains come and the wind blows are destroyed. But we who are gathered here this morning know where our foundation rests, where our joy is complete. It is in the Word Incarnate, Jesus Christ, who is the rock upon which we build our lives.
Think about that for a moment. Jesus is our rock, our lodestone, if you will. In Jesus Christ, we know who it is from whom we come and to whom we go. In Him we have the prospect of possessing what we desire – our salvation. If we truly believe that Christ is the way, the truth, and the life and there is no other, then how can we not respond in anything but joy?
It is right there for each of us, waiting to be tapped into if we just give it a chance. For some of us, it’s a bit difficult. I’m part Irish and from Boston. We are a rather reserved folk who like to keep our religious expressions close to the vest and our lives a bit on the dour side. I think the poet, William Bulter Yeats captured it well when he wrote about one character, “Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.”
My father was a bit like that early in my life. A good man, a loving man (in his own way) but not one prone to exuberance or expressions of affection. Then something happened and he turned into a “hugger.” All of a sudden this man who was usually so reserved with his feelings became a hugger. You can imagine how this “creeped out” his teenage sons. I don’t know how it happened, maybe he watched too much Leo Buscaglia, but somewhere joy had crept into his life.
St. John Paul II once proclaimed to the Church, “Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.” I find this in many places in the Church. There are many joy-filled people within our communion, especially among those in consecrated life and in the clergy. My brother priests will soon in this Mass renew their priestly vows in front of all of you and ask for your prayers. They are good and faithful men who serve the Church well. They are also for the most part happy. In a recent national survey of over 900 priests, the question was asked of the priest respondent, “Are you “very happy, or pretty happy, somewhat happy” all the way down to some category porbably labeled “miserable?” The majority of priests (92%) said “they were happy” with the vast majority saying they were “very happy.” When asked if they “would choose priesthood again,” 95% said yes with the vast majority, by far, saying “definitely.” These are your priests, men who are happy because they love the Lord Jesus Christ and are commited to His Church, its teachings and its Sacraments, and the proclamation of the “good news.” So any young men – or not so young men – out there who are looking for some direction in your life, why not a vocation that can bring forth such fulfillment in service to others and to Christ’s Church?
“The Lord has done great things for us and we are filled with joy.” Living a life of Christian joy is not just for the clergy. It can be a way of life for anyone of us, a way that informs who we are even when things are tough or not going well. I challenge each of us today to harness that joy in service to the Church. It doesn’t necessarily have to always be the grand expression of joy. I was talking with a priest-mentor who is retired but is still working in a parish, “senior priest” status. Oh, by the way, you know what the definition of a “senior-priest” is? That’s a priest who now celebrates more Masses each week covering for other priests than he did before he was retired. But anyway, this “retired” friend of mine talked about his mentoring of a newly ordained priest. This young priest is hard-working, kind, celebrates the Sacraments well and is easy to live with in the rectory. But he just didn’t seem to be hitting it off well with the people. My friend noticed something right away. He said, “You need to smile more.” It seems that while he was a good priest in so many ways, the young priest was normally very reserved, somewhat shy, someone who while polite, did not naturally smile a lot. My friend encouraged the new priest to start smiling and it worked. People couldn’t believe the change “in” him … but in truth, for this young man it wasn’t so much the “in” that changed. It was the “out,” the letting “out” of what is already inside – his love of Jesus Christ and the joy that brings to any of us. By the way, smiling can actually make you look good in the eyes of others. A recent study at Penn State University found that when you smile, you don’t only appear to be more likeable and courteous, but you actually appear to be more competent. That’s why I smile … a lot.
In last year’s homily for the Chrism Mass at St. Peter’s in Rome, Pope Francis spoke of the joy of the priesthood. Not the book, but the actual joy of being a priest. He spoke of three characteristics of that joy in particular: that it is a joy of anointing, that it is an imperishable joy, and that it is a missionary joy. I would offer that this applies not only to priests in their unique way as ordained or “configured to Christ” but to all the baptized, born anew in baptism, anointed at infant baptism with the smear of Chrism on the crown of the head, and empowered with the Chrism in Confirmation with the seal of the Holy Spirit. In these anointings, we are reminded that as Christ was anointed priest, prophet, and king, so we are to share in his work of spreading the good news of salvation to all. Christian joy is an imperishable joy of anointing that leads us forth in mission. While Pope Francis spoke the following words to the priests that were gathered for the Chrism Mass, I think they can easily apply to all of us as well:
“The joy which anoints us has penetrated deep into our hearts, it has shaped them and strengthened them sacramentally…. Grace fills us to the brim and overflows, fully, abundantly, and entirely…. We are anointed down to our very bones … and our joy, which wells up from deep within, is the echo of this anointing.” A joy which wells up and echoes forth…. It’s like that song we used to sing at camp (don’t worry – I won’t start singing):
I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy
Down in my heart
Down in my heart – Where
Down in my heart
I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy
Down in my heart
Down in my heart to stay
And I’m so happy
So very happy
I’ve got the love of Jesus in my heart
And I’m so happy.
Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, “A joyful heart is the normal result of a heart burning with love.” We, who seek to love God with all our hearts and with all our strength and with all our will, are a people anointed with the oil of gladness and filled with the Holy Spirit, can now hear in the words of Isaiah our own call to announce the Good News for “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me.” It is a joy that is deep in out hearts, alive in our works and words, and ready to be shared by a world that, oh so, needs to hear the “Good – and joyful – News.”