Chrism Mass 2019
A lot has happened in the Church and the world since the celebration of our last Chrism Mass. It would be an understatement to say that it’s been a difficult year, especially with the storms that erupted this past summer with the release of the grand jury report in Pennsylvania and the news of sins and crimes of an American cardinal, not to mention the revelations of sexual abuse of minors by clergy and the negligence of some bishops in other countries of the world. Anger, frustration and demands for accountability and transparency rightfully came to the fore. Some of the faithful chose to stop attending church and others chose to withdraw their financial support. Not knowing or ignoring the great strides of the Church in the United States these past 17 years in combatting this evil, the success of our efforts to protect our children and young people and the commitment to care for victims, many experienced a crisis of hope in the Catholic Church and its will or ability to reform. Some believe there is a culture of clericalism intrinsic to the institution; others that there is a homosexual culture in the clergy and seminaries that is allowed to thrive. This is the storm that broke out and, perhaps somewhat abated, continues to shake the barque of Peter, leading some to think that a shipwreck is coming and others to cry out – why is Jesus asleep in the boat?
And yet here we are this evening, gathered in faith and hope, at this Chrism Mass (with a full cathedral). And here our beloved priests are gathered this evening, not to forsake their priestly promises, but to renew them. Amid the storm, and perhaps shaken by the storm, we’ve all chosen to stay in the boat and not jump ship. We’re all disgusted by the sins and crimes of some priests and bishops. We’re all committed to build on the successful reforms of the past 17 years. We all recognize that ours is a Church of saints and sinners. And, as we do at every Mass, we began this evening with the penitential act, admitting that we are all sinners in need of redemption. We gather tonight, after all, during Holy Week, the week of our redemption.
As if the challenges within the Church were not enough, we celebrate this Mass and our priests renew their commitment at a time in history when there’s not only the need to persevere in hope amid the storm, but also to persevere in hope when there’s another big storm: what one author calls a tsunami, “the tsunami of secularism” that has been sweeping across the world. The future does not look bright in our country or in many other countries when it comes to support for our Christian values and teachings. Yet, here we have all these seminarians. I don’t think any one of them is approaching ordination with the belief that the life of a priest will become easier. They know that our values and beliefs will be even more countercultural. They know their vocation may be appreciated by some, but they know they mightonly be tolerated by others and most likely scorned by many. They will serve, as our priests now serve so faithfully and with such dedication, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They will promote self-giving love, service to others, chastity and obedience to God’s law, including the sanctity of all human life and of marriage. And like most faithful Catholics, they will be political exiles in this nation – because of their love and compassion for unborn children or because of their love and compassion for immigrants and refugees. They are not afraid to face the tsunami of secularism, its promotion of so-called “sexual freedom and reproductive rights,” its rejection of any objective moral truth and its exaltation of personal self-fulfillment or mere national self-interest, rather than the universal common good. I am so proud of the courage, commitment and love of our priests and seminarians who have chosen, and are choosing, to serve God and His Kingdom even in the midst of the storm and tsunami.
I wish to quote some prophetic words of our Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI. He said: “It seems to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: … the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.”
It’s that hope that gathers us together this evening: laity, religious, deacons and priests. It’s a virtue that we received at Baptism and was intensified by Confirmation. It’s a hope that is fostered and protected when we persevere in prayer and have a strong interior life flowing from a vibrant faith. It is strengthened when we persevere every day through the tribulations and adversities we face in this valley of tears.
I’ve mentioned the storm within the Church and the tsunami of secularism on the outside, let me now use the image of a hurricane. Hurricanes can have an overwhelming force, bringing turbulence and destruction; but notice that the eye of a hurricane has an island of peace, calm and serenity. That’s our interior life in the midst of the storm we find ourselves in. That’s where the Lord dwells. He is not asleep during the storm. And it’s from that inner space that hope comes. It’s because they have that closeness to the Lord that our priests are here tonight to renew their priestly promises. All of us need to foster this inner eye of the hurricane from which comes the hope to get us through the challenges that come into our lives or into our ministry. We do so through our regimen of prayer, Eucharistic devotion, lectio divina and the holy rosary. We can all be grateful that Mary is in the boat with us, holding our hand so that we don’t fall out. We must strive to be in the eye of the hurricane where we learn to say with the psalmist: “In God alone be at rest, my soul, for my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock, my stronghold, my fortress, in Him I stand firm” (Psalm 62).
My brother priests, when we were ordained, God did not promise us bliss, comfort, ease, or perfection. He promised us love, care, mercy and life. And He made us ministers of His love, care, mercy and life. We are privileged to be channels of His life and love when we anoint people with the chrism that will be consecrated at this Mass. We are privileged to be instruments of His healing when we anoint the sick and the dying with the oil of the sick that will be blessed this evening. And we are privileged to be agents of His defeat of Satan when we anoint people with the oil of catechumens that will be blessed at this Mass. In all the sacraments and in our preaching, we are called to be witnesses and heralds of hope, the hope of the Gospel, the hope that does not disappoint.
I have spoken about the challenges we face, the storm in the Church and the tsunami of secularism in the world. Let me tell you where I find hope. I find hope when I’m in the eye of the hurricane, in prayer. I find hope every time that I pronounce the words: “I absolve you from your sins,” and even more, I find hope when I hear those words spoken to me by a priest. I find hope every time I baptize an infant and confirm our young people. I find hope when I meet with a victim of sexual abuse and see God granting them some healing through the Church’s ministry. I find hope when I meet with our young adults and visit our high schools. I feel hope every time I spend time with our seminariansand when I lay hands on them at ordination. I feel hope when I am together with our priests in prayer and in fraternity. I feel hope when I visit parishes and see so many good works being done in the name of Christ. I feel hope when I visit with a family that prays together and truly seeks to make their home a domestic Church, where parents are raising their children in the faith and growing in their marital love. I find hope when I visit with the elder members of our Church family, many of whom have weathered various storms in their life yet continue to manifest the joy of their faith and to share the wisdom of their years. I find hope most of all when I hold the Host and the Chalice at Mass and pronounce the words: “This is my Body… This is my Blood.” The Eucharist gives us hope because Christ is our hope. He overcame sin and He conquered death. That’s what we remember during Holy Week and at every Mass. We must and will continue to say, no matter what challenges we face, no matter what storms come our way, the great mystery of faith: “We proclaim your Death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection, until you come again.” And we can only do so in His family, the Catholic Church. It’s a family that has its troubles and squabbles, that has been tainted by the sins of its members, but it’s still His family and it’s holy because its Head is the Holy One of God, Jesus Christ, and its soul is the Holy Spirit. And as Jesus promised: “the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”
So where do we go from here? Where do we go when this Mass is ended? We go back to the storm and into the tsunami. We go forth strengthened and nourished by the Holy Eucharist. And we carry to our parishes the oil of gladness, the chrism of salvation, the healing oil of the sick and the oil of catechumens to anoint those who will become members of our family of faith, hope and charity. We go forth striving to live in the eye of the hurricane, opening ourselves to God’s grace in prayer. And we go forth to do what God the Father sends us to do – to continue the mission of His Son, what the Holy Spirit anointed Him to do and anointed us to do: “to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
May God bless us and our diocese in this holy mission!