Chrism Mass: We have all been anointed for mission
The following homily was given by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades during the livestreamed Chrism Mass Thursday, April 9, 2020, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Fort Wayne.
Brothers and sisters, at this Mass we are reminded that we were all anointed with the chrism of salvation, that we share in the consecration of Jesus the Christ, the Anointed One of God. And like Jesus’ anointing, it’s an anointing for mission: the great mission of bringing the Good News of the Gospel to the poor, proclaiming liberty to all those enslaved by sin, giving sight to those blinded by false ideas and ideologies and freeing the oppressed with the true freedom that comes from truth and love, not the false freedom that does harm and brings tyranny. We were strengthened by the Holy Spirit for this mission when we were anointed with chrism at our Baptism and Confirmation. And our priests were empowered in a unique way for this mission when their hands were anointed with chrism at their ordination.
The mission of Christ, the mission of His Body, the Church, cannot be thwarted by the enemy. It can’t be defeated by Satan since Christ is Victor over the devil and his minions. It can’t be thwarted by the present enemy, the coronavirus. Even in the midst of this pandemic, the Body of Christ and each one of us who is a member of His Body is called to live the anointing we have received, to persevere in the mission of Jesus, the mission He entrusted to us.
Usually, I speak about our vocation to “go out” as Jesus instructed us in the great commission: to go out to proclaim the Gospel. I tell our priests not to remain in their rectories or sacristies, but to “go out” to the people. In these days, the message seems to be the opposite: “stay in.” And this is important. We don’t want the virus to spread. It is an imperative of charity to stay in as much as possible. Of course, the imperative of charity requires our doctors, nurses, health care workers and first responders to go out, to go to work in order to bring healing to the sick. The imperative of charity also requires our spiritual doctors, our priests, to go out when a parishioner is seriously ill or dying in order to anoint them and bring them Viaticum, the bread of life. And others have to go out for the sake of the common good: our police and firefighters, grocery workers, garbage collectors, etc. We pray for all those who are going out, out of the necessity of charity, that God will protect them in their work.
Now the majority of people, those who are staying in, who should not go out unnecessarily, must not forsake their Christian mission. It is beautiful for me to see how so many of our people, priests, religious and laity are living the mission and going out as missionary disciples even as they remain physically at home. They go out by praying a lot more during these days, kind of like our beautiful Poor Sisters of St. Clare, who in their cloistered life, rarely going out, yet still serve the mission of the Church, the mission of salvation, serving others by their prayers and penance.
These days, some are going out by bringing food to those who need it, to the elderly and those who are homebound by illness, while others do so by sending money to support their parishes and other charitable causes, struggling so much during this time. Others are going out by calling people on the phone or contacting them by social media, checking on how they are doing, showing love and concern, especially to those who are lonely. I know children who are writing cards to the sick and to doctors and nurses. So many acts of charity and works of mercy being done during these weeks. And literally thousands of the faithful of our diocese are watching livestream liturgies like this, making a spiritual communion and living the Eucharist though they are not able to receive Holy Communion. I’m sure there are a myriad of other ways our people are living their anointing, attempting to do their part in fulfilling the mission the Church has received from the Lord.
I love the annual Chrism Masses in our two cathedrals. How much I always look forward to those celebrations with all our priests and so many of the faithful who always fill our cathedrals. Today I celebrate this Chrism Mass in a mostly empty cathedral, with just 8 of our priests representing all our priests: our Vicar General and Judicial Vicar and the 6 Vicars from the six regions of our diocese. They will bring back to all our priests and parishes the sacred chrism and holy oils that I will consecrate and bless at this Mass. They and all the priests watching this Mass on YouTube or Facebook will renew their priestly promises. Brother priests, I miss you today, but I’m glad we’re together via technology and, most importantly, in a spiritual communion. The communion of saints is not broken by physical separation. Our communion with one another and with our people is not broken by not celebrating Mass together in person, as our communion with the saints and the souls in purgatory is not broken by physical separation.
My brother priests, thank you for your fidelity to your priestly vocation, especially during this challenging time. Thank you for celebrating Mass every day. The Eucharist remains the center and root of your life, even when you are prevented from celebrating Mass with your people. Even when we celebrate Mass privately, we are not offering Mass as individuals because the celebration of the Eucharist is always an action of the Mystical Body of Christ. It is a supernatural reality. I hope you are deeply aware of the extraordinary intercessory power of the Mass you celebrate each day. The world in the midst of this pandemic needs this intercessory power as much as it needs a coronavirus vaccine. At the altar, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the greatest medicine and vaccine becomes present: the medicine of immortality and the antidote to death, the most holy Body and Blood of the Lord.
The life-blood of the priestly ministry is the administration of the sacraments. It’s difficult not being able to celebrate the sacraments as frequently as usual. Yet, you not only have the duty, but the joy and privilege during this time to bring Christ’s healing to the sick and dying through the Anointing of the Sick, administered, of course, with the necessary precautions so as not to transmit the virus, but administered nonetheless. When I bless the oil of the sick today, I will be praying for all whom you will anoint with this holy oil. In His public ministry, Jesus went about healing the sick. That ministry continues today. We must never stop commending those are ill to our suffering and glorified Lord. The source of this sacrament’s power, like the source of the power of all the sacraments, is the death and resurrection of Jesus, the mystery we will celebrate in the Paschal Triduum, which begins this evening.
Brother priests, your priestly office, as St. Augustine taught, is first and foremost an office of love. That love flows from faith and is intimately connected to hope. We were ordained to help build up the people of God in faith, hope and charity.
I would like to end this homily with a word about hope, especially during this time when many people are filled with anxiety and fear, with some maybe even tempted to despair. Why is this? One reason, I think, is because our culture and so many people in our culture have placed their hope in things that are transitory, that pass away, that can disappoint, that don’t satisfy our greatest need. Money and material things, for example. And now so many are losing their jobs and their savings are being depleted. Or maybe their hope has been all about good health and earthly life. And now so many are sick or afraid of dying. Or maybe their hope has been totally in science and technology. All good things, to be sure, but not sufficient. There’s been so much human progress in these areas, but unfortunately not a corresponding moral progress. When detached from God, this progress ultimately disappoints. Despite all the scientific and technological progress, there is still suffering and there is still death. Pope Benedict once wrote: “It is not science that redeems man: man is redeemed by love.” The only unshakeable hope is the hope of redemption, the hope of salvation, hope in the God who is love. Any other hope ultimately disappoints. Too often we place our hope in lesser things. These are little hopes, but we need the great hope, the hope that saves. Christ is that hope. His triumphant cross is our hope. Our Holy Cross confreres are reminded of this truth all the time, since their motto is Ave Crux, Spes Unica (Hail the Cross, Our Only Hope).
Brothers in the priesthood, I urge you to be prophets and witnesses of hope, especially during this pandemic. The world needs this hope. It is the hope proclaimed in these wonderful words of St. Paul to the Romans: “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”