CHRISM MASS 2014
Two weeks ago I was saying Mass with the retired priests at Pius Home in Amityville where each year I anoint the priests who ask for the sacrament of anointing of the sick. As I did so I was struck by the prayer the priests says as he anoints the hands of a sick person: May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you upĒ. Christ gave to the Church and her priests the power to forgive sins. We are the instruments of His merciful love that heals and reconciles us to our God. It is one of the fruits of the salvific love Christ poured out on the world as he died on the cross for us and for all humankind.
Yet the death and Resurrection of Jesus does more than take away our sins. In baptism Jesus goes beyond eliminating the sin of our first parents. He actually raises us up to a new life that we are incapable of earning or meriting on our own. He raises us up and floods us with the gift of divine love so that we are now a new people, a royal priesthood, sharing in the very life of God which is the unity of Father and Son in the truth and love of the Holy Spirit!
In the twin sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, each of us is signed with the Holy Chrism I will bless today for the whole Church of Rockville Centre. That Chrism is the seal of the Holy Spirit, the identity mark of every disciple of Christ, every member of His Body, the Church whose head is Jesus Christ.
The Old Testament gives witness of the power of Godís Spirit that was given to Moses and he gave to Aaron with the sacred anointing. This is the spirit that rushed upon David when he was anointed by Nathan, the anointing of which Isaiah speaks in the first reading, the anointing from the Father that is the Spirit Jesus himself made his own at the synagogue in Nazareth. The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed meÖ
Paul calls us a New Creation. Leo the Great tells us Christian, recognize your dignity! We have a dignity which is ours not by right but by adoption. We did not earn it. Jesus earned it for us. He is the one who pours forth Godís love into our hearts so that we now rightly call God: Our Father. We live this mystery day after day as his own family, his chosen race, the people he has made his own. We are a sacramental people and we depend on the gifts that come to us from Christ through His Church which in turn lives her life through the Eucharist. As Blessed John Paul tells us, The Eucharist makes the Church that makes the Eucharist.
Without the priesthood, there would be no true Eucharist. On this night Jesus gives the Church the Eucharist as he commands his first apostles and their successors to do this in memory of me. That is why it is so appropriate for the priests gathered here today around this altar with me, and with all of you, to renew their priestly promises. Today is the feast day of the priesthood, a priesthood Jesus called into being at the Last Supper, a priesthood to be continued in the Church till the end of time.
No one takes this on himself for himself. He must be called by God and that call must be made through the decision of his bishop. Only then can he be raised up to serve the People of God and to glorify God by his life of priestly sacrifice, example and service.
To speak of being raised up is a dangerous thing in todayís world. It is a claim that often causes people to get their backs up. And understandably so! People naturally think of this as an act of power or prestige; someone is trying to show off, or claim to be better than someone else. In an egalitarian world, that is unacceptable. But to think that way is to miss the truth of the mystery of Godís call and Christís giving us a share in Godís divine life. The priest like every Christian is first raised up into the life of God by baptism. But then, through the sacrament of Orders, he is raised up to a new way of being within the Church to be able to serve the Church by virtue of that special gift of divine love which is the sacrament of holy orders, the anointing with the Spirit by the laying on of hands with the prayer of ordination.
Power and prestige in the worldly sense have no part in this. And the more we think about it in todayís world, even the charge of worldly power and prestige makes no sense. Is there any institution in our society today that is more scorned and ridiculed than the Church? Is there any group of persons who are more easily the butt of jokes and calumnies than priests?
We accept that, not because it is true, but because the God who raises up us all as His priestly people, raises up some men to do what His Son did: wash the feet of others, teach the message of Godís love, pastor the people of God, visit the sick, comfort the mourners, bury the dead, encourage young people, bring the sacraments to the elderly, forgive sins, celebrate the Eucharist and pray and pray and pray for the people before God, asking God to be with us always in every way.
All of us, lay faithful, deacons, priests, religious, bishops have been raised up to be his priestly people through baptism. All of us share a solemn charge. We are all co-responsible for the life of the Church. The man who is raised up to be a priest shares that co-responsibility with you in ways different from a religious, different from a lay person. But, we are all co-responsible for the life of the Church, each of us with our own character and our own dignity before God. Together then Christ calls us to live as one body, building up the Church, speaking up for the Church, showing to one and all the beauty of the Church and giving witness to the world of the oneness of our life in Christ!
At the end of this year I will have served the Church as a priest for fifty years. I have no words for the gratitude I have to God for the gift of priesthood. What I do have, day after day, is an ever deeper appreciation of my brother priests of our Diocese whom you see here with me today. These men raise me up with joy and thanksgiving by their lives and example. Before you are men of faith and of commitment, men of great hearts and extraordinary gifts; men who love the Lord and show it by their service of love to all of you. Christ is their model because they share in his priesthood. You are the object of their love because they seek to love you as He does. Love them as they love you and let the love of Christ dwell in your hearts so that we all give glory to God who watches over us from heaven! Amen.