Every Lent I visit the retired priests at Pius Residence, concelebrate Mass with them and offer them the anointing of the sick. They all accept it! For me it is a moving experience to anoint the hands of these venerable priests who themselves have anointed thousands of their parishioners spread across our Diocese these past 50 or 60 or more years. It also is a moment when I can thank Msgr Tom Mulvanerty for the twelve years he has served as Director of the Home for Retired Priests, a noble service for which we all owe him our gratitude.
When a priest is anointed with the oil of the sick, he receives the anointing on the back of his hands, not on his palms. The reason for this is that the palms of his hands were anointed with the sacred oil of chrism at the time of his priestly ordination. This is the holiest of the Church’s oil which it will be my privilege to consecrate today along with oil of the sick and the oil of catechumens.
These oils are the tangible instruments of the sacramental life of the Church. They will be consecrated by me to be used in all the parishes of our Diocese until next year’s Chrism Mass. They will bring healing and hope, sacramental consecration and spiritual renewal to you, God’s priestly people. Because these oils are committed to the priests as the ministers of these gifts, there is an intimate connection between the Sacred Chrism and our priests, all of whom were anointed with that chrism on the day of their ordination.
Jesus accepted baptism by John as a sign of his oneness with us in the frailty of our humanity. It was a public manifestation of his mission to fulfill the will of the Father. As the dove of the Holy Spirit descended on him, the Father’s voice proclaims This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased! Then when he appears in the Synagogue of Nazareth, he announces his acceptance of his mission from the Father by making his own the prophecy of Isaiah: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. For he has anointed me to fulfill the will of the Father. Jesus, the Son of Mary is the Son of the Father, now anointed, now Christified, to be the prophetic Messiah whose priesthood will be confirmed forever on the cross. That priesthood of sacrifice and service, of total commitment and giving of himself to the Father for the salvation of us all is established forever. At the Last Supper he passed on to his first apostles the charge to continue his priestly care of His people through the Eucharist and through a life of servant leadership in imitation of him who came to serve and to be served. His words to those apostles and their successors could not be clearer Do this in memory of me! Be the priests of my priestly people. Preach my Word. Offer my sacramental Body and Blood. Be the priests of the new and eternal covenant. Be other Christs.
Recently a catechumen asked me, “Ís Jesus his first name and Christ his family name?” In a certain sense, the answer to that is YES. Jesus is the Christ, the anointed one who in turn calls us to become part of his family, baptized and anointed to be sharers in his life as members of his family, His Body, the Church. He gives us the Holy Spirit, the inner, invisible bond of unity. This life we share is celebrated and passed on in the Church by the His real, true Body and Blood, the Eucharist and the other sacraments entrusted to the ordained priests who serve you, God’s priestly people.
The Chrism Mass today speaks in particular to us who are priests; it speaks of Christ whom God anointed King and Priest – of HIM who makes us sharers in his “anointing” through our own priestly ordination. That priestly anointing includes the mission to bring God’s mercy to those we serve. In the lamp of our lives, my dear brothers, the oil of mercy should never run dry. Let us always obtain it from the Lord in our encounter with His Word, in our reception of the sacraments, in the time we spend with him in prayer.
And to you, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ whom we priests are called to serve as other Christs, may I ask of you two things? First, recognize and love the priests who were called by God and freely accepted the call to serve you in this local Church, a Church shining with beauty and with God’s love within her. They form a Presbyterate, a college of priests with me who in turn send them to you. They go to you with joyful hearts to serve you because they are called and ordained FOR YOU. Welcome them. Honor them, not as men of power or prestige or any other standard of this world. Honor them for the priesthood they share, the chaste celibate life they have willingly embraced and faithfully live out, for the charge given to them by Christ himself to bring Christ to you and you to Him. They are yours by prayer, by teaching, by example and by the loving service that so marks the priests I have come to know and love among us.
Our priests are normal men of joyful and generous hearts. Recognize their humanness and support them in their joy and their generosity. They are often hard pressed and the demands on them are manifold. Be understanding of their limitations but do not hesitate to encourage them by your example, your goodness, your solidarity with them as a sign of our communion with Christ and with one another.
Second, may I ask you to help me in a great cause? Our priests are not as numerous as we would like or as numerous as we might hope. I will never use that awful negative expression “priest shortage”. However I make my own what St. John Paul rightly said, There will never be sufficient priests for the work of the Gospel and the pastoral care of the people of God! In that spirit I ask you to join me in prayer for vocations to the priesthood of the DRVC. We are blessed with the priests we have from our own parishes. We are blessed with the international priests who thanks to their generosity have come to work side by side with the priests whose families are all Long Islanders. We have a great vocation director in Fr. Joe Fitzgerald. So many of our priests actively encourage men to consider priesthood. I want every priest in the Diocese to do the same. I am doing MY best! But I am only one person. It is not my responsibility alone. You and I have different roles but we all have a co-responsibility first to pray and then to encourage vocations to the priesthood. Vocations do not come down from the clouds. They come from families. And families have to pray for vocations and encourage men in their families to open their hearts to the possibility of a call from God to serve this local Church.
If we unite in doing these two things; Honoring and supporting by word and prayer our priests and praying for and encouraging men to be open to God’s call, this Church of Rockville Centre will grow closer together, deepen our love for one another, reach out in care for one another and giving the world a witness of a Church where Christ is the High Priest. That is the spirit that stirred the heart of St John to write in the Book of Revelation: To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood, who has made us into a Kingdom, priests for His God and Father, to Him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen.