Chrism Mass Homily of Cardinal Seán O’Malley, OFM Cap,
Archbishop of Boston
Cathedral of the Holy Cross
April 11, 2017
One of the common themes of movies and TV shows is time travel, apparatuses that allow people to travel back in time. By adding the renewal of our priestly commitment, Pope Paul VI has given us a time travel machine in today’s liturgy of the Chrism Mass. For some of us it means traveling back to the days of black and white movies, cursive writing, the Palmer method, party lines on the telephone, 78 rpm records.
For all of us, this liturgy invites us to go back in time to the day of our ordination. I was ordained in a German Parish, built as a replica of St. Benno’s church in Munich. With the bells and stained glass windows brought from Bavaria, the beautiful reredos carved by old capuchin Lay Brothers.
They called my name “Frater Seán of Lakewood,” (my alias). I shouted back Adsum
Most of you were ordained in this very church, the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. Each one of you heard his name called, and each responded, Adsum: Present. Today God is still calling you by name and today you can respond: Adsum adhuc
– I am still present, in spite of dungeon, fire and sword. We gather to relive the joy and enthusiasm of that yes we made on our ordination day.
On behalf of the whole Church, I express the thanks of God’s people for your yes, thanks for your hidden sacrifices, for the moments of struggle, of disappointment, for acts of selfless generosity, for words and gestures that have brought solace and joy to so many.
The liturgy is therapeutic. The liturgy heals and restores us and allows us to relive the joy of our ordination day, when we were surrounded by parents, grandparents, siblings and friends.
Today we gather with the Family that Christ gives, the Church, to renew our priestly commitment and bless the oils, the toils of our sacramental ministry.
I find great consolation in the weaknesses of the saints. The Curé of Ars was pastor of the parish in Ars for 40 years. During that time he tried to escape on several occasions. Who would’ve thought of the Curé of Ars as a flight risk?
All of us experience moments when we could bolt from the pressures of the job, the boredom of routine, the difficult people God puts in our path. We are tempted to flee from the Cross.
Peter was also a flight risk. He took off from the Garden of Olives and ran into the night. Instead of accompanying Jesus to Calvary, Peter and the Apostles hid in the cenacle with the doors bolted.
One of the most beautiful scenes in the Gospel takes place after what I call the Last Breakfast: that dialogue where Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” and when Peter answers yes, Jesus says: “Feed my sheep.” It is the first renewal of priestly commitment. The scene begins with the miraculous draught of fishes and ends with the invitation: “Follow me.”
It is a repeat, a déjà vu all over again, as Yogi Berra used to say. Peter and the Apostles had joyfully and enthusiastically left their nets and boats and their loved ones to follow Jesus. They thought there would be thrones at Jesus’ right and left. They never counted on Calvary.
When things got rough, they took off. But Jesus calls them again to a more mature vocation to embrace the calling having experienced their own failings, fears and disappointments. The same miracle is performed anew, to remind the Apostles of the original call – all those fish.
Spiritual writers talk about the phenomenon of the Second Call, the grace of a vocation renewed in our heart. The classical example is found in the life of Teresa of Avila who in her Vida
talks about after years of struggle and mediocrity as a nun, she walked by a picture of Christ in his passion and she received a grace, a realization of Christ’s love for her that transformed her and she went on to reform her Order and the Church.
In some way this Chrism Mass is a ritualized Second Calling.
Pope Francis in a recent interview was asked about permanent formation of the clergy. The Holy Father said conferences, seminars and retreats are helpful, but what is most important is what he calls diocesanidad
, our diocesan-ness – the communion between priests and bishops. Pope Francis says the best instrument is the Chrism Mass.
I was so glad to hear that. I have always considered this celebration as crucial for our shared ministry, and a time when the Church invites us to renew our initial call, the joyful and generous offering of ourselves that was part of our ordination.
At our ordination we make a gift of ourselves that is expressed in our commitment to Celibacy, Obedience, Prayer, and Communion.
In the Latin Church, celibacy is a special identification with Christ, The Good Shepherd, who is a celibate Virgin. There is also a strong missionary dimension to celibacy. It is difficult to imagine what the face of the Catholic Church would look like today if there had not been a host of men and women throughout the ages who had renounced home, spouse, and children for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. The proclamation of the Gospel and the Church’s mission in a large part has rested on their shoulders.
Celibacy has been pastorally so fruitful, and continues to be so in your spiritual fatherhood in your parishes, and pastoral ministries. The title father should be a constant reminder that we are called to be spiritual fathers feeding our family with the word of God and the Sacraments, helping them to live lives of discipleship with a sense of purpose, with a mission that Christ has entrusted to us.
Part of our ordination commitment is obedience. You made that promise with your hands grasped by the hands of the bishop, to indicate a relationship, singleness of purpose and a complete dedication to mission.
In ordination a priest gives his life over to the service of the People of God in the local Church and when we prostrate on the floor during the Rite of Ordination, that gesture gives a powerful witness to this self-giving.
Obedience is a reflection of the priest’s own fundamental identity, his relationship with his bishop and the presbyterate, and his freely chosen subordination of his own plans to the needs of the Church in fulfillment of her evangelizing and unifying mission.
I know that the life of prayer can be a challenge, hence our renewal of our priestly promises is an opportunity to begin anew, to commit ourselves to a role of life, time and space for God in prayer, having the discipline to persevere.
We are to be teachers of prayer. Our people need us to help them to grow in prayer. To do this we must be men of prayer, a prayer that will help us make good decisions, a prayer that will help us uproot our selfishness, our superficiality, and our vanity. Without prayer our ministry can be self-serving rather than directed towards others and their needs.
What is needed in the life and ministry of the priest is prayer and a zealous sense of selfless mission. Not one or the other, but both/and. Prayer is often the half of the equation that is easy to forget and hard to do, but without prayer, ministry and our lives as disciples and priests cannot become what God intends them to be.
The Chrism Mass, this ritualized ‘Second Calling’, is also an invitation to deepen our sense of priestly fraternity. Remember, we don’t need to be twins to be brothers. We must learn to make time for our brother priests, to be together, to eat together, that is very important, to pray together and to work together. There can be no competition, rivalry or jealousy. Rather than being lone rangers we must cooperate with each other. We need to be rowing in the same direction. We must realize how important it is to encourage one another, forgive one another and help one another.
We have so many terrific priests in the Archdiocese. We can be proud of them and grateful to God for the gift of their vocations. We also have brothers who are hurting and we need to reach out to them, to make them feel appreciated and loved.
And as we renew our priestly commitments, let us recommit ourselves to provide for the future pastoral care of our people by working hard to promote vocations. Never miss an opportunity to invite young men, and not so young, to consider a priestly vocation.
Having renewed our priestly vows the Church invites us to bless the holy oils that are the tools of our ministry.
The Gospel reading for the Chrism Mass comes from Jesus’ inaugural address, His first sermon at the Synagogue in Nazareth. Jesus choses the text from Isaiah that best describes his messianic anointing and mission. Jesus is anointed and sent to bring glad tidings to the poor, sight to the blind, liberation to captives.
Christ has made us sharers in His anointing through our own priestly ordination. We are anointed to go forth and carry that anointing to others. In four of the sacraments, oil is the sign of God’s goodness reaching out to touch us: in Baptism, Confirmation, the Anointing of the Sick and Holy Orders. Today I wish to hold up just one of this sacraments: the anointing of the sick.
In the Gospel of St. Mark we read: Jesus called the twelve to Himself and sent them out two by two… they anointing many sick people and cured them.
And St. James writes: “Is anyone sick among you? Let them call the priests of the Church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.
When I tell the people that each year I give the newly ordained oil stocks; I have to explain that it is not 50 shares of Exxon, but the little pewter box used for the oil of the sick, because I want them to see that anointing the sick is a central part of our ministry. Non-ordained can perform great ministry, but only the priest can celebrate Mass, give absolution in confession and sacramentally anoint the sick. I often reflect on Cardinal Martini’s study of how Jesus managed his time, where the Cardinal’s analysis of the Gospels shows that Jesus’ number one priority was ministering to the sick. After demonstrating God’s love and mercy it makes it possible to evangelize, to announce the Kingdom with our preaching.
In an age that has lost a sense of sin and the urgency of salvation, there is a danger of losing sight of how important the anointing of the sick is in our priestly ministry. Catholic Shakespeare in his plays laments when someone dies unshiven, unaneded and unhouseled: without confession, without anointing, without viaticum.
I like to think that when we get to heaven we will be warmly greeted by those we anointed, some of whom will tell us: “I seldom went to Church, I never put money in the collection, I talked badly about priests and you came and anointed me on my death bed and that oil fueled my journey to God.
When you anoint a sick person you are the Good Samaritan showing God’s mercy and pouring oit on the wounds of the man left half dead on the road to Jericho.
To me, one of the most enigmatic figures of the Gospels in Nicodemus who is a closet Christian, coming to Jesus at night so no one will suspect he is a disciple, but at the Crucifixion when the Apostles go into the witness protection program, Nicodemus mans up, he steps up to the plate and takes 100 lbs. of myrrh and aloes to anoint Jesus’ body.
When you anoint that sick person or injured person, your oil stock is the alabaster box. Like the Magdalen, like Nicodemus, you are anointing the broken body of Christ in a distressing disguise as Mother Teresa used to say.
We live in a world that is pushing suicide and euthanasia as a pseudo-compassionate response to human suffering. The world is offering poison, but you priests of God bring the Lord’s medicine.
You must have the peripheral vision of the Good Samaritan who sees who is side lined, the one no one wants to see and you recognize in him or her, a neighbor, a brother, or sister, the crucified Christ.
Whenever we hear of an individual donating an organ to save someone who needed a kidney or a lung, we are filled with admiration. Today we thank our priests for being organ donors, for giving their hearts and hands to Christ so that the Good Shepherd may continue through their ministry to announce the Good News of the Gospel and anoint God’s people with the oil of gladness.