Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Chrism Mass

March 30, 2021
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Isaiah 61:1-3, 6a, 8-9
Psalm 89:21-22, 25, 27
Revelation 1:5-8
Luke 4:16-21

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God, to comfort all who mourn; to place on those who mourn in Zion a diadem instead of ashes, to give them oil of gladness in place of mourning, a glorious mantle instead of a listless spirit.”

In the section of the Gospel that immediately follows what we proclaimed just moments ago, Luke, the Evangelist, describes the violent response that confronts Jesus from His friends and extended family members who react to His proclamation of His fulfillment of the prophecy from Isaiah. Jesus’ proclamation and fulfillment calls the people out of a spiritual listlessness of indifference, a lethargy of grief and mourning that they prefer to the oil of gladness and the glorious mantle of the Gospel.

The past year, marked by the anguish of violence and civil unrest, enmity between races and extremists in political life, and loss of employment, fear, sickness, suffering, and death caused by the pandemic, has revealed the truly chronic plague of mournful indifference and a listlessness among human beings in our society and in the Church. The oils that we will bless in this Liturgy are indeed oils of gladness that we will use to anoint God’s people in place of mourning — mourning that produces the listless spirit of existential apathy. We must recognize the truth, that at times during this past year, many have preferred the listlessness of grief and mourning to the glorious mantle of the love of God and neighbor, at times responding to our preaching and ministry with indifference or anger and rebellion. The result is that we can become discouraged as Jesus might have been discouraged at the reaction of the members of the synagogue whom He had known well and who had been most frequently around Him.

El año pasado, marcado por la angustia de la violencia y los disturbios civiles, la enemistad entre razas y extremistas en la vida política, y la pérdida del empleo, el miedo, la enfermedad, el sufrimiento y la muerte causados ​​por la pandemia, ha revelado la plaga verdaderamente crónica de la indiferencia dolorosa y apatía entre los seres humanos en nuestra sociedad y en la Iglesia. Los óleos que bendeciremos en esta liturgia son de hecho óleos de alegría que usaremos para ungir al pueblo de Dios en lugar del dolor, un dolor que produce el espíritu apático de la apatía existencial. Debemos reconocer en verdad que, en ocasiones durante este último año, muchos han preferido la apatía del dolor y el duelo al manto glorioso del amor a Dios y al prójimo, a veces respondiendo a nuestra predicación y ministerio con una indiferencia dada a ira y rebelión. El resultado es que podemos desanimarnos como Jesús podría haberse desanimado ante la reacción de los miembros de la sinagoga a quienes había conocido bien y que habían estado con mayor frecuencia a su alrededor.

Prayer is essential to priestly life for the words of Isaiah to be fulfilled in Christ through our lives as His priests who are ordained to be men for others. If we do not have the motivation that comes from prayer to be a priest, this life is going to cost us too much and we will begin to look for fulfillment in other more convenient and unsatisfying places. The celebration of the Chrism Mass, in which we bless oils and renew our promises writes large for us to see that priests are afforded the grace to be men called by Christ and ordained for others for the sake of service. Pope Saint John Paul II wrote to his brother priests in 1987, “Prayer is essential for maintaining pastoral sensitivity to everything that comes from the Spirit, for correctly discerning and properly employing those charisms that lead to union and are linked to priestly service in the Church. For it is the task of priests ‘to gather together’ the People of God, not to divide them… the priest, the steward of the mysteries of God, is truly himself when he is for others. Prayer gives him a special sensitivity to these others, making him attentive to their needs, to their lives and destiny. Prayer also enables the priest to recognize those whom the Father has given to him. These are, in the first place, those whom the Good Shepherd has as it were placed on the path of our priestly ministry, of his pastoral care.”

As we approach the celebration of the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper this Holy Thursday with many of the people whom the Good Shepherd has placed in the path of our priestly ministry, I suggest to you that the prayer of Jesus at Gethsemane is the bridge between the Last Supper and His Passion. The prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane links the Last Supper with the Crucifixion and saves the Last Supper and the Mass from becoming misinterpreted as simply a commemorative meal of fellowship; the prayer of Jesus at Gethsemane that He invites us to pray with Him is a sacrificial prayer of both priest and victim.

Peter, James, and John received a glimpse of His glory at the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor to strengthen them for this moment of suffering and rejection by Christ at Gethsemane. (It seems that they did not savor those graces on Tabor and were slow on the uptake when the Lord enters His Passion). They fall asleep because of grief. Every one of us who has experienced the clear recognition of a personal and loving vocation to the priesthood can remember moments of such zeal and excitement when we answered the call and when we were anointed at our ordinations. To be honest, so many of us tend to wander away from that recognition and the gratitude for it and we fall asleep and can even become lukewarm and indifferent to Christ and to those whom we serve. Our prayer as priests keeps us close to Christ and close to His flock as His shepherds with a graced intimacy that is more real than human friendship and passing familiarity.

Pedro, Santiago, y Juan recibieron una vislumbre de Su gloria en la Transfiguración en el Monte Tabor para fortalecerlos para este momento de sufrimiento y rechazo de Cristo en Getsemaní; parece que no saborearon esas gracias en el Tabor y fueron lentos en el entenderlo cuando el Señor entra en Su Pasión. Se duermen a causa del dolor. Todos los que hemos experimentado el claro reconocimiento de una vocación personal y amorosa al sacerdocio podemos recordar momentos de tanto celo y entusiasmo cuando respondimos al llamado y cuando fuimos ungidos en nuestras ordenaciones. Para ser honesto, muchos de nosotros tendemos a alejarnos de ese reconocimiento y la gratitud por Él y nos dormimos — e incluso podemos volvernos tibios e indiferentes hacia Cristo y aquellos a quienes servimos. Nuestra oración como sacerdotes nos mantiene cerca de Cristo y cerca de su rebaño como pastores con una intimidad llena de gracia que es más real que la amistad humana y la familiaridad pasajera.

Jesus invites Peter, James, and John to pray with Him in Gethsemane that they not be put to the test of temptation: the temptation to give up faith and to commit apostasy, the temptation to abandon hope by despair or presumption, and the temptation to refuse to love by giving in to mournful indifference. Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque held that Christ was so grief-stricken in Gethsemane because he realized the indifference that He would receive from those whom He would love throughout the ages. Jesus invites each of us priests by name, as he invited Peter, James, and John, to pray also with Him at Gethsemane because His prayer reveals the anguish of compassion that He feels for every human being, including each one of us who suffer from sin and feel unloved and rejected through indifference. The prayer life of the priest formed by the agony of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane saves us priests from being overwhelmed by grief and from being numbed by the drowsiness of indifference in ministry and functionalism in the celebration of the sacraments, most especially the celebration of the Eucharist.

In a few moments we each will renew the promises that we made at our respective ordinations. We do so at a time where the Church and society are suffering from a great deal of mournful indifference to Christ and His Gospel, an indifference that also afflicts us priests, as recipients and participants. As we renew our promises, we remember that we do so with Christ in the present moment and with the sensitivity and compassion of Gethsemane in which He asks us to pray with Him as His brothers and His priests. Let us ask Him to change our hearts and those of His people from indifference to His incomparable love that does not count the cost, the love poured forth with His Blood on Calvary.

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