Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Chrism Mass

April 12, 2022
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, TX

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, Saint Luke describes the rejection that is delivered to Jesus by His friends and extended family members as they react to His proclamation that He is the fulfillment of the prophecy from Isaiah.

Jesus’ proclamation calls the people out of a spiritual listlessness, a lethargy of cynicism and indifference that they prefer to the oil of gladness and the glorious mantle of the Gospel. This oil of gladness is Jesus Christ, the fullness of revelation and God’s own Son.

It is important for us to remember that Jesus is speaking amidst the members of His local synagogue who have their own experiences of Jesus. His extended family and neighbors took Him for granted, because they thought that they knew all about him. He is the carpenter’s son. Yet, when Jesus reveals to them that He is the universal fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah they reject Him. Jesus is calling them out of their private experience of Him and out of their personal spiritual interpretations of what Isaiah prophesies. Each one of them would prefer to impose their private experience of Him and private interpretations of Isaiah upon others.

This is not unlike the present-day practice among government leaders, political activists, the economic leaders of multi-national corporations, and the ideologues within mainstream media and social media to incite each of us as individuals to universalize private experience and to impose this agenda upon organized religion and its adherents under the rubric of what they call “globalism.” This results in the absolutizing of relativism, a tyranny of thought and speech that is imposing itself as a cancel culture upon the anointed and faithful members of the Body of Christ, the Church for whom Christ shed His blood and died.

This melancholy misunderstanding of reality has also supplanted the rule of law in our society with a nihilism spawning political ideologies that replace religion in the lives of many. This nihilism has been advanced by this world’s elite with messianic fervor, even among baptized Catholics who present themselves for Holy Communion but have fashioned a peculiar doctrine of narcissism that exempts themselves from the obligations of charity and the bonds of real communion.

There are other examples. Visit any university campus (including Catholic universities) where the Gospel is not upheld as the liberating truth of the world’s redemption, and this is likely what you will find: intellectual incoherence, moral degradation, intolerance of authentic freedom of thought and speech, the inciting of hatred among people of different races, ideology masking itself as science, abortion promoted as an essential human right and a positive good, a missionary zeal for anarchy, and growing persecution of Christianity at the very center of institutional life. All of this is enforced with ruthless efficiency by teachers and administrators who have pledged their lives to the proposition that there is no such thing as truth and who by all available means seek to persuade or coerce their students to repudiate the alleged superstitions of their childhood, beginning with faith. In some form and to some degree, this same disintegration is at work in every institution of our national life, including the armed forces and our national intelligence agencies.

Yet, we preach joyfully Christ Jesus crucified as the fulfillment of the Old Covenant. He is the oil of gladness that imbues our priestly ministry. We cannot settle for mere familiarity with Jesus as the carpenter’s son. What we preach is the universal character of the Gospel and of the messianic mission of Jesus Christ that we are all equally human, equally subject to God’s law, and equally and eternally accountable to God who loves us and commands us to love our neighbor as we are to love Him. This truth leads us to recognize that our created humanity is measured and structured by the natural law and through grace is held accountable by what the Church’s authentic teaching of the Gospel calls the four last things: death, judgment, heaven, and hell. These four last things set the eternal horizon of the accountability of unconditional love.

Our sacramental ministry and our preaching as priests, for which we were ordained and anointed with chrism, provide the means of grace for reorienting our minds, our hearts, and our behavioral habits, and those of the people we shepherd in the person of Christ the Head and Shepherd of the Church towards the beatitude of heaven.

Natural law puts a hedge against our disordered desires of lust and anger. The four last things hold us accountable eternally for our loving obedience or selfish disobedience to the Ten Commandments and Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. Human beings are created in the image and likeness of God not as angels trapped in bodies, but as a unity of body and soul in such a way that both dimensions of this unity — the body and the soul — are intrinsically related to each other and are essential to the human nature that we all share no matter our race, ethnicity, language, or whether our biological sex be male or female. For too long, these essential truths have been understated in our preaching and other aspects of our priestly life and ministry including our ministries of charity and outreach, our schools, and our curricula for catechesis.

We gather here tonight at this Chrism Mass to bless the sacramental oils: the Oil of the Catechumens, the Oil of the Sick, and the Sacred Chrism. These will be used in our priestly ministry to anoint God’s people with the gladness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The distinct anointings with these three blessed oils will first impart strength to catechumens to renounce sin and the glamor of evil. Secondly, they will release the sick and suffering from fear of receiving the consolation of faith. And thirdly, they will imbue the faithful with the sweet odor of the Gospel, the blessed presence of the Anointed One, Jesus Christ. 

We gather here tonight as brothers, priests and bishop, present with the faithful we serve, to renew our promises of ordination when we were anointed and imbued with the oil of gladness and the sweet fragrance of holiness. We do so as priests, both diocesan and consecrated religious, members of the presbyterate of this local church of Fort Worth and members in communion with the Universal Church founded by Christ Himself on the Rock of Peter — not as secular apparatchiks of a global and multinational organization. We gather as bishop and priests of diverse national origin, speaking various languages, but united as brothers by the fact that Jesus Christ called each one of us and continues to give us His grace to persevere throughout our years of priestly service. As the presbyterate of this local Church, it is essential and praiseworthy for us to gather frequently and encourage each other in word, in deed, and most especially in prayer that we might listen to and serve the community of the People of God entrusted to us.

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.”

Brother priests, dear deacons and religious, and faithful Catholic laity, all of us baptized and anointed as God’s priestly people, we are entering a dark time when unrighteousness is called freedom and blasphemy is taken as a mark of sophistication, when the proponents of these views demand not our respect and tolerance but our moral and spiritual capitulation, and where public and even ecclesial figures of great responsibility are no longer willing to admit the biological difference between men and women, let alone the purpose and dignity of marriage between one man and one woman.

We must admit that Christian civilization is of the past, and now those who believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God are derided as unenlightened bigots. It is our privilege and responsibility to proclaim and to teach the fullness of the Gospel in clarity and charity. Thus, the Church which we have been ordained and anointed to serve returns to the circumstances of the first century as a persecuted minority, and this too is God’s grace, so that we may courageously bear witness to the light in the darkness and preach joyfully the truth of the Gospel by our imitation of Jesus Christ who came not to be served but to serve.

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