Good evening, and welcome! Just like parents are happiest when all the kids are home, nothing makes a bishop happier than a full house for a special celebration!
Our readings for this evening’s Chrism Mass give us several titles for Jesus: Faithful Witness, Firstborn of the dead, and Ruler of the kings of the earth. Our celebration tonight calls to mind other titles as well, such as Eternal Priest, and Living Word.
Perhaps one of the more significant titles that are operative as we gather for this Chrism Mass refers to Christ’s presence with us. Those who are members of the Church are called the Body of Christ. We are the Body of Christ, and what we celebrate tonight tells us why and how we can claim such a dignified identity in Christ.
The Prophet Isaiah had a keen awareness of God’s anointing as well as a conscious perception regarding the practical implications of such a generous outpouring of God’s Spirit. The Prophet knew how God through the Spirit was empowering and giving direction to his work and ministry. He spoke to the people of God’s faithfulness through the covenant and believed the Providence of God bestowed a great dignity upon the people. It is God’s desire and design that made Isaiah a Prophet and the people ‘a race the Lord has blessed.’ (Isaiah 61:9)
God’s desire and design continues to work down through the ages, and reaches its culmination in Jesus Christ. Therefore St. Paul in the Letter to the Ephesians praises God in the following words:
Praised be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has bestowed on us in Christ every spiritual blessing in the heavens. God chose us in him before the world began to be holy and blameless in his sight. He predestined us to be his adopted sons through Jesus Christ, such was his will and pleasure, that all might praise the glorious favor he has bestowed on us in his beloved. (Ephesians 1: 3-6)
As Jesus began his public ministry, he was anointed by the Father with the Holy Spirit. That same Spirit immediately led Jesus into the desert for 40 days and 40 nights where he was tested and tempered for his ministry as Messiah and Savior. From this experience in the desert, Jesus makes his way to the Synagogue in Nazareth, where he appears in our Gospel tonight. Notice it is as near the end of our 40 days of Lent that we gather tonight to bless and consecrate the oils by which God continues to anoint us for a closer identity with his Son, Jesus.
As Jesus begins his public ministry, he proclaims the passage from Isaiah and declares that this mysterious work of God is now fulfilled.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. (Luke 4:18-19)
The anointing of God is through the Holy Spirit. This anointing is for ministry and mission. This anointing gives us a sense of identity and purpose, and through association with God and with Jesus Christ, brings joy. This anointing is a pouring out of God’s grace and warmth upon us and is precisely what allows and empowers us to bring the warmth and love of Jesus Christ to others. As the Father through the Holy Spirit was always at work in his Son, Jesus Christ, so the Son, through the Holy Spirit is always alive and at work in us, making us the Body of Christ, the Church.
As we recall Jesus’ proclamation which outlines his mission, we see the direct correlation with people; the poor, the outcast, captives, the blind and oppressed; ordinary people from all walks of life. Everything about the mission of Jesus, about the mission of the Church, involves improving the lives of people, first and foremost by extending to them the gift of salvation, and doing so precisely by drawing them into the life of God and the life of the community that is the Church, the Body of Christ.
As our priests renew their promises tonight, we cannot help but be reminded of the call of Jesus to share in his Eternal Priesthood. We ask that our priesthood be a true mirror of the Priesthood of Jesus Christ, and not something of our own making. My brothers, may this evening be a moment of grace in which we renew our resolve to follow Christ more closely and to serve his people ever more generously and faithfully.
As we bless the oil of the infirmed and the oil of Catechumens and consecrate the Chrism Oil, may we be reminded of the anointing that each of us has received and the practical implications this anointing imposes in making us members of the Body of Christ.
Jesus was clearly aware of his identity as the Son of God and his ministry as the Savior. Now we are to be clearly aware of our identity as adopted sons and daughters of God and our sharing in the mission of Jesus, which is the mission of the Church.
Please allow me to give you an example of what I mean. Many of you are aware of Archbishop Charles John Seghers who ministered throughout the Northwest during the mid 1800’s and whose life was cut short when he was murdered in Alaska in 1886. After being appointed the Archbishop of the Oregon territory, he wrote a friend of his asking that he offer this prayer on his behalf: “Please pray that God may fit my hands for his work and my back for the cross.”
My dear priests, brothers and sisters in Christ, this is precisely what our anointing is for. May the prayer of Archbishop Seghers be ours, that by the anointing we have received in Christ, we may be equipped for the work of God and for the cross of Christ. St. Paul tells us in the Epistles that God gives each member of the Church unique gifts “to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God,” (Ephesians 4: 12 -13) He prays elsewhere that God will ‘furnish you with all that is good, that you may do his will.” (Hebrews 13:21) Finally, this great preacher tells us that God’s Word trains us in righteousness “so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:17)
My dear people, let there be no doubt; God is with us! God loves us faithfully and unconditionally, as we are, while at the same time, helping us to live up to, and loving us into our fullest potential which is discovered in our relationship with Jesus Christ.
It is Christ who calls each of us. It is Christ who anoints and equips each of us for the work of the Gospel. May this mission and ministry of Christ always be our joyful work.