Chrism Mass Homily, 2010
Most Reverend Paul D. Etienne
St. Anthony, Casper & Cathedral, Indianapolis
As we gather this evening, we gather as a local Church – Bishop, Priests, Deacons, Religious, Lay Leaders, Seminarians, and the Faithful of our many parishes. Together, we are Church, the Body of Christ, The People of God.
It is important for us to remember, the Church does not exist for itself, rather, the Church exists for mission. We gather this evening to be renewed in the fullness of life which is ours from God in the person of Jesus Christ. This life of Christ is revealed to us through the Gospel and imparted to us through the sacraments of the Church; all for the express fulfillment of God’s eternal plan – that we be redeemed and incorporated into God’s family as sons and daughters of God. This is who we are as Church – members of Christ’s body – destined to give glory to God – destined for eternal life.
As Christ came into the world as the revelation of God (John 1:18), so we (as Church) are sent into the world as witnesses of Christ. The work of Jesus is the work of the Church. Jesus tells us again in the Gospel this evening what this work consists of:
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 Book of Revelation reminds us this evening that Jesus is the faithful witness (Revelation 1:5). We, as members of the Church, are now His faithful witnesses to the world. This mission is nothing we claim for our self. This is God’s gift to us; it is Christ’s great commission to us:
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)
Christ has taken possession of us, (Philippians 3:12) and as we have been claimed by and for Christ, so we are to carry Him into the world to others. This is the mission of the Church – to proclaim Jesus Christ. As we celebrate this liturgy this evening, we see some profound and significant ways this mission of the Church continues, namely through the sacraments. Tonight our priests will renew their priestly promises, and we will bless the holy oils of the Church, which are fundamental symbols in the sacramental life of the Church.
During this celebration this evening, the Church gives prominent attention to the sacrament of Holy Orders. Even though we all share the common priesthood of Jesus Christ, there is a unique and essential role served in the ministerial priesthood. By Christ’s own design, he called a group of twelve, and he called them each by name, to enter into an intimate bond of friendship. He revealed to them the glory He shared with the Father. ((Mark 9:2-8) He personally walked with them and taught them “what referred to him in all the scriptures”. (Luke 24: 27) He instructed them in the ways of discipleship and of His own imminent suffering, death and resurrection. And He promised that they, too, would “drink from the same cup.” (Mark 10:39) He extracted from them their own professions of faith. (Mark 8:29) He gave them the great commission to preach, to forgive sins, to heal the sick, to refute error, and to continue to celebrate the Eucharist as a remembrance of His sacrificial love. As He entrusted these sacred duties to the twelve, they faithfully handed down the priestly ministry through the sharing of the same Holy Spirit imparted to them through the laying on of hands.
All of this, my dear people, is safe-guarded, administered and shared with you today through the priests gathered here with us this sacred evening.
I speak to a large extent for myself, but highly suspect that the same is true for your priests. As a newly ordained bishop, I find myself at times “downplaying” the significance of the role that is now mine as a bishop, namely, to embody in my person and ministry the very person of Jesus Christ. As Church, we say and believe that the “fullness of the priesthood” resides in the episcopacy, or in more familiar language, in the bishop. It is far easier for me to be aware of my humanity, of my sinfulness than it is to be aware of the sacramental truth and reality that I now stand in the midst of God’s people in the name and person of Jesus Christ.
The same is true for each and every priest. When the priest proclaims the Gospel, it is Christ who speaks; it is His Truth that is proclaimed. When the priest baptizes, it is Christ who offers new and everlasting life. When the priest absolves sins, it is Christ who ministers God’s mercy. When the priest anoints the sick and dying, it is Christ who heals. When the priest witnesses the vows of newly married couples on their wedding day, it is the same Christ standing in the midst of love, as Christ at the wedding feast in Cana. When the priest stands at the altar offering the Eucharist day after day, it is the same Christ who taught us “I am the Bread of Life.”
When the priest prays for the Church in all its members, it is Christ who prays in him, with him, and for him. When the priest walks with you in times of sorrow, grief and distress, it is Christ who consoles and comforts. When the priest celebrates the milestones of life and the accomplishments of faith, it is Christ who smiles and rejoices with you. When the priest is alone, in the solitude of celibacy, it is Christ who takes him to Himself, expanding his heart for even greater love. Alas, when a priest fails, it is because he has temporarily lost sight of Christ due to the human frailty which tends to focus on self, rather than the Beloved, and the people entrusted to his pastoral care. It is then that the priest is allowed to experience and receive the tender mercy of Christ, the Dawn from on High.
My dear people, your priests will seldom tell you of the sacrifices they make, and indeed it would be inappropriate to do so. But because he is conformed to the image and likeness of Christ the High Priest, sacrifice and struggle are a part of his life, as the cross was central to the life of Christ. I know this is true for every Christian vocation. But tonight, we celebrate priesthood, as these your priests prepare to renew again their priestly promises.
You already know how committed your priests are. Many if not all of them have more than one assignment these days. They travel sometimes great distances between these assignments. They forgo very often their own desires and plans to be present to you in the fulfillment of their ministry. They negotiate the internal struggles and conflicts of normal, day-to-day parish life and keep them on track according to the priorities of the Gospel.
They have embraced a singular and unique relationship of love with Christ, to the exclusion of an exclusive relationship of love in this life, for the express availability of love to many through the Church. All that is good about and in the priesthood is present here, in this [arch]diocese, in this body of priests: fraternity, fidelity, courage, dedication, love for the Church, and most of all, love for God’s people.
I am sure I speak for all of your priests when I acknowledge how good the People of God are to our priests. Continue to love your priests; support them and encourage them, and know of their gratitude for your many kindnesses. You are truly a blessing to the priests who serve you. And, I know I speak for all of you when I express my own admiration and appreciation for the life of the priest; for the life and ministry of these, your priests.
Allow me to broaden the perspective once again to the life of the universal Church. The holy oils we consecrate tonight symbolize a great deal of who we are, and who we are to be as Church in the world today. As faithful witnesses of Christ, we are to be as the woman at the well of Samaria who after encountering Christ ran back to the town proclaiming “Come and see the man who told me everything I have done.” (John 4:29) Jesus came as Light, so that everyone who believes in Him may not remain in darkness. So the Church – when we are true witnesses to Christ, serve as light to the world. We are as the apostle Philip revealing Jesus to those who wanted to see Him. (John 12:21) So are we to be beacons of hope to those who despair. As Moses, with the help of God parted the Red Sea and provided Manna in the desert in leading the people of Israel on an exodus from slavery, so Christ came to give us the Bread of Life and walked upon the waters to bring us the New Exodus from the slavery of sin.
We as Church are now to live this new life that is ours, and are to bring this new life to others whose lives are stalled and stained from pursuits of the things that only this world can offer in order to bring them the promises of the world yet to come in all its fullness.
As Jesus is the WORD, the Truth, come from the Father to set us free, we as Church are to allow this Word of Christ to dwell richly within us, that we may know the Truth, and that we may proclaim the Truth, Jesus Christ, with love. So, my dear people let us continue to cling to Christ, the Gate to new life. Let us continue to follow Christ, the Good Shepherd into the ways of peace, to the restful waters of eternity, and let us lead many others through the same Gate, by the same Shepherd, to the same promise of eternal Light and peace.0