CHRISM MASS 2011
Most Reverend Paul D. Etienne
Jesus uses the words of the prophet Isaiah to speak of His ministry: The spirit of the Lord is upon me. This is the Spirit Jesus shares in the intimate communion of love with the Father. It is the same Spirit we will call down upon these oils this evening, to make them Holy. Through the presence of Christ in the Sacraments, The Oil of the infirmed is used for physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. The Oil of Catechumens is used to grant Wisdom, strength, and a deeper understanding of the gospel; gifts desperately needed in our church and world today.
The Sacred Chrism is used to consecrate the altar and walls of new churches for the sacred work of the Church. Chrism is used in Baptism, and Confirmation. It is used in the Sacrament of Holy Orders to anoint the hands of the priest and the head of the bishop. Through the grace conferred through these sacraments, Jesus Himself is at work transforming each individual for a greater capacity of holiness. He and His Spirit are at work within the believer granting peace. Through these Sacraments, Jesus is drawing and calling us to share in the divine life itself. We are called to love and desire, to cherish and nourish this presence of Christ for He longs to incorporate us into His promise of salvation.
This Spirit of the Lord is upon us, the People of God so that we may share in Jesus’ ministry. Recently, in the Gospel of John, when Jesus heals a blind man, he said to his disciples: We must do the works of the one who sent me while it is still day. (John 9:4) These words hold true for all of us. We share in the work of Jesus. As He was sent by the Father, so He sends us. And as He shared in the intimate embrace of the Father, so do we when we freely and fully cooperate with the Father’s will. And as long as the Work of Christ continues through the Church, the darkness shall never overtake the Light, for Jesus promised Peter that the jaws of death shall never prevail against His Church. (Matthew 16:18)
This Sacred Liturgy tonight is very much about extending the work of Jesus, the work of the Church. Though we all share in this work, it is a ministry shared by the priest in a special way, through a “holy order”. The work of the priest is all about bringing a “sacred ordering” to the chaos of the world. Spring is such a powerful reminder of the forces of nature that are at work; at all times there is a divine harmony, but at the same time, there is an element of pressure or tension that reflects on the surface a struggle of good and evil; a struggle for darkness over light. And yet, I believe the true purpose of this tension is to create new life. It is this “pressure”, this “creative force” that causes the mountains to rise, and the tides to move in and out.
Similarly, a “creative tension” tends to always be present in the Church, and very often it is the priest who stands at the fulcrum or leverage point of this creative work of the Spirit in the Church. This place of the priest in the Church is a privilege and carries a great responsibility. It is a burden at times, and one that can take a toll, but the priest shoulders the stole of priesthood none-the-less, all for the work of the salvation of God’s people. We saw the strain of service in the life of Jesus, and He promised His disciples that they would drink from the same cup. (Matthew 20: )
One of the most memorable and inspiring books I read this past year was about such a priest. In his book, He Leadeth Me, Fr. Walter J. Ciszek, SJ, describes a 23 year portion of his life. While working in Poland, he was taken prisoner by Russian troops during World War II and convicted of being a Vatican spy. During those 23 years, he was transferred from prison to labor camps, tortured and put to forced labor in the most inhumane environments one could imagine. Through his prayer, faith, and priesthood, he came to a profound understanding of God’s will and a deep appreciation for his priesthood. He was not the only priest he suffered this cruel treatment and harsh conditions. I wish to share with you just a few of his insights.
The priest (in prison camp) could accept the works and sufferings of each day from God’s hands and offer them back to God, not for himself alone but for all those around him who were struggling to keep the faith or had not yet received the gift of faith. It didn’t make getting up in the morning to face another day of rough and wind-whipped work any easier, or the work itself any less exhausting, but it added a dimension of expiation and sacrifice to our lives beyond the sheer necessity of survival and enduring one more day. It gave another sense of purpose and of dedication to the priesthood; it added a sacramental element to the labor and the sufferings of the day. It made of every moment and of every effort a priestly work. For a priest is ordained to do more than simply celebrate the Mass or hear confessions, to console the sick and comfort the dying, to offer words of consolation and spiritual wisdom to those in need. “Every priest is chosen from among men and ordained to minister to men in those things that are of God”, says the ordination ceremony. And the things that are of God are all the joys and works and sufferings of each day, however burdensome and boring, routine and insignificant they may seem. It is the priest’s function to offer these things back to God for his fellowmen and to serve as an example, a witness, a martyr, a testimony before the men around him of God’s providence and purpose. (Page 113)
He goes on to reflect on the effect his experiences and the people had on his faith:
We did not merit faith – God gave it to us as a free gift – but it is ours to preserve or to lose. It is ours to cherish or to take for granted, and if we begin to take it for granted we will surely lose it. So we must strive instead to be ever more conscious of it, to be jealous of it and guard it…We must make it the unspoken principle that guides our every action, the center of our being and of all that we do each day. It must become as real for us, as necessary to our lives, as the air we breathe – for without it our lives have no meaning and our soul may die. We must constantly work to strengthen it and make it operative in all we do. (Page 183)
And so, my brother priests, know that every moment of every day carries an opportunity and a grace for the work of salvation entrusted to us. In the moments that make no sense, in the events that would lead you to doubt or despair, offer these moments up to God, and trust in the power such events carry in His Providential hands. Please know as well that you and your ministry are a blessing to the Church, and deeply appreciated and loved by this bishop!0