This evenening, the People of God of the Diocese of Cheyenne gathered for the annual Chrism Mass. From St. Patrick in Casper, we celebrated the unity that is ours in Jesus Christ, and His great work of Human Redemption. Below is tonight’s homily.
The purpose of every Eucharist is unity. It is one God we worship. It is one community that worships; the present and the absent. It is the sacrifice of the Church, the whole Church. It is One Lord, who is offered in the Eucharist, and One Lord received. The presence of the entire presbyterate this evening, priests from every part of the diocese, demonstrates their unity with the bishop. It is the presence of the People of God, gathered with the bishop and the priests and deacons, representing our unity as a Diocese, and our unity with the universal church. It is the Eucharist, Christ, Who unites us with Himself, and through Himself, through the Church, unites us with one another.
God is One, for all peoples, no matter what they believe or do not believe, there is One and only One God. This One God, out of love for humanity, sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to dwell among us, to reveal the nature of God, the presence of God in our midst. In Jesus Christ, we gaze upon the face of God and experience the love and mercy and redemption of God. It is this Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, referenced in the second reading tonight. The book of Revelation reminds us that Jesus is the first born of the dead. Behold, he is coming amid the clouds, and every eye will see him… All the peoples of the earth will lament him…” “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “the one who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. (Revelation 1:5-8)
Even the genealogy of Jesus teaches us that Jesus is the source of unity for the entire human race. This human lineage which Luke traces from Joseph all the way back to Adam tells us that the humanity of Jesus takes on the whole of humanity. Then, from the moment that this Word of God takes on human flesh in the Incarnation, through Jesus’ life and ministry, His eventual death and resurrection and Ascension into heaven completes the cycle that unites him to all humanity, from beginning of time to end of time. In Christ, every human person finds their completion, their personal unity, or wholeness. In Christ, each person finds unity with the entire human race, indeed, with all creation.
Jesus’ entry into history and time is for the work of human Redemption. As Isaiah foretold, as if Christ Himself were speaking: “My people will live in peaceful country, in secure dwellings and quiet resting places.” (Isaiah 35:18) This work of Redemption is more than a merciful work of God granting forgiveness of individual sins. This is a work of re-creation, a labor of love to re-establish the one family of God. This is the work of Christ. This is the work of Christ through the Church. This is precisely why Jesus Christ is the answer to every human longing and the fulfillment of every human person.
The mystery of human redemption is the reality of Christ, taking all of humanity to himself to lead us from darkness into light, His Light, the Light of Truth, the Light of eternal Life. This mystery is symbolized in the Good Shepherd who takes the lost sheep of humanity upon his shoulders to lead us back to the fold of the one family of God, which is the Church. It is symbolized in the beaten traveler, left to die in the ditch, which the Good Samaritan places on his beast of burden, only to heal his wounds and provide for his every need. We are the beneficiaries of this gift of redemption; the healing balm of Christ. Just as the Good Shepherd and the Good Samaritan, symbols of Christ, symbols of priesthood, every priest enters into the need of humanity as an instrument of Christ’s salvation.
The sins of the world, Christ takes to himself as he mounts the cross, to pour out his blood, to give freely and lovingly, His life for ours. Death, the punishment for sins, is embraced by the very author of Life, only to take up His life again in the Resurrection. Our sins were included in that salvific act of Love, and yet, we are invited to participate in Christ’s suffering, as ‘we bear witness to His Redemption in the world.’ (Opening Prayer) “To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his Blood, who has made us into a Kingdom, priests for his God and Father, to him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen.” (Revelations 1:5-8)
Christ, who is the Bread of Life, is the grain of wheat, fallen to the earth to die, only to bear much fruit. In our baptismal and priestly promises, we are incorporated into this cycle of death that gives life. Christ, who strengthens us with his Life-giving WORD, and nourishes us with His Body and Blood in the Eucharist invites us, indeed leads us to the truth that this is the only path for an authentically human life, to live one’s life as a gift for others, and a gift to God, a gift to the Church. Our celebration this evening, as every Eucharistic celebration, instructs us in the mystery and truth that it is only in freely laying down one’s life that true life is discovered. Only in dying to self in this world, in the model of Christ, as a witness to his redeeming work, is any person assured of the fullness of Life in eternity, in God’s Kingdom.
Instinctively, we know the truth of these mysteries of Christ. These mysteries of Christ are also instinctively attractive, and lie at the very heart of motivating the moral and Christian life. At the same time, we know what it is to fail in our efforts to live so generously, freely, faithfully. But it was precisely for these moments that Christ gave His all, that we might place ourselves once again into His merciful embrace, rise again from the death of sin, renewed in Christ’s compassion and love, and renew our journey with courage and confidence.
Every priest is a minister of this compassion and mercy of Christ. Every priest is sent by Christ into the world to lift humanity out of despair, to re-route humanity from the dead end street of living only for self, to the paths of truth and love, the Way that is Christ. Each priest is sent into the world to continue Christ’s work of leading God’s family through the Church to God’s Kingdom of eternity.
All of this we celebrate tonight, as we prepare to celebrate the great Paschal Mystery once again. Christ, through the Church, is continually at work conforming us into His image, that we might offer His people a constant witness of faith and love, that we might be worthy and faithful teachers of the faith. The life of the priest, indeed of all the faithful, is demanding and draining. We all know what it is to ‘pour ourselves out’ as a cup drained to the last drop. Hopefully we have also learned that it is only Christ, His Chalice of Salvation, who can renew the interior resources we need to continually follow him as faithful disciples.
My dear brother priests; love Christ. Love His Church. Love your people. As St. Paul told the Ephesians: “Follow the way of love, even as Christ loved you.” (Ephesians 4:32) It is because we have been so loved by Christ that we are ‘called’, ‘sent’, and able to be patient and loving with the People of God entrusted to our care. Lead your people with charity. Nourish them with the Word of God. Strengthen them with the Sacraments. Be a witness to them by your own prayerfulness and holiness of life. To live and minister with such charity and fidelity is to truly share in the consecration of Christ. Such a priestly life is the manner in which we share in the Spirit of the Lord, who anointed us to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to set the oppressed free, ( Isaiah 61; Luke 4:16-21) and build up the Mystical Body of Christ, that is the Church.
Proclaiming God’s Word – the Gospel of Jesus Christ – is one of the fundamental duties of priesthood. Preaching the Word of God is to give the world ‘truth’, which is the true ‘release’ sought by every human person. For Jesus said: “If you remain in my word, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) This Word of God is what unlocks the secret to all that is meaningful in this world, and is the Way to what lies beyond this life. Jesus Christ is this Way, because He is the Word made flesh, the Word of Life.
This is fundamentally what the New Evangelization is all about: to intimately know Christ and to live in the world as a vibrant witness to Christ so as to lead others to Christ, Who alone leads us to the Father and our heavenly home. My dear brothers; remain with Christ. Remain in Christ and remember His promise: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.” (John 15:9 – 10)
Dear People of God; love your priests. Love Christ. Love His Church. To you as well, I offer the same words of St. Paul: “Follow the way of love, even as Christ loved you.” Know that Christ continues to walk with you. He is as present today through His Church, perhaps even more so, than He was when He walked this earth. His presence among us is the reason we can live each day with courage and confidence. He is the reason we live not so much for the things of this world which are passing, but we live rather for the treasure of eternal life stored up for us in heaven, where neither moth nor flame can destroy. The foretaste and participation in this Life that is ours in Christ is the Eucharist.
Finally, to all of you entrusted to my pastoral care. Please know of my love for you. It is a tremendous responsibility, and one of my greatest privileges, to be your bishop. Pray that my ministry to you may model the selfless love of Christ, and that through Him and with Him and in Him, together, we may bear much fruit for the building up of the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church.
Please God, may it be so!0