Though not verbatim, here is the essence of my homily from last night’s Chrism Mass.  Sorry, no pictures this year.


March 26, 2015; St. Patrick Catholic Church, Casper Wyoming

The Most Reverend Paul D. Etienne, Bishop of Cheyenne

The readings we have just heard announce the incredible closeness of God. They speak of the relationship that is ours with God. The setting for tonight’s Gospel is Jesus’ home town of Nazareth. Here, Jesus is in familiar territory, surrounded by family and friends. Jesus has just been anointed by the Holy Spirit in his own baptism. Jesus is beginning his public ministry of renewing the relationship of God with his people.

In this Chrism Mass, the Church recalls our own experience of entering into this foundational relationship of being anointed by God:

  • In His Spirit
  • In His Son
  • In the Priesthood
  • In those who are anointed in Baptism and Confirmation

The oils that we bless during this Chrism Mass are used for the purposes of anointing. In Sacramental celebrations these oils both seal us in our life in Christ and heal us in His work of Redemption. These oils are our means of entering into relationship with Christ. Through Christ we are drawn into the Divine Relationship itself. This Divine Life of love that exists between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit exists at the core of every human person. This is what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God.

I recall a recent experience of gaining insight into my own relationship with God. I always pray a rosary when I walk. I had finished my walk, and began speaking with the Lord about my recent experience. This Lent, the cross has become my home. I recall telling the Lord: “I am trying so hard to love and serve you. But where are you?” It then dawned on me that the problem was not God’s, but my own. I was trying too hard. The Lord revealed to me that He was with me. He is always with me, in the depths of my heart. I am never alone.

I would like to share with you a quote that speaks about relationships, about the interior presence of God in every human person.

We cannot know ourselves on our own. – Simply deciding to experience healthy relationships doesn’t give us the ability to relate. A capacity for relating means that I am not the only one at stake, as a single point of reference. Relationships do not depend on me alone. – Relationships are like a network, a tapestry unfolding through space and time, reaching down into the depths of the inexhaustible love of the triune God, the Three Persons who are truly free and faithful in their love. And such a tapestry, enfolding all humanity, can be restored only by a Person who, in the drama of sin and death, in the travail of the history of all creation, can live a love that is total, universal, and free (cf. Col 1:15 – 20). Human Frailty, Divine Redemption by Marko Ivan Rupnik, SJ (pp. 15-16)

This Person is obviously Christ. My problem was that I was placing too much emphasis on myself. My inability to experience God was that I was failing to realize the interior presence of God as my starting point. I was trying to ‘make the relationship happen,’ rather than simply yield to what was already present.

The anointing that we receive from God opens us to the desire of God’s heart, and to the presence of God within our own heart. This relationship with God is not something we white-knuckle and resolve ourselves to discover and ‘make happen’ in the American ‘can do’ way. No! This Trinitarian relationship is within every human person. This is what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God.

The anointing we receive in Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders, Sacrament of the Sick, seeks to open us to this core relationship with the Trinity. The anointing we receive seeks to heal this relationship wounded by sin.

In communion with God through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit, we are de facto in communion with every other person and all of creation. Ours is only to bow humbly and gratefully to this interior presence, this harmony and wisdom of God, to learn love, to receive love, to live love.

This posture of bowing to the presence of God calls to mind Moses before the burning bush. Moses took off his shoes and put his face to the ground, recognizing the holiness of the moment, the sacredness of the encounter with the living God. It reminds me of the night the world was introduced to Pope Francis. As he stood upon the balcony of St. Peter’s basilica, he said he wished to give his blessing to all who were present. Then he said: “But, before the people receive the blessing of the Bishop, I ask that you give me your blessing.” And then he humbly bowed, while asking everyone to silently pray over him.

Our relationship with Jesus, our holiness, is not a matter of self-willing or self-striving as much as it is a matter of yielding to the Holy Spirit. (This is the anointing we receive from God.) This relationship with Jesus is not so much my effort as it is a humble, open stance before the desire of God. So what does this yielding to the Holy Spirit look like?

I offer for an analogy the teaching of Jesus about the grain of wheat that falls to the ground. We are all familiar with this story. Unless the grain of wheat falls to the ground and die, it remains just a grain of wheat. But, if it dies, it yields a fruitful harvest.

The grain of wheat that falls into the ground grows and bears fruit because it yields to the Divine plan of God; to God’s holy ordering, the harmony of creation that already exists within the seed itself. The seed yields to the soil and the many living organisms within the soil, to the cycle of days and nights, the sun and heat, dew and rain. The farmer does not so much grow the wheat as he humbly submits to the wonder of nature; as he bows to the wisdom of God. The farmer becomes a steward of the mysteries of God.

Similar, the priest, the Christian disciple, all of whom are anointed and sent by God, must bow in similar fashion to the presence of God Who is within. In this humble recognition and submission to God, we become stewards of the mysteries of God present within the human person and the history of salvation.

When we humbly yield to this relationship with Christ, allowing Christ to be our center, we become one with Christ. Once this is achieved (by anointing) Jesus becomes our source of unity. Our wholeness and unity are found in Christ.

The anointing we have received is for mission. It is not a private possession. The anointing makes us one with Christ, one with his body, one with his body the Church.

The anointing we receive is a fire, a fire that is to spread. So what is the quality of the flame of our anointing? Is it a single ember that has popped out of the fire and sits alone on the hearth, slowly going out? Is it an ember making up a bed of hot coals among many other embers, but has been covered over by the ashes, just waiting for some burst of wind to come along or more fuel to be added to come to life again? Or is our anointing fully aflame, spreading light and fire to all we encounter?

When we leave here tonight, we will be sent on mission by the anointing we receive. Let us not leave here as an ember that has popped out of the fire, only to wither and lose its heat. May the Holy Spirit in our celebration tonight be that source of new fuel and refreshing breeze that causes our anointing to explode, so that we are aflame with the life and love of God that sends us into the world to further spread his love, his light, his life, his Kingdom.