Holy Week and the great Paschal celebration draws near. In fact, the Chrism Mass is traditionally celebrated on the morning of Holy Thursday. “This Mass is a clear expression of the unity of the priesthood and the sacrifice of Christ, which continues to be present in the Church today.” (Ceremonial of Bishops, #274) During this Mass, we consecrate the holy chrism and bless the other oils that will be used in the coming year for sacramental celebrations.
Tonight, we focus our attention on the Lord, Jesus, who was anointed by the Father and sent into the world. (John 10:36) We give thanks for the gift of the priesthood of Jesus Christ, which he shares in an intimate way with the ordained, who minister in his person. At the same time, as we consecrate and bless the oils, we recognize the anointing given by Christ to every member of his Mystical Body, by which we are made holy and share in his mission of proclaiming the Gospel of salvation, and giving witness to our faith in Jesus Christ. (see Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests – #2)
More specifically, as we draw near to Christ through this celebration, we acknowledge the intimate union Christ shares with us – through the Priesthood of the ordained as well as in the Priesthood of the Baptized. Our reading from the Book of Revelation (see 1:5-8) tells us that Jesus Christ freed us from our sins by his Blood, and made us into a Kingdom of priests for his God and Father.
We give thanks for the gift of faith and the call each of us has received to share in the life of Christ. We renew tonight our hope and our faith in the promise of Jesus that he is indeed in our midst, and he remains with us until the end of the ages. (Mt. 28:20) We renew our commitment to remain strong in faith – to be always faithful to Christ until we are with him in the fullness of God’s eternal Kingdom.
As a faithful Son, Jesus looks after his Father’s house; and we are that house. (Hebrews 3:6)
To my brother priests, I want you to know how much I love you, how much the Church needs you, and how grateful we are for each of you and your dedication to love and serve the Lord Jesus, manifested in your loving service of God’s People. I encourage and exhort you to remain faithful to the priestly promises you will renew again tonight.
To the People of God of this local Church of the Archdiocese of Anchorage, I say: I love you. The Church needs you, your faith, and your generous partnership in the Gospel. (Philippians 1:5) The First Letter of St. Peter says it like this: “Be hospitable to one another without complaining. As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” (1 Peter 4:9-10)
In his letter to the US Bishops at the beginning of our retreat together in January, (2019) Pope Francis called for a “new ecclesial season.” His words to the bishops are also a good instruction for every priest: “What is being asked of us today is a new presence in the world, conformed to the cross of Christ, one that takes concrete shape in service to the men and women of our time.”
So, what does this ‘new ecclesial season’ look like? The answer is found as our Holy Father suggests, by looking closely at Jesus, by listening attentively to his word.
In his ministry, Jesus entered the lives of many individuals; the apostles, Mary Magdalene, Martha, Mary, Lazarus, Zacchaeus, the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, the sick, the lame, the blind, even the Pharisees and Scribes. To each he preached and offered the gift of God’s unconditional love and mercy.
Jesus encountered each of them personally, he engaged them in the reality and messiness of their lives. He invited them to a fuller experience of life, by entering a personal relationship with him, inviting them to follow him, and asking that they make a free gift of their life to others.
The new ecclesial season is about conforming our lives to Christ – it involves receiving his anointing and living in communion with him and one another.
Our experience of Jesus ‘moves’ forward on various levels as we journey through this life. My dear people, know that Jesus is in our midst. He is with us as he was with the apostles and the people among whom he moved and preached during his ministry. He reveals himself to us in prayer. He accompanies us through every moment of our day. He sits next to us in every person we meet. And most intimately, He is within us.
There is much in this life that would seek to cause us to doubt the truth of this intimate, redeeming presence of Jesus. Our celebration tonight however raises our awareness and renews our belief that despite worldly distractions and allurements, suffering, persecution, even death by martyrdom – no matter what the Christian endures – fidelity to Christ gains us the ultimate victory. He has anointed us. He has created and redeemed us. He claims us as his own. He longs for our faithful and loving response.
The Church, the Priesthood, the Sacraments, the consecration and blessings we receive offer us new life in Christ – hope and consolation – here and now. This new ecclesial season is about our need for Christ, and our need for each other. As we need to know God’s will, we need to willfully cooperate with this will of God as manifested in the person of Jesus.
This new ecclesial season is about following Christ and accompanying one another on this pilgrimage of faith together. Now is not the time to diminish the ordained priesthood. The priest is essential as the one called and anointed in the person of Christ for the celebration of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. Rather, in addition to the ordained and in partnership with them, it is time to elevate the indispensable importance of every member of the church. Here is what the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World from the Second Vatican Council teaches:
Gathered together in the People of God and established in the one Body of Christ under one head, the laity – no matter who they are – have, as living members, the vocation of applying to the building up of the Church and to its continual sanctification all the powers which they have received from the goodness of the Creator and from the grace of the Redeemer.
The Apostolate of the laity is a sharing in the salvific mission of the Church. (Lumen Gentium #33)
The new ecclesial season is about a great partnership between all the members of the Church. It requires what naturally flows from a closer relationship with Jesus, namely, growing in love and unity – putting our faith and our gifts at the service of the broader community.
Jesus recognized his anointing by the Spirit, which naturally led him to seek out and serve the poor, the sick, those who were oppressed, the outcast. He saw that his anointing would bring about a new day and a new creation for God’s family.
The same is true for us. Our anointing is at the heart of the new ecclesial season. It unites us with Christ, and gives us a share in his mission and salvific ministry. This new ecclesial season, though it is faithful to our tradition and teaching, has less to do with laws, and more to do with Christ’s love. Remember, Christ summarized the law as love of God and love of neighbor. This quote from a Jesuit priest, William Watson, sj sums up nicely the consequence of opening one’s life to Christ:
“If you live principally by rules and laws, or if you avoid all rules and laws, you will be surprised. Those who live by laws alone will encounter the fierce Love that exceeds all laws. And those who reject laws will discover that Love has unambiguous boundaries of right and wrong.” (William M. Watson, SJ, Forty Weeks, pp. 18-19)
The love of Christ has been poured into our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 5: 5) This is our anointing. The Church envisions its possibilities this way:
Men and women who are made new by the love of God are able to change the rules and quality of relationships, transforming even social structures. They are people capable of bringing peace where there is conflict, of building and nurturing fraternal relationships where there is hatred, of seeking justice where there prevails the exploitation of one by another. [man by man] . Only love is capable of radically transforming the relationships that [men] people maintain among themselves. This is the perspective that allows every person of good will to perceive the broad horizons of justice and human development in truth and goodness. (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (#4)
The anointing we receive from Christ makes us one in Him, and fit for the joyful work of advancing God’s Kingdom. This anointing gives us the clarity to know God’s will and the grace to fulfill it. In so doing, we grow in unity and love.
Chiara Lubich was an Italian woman with a missionary zeal, whose fundamental spirituality promoted the love and unity experienced in Christ. She knew the truth of Jesus’ promise: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst.” (Matthew 18:20) Here is a powerful reflection she offered on the unity we discover in living God’s will.
“God’s will is like the sun whose rays are like his will for each one of us. Each of us walks along a ray distinct from the ray of the person next to us, but always along a ray of the sun, that is, the will of God. The closer the rays get to the sun, the closer they get to each other. For us, too, the closer we come to God, by carrying out the divine will, more and more, the closer we draw to each other … until we are all one.” (Chiara Lubich, Rays: Short Reflections on Living God’s Will)
The LORD looks on those who revere him, on those who hope in his love, to rescue their souls from death, to keep them alive in famine.
Our soul is waiting for the LORD. The LORD is our help and our shield. In him do our hearts find joy. We trust in his holy name.
May your love be upon us, O LORD, as we place all our hope in you.