Today’s Chrism Mass stands at the threshold of the Sacred Triduum that will begin tomorrow evening as we gather in our parishes to celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.
At this Mass, of course, we bless the Holy Oils and consecrate the Sacred Chrism. These oils are closely linked to the Paschal Mystery – for through them the Holy Spirit sanctifies us, through them the Holy Spirit conforms us more perfectly to Christ, so that we might spread the fragrance of his presence throughout the world as we grow in the virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity.
Last year, at this Chrism Mass, I convoked our Diocesan Synod – the first ever in our young diocese’s history – with its theme “Starting Afresh from Christ”. Today, I am happy to report that with the involvement of an unprecedented number of Christ’s faithful – with more than 1,000 people serving on one or more of our Synod commissions – we have made much progress. And, we continue to move forward. The work of our commissions will finish during June. And, in August, we will hold our Synod Convening through which a Diocesan Plan will be presented to our people. As we move forward, I ask your continued prayers – and I thank you for the enthusiasm with which you have embraced the Synod.
The Oils we blessed today evoke the major themes of our Synod: conversion, communion and solidarity. As the Second Vatican Council reminded us the Church herself while celebrating seven particular sacraments is herself a Sacrament. She is the Sacrament of Christ – for our Catholic and Apostolic Church is a living and effective sign of the presence of Christ in our world.
Seekers are anointed with the Oil of Catechumens as they begin their initial journey towards Baptism. The Oil of Catechumens reminds us that it is in the Church that we are called to encountered the living Christ, the Christ who calls us to conversion. His first recorded words in the Gospel of Mark which are repeated in the imposition of Ashes at the beginning of Lent are: Change your life and believe in the gospel. The conversion of our minds and hearts to the Lord, as a free response to his saving grace, necessarily takes place within the Church, for as the Sacrament of Christ in the world, the Church remains necessary for salvation. The ancient formula of St. Cyprian says it succinctly: One cannot have God as his Father without having the Church as his mother.
And so through Baptism and Confirmation we enter into that Church which is a communion of saints – as the Apostles’ Creed teaches. But the Church is also a communion in the very life of God himself: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If the Oil of Catechumens speaks to us of Conversion, the Sacred Chrism – used in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, and also in the Sacrament of Holy Orders – is truly the oil of gladness. For in these sacraments that confer an indelible character on our souls, the anointing with the Sacred Chrism expresses the effects of the giving of the Holy Spirit which make us sharers in the very life of God, in the koinonia or communion of the Most Holy Trinity. As St. Paul reminds us, no one can say: Jesus is Lord, unless in the Spirit. And there is no other name through which we are saved. Only through the Lord Jesus in the gift of his Spirit, can we go to the Father.
And just as the Oil of Catechumens evokes the Synod theme of Conversion and the Sacred Christ the Synod theme of Communion, so too the Oil of the Sick evokes the Synod theme of Solidarity. In the Sacrament of the Sick, the Church offers solace and comfort to those suffering the trials of sickness or old age. As the Servant of God, John Paul II taught in the apostolic letter “Salvifici Doloris” and lived in his own flesh: “suffering is present in the world in order to release love, in order to give birth to works of love toward neighbor, in order to transform the whole human civilization into a ‘civilization of love'” (No. 30). To that end, in anointing the Sick, the Church wishes to be present to the world of pain – to all those suffering physical and or spiritual pain. The Sacrament of the Sick, when celebrated in a worthy and timely manner, can give courage to those who are sick as well to those who love and care for them. Through this anointing, the sick are assured that their suffering and pain can become redemptive – for themselves and for the whole world. In this gesture of solidarity, the Church recognizes the dignity and value of suffering and affirms “that man is not of worth for his efficiency or his appearance, but for himself, because he has been created and loved by God.” (cf. Benedict XVI, Angelus 4/2/6)
Through the anointing with these Holy Oils, the Holy Spirit continually strengthens and renews God’s people so that we may always “start afresh from Christ” on our journey, our pilgrimage to the Father’s house. On our life’s journey, thanks to the action of the Holy Spirit present in the Church, we encounter the Living Jesus Christ, the Way to Conversion, Communion and Solidarity. (cf. Ecclesia in America)
Of course, the Eucharist is the outstanding moment of encounter with the Living Christ. And today, our attention is drawn to those who through a special consecration with the Sacred Chrism and the laying on of hands are made stewards of the Sacred Mysteries we celebrate at the Mass… I speak, of course, of our priests. Pray for your priests that they may be good stewards of the gifts of God’s grace – especially, of the gift of his Mercy in the sacrament of confession; and, the gift of the Bread of Life in the Eucharist, the living memorial of our Lord’s Death and Resurrection.
At today’s Mass in which all your priests will renew their commitment to priestly service, our prayers are filled with hope and gratitude. The presence of our seminarians, of some of our future seminarians and of the three transitional deacons ordained just last month confirms that hope. And, how could we not offer grateful prayers for our jubilarians, Father Sebastian Hanks is the youngster among our jubilarians: he celebrated his silver jubilee, 25 years of priesthood. God bless you, Father Hanks. And our golden jubilarians are: Fathers Alex Dalpiaz, Gerald Shovelton, Norbert Adelman, Harry Wallace and, of course, Bishop Dorsey. This year they celebrate 50 years of priestly service. These men were priests – preaching, teaching, hearing confessions, celebrating Mass – before I could even recite my “ABC’s”. God bless you, men. One spiritual writer once said that since the priest offers the Holy Sacrifice each day, sacrifice must be the condition of his life. We thank for your “yes”. We thank you for your sacrifice. 50 years is a long time, and certainly 50 years must be celebrated – but those 50 years mark not the end of your priestly service to God and his Church but only a way station along the road. The Church still needs you and you still have many gifts to give. Father Alex, of course, is still an active pastor; and the others while “retired” from administrative duties have not retired from giving yourselves to God and his people.
Like I said, 50 years is just a stop a long the way. Father Leo Dobosiewicz is living proof that retirement means you can be occupied without being preoccupied. This month he celebrates his 60th anniversary of ordination. Now he’s been a priest twice as long as I have – and he was priest long before I was glint in my father’s eye.
Together with these jubilarians, we priests will all say together “I do” as we renew our priestly commitment. And whether we are ordained 60 years like Fr. Dobo, or fifty years like Bishop Dorsey and our honored jubilarians, or 40 years like Father Fuschek, or even one year like Fathers Torres and Circe, each one of us in renewing our commitment cannot fail to think back to that day when we were ordained priests. Like St. Peter, or St. Paul, we are certainly conscious of how unworthy we were and are of such a great gift. And we are filled with wonder and certainly gratitude for the gratuitousness with which Christ chose us, for the trust he places in us and for the forgiveness he never refuses us. (cf. John Paul II, 4-12-01) As priests, in renewing our commitment to priestly service we once again “start afresh from Christ” and we ask God that he make us “good stewards” of the mysteries he entrusts to us.
Today, as these Oils are blessed and set aside for a holy purpose, let us all remember that we are all through Baptism “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own” (1 Peter 2: 9). And let us pray that our Synod will help all the faithful of this Diocese of Orlando to “start afresh from Christ” and thereby bring about a thorough pastoral revitalization of our parishes, schools and other diocesan institutions so that this local Church be here in Central Florida an ever more coherent sign of the presence of Christ, the way to conversion, communion and solidarity. In this way, as good stewards of the gifts the God has given us, we will never forget that the Spirit of the Lord has anointed us “to bring good news to the poor”. By sharing our time, talent and treasure, in fidelity to our baptismal vocation to holiness, may we spread always and everywhere the good fragrance of Christ.