If the gospel of Christ is to be seen and heard in a world that pays less and less attention to the deep questions about God, about the meaning of life, about faith, it will have to be seen and heard in the lives of believers. That is why two years ago, at my first Chrism Mass as your bishop, I convoked our first Diocese Synod. “Starting Afresh from Christ” was a call to all the faithful to recommit ourselves to be witnesses to hope, alive in Christ, so that the gospel of Christ be seen and heard in our world.
And though the Synod came to a formal conclusion last August, the recommendations of the various commissions are just beginning to be implemented. So, we could say that the desired fruits of our Synod are still ripening. And those fruits are not simply better run, more efficient parishes, schools and other institution. We are not about just building bigger and better churches, or raising more money.
Yes, we have many “plans” to be implemented, very ambitious plans to be sure; but there is behind them all just one fundamental plan, (and please allow me to quote John Paul II from Novo Millennio Ineunte one more time), it is the “plan found in the gospel and the living tradition to make Christ known, loved and imitated so that in Him we may live the life of the Trinity and with Him transform history until its fulfillment in the heavenly Jerusalem.” (Novo Millennio Ineunte).
Next year is our 40th anniversary as a Diocesan Church. And following the recommendation of our Synod, next year, the year 2008, will be a special a “year of favor from the Lord”, a year of faith to recommit ourselves to Evangelization – to making Christ known, loved and imitated.
Evangelization means not only leading others to faith but also growing in that same faith ourselves. Pope Benedict continually reminds us that our Catholic faith is not about an idea but a person. We are called not to announce an idea but to be witnesses to a person, Jesus Christ, who suffered, died, was buried but now has risen from the dead. We will only be witnesses if we are ourselves alive in Christ. Then, evangelization –preaching the gospel – means simply sharing what we have experienced in the living intimacy of our communion with Christ.
Jesus chooses the text of Isaiah we have just heard for his first sermon. This is no coincidence – with Jesus, nothing is improvised. Isaiah is the great prophet of the Messiah. He speaks of the Virgin who will conceive a Son, Emmanuel, “God with us”. Isaiah describes for us the suffering servant. In today’s passage, Isaiah speaks of the servant who is anointed –the Messiah, the Christ -by the Spirit. He goes on to describe his mission – to announce Good News to the poor, restore sight to the blind, to free the captive and the oppressed, to declare a Jubilee. It is as though Isaiah has written a job description for Jesus. That Luke puts this Isaian passage at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry is the interpretive key to understanding all that would follow in the gospel. He unveils for us the identity of Jesus – and as “Christened” people, the more we understand Jesus’ identity, the more we will understand our own.
Today, oils are blessed and consecrated: to sooth, strengthen, seal and saturate God’s people with the Holy Spirit so that we might more intimately enter into the mystery of life in the Holy Trinity. Anointing with these oils “identify” us with the Lord.
We bless the Oil of Catechumens to anoint those journeying towards baptism that they might grow in faith and believe in him. We consecrate the Sacred Chrism. The Sacred Chrism seals us –in Baptism and Confirmation and, in Holy Orders, for those set aside for the ministerial priesthood, – so that we, as the Church of Jesus Christ, might lead all mankind in celebrating the hope of Eternal Life to which He calls us .We bless the Oil of the Sick used to soothe the sick and the infirmed called to live the mystery of Christ by sharing in his dying and rising in their own flesh. The gifts of the Spirit identify us with Christ and confer on each one of us a task: we all are sent to bring good news; we are all commissioned to heal broken hearts.
But today, at this Mass which takes us back to the Upper Room where the First Mass was celebrated and the ministerial priesthood was instituted, the Church wishes to draw our attention in a special way to our priests. We will ask you, members of Christ’s faithful, to witness our recommitment to the promises we made on the day of our ordination.
And, knowing that we carry this treasure in earthen vessels, we ask your prayers that we will faithfully carry out the ministry entrusted to us by God for you. On the day of our ordination, the bishop handed us the chalice and paten and said: “Receive the oblation of the holy people to be offered to God. Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s Cross.”
In June I will say these words to the three deacons that serve us at this Mass, Jeremiah Payne, Gilbert Medina, and Tony Weile and ordain them priests for the service of this local Church. Pray that in the years to come, I will say those same words to our seminarians – and those prospective seminarians who join us today at this Mass.
Today, we honor three priests who heard these same words spoken to them 25 years ago: Fathers Barry Dowd, George Dunne, and Peter Puntal. One’s a New Yorker; the second is a Dubliner and the third from the Philippines. They witness to the diversity among the priests who serve the people in Central Florida – from every continent except Antarctica. And, we are grateful to these three priests – and to all the priests who serve us here in the Diocese of Orlando. They might have different backgrounds and speak in different accents but they have one passion and one joy: to preach Jesus Christ and to serve you, God’s Holy People.
Last year, on Holy Thursday, Pope Benedict said to us priests: “The Lord has laid his hands upon us and he now wants our hands so that they may become his own in the world. He no longer wants them to be instruments for taking things, people or the world for ourselves, to reduce them to being our possession, but instead, by putting ourselves at the service of his love, they can pass on his divine touch.”
Together with these jubilarians, we priests will all say together “I do” as we renew our priestly commitments. In saying that “I do” we commit ourselves with the help of Holy Spirit to “understand what we do, to imitate what we celebrate, to conform our lives to the mystery of the Lord’s Cross” and in this way put ourselves at the service of his love so that Christ will be known, loved and imitated.. We once again put ourselves in the Lord’s hands; and we give him ours.