As we begin this sacred Chrism Mass, I need to say, this is not the Mass I anticipated or planned on celebrating. As I look out at the empty pews of St. James Cathedral, it leaves me with an empty feeling not having our priests or people present for this most wonderful celebration of priestly life. I am happy to have Msgr. Walsh, our Vicar General, and our Deans, Father Trout, Father Parkes, Father Daly, Father Olmo, and Father LaBo, the Rector of St. James Cathedral, Father Miguel Gonzalez and the Cathedral’s Parochial Vicar, Reverend Matthew Hawkins, beside me in this Mass of Chrism and celebration of our priesthood.
In September last year, our annual priestly Convocation was canceled because of the threat of a hurricane. We began Lent with the expectation to be able to celebrate the anniversaries of our priests. That too is cancelled because of the COVID19. I am a little apprehensive about planning for our future priestly celebrations, not out of fear – but reflecting whether the Lord is trying to tell me that I am not in charge for it is the Lord who oversees our lives. I know you too, the people of God, are experiencing apprehension as our churches are locked and not offering daily Mass. Your lives are empty and unfulfilled in not beginning your day with the Lord.
During these past few weeks, I’ve heard from you . . . you miss your priests, your daily Mass, Sunday liturgy, but you miss most of all receiving the Eucharist. I must remind you that your priests miss you too especially when they pray their morning Mass and look out at the empty church and pews. They are longing and praying for you every day. I can only offer you encouraging words – beautiful and heartfelt words from Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI. I paraphrase: ‘In the early church there was a most expressive exercise of spiritual fasting. It could be an act of solidarity with those who are unable to receive the Eucharist. From time to time we need a cure for falling into mere habit and dullness. To avoid this habit and dullness, we need to practice fasting; that is spiritual fasting which creates a hunger; that is a spiritual hunger. Our spiritual hunger, like physical hunger, can be a vehicle for love. Fasting presumes that eating is the normal thing, yet we know there are many people who do not eat every day. So, our spiritual fast is an act of love; in our longing for Christ.’
Speaking of love; where are our hearts? Or where is your heart? Ezekiel tells the people of Israel, “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). During all the turmoil and distress, are our hearts open to receive the love of God? . . . A love that heals, changes our stony hearts to hearts of love. This is not easy when our hearts have been hardened and petrified by fear, fear of others, fear of sickness, fear of not knowing, fear of being alone, fear of the future.
Over and over again Jesus came to those who were afraid with these words, “Be not afraid.” These were the first words that Pope St. John Paul II said when he was named Pope, “Be not afraid.” Why should we be not afraid? Simply because Jesus is with you always.
Tonight, we offer this Mass for our priests, especially those who are celebrating their jubilees. We remember our parishioners with a special mention for healthcare workers, first responders; those who are sick and infected by the virus and are in danger of death. We pray for those who have died during these past weeks from different parts of the world. We pray for our own communities, families and friends who have lost a loved one recently.
Isaiah the prophet speaks about the Spirit of the Lord being upon him. When Jesus came to Nazareth, entering the synagogue He stood up and taking the scroll from the prophet Isaiah, He read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me.” Jesus simply ended the reading by sitting down and saying, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus is telling the people that He has come to bring glad tidings . . . to proclaim . . . to heal . . . to liberate . . . to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. This is what Jesus came to do; this is what we, as priests, are asked to do. Why? Because you and I have been anointed to do God’s work. During the Mass tonight we will bless the oils – symbols of our ministry. These oils will be used to bring Christ, to proclaim Christ, to bring Christ’s healing and to bring Christ’s mercy to you, the people of God.
The Oil of Catechumens welcomes and strengthens people at Baptism as they begin their journey of faith; this anointing marks them with the sign of faith. With this anointing the priest reminds you that you are a child of God and a member of His family.
The Oil of the Sick is to comfort those spiritually who are sick or in danger of death. This anointing by the priest is to bring spiritual peace and hope to those who may be suffering or afraid and to remind them they are not alone. The faith community joins with those suffering in prayer and love; no one is forgotten in the presence of God.
The Oil of Chrism was used in ancient times to anoint Kings, prophets and priests. Through God’s grace, the Oil of Chrism names us sacred; at Baptism we are anointed because we are made in the image and likeness of God, every person is sacred in the eyes of God. At Confirmation the bishop anoints you with Chrism. This is to remind you that Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit with His gifts into your life to help you on your journey of faith. Since this is your special moment in life to accept the gifts, you are anointed with Chrism. Tonight, we celebrate priesthood, especially our brother priests who are celebrating their jubilees of Ordination and we will renew our priestly promises which we recall we took on the day of our Ordination for the first time. In the Ordination Rite the first response of the candidate to the invitation to the priesthood by the bishop is a simple answer of ‘Yes‘. Then the bishop asks the priests to consider this man worthy. The bishop asks the people if they are willing to accept this man as a priest. It is always the most touching moment in every Ordination because the people all stand up and clap with such great enthusiasm in acceptance of the candidate. The candidate enters the Sanctuary and stands before the bishop and takes the promises of priesthood. At the end, he lays on the floor and the Litany of the Saints is sung. The candidate kneels for the laying on of hands by the bishop and priests. The bishop prays the prayer of Ordination for the newly ordained and then dresses him in priestly vestments for the first time. The bishop then anoints his hands with the oil of Chrism. The priest’s hands become sacred in God’s work by praying the Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist. It is through the hands of the priest that the Sacraments are made present to the people of God.
Bishop Thomas Grady, now deceased, said, “A priest’s spiritual life is his ministry. What the priest is in his heart, in his inmost conviction and dedication puts its stamp on his every thought and act. If the priest is to radiate the Good News of the Gospel, the Good News must first radiate in his own heart and life. If he is to be the instrument of God, he must be in communication with God’s Spirit, responsible to the Spirit, wise in the Spirit, patient and preserving in the Spirit.”
At the Last Supper Jesus prayed, “For these I pray . . . O Father most holy, protect them . . . guard them from the evil one . . . I do not pray for them alone, I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their words” (John 17:9-19).
My brother priests, you are the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. I pray the Lord will bless every one of you in your vocation to the priesthood of Jesus Christ and in your loving service to God people.