ORLANDO | On March 31, priests from around the diocese came together at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe, to celebrate the second Chrism Mass in the COVID-19 pandemic. Bishop John Noonan reflected on the stark contrast from last year, when only deanery priests celebrated Mass in a nearly empty church during a state-mandated lockdown. Glad this Mass showed signs of an improving situation, he said, “Preaching to an empty Cathedral is something I never want to experience again.”
Pastor Emeritus Father Peter Sagorski of Immaculate Conception Parish in Melbourne Beach celebrated 25 years of priesthood last year and was happy to be present at this Chrism Mass since he could not celebrate last year. Despite the visible signs that no one is out of the woods yet he said, “There is a lot to be thankful for.” He was excited to be with fellow priests to rejoice in the Lord and renew his vows.
Bishop Noonan praised the priests gathered for their efforts to remain connected to their parishioners, reaching them through new and creative means over the past year. And once again, as is tradition, the priests renewed their pledge to be servants of Christ.
Bishop Noonan shared with them a startling headline from a 1966 Time Magazine headline, “Is God Dead?” The bishop questioned why anyone would consider the idea. In light of the past year, he assured those present that God is alive, in each person. He told the clergy, “Our priesthood can only exist if we are firmly united to Christ in prayer. Pope Francis said, ‘that is, in community, in His Word, in the Eucharist and in prayer.’… Your work and ministry during COVID-19 taught us our priesthood is for the people and is only fulfilled when we serve God’s people.”
For Father Edward McCarthy, Vicar of Senior Priests, who celebrated 50 years of priesthood, that commission is fulfilled, “A day at a time.” He said, “I trust in the mercy of God.” Being able to return to the shrine, where he was once rector, made this Chrism Mass “even more special.”
“Today we bless the oils we will use to anoint the sick, welcome the newly baptized and confirmed,” Bishop Noonan announced. “With the blessing of the chrism oil we will renew the gift of the holiness of our Ordination.”
He reminded the priests gathered, “We are not just ‘spectators of the gift of holiness’; we are its recipients. We must hold in our lives as sacred this gift of holiness we have received at Ordination.” He explained to do that, one must “fall in love” with Christ, every day. Quoting Father Pedro Arrupe, the late Superior of the Jesuits, he said, “Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything… what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.”
Quoting Cardinal Ranieri Cantalamessa, Vatican Papal Retreat Master, the bishop also noted, if we fall in love with God “we must be devoted to contemplate the holiness of Christ and be dazzled by it, letting ourselves be fascinated by the infinite beauty of Christ.” He told those present and via livestream, despite the ongoing need to wear masks and socially distance, “The Holy Spirit is here, ready to remind us God is not dead, but alive in all that you do every day.”
By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic, March 31, 2021