Chrism Mass Homily 2024

Today’s headlines portray our world as chaotic, filled with confusion and violence, wars and famines, disorder, and fear. Some people are searching for hope and answers. Science and artificial intelligence may have the answers to our problems. Other ask where is God in all this?

In the Gospel Jesus returns to his home in Nazareth where he is invited to share the Word of God. But the people were all filled with fury when he said, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). Their familiarity and anger did not allow them to recognize Jesus or His message.

As we come to renew our priestly promises, we are called to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But who is Jesus Christ for us today? Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do the people say that the Son of Man is?” They answered, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, others Jeremiah, some say one of the prophets.” But Jesus asked, “But you, who do you say that I am?” No one answered but Simon Peter: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:13-16).

Who is Jesus for us?

Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa tells us, “In the Gospel of John we find a whole series of declarations of who is Jesus, in the famous “I Am”, with which He reveals what He thinks of Himself, who He says He is, “I am the Bread of Life,” “I am the Light of the world,” and so on: These self-revelations of Jesus challenges us to ask, is this really who Jesus is for you and me? A moment to reflect not in silence but with an inward gaze into our minds and hearts.

When Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life,” it was a very intimate moment. Then Jesus said, “Man does not live by bread alone, but from every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4). Jesus gives not the life of the flesh, but the life of the Spirit, eternal life. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24). The Bread of Life is not the life of the flesh, but Life of the Spirit and it will bear much fruit. But how we may ask?

St. Ignatius of Antioch answered, “Let me be food for wild beasts through which I can reach God. I am the wheat of God, and [I must be] ground by the teeth of wild beasts to become the pure bread of Christ.” The imagery of allowing ourselves to become like a grain of wheat and having to be ground to become flower to become bread to become Eucharist. St. Augustine said that we human beings are “earthen vessels” called to give of ourselves, to sacrifice ourselves to become Christ like. Yet we are called to live in a world that does not know Christ.

There are many challenges and many demands made on priests. Recently a young mother sent me an email complaining about a pastor and I sent a copy to the pastor. He was hesitant about speaking to her. But he did speak with her, and she revealed to him that she was upset that her life was in turmoil and had nobody to talk to. The priest listened and the email became a means of hope for this young mother. We all get emails and complaints: the air conditioning too hot or too cold; the homily too long or too short; I cannot hear you or you are too loud; the parking lot is too small or too big; why can’t we have a vigil for Ash Wednesday. Why is there no Holy Water  – when we had our old pastor there was always Holy Water. St. Augustine said that we are “earthen vessels, wounding one another.” But can we turn these wounding moments into moments of hope and healing.

Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa offers that God’s grace can make these occasions a time of purification and sanctification. It is a matter of trusting that, in the end, as was the case with Jesus, the truth will triumph over the lies and fear. It is in the Paschal Mystery of Christ and His Eucharist that we can find the strength to let ourselves be grounded, day by day, in the small and sometimes in the big circumstances of life. The ultimate purpose of letting oneself be grounded is not, however, of an ascetic nature, but of a mystical nature. It serves not so much to mortify oneself as to create communion and healing. This is a truth that has accompanied Eucharistic catechesis since the earliest days of the Church.

“I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14,6). Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Do we realize it is Jesus who is the Way, the Truth and the Life? Only Jesus can show us the Way, teach us the Truth and give us the Life. I realized this as a young priest. A mother with two sons, both of whom were drug addicts had both contracted AIDS. One son died and two weeks later the second son died. At the cemetery I said to the mother, “I have no words to offer you at the loss of your two sons.” She said to me, “Father, tonight I can go home to bed and for the first time in many years, I can say my sons are safe and I can sleep in peace. Jesus shows us the Way, teaches us the Truth and gives us the Life.

“I am the Light of the world, whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the Light of Life” (Jn 8:12). What do these words of Jesus mean? Has the Spirit of God become a light to us? Saint Paul exhorted the Christians of Rome: “I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good, pleasing, and perfect. For by the grace given to me I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than one ought to think, but to think soberly, each according to the measure of faith that God has apportioned” (Romans 12: 1-3).

In my first parish while preaching at a family Mass on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, I asked a simple question and not expecting an answer: “Why was Jesus baptized?” One little boy raised his hand, I put the microphone up to face. He blurted as loud as he could, “Jesus ran away from home and talked back to his parents.” What do I say now?! If I correct him, I might be accused of hindering him for the rest of his life and if I don’t correct him, I may accused of allowing him to grow to be a pagan. We do not have the answers, but the Lord gives us light to survive. He does let the darkness overcome our willingness to try to serve Him.

I hearken to the image of the Good Shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, works for pay and has no concern for the sheep. Jesus calling Himself the Good Shepherd may seem old fashioned, but it is a rich symbol even for us today. There is no need to go back to biblical times. The relationship between shepherd and sheep is an intimate one. The sheep are dependent on the shepherd for protection and care. A special relationship develops between shepherd and sheep. The shepherd knows his sheep and the sheep recognizes the shepherd. Jesus uses the image of Shepherd to express his relationship with the people of God. My brother priests one of the greatest compliments you can ever receive is to be called a Good Shepherd. There are many good shepherds among us – learn from them!

Priesthood is like shepherding, it is built on relationships and presence. The ministry of presence, being present to your people in their time of need. Matthew 25 tells us, “Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, welcome the stranger. Fr. Robert Susann, ms, was the diocesan airport chaplain until he was no longer physically able. He knew how to be a shepherd of the people. My brother priests, pay attention to your relationship with your people. Like sheep you can herd them by driving them. In the Holy Land shepherds lead their sheep, they do not drive them. I once watched 4 or 5 shepherds with over a thousand sheep lead their own flocks off to new pasturing. The sheep knew the voice of their own shepherd and followed him. Saint Augustine said to the people: “For you I am a bishop, with you I am a Christian! And on another occasion to his priests: “In relation to you we are like shepherds, but in relation to the Chief Shepherd we are all sheep like the people.”

There is one gift that the Lord has given each one of us; not to be afraid. In Psalm 23 we hear, “The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I want. Even though I walk in the valley of death I fear no evil, for you are with me; with your rod and your staff to comfort me (Ps 23:1-4). St. Paul admonishes, “What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, distress or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? … No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us” (Rom 8:35-37).

Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa exhorts, “Here, liberation is not found in an idea or a technique, but in a person! The “solvent” of all fear is Christ who has said to His disciples: “Do not be afraid, I will be with you (Jn 16:33). But in a way that never happened before, the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. He took our fears upon himself. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help (Heb 4:15-16).

Archbishop. McCarthy loved to tell this story of growing up in Cincinnati. A small old wooden Church burned down. Everything in the Church was destroyed except the body of Jesus, even the cross on which he hung was gone. But so were his hands and feet. They stored the corpus away and many years later they built a new church. They wanted to put the old burnt corpus of Jesus up in the new Church. They tried restoring it, but it was impossible. They wanted to somehow include this precious corpus because it had so much meaning for them. It was decided that they would hang the corpus of Jesus without his hands or feet; but they put in big letter: I have no feet or arms; you must become my feet and arms.

Cardinal Cantalamessa instructs us, “Despite all our efforts and knowledge, it is not always within our power to free ourselves from fear and anguish; but it may be in our power to free someone else or help them free themselves, such as those who are oppressed by anguish and fear due to loneliness, illness, persecution, exile, and war. We are now the eyes, mouth, and hands of Christ. Let us try to bring comfort to others and we will hear the risen Jesus say to our hearts: “As often as you did to one of the least of your brothers or sisters, You did it to me!” (Mt 25:40). We too, whether pastors or simple believers, must be wounded healers, poor broken people who, nevertheless, can heal others.