Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart - April 11, 2022
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Every Holy Week, it is a particular joy to celebrate the Chrism Mass. The whole Archdiocese, in a certain way, in a real way, is present here: the bishops and priests; the order of deacons, the consecrated religious, the lay faithful. And at the heart of our assembly, we find Jesus, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, the Messiah, the Christ- the "anointed one of God."
And it's a reminder that we are His anointed disciples, the priestly people of God. During this annual celebration, the sacred oils are blessed. Each of the oils symbolizes a crucial dimension of the mission of the Church. The blessing reminds us that we have all been anointed to carry out the work of Christ in the world of today. In the year of the Lord 2022.
This Chrism Mass is a sort of "coming out party" for the Archdiocese - really the first time in two years that the Catholic communities of Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Union counties, and our friends across the frontiers could come together in this beautiful temple as a single people, a priestly people, a royal people - the chosen of God. In the joy of beginning together again around the table of the Word and Sacrament. But this night, the Chrism Mass of 2022, what does it say to us?
A modern American writer says: Ask any comedian, tennis player, or chef - timing is everything. For those occupations and really so many activities in life, the choice, judgment, or control if you can of when something should be done often means the difference between success and failure. Timing is crucial in order to understand the Word of God as well as our spiritual life.
Do you remember how we began this journey of Lent almost six weeks ago? On Ash Wednesday, when we heard in that second reading, St. Paul insisting with the Corinthians on the importance of timing. We heard:
"In an acceptable time, I heard you,
and on the day of salvation, I helped you."
Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
Timing. Now. Anointing. Salvation.
The Gospel of Luke, which we just heard, makes us relive the excitement of the moment when the Lord made the prophecy of Isaiah his own to describe his experience of God and what God was asking him to do. He read it solemnly amid his peeps. The synagogue of Nazareth was filled with his relatives, neighbors, acquaintances, friends, and some others. All had their eyes fixed on him. The Church always has her eyes fixed on Jesus Christ, the Anointed One, whom the Spirit sends to anoint God's people.
Ask yourselves: why did Jesus pick that scroll that was handed to him and find those verses of a portion of the Prophet Isaiah that we now know as the sixty-first chapter. Why did he choose to read that, and only that, to describe himself and to describe his ministry? The choice was made on timing.
If we turn a couple pages before this, the fourth chapter (of Luke) we learn about the initial moments of Jesus’ ministry. How it began with his baptism by John. A moment when the voice of the Father revealed who this was: his beloved Son. A moment when the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And so filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus is now equipped to overcome the evil one and to vanquish the Tempter. And after he returns from the desert, he comes to his hometown, his own people, and he chooses those verses because he said the spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me. And why? To bring good news to those who have little chance of hearing it on their own.
Timing of this Chrism Mass in which we consider that Gospel which the Church has always understood as illustrating and illuminating the mystery of baptism and the anointing that each one of us has received that makes our life with God not a spectator sport or a drive to a fast food facility. It is an anointing that penetrates to all that we are.
And we hear about our anointing and we remind ourselves of that this evening in a fractured world. The harsh light of the pandemic illuminated so many cracks in our society and in our Church. A terrible war has broken out in Ukraine. And people stand this evening in danger of even greater slaughter. That violence is duplicated in other countries of the world today.
It’s well known I think that the world is in urgent need of brotherhood and sisterhood. And yes, without realizing it, the world yearns to meet Jesus. But how can this encounter happen?
(Pope) Francis invites us to listen to the Holy Spirit together with the whole People of God, so as to renew our faith and find new ways and languages to share the Gospel with our sisters and brothers.
The synodal process that Pope Francis is proposing to us has precisely this objective: to set out, together along the same road in mutual listening, in sharing ideas and projects, to show the true face of the Church: a welcoming home, with open doors, inhabited by the Lord and illuminated by the love of sisters and brothers.
One of my brothers in the sanctuary here said once so eloquently, “this cathedral is the most beautiful in the United States and five feet longer than Saint Patrick’s, but it is most beautiful when its doors are open to welcome all.”
There are plenty of risks that could sidetrack this journey: a formalism, which reduces the Synod to an empty slogan; an intellectualism, which makes the Synod simply a theoretical reflection on problems and agendas; and rigidity, nailing us to the security of our habits confident that nothing really changes - it is important to open our hearts and listen to what the Spirit is suggesting to the churches today. For today this scripture is fulfilled in our midst. Today is the day of salvation. (Rev. 2:7).
Obviously, in the face of this journey, some fears may beset us. And since at the Chrism Mass we who serve the Church in ordained ministry renew our commitment maybe we should face possibly some of our own fears.
My dear brothers in front of me are already carrying a great pastoral burden in the communities they lead. And now the path of synodality may seem to be one more thing "to do" on an already overcrowded list.
I want to say to you, that rather than expecting that you simply multiply your activities or bilocate throughout your parish, I’d like to encourage you to look at your communities with a contemplative gaze that our Holy Father describes in The Joy of the Gospel (no. 71) so as to discover the many examples of participation and sharing that are already taking root in your communities.
In fact, what we’re going through now, the diocesan phase of the synodal process aims to gather the wealth of experiences of lived solidarity, not simply what you or I want. Wherever we listen deeply to each other, learn from each other, value the gifts of others, help each other, and make decisions together, there is already synodality in action.
But there may be another fear: if so much emphasis is placed on the common priesthood of the baptized, of the anointing that everyone in this Church and everyone in this archdiocese has received, what will become of our role as leaders and of our specific identity as ordained ministers?
I have no doubt that the call to synodality asks us to discover the fundamental equality of all the baptized and to stimulate all of the faithful to participate actively in the journey and mission of the Church. To look beyond the doors of their church. To be a church that goes out of itself.
In this way we will have the joy of finding brothers and sisters who share with us the responsibility of proclaiming the Good News. But in this experience of the People of God, the special charism of ordained ministers to teach, sanctify and shepherd the People of God can and should and must also come to the fore in new ways.
For Jesus Christ is the anointed one of God. We, the members of the Church, are anointed in Christ to announce the Gospel. And we bishops and priests and deacons are anointed for Christ to serve the Church in his name. May all of us persevere in fidelity to Christ the Lord and give grateful praise and thanks to God through Him.
View photos from the Chrism Mass here.
Watch the livestream here.