A warm greeting to all of the Priests who have gathered this evening and to fellow Bishops, Deacons, those in Consecrated Life, Seminarians and all who are joining us for this important Liturgy during Holy Week.
Shortly after arriving here in the Archdiocese of Newark, I mentioned my brother Bill in a homily. He is a wonderful teacher of creative writing and literature. Especially since his retirement, he has taken up the avocation of being a storyteller (although we in the family could have told you of that long ago.) He has become well known in Central Illinois and some of the neighboring states, to the point that he is especially pleased when I am introduced as his brother.
Bill speaks of family things and often incorporates slightly augmented or transposed stories of our family and of growing up. Our family is by no means exceptional. I must say that when he includes me in the stories, somehow the stories become even more exaggerated.
He is finding a phenomenal response to family stories and family values. Whole families sometimes come to hear his rendition especially at his home base at Starved Rock Park near Utica, Illinois. But he is also invited to speak to groups of parents, senior groups and school children.
I think that this phenomenon gives evidence of the longing people have for strong and stable family life. Values in our society focus on almost absolute individual freedom, often meaning freedom from moral norms and from many considerations outside of ones’ own current preferences or desires. The media cultivates this and promotes an all-pervading materialism. Roles are changing, sometimes appropriately, sometimes not. How does a family stay healthy and balanced? I believe it is when spouses understand that their commitment to one another is foundational, that it transcends feelings and failures. It is for good times and bad. When parents are not reluctant to embrace their role of leading and serving by example and by their own proper authority, then one finds a healthy family. Standing together for proper values, calmly, firmly, securely in communication with one another and with their children, and sometimes in suffering and pain this can occur. The home is characterized by mutual love, respect, service and not by living in anger, bitterness or harping or being constantly distracted by iPhones, iPads or any other electronic device. It is from families such as this that healthy human beings are formed and that young people learn to set a solid course for their lives.
I have been urging for some years now that in our Parishes and other institutions, families be involved to the greatest extent possible. I think that we should conceive of our Schools, our Religious Education Programs and other undertakings not simply as part of our mission to young people but rather as part of our mission to families. Parents can be invited to school gatherings and other school events. It would be good to have Parents Days from time to time and more contact with parents than simply a Parent-Teacher Conference from time to time. School Masses could be open to parents as well as an invitation to sports activities, school plays or musicals, concerts and other events. Marriage-related programs could stress the importance of a rich and committed family life.
The same principle can apply to those in our Religious Education Programs, especially when it can happen that more than a few parents do not regularly practice their faith or attend weekly Mass, that seeking to have them involved is a very positive step. Parents and even brothers and sisters can be invited to special meetings with regard to their own families, especially when some are engaged in Sacramental Preparation. Other special events can be planned that include families.
I think that we Priests could also come to emphasize family life even in our own circumstances when we celebrate Liturgy or the other Sacraments. Although it is not easy, I realize that in today’s society it is very important for families to share regular meals even at the cost of some other involvement of parents and children outside the home. Simply praying before and after meals is important. Obviously, regular attendance at the Eucharist is important. Also of significance are attendance at Holy Hours, Lenten Devotions and other such events. I can remember in my own family that my parents found time for us to say the family Rosary during May and October and before other important events or simply because they thought it would be a good idea at the time. Children in the family should be encouraged to support one another and encourage one another when they are involved in some kind of sport or musical activity or other activities where an audience is desirable.
I even learned through experience that having parents and grandparents involved in praying for and encouraging vocations in service of the Church can be very effective.
I believe that we see something of the importance of family in the Gospel passage for this evening. Jesus returns to His own home area. He echoes the ancient prophets pointing to Messianic signs. “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” It is this Jesus to whom we turn - the Way, the Truth and the Life. It is this Jesus who filled all the prophecies and more – suffering for us, teaching us, forgiving us, sharing God’s life with us.
It is this Jesus, who with the Father, sends us the Holy Spirit forming us into the family of God, His holy people, a nation of kings and Priests, each possessing dignity because we are children of God.
The Church, which is the family of God, carries on the mission of Christ through Word and Sacrament and loving service. The oils which are blessed this evening are associated with the Sacraments; they are blessed by Diocesan Bishops and are intended to serve the Sacramental encounter across this Archdiocese throughout the next year.
As a family, we welcome the gifts we each have and support the roles each has. In a particular way, Priests share in the sanctifying Office of the Bishop. This Chrism Mass, transferred for pastoral reasons from Holy Thursday to tonight, is intended to underscore that. Possession of freshly consecrated oils is a sign of the union of a Priest and a Parish with the Bishop and the Apostolic Church; and thereby, with the Universal Church. I am very grateful for all the Priests and for all Parish representatives who have gathered with us this evening. Together we form God’s family in this part of Northern New Jersey. Priests offer leadership and service. It is important that we support and affirm one another. We Priests need and rely upon prayers and the many kindnesses of those whom we lead and serve. Sometimes we need your forgiveness. We freely offer you our prayers and our service which is well intended – if not always all that you deserve. During this Year of Mercy, it is time to turn to Our Lord once again, especially in the Blessed Sacrament. We ask Him to renew us, to make us one in mind and heart, we seek the assistance of Mary, His Mother and ours. We seek to show the mercy of God through our own lives and in our encounters with other people.
As part of the celebration this evening, the Church asks Priests to renew their commitment to the Priesthood and ask all who are present to witness that renewed commitment so that you may encourage and support us in that.