Today and every day we live in and through the uncountable gifts of the merciful and loving Father. Surrounded by the Cloud of Witnesses, the Church of Jesus Christ is here in this Cathedral to praise God. There are two interrelated elements before us today: priesthood and Sacred Chrism. What joins them together is just what makes the Church one: The Holy Spirit of the love of the Father and Son. It is my privilege as the bishop of this richly blessed Diocese to be the unworthy instrument of that love with you and for you today.
The Chrism Mass stands at the door of the Sacred Triduum when we re-live the great deeds of our salvation: the Supper of the Lord, and his Passion, Death and Resurrection. The Paschal Mystery unleashed the Holy Spirit of God’s love into the hearts of Mary and the first disciples and continues to guide and inspire the Church even till the end of time.
The Sacred Chrism finds its roots in the anointing of Moses and Aaron, David and all the kings and prophets to serve the People of Israel, God’s chosen ones. When Jesus is baptized, the Spirit comes upon Him, the Beloved of God, the Christ, the anointed one. His purpose of dwelling in the flesh, his sufferings, death on the cross, burial and resurrection is so that we could be saved. Baptized, we are anointed by Chrism which is a sign of life and salvation for those to be born again in the waters of baptism by which we become a royal, priestly and prophetic people! This is the priesthood I speak of, the priesthood of all the baptized. Small wonder that Pope St Leo the Great looked at his People and cried out: Christians, recognize your dignity!
This same spirit of holiness and new life is at work in the Church when she calls men to serve this priestly people as Priests of the New Covenant. Jesus Christ is the One High Priest of the New Covenant! You, my brother priests, continue what Christ, the High priest, did by his saving passion and death! Your priesthood stems from that Supper Jesus shared with his first apostles when He blessed the bread and wine and gave them His Body, His Blood. He commanded them as he does you to do this in memory of me! This sacramental body and blood Christ gave to all of us is his greatest gift for us who believe. Remember my brothers who share in this awesome gift of being the priests of the New Covenant: remember that he rebuked the apostles when they argued about who is the greatest No. he said. You who are leaders are to be the least and to be known always as leaders who serve. He then gave you and me a model to imitate: he washed their feet and then reminded them: You call me Lord and Master and that is who I am. But I have come among you as one who serves. As I have washed your feet, you too must wash one another’s feet.
Immersed in the mysterious blessedness of being servants of Christ by service to his people, you and I seek to imitate Him in all we say and do. People should recognize us as the ones who have embrace and live out the mission Jesus proclaimed as his own in that Nazareth synagogue. He made the prophecy of Isaiah an integral part of His mission and thus a command of the Gospel for us priests: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me: bring glad tidings to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives; let the oppressed go free, proclaim the acceptable year of God’s merciful love. May we be one with Christ in this service to all those who turn to us! May we be unflagging in zeal to preach the Kingdom! May we live our priesthood giving glory to God and offering ourselves in service to all our brothers and sisters without exception.
Presently I will invite all of you to renew the promises made on the day you were ordained a priest of Jesus Christ. Once again you will re-affirm your commitment to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God, to discharge the office of teaching, to follow Christ with no desire for gain and to be moved only by zeal for souls! All of these promises spring from your resolve to be more united with the Lord Jesus and more closely conformed to Him…
Knowing that being conformed more and more to the heart of Jesus is the key to a priestly life, I have something very concrete I want to ask of all of you, my brothers. We all must be men of prayer, daily prayer, the Office, the rosary, prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, prayer alone and with our people. These are all necessary and part of our lives. I, however, am asking you to commit yourselves today to making an annual retreat. And every year when you do, let the Rector at Huntington know you have done so. This may well be the last Chrism Mass I celebrate with you as your Bishop. You cannot know how much I love you. But part of that love leads me to be sufficiently concerned for your good and the good of your people that I make this request from my heart! Without a retreat you cannot grow more deeply in your love for the Lord and your people as Christ invites us to do. Without that time taken to be alone with Him, Mary and the saints, we deprive ourselves of the time we need to drink deeply from the waters of his constant abiding love for us as priests. Do not let the demands of your pastoral work so consume you that you neglect this, the living source that alone guarantees that you will be effective in your care for your people. If you find it difficult to arrange a retreat, speak to the Rector or to the Director of the Office for Clergy or to my Office and we will help you find a priest to cover or arrange a place for you to go.
Jesus Christ, the Priest, is our best friend. He is by our side. He knows us and we know him: the One we call Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the Kings of the Earth. He still washes our feet so that we can wash the feet of our people. Abide in Him and he will abide in you. He will bless you and keep you joyous and faithful in your priestly life now and always.
MAY THE LORD KEEP US ALL IN HIS CHARITY AND LEAD ALL OF US,
SHEPHERDS AND FLOCK, TO ETERNAL LIFE. AMEN