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March 24, 2008
Chrism Mass Homily
By Bishop Robert C. Morlino *

By Bishop Robert C. Morlino *

This week’s column is taken from the homily offered by Bishop Robert C. Morlino at the Chrism Mass on Tuesday, March 18th.

At this Chrism Mass, in a very focused way, the whole Church asks all priests to renew their commitment to serve you, God’s people, whom the priests love so much and whom they know deserve to be served well.  And we thank God for our many priests, for their selfless sacrifice and service to the Church and we thank God for our many seminarians, who are considering God’s call to serve the Church.  We ask the Lord to bless our priests and to continue to provide vocations to the priesthood and the religious life.  But, at the Chrism Mass we focus especially on the priesthood.

At the Chrism Mass, we also consecrate our sacred oils, which scripture repeatedly refers to as, “the oil of gladness,” or, “the oil of joy.”  So, when we focus on the blessing of oils, as we celebrate the Church and our Sacramental life, we are celebrating joy and gladness, because we are celebrating the oil of gladness and joy.

The Holy Spirit gives us all of His twelve fruits.  The first is charity and the second is joy!  So, if we are going to be the Church and carryout our mission, we need to carry this oil, though which He bestows his fruits, throughout the diocese.  And at this Chrism Mass I distribute the oils to the representatives of all our parishes.  And when I distribute the oils, the Holy Spirit is distributing His joy!  We don’t just take the oils home to our parishes and put them in a nice and reverent place – we take the joy of the Holy Spirit home too and we enshrine it in our hearts, throughout the parish community, so that, when people see the oil and receive the oil in the Sacraments, they make the connection between what they are doing and the joy which the Lord bestowing upon them, through His Holy Spirit. 

This is an oil of gladness; this is an oil of joy!  This is the oil that bishops and priests are anointed with, the oil that all of you, the baptized, are anointed with in your Confirmation and Baptism.  And those of us who might be seriously sick or preparing for serious surgery are anointed with the Oil of the Sick, which is also an oil of gladness and joy - which I, myself can attest brings a great deal of peace.  The first time I received the Oil of the Sick, I could not believe the peace that took hold of my own heart.  Even in that circumstance of preparing for serious surgery, the Oil of the Sick brought peace and gladness and joy.

But how does this oil of gladness work?  What does this oil do for those who are Baptized, Confirmed, Ordained, or Anointed in their illness?  How does it bring gladness and joy?  It does so by bringing joy and gladness through leadership in the Church to the people of God.  The bishop has a special role of leadership, unworthy though he is.  But the bishop didn’t start it – God did.  And because he was anointed, the bishop’s role of leadership is a role of joy.  And so it is for the priest. 

What then do the priests and the bishops do, anointed with that oil of gladness and joy?  Above all, the bishop and the priest are leaders in building unity.  And how do the bishops and the priests put into action the fruits of that anointing and build unity?  They teach the truth of the faith so that all of God’s people can be of one mind.  Through their preaching and teaching, the bishops and the priests build unity of mind together.  And, when it is truly present, unity of mind brings joy. 

The bishops and the priests also celebrate the Eucharist and that brings unity of hearts, which brings joy and peace and gladness.  And that is their role as builders of unity – teaching so that there might be a union of minds, sanctifying so that there might be a union of hearts, and governing so that all ministry in the Church works together in harmony.  When there is that unity, then the oil of gladness and joy truly brings about joy – the joy that comes from harmony and from unity.  People want joy.  People want unity. We can even see this in our current political race; but, no politician – not McCain, not Hillary, and not even Barack, can bring about the unity and hope and joy we desire.  They can’t.  Jesus Christ alone can bring about that unity and joy - Jesus Christ, the one who anoints us with the oil of joy and gladness and imbues us with his Holy Sprit.

In this connection, I have to say something about the office of the bishop.  It is hard for the bishop to talk about the duties of his own office, because it always seems that when he does that, he is acting in his own self-interest.  I don’t want it to seem that way and I don’t talk about being a bishop for personal reasons.  But, on this night of the Chrism Mass, I have to reflect about the office of bishop – as someone who, himself, wanted to be a teacher at a seminary.  I have to talk about it first because the priest carries out his duty of sanctifying through the Sacrifice of the Altar.  Every Altar of any diocese belongs to the bishop of that diocese.  Every Altar is his, through his authority, given by Jesus Christ.  And when the priest comes to the Altar, he comes as the representative of Christ and as the delegate of the bishop.  Do I think that I am giving the priests a big gift, because they come to the Altar?  No, I need them desperately to come to the Altar. I need you, my brother priests, desperately to come to the altar; I don’t think I’m giving any big gift.  The Church would not “work” if you didn’t selflessly come to the Altar every day!  And I need you to do that.  But, the Altar is the bishop’s Altar to give.  He doesn’t give it out of the “goodness of his heart;” he gives it out of his deep need for help from the priest. 

In the same way, the pulpit, the tool of teaching, is the bishop’s to give.  Again, the bishop doesn’t give the pulpit out of the “goodness of his heart!”  He gives it out of his deep need for priests to teach the Truth.  And in the same way, every confessional in the diocese belongs to the bishop.  I don’t give the faculty to hear confessions, the authority to forgive sins, because I’m generous; the bishop does so because he could not possibly, himself, be the minister of God’s Mercy to every person in the diocese who needs mercy.

Whether he is worthy or not, the bishop is a successor to the Apostles and is given the duty to teach, sanctify, and govern.  And the bishop, not out of any largesse of his own, but out of necessity, invites priests to be his helpers in teaching, sanctifying, and governing!  And that’s who the priest is, the faithful collaborator, with the bishop, in teaching, sanctifying, and pastoring God’s people.  I need you, brother priests, so very much.  And I thank you for all that you do, day in and day out, so that the Church can “happen” in the Diocese of Madison.

There is always the temptation to think of the Church as a multi-national corporation, with the Pope as the CEO and the bishops as branch managers of sorts.  But, if we think this way, then we start to think of leadership styles which amount to consensus building.  In a multi-national corporation that has set a very narrow mission, consensus building is easy - you simply determine the mission and then fire those who do not agree.  But, it is not that way in the Church, we’re not about firing people who don’t agree – we are about loving people into agreement.  That’s what we do.  However, if a corporation has a very broad mission, which the Church does, the only way to arrive at a consensus, in this multi-national corporate model is to “agree to disagree.”  And that’s how we talk in our culture, in our time – we agree to disagree (respectfully, of course!).  We have an unbelievably broad mission in the Church.  We are called to bring everyone in – if at all possible.  But agreeing to disagree, which is the only way to function in a multi-national corporation if you have a broad mission, will not work in the Church! 

Agreeing to disagree does not bring unity!  So this model of a multi-national corporation does not apply to the Church.  The oil of gladness is mystical, and it calls the Church to do far better than simply agreeing to disagree.  It calls us to build a unity of minds and hearts and it calls us to a pastoring that really brings our people joy and gladness.  That’s what you and I, my brother priests, are called to do, so that our people, who are then anointed with the oil of joy and gladness, can take up leadership in the world and try, in the world, to build unity of minds and hearts. 

We are not a bunch of politicians or political parties.  Agreeing to disagree is not enough for us.  That union of minds and hearts which Christ intends is much, much deeper.  And only when we have that union can we fully experience the fruits of the oil of gladness and joy, which Christ himself desired when, through the Holy Spirit, He instituted the Sacraments.

So, dear brother priests, dear sisters and brothers and Christ, let’s not ever be tempted to simply seek the consensus that we can build by agreeing to disagree.  Let us commit ourselves again to receiving the gift of the consensus that comes from the Holy Spirit, through the oil of gladness and joy.  For, only when we accept that consensus that comes from the Holy Spirit, through the teaching of the Church, through our union – Pope, bishops, priests, deacons, all of the consecrated and lay faithful – only then will the oil of joy and gladness have its deepest effects in our hearts.  So, let us be people of joy and people of unity, that the mission given us by Christ might be done.  Let us rededicate ourselves to being people of gladness and joy; that’s the gift that God wants to give the world through all of you, and that’s the gift that God wants to give the Church through bishops and priests.  Let it be so.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Most Rev. Robert C. Morlino is the bishop of the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin.
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