Gospel reading: Luke 4:16-22
Christianity is a faith rooted in two great mysteries: the Incarnation and the Redemption. God became incarnate. He became man in Jesus Christ. In the opening lines of his Gospel, St. John wrote that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” God took flesh in the womb of Mary, and entered creation to reclaim it from sin and restore its dignity.
That task, which began at the Incarnation, was completed through the events we celebrate this week. The second great mystery, the mystery of our redemption, was accomplished through Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, and His resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday. We die to our sins with Jesus on the cross. We rise to new life with Jesus in the Resurrection. And these are not just metaphors or theological ideas. They are physical realities.
On Golgotha, the blood and the dying were real. The empty tomb on Easter morning was real. The risen body of Jesus was real. And so too, our redemption is real. In His physical resurrection, Jesus Christ redeemed all creation. For the Christian, the material world is good because God made it and then redeemed it. This is why we’re a religion of statues and crucifixes, icons and paintings, bread and wine and holy oils. God is sacramental. He uses the physical to channel His grace and pour His Spirit into the familiar world around us, which we see and hear and touch. Physical reality can be holy.
Now, what do we mean by holy? “Holy” people and “holy” things are also “good” people and “good” things — but that’s not the original Hebrew meaning of the word. “Holy” means other than. God is holy because His ways are not our ways; He is “other than” and greater than us. When Scripture says that God wants a holy people, it means He wants a royal priesthood, a people set apart. In like manner, Holy Week is the week we set apart to commemorate the most important event in history.
The Chrism Mass we celebrate today focuses on the blessing of the holy oils and the chrism which we will use throughout the coming year in the celebration of all Baptisms, Confirmations, Anointings of the Sick and Ordinations in our diocese. We do this, at this special time of year, to remind ourselves that all sacraments and sacramentals draw their power from the paschal mystery of our Lord’s suffering, death and resurrection. The oils and the chrism are physical signs of a supernatural reality — the sacramental unity of the Church formed by the anointing of all believers at Baptism and Confirmation, and priests in a special way at Ordination.
These holy oils seal us to one another in the community of faith we call the Church. They also — and even more importantly — consecrate us to Jesus Christ, who is Himself the Christos, which means the Anointed One, sealed and consecrated to the Father. Whether we share in Christ’s priesthood through the general priesthood of the faithful, or the ministerial priesthood of the ordained, we are branded with the sign of His cross — and consecrated permanently to Him — at our Baptism and Confirmation.
This theme of consecration should be at the heart of every Christian’s life. Every Christian, lay or ordained, is ransomed by God at Baptism. We owe everything we have and everything we are to the Lord. In fact, we were literally created, in the words of the old Baltimore Catechism, to know love and serve God in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next. This is the sentiment behind the Holy Father’s episcopal motto: Totus tuus; which means, “totally yours.” I am totally yours, Lord, totally at your service.
Because of its location in Holy Week and its special connection with the paschal mystery, the Chrism Mass, by tradition, has a uniquely powerful meaning for our priests, who act in persona Christi, or in the person of Christ, at every Eucharist and in the celebration of the other sacraments. Each year, at the Chrism Mass, we who are priests renew our commitment to priestly service. We will do so again in just a few moments. But before we do, I’d like to share just a few brief thoughts on what it means — and requires — to be a priest as we close out this difficult century.
Above everything else, priesthood requires the ability to love. Love is a soft and overused word today, and too many times it’s used too lightly and without any grasp of the sacrifices real love demands. Authentic love is always costly, and always humbling, because it forces us to be obedient to others, to choose what’s best for others, and to deny our pride and personal agendas.
Authentic love is always anchored in the truth — the truth made flesh who is Jesus Christ; the truth which we find in the teaching of our mother, the Church. As priests, we cannot serve Jesus Christ without loving the people we serve and sacrificing ourselves completely for the truth which He incarnates.
We are preachers and teachers first, and we must never cut ourselves off from the truth of
what the Church really teaches. We also need to love and support each other. It’s important for me to say this before the family of faith we all serve: I am your bishop, but we are priests together, and I love and respect you as my brothers in the Lord, for the lives of service you offer to God’s people.
Each of us as priests is consecrated in an indelible, irreversible way for service to the people of God. So at the beginning and end of every day, we need to ask ourselves: Are we really giving everything we have to the Lord; are we really consecrating our whole being to the vocation of following in Christ’s footsteps? Are we missionaries to our people — or managers?
Brothers, we are the living stones, the living altars of God through whom Calvary is re-enacted; and in whose hands, God Himself is lifted up before the people. In our hands, we hold the chalices which carry the living blood of Christ, poured out for our people’s salvation and our own.
This is the responsibility we bear. It is also our privilege. For you and for me, nothing is more important than living a life conformed to that identity, obedient to that identity, filled with joy in that identity. Our souls, and the souls of our people, depend on our fidelity. And the reward for that fidelity is God’s love and consolation, which is so great that it surpasses every earthly joy.
Exactly one year ago today, I stood in this pulpit and preached my first homily as your archbishop. I talked about the meaning of freedom. The phrase from Luke’s Gospel that day was the words of Mary’s “yes” at the Annunciation, “Let it be done to me as you say.” That is the Christian meaning of freedom: Yes, God, do what you will with me, because you love me better than I love myself; because you know and want my happiness more deeply than I do.
Today, again in our Gospel reading from Luke, may God touch each of us with the words of Jesus, the son of Mary, at the synagogue: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor.”
The Spirit of the Lord overshadowed Mary and brought forth new life and redemption from her womb. So too may the Spirit overshadow each of us in our priesthood, whether lay or ordained. May He anoint us anew, and bring forth — through our service, and the service of others — a renewal of Christ’s presence in our Church and in our world.
Printed with permission from the Archdiocese of Denver.