Chrism Mass -- March 17, 2008
This afternoon the Church of Fargo gathers to give praise and worship to the Father through the one sacrifice of his Son, Jesus, in the Holy Spirit. Bishop, priests, deacons, religious and laity gather to celebrate our great sacrament of unity. We gather to give glory to the Father for his Son, Jesus Christ, and to bless the oils that will be used for the anointing of the sick and the celebration of the sacraments of baptism and confirmation at the Easter Vigil and throughout the year.
With the revisions of this liturgy by Pope Paul VI, he called the Chrism Mass the manifestation of the communion of the priests with their bishop. You, my beloved brother priests, will be invited today, as you are each year at the Chrism Mass, to renew your commitment to priestly service to Christ and the Church. As we reflect upon the questions that you respond "I am" to, you make the resolve to unite yourselves more closely to Christ, to become more like him, to imitate Jesus Christ, the head and shepherd of the Church. My dearest brothers, that means for each of us in the priesthood, who has been configured to Christ, the head and shepherd of the Church, who share the same spirit of Jesus, that we are to always imitate him and to become more like him each day.
It is important for us then to reflect upon what this means in our concrete ministry as priests. In the Second Vatican Council, in the decree of Optatam Totius, which addresses priestly formation, it speaks of the spiritual formation of the heart of the priest, of the seminarian who will be a future priest. It reminds, and I quote, that it should be conducted "in such a way that the students might learn to live in an intimate and unceasing union with the Father through His Son Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit". Drawing close to Jesus and imitating Jesus means that we must know the Father’s love for us in Jesus Christ as Jesus knows the Father’s love in the Holy Spirit. We are called to be men of prayer, men who truly have intimacy with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
That communion of life with the Blessed Trinity begins in baptism when every disciple is baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Every baptized person becomes a beloved daughter, a beloved son, of God. Every baptized person is called into intimate communion with Father, Son and Holy Spirit, offering themselves to the Father as Christ offers himself to the Father.
The priest, most especially, because of his consecration in the sacrament of Holy Orders, is configured to Christ, to act in the person of Christ, head and shepherd of the Church. His relationship with the body of Christ and, yes, with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is transformed so that he, too, must be able to cry out, as St. Paul cried out, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is not I who live but Christ who lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). My dearest brothers, it means that we are called to come to know the Father and Jesus and the Holy Spirit more profoundly each day. The Father’s desire for us as priests, as bishop, is that we come to be more conformed to his Son, that we live as his Son lived. Prayer is the very foundation of our priesthood, and it is the Eucharist, the greatest prayer of the Church, that nurtures us and reminds us daily of who we are called to be in Christ, to offer ourselves as Christ offered himself to the Father and for his flock. And, with that, it means growing in intimacy with the Father. We note in Scripture, in the Gospels, whenever Jesus prays he does not pray in a general way. He always prays to the Father. In teaching his disciples to pray, he taught them to pray "Our Father." And it is important
for every priest to know the Father as Jesus knows the Father, to love the Father as Jesus loves the Father.
I can remember one time being in prayer and, as I was praying to Jesus, I prayed the prayer, "Jesus, grant to me the same knowledge and love of the Father as your knowledge and love of the Father." As that prayer came to my heart, I was somewhat frightened by the prayer and taken aback. And I thought to myself, "I am not worthy. How can this be? I cannot ask for that grace." Then I heard in my heart the Father speak and say, "That is my desire for you. That is the love that I have for you."
My dearest brothers, each of us must discover that love and receive that love from the Father. The same is true with Jesus and the Holy Spirit, that we come to know intimately all three persons of the Trinity. That is the great revelation of our Catholic faith -- that we believe in three persons in one God. God, in order to love, must be in relationship. Love is incapable of existing alone. The one God, the source of all love, shows this by the very fact of his being in a relationship of persons.
This Lent I have been reading Father Cantalamessa’s book "Contemplating the Trinity" He makes a statement about the Trinity and the uniqueness of Trinitarian faith. One can taste his zeal and his joy when he states, "Oh, how wonderful it is to have the Trinity as our God! When we discover the Trinity, we are no longer tempted to exchange Christian monotheism for any other monotheism. I would feel sorry for any God who had no one with whom to communicate and to share his joy with the profundity that is uniquely his. I think he would feel himself tremendously alone and unhappy! The proof of the Trinity’s existence appears on the first page of the Bible: ‘God created man in his own image,’ and precisely because we were to be in his image, he added, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone’(Genesis 1:27; Genesis 2:18)."
If we are truly created in the image and likeness of God, and if it is not good for man to be alone, we too must enter into the communion of life with the Trinity, because it is precisely that communion that gives life to our celibacy, that gives life to our service of God’s people, that allows us to love the people of God as Jesus loved the people of God. Our deepest desire must be to bring the people to come to know the love of Father, Son and Holy Spirit through our own experience of God’s love.
I remember a few years ago a seminarian was speaking with me and he said, "Father, you know, as I was praying to Jesus, it seemed that my heart became one with Jesus’ heart and our hearts were beating in unison." And he asked, "Is this real?" It is our fears that prevent us from knowing and receiving that love, thinking it cannot be possible. I reassured the seminarian, "Yes, it is real and that is where Jesus wants you. That is Jesus communicating his love to you."
My brothers, it is important for us to understand, for all of us to understand, that each and every one of us is uniquely created in the image and likeness of God and, in that uniqueness, each of us is a reflection of God and, in that uniqueness, each of us will have his or her own relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That is why it is so important never to compare my prayer life to the prayer life of another, because if I did that I would only become frustrated. My prayer may never go to the depths that it did for a Therese of Lisieux, or a John of the Cross, or a Teresa of Avila, or of an Augustine, but I cannot allow that to discourage me. Imagine if Teresa of Calcutta had compared her prayer life to that of others. With all that she experienced in her prayer and in her struggles she remained a faithful, confident daughter of the Father even in the midst of the abandonment and the loneliness and the suffering and the thirst that she experienced.
In the concrete daily living out of our priesthood, we must first and foremost be men of prayer. That does not mean that we are monks, that we spend hour after hour in prayer, but it does mean that we must know and experience in our lives the communion of life with Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Second, it means within the service of our people, whether it be in the smallest rural parish or the largest city parish, that when we serve our people, we are serving Christ and loving them with the love of Christ, whether it is visiting the sick in the hospital during the day or when that phone call comes at 2 or 3 in the morning. It means comforting the widow. It means helping the person who is oppressed. It means exercising the virtue of charity and patience with the alcoholic, with the imprisoned, with those who are struggling in their relationships with others, bringing them to Christ, helping them to discover the love of the Father, and of Jesus and the Holy Spirit for them.
So as we continue with our celebration of the Eucharist today, let us pray that we may come to know the eternal love of the Trinity. You, my brothers and sons, have been anointed as Christ has been anointed. The Spirit of the Lord is upon you and you, too, with Jesus, must be able to speak the words of the prophet Isaiah that we listened to in today’s Gospel, for you, too, have been anointed with his Spirit! And, yes, the Spirit of the Lord is upon you "to bring glad tidings to the poor," to "proclaim liberty to captives [and] recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free" (Luke 4:18). My dearest brothers and sons, those words are fulfilled in our midst today as you proclaim the Word of God, as you proclaim Jesus Christ, because it is his Spirit with which you have been anointed and that same responsibility to proclaim the Good News is entrusted to you. We, too, are called to give glory to the Father as Jesus gave glory to the Father. All of this is possible if we truly resolve each day to be more like Christ, to imitate Christ, and have the passion and the zeal of St. Paul who was able to utter, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is not I who live but Christ who lives in me" (Galatians 2:20).
My deepest prayer for you, my brothers and sons, as you renew your priestly commitment in a few minutes, is that you will come to know that truth in your hearts and live it faithfully each day.
Printed with permission from the Diocese of Fargo.