Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Bishop Senior’s Homily for the Chrism Mass

As we do each year during Holy Week, we have gathered for the Chrism Mass; our priests, together with deacons, seminarians, consecrated religious and lay faithful of the Diocese of Harrisburg, gathered here in our Cathedral of Saint Patrick, and virtually with those who join us via live stream.  I am so grateful for the presence of all who join with us as our priests renew their commitment to Jesus Christ and to His Church. Because of the focus of this Liturgy, I will be addressing this homily primarily to our priests. But, even so, your presence with us in such large numbers is inspiring.  And, I am sure, is also an expression of your love for our priests, of our unity in the Body of Christ, and the blessings and graces that flow from the diversity of ministries and apostolates in our local Church.  Thank you for being here today.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me” and he has sent me. The words of the prophet Isaiah speak to each of us, brothers, as we have gathered to celebrate The Chrism Mass together. The Spirit of the Lord is indeed upon us with the unique charism of the Priesthood.  He has anointed us in the Sacrament of Holy Orders, and we have been sent “to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and release to prisoners… to comfort those who mourn” … to give to those who mourn the “oil of gladness in place of mourning.” As we bless the Oil of the Sick and the Oil of the Catechumens, and consecrate the Sacred Chrism, we are especially reminded of the Sacred Mysteries that have been entrusted to us in the Sacraments which we are to bring to our people.  We hear in the Instruction for the Rite of Ordination of Priests that we have been “taken from among the people and appointed on their behalf in those things that pertain to God.” This is who we are. We see Jesus in the Gospel for this Mass in the synagogue in Nazareth, where he had grown up, reading from the same passage of the prophet Isaiah which we heard in the first reading.  Jesus makes the words of the prophet His own when he says to those gathered in the synagogue “Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  In some ways, Jesus is saying “this is who I am” – this is the mission entrusted to me.  Dear brothers, we do the same thing today, and really every day of our lives, but particularly today, in reaffirming our mission – our true identity in Jesus Christ; priests who have been anointed – consecrated for service; to once again lay down our lives for those to whom we have been sent.  We can hear the words of Psalm 89 in a very personal way as the Father speaks to our hearts as His beloved sons:  “I have found you my servant…with my holy oil I have anointed you, that my hand may always be with you and that my arm may make you strong…my faithfulness and mercy shall be with you” – and we can confidently respond “you are my father, my God, the rock, my savior.”

Brothers, it has been just over nine months since I began my service with you in our Diocese. There have been so many moments of grace and blessing in countless encounters with our lay faithful – of all ages and walks of life, people of diverse cultures and nationalities throughout our fifteen counties; so many faithful and generous deacons and their wives, and consecrated women and men religious in the variety of forms of the consecrated life that we have in our local Church.  Especially today, however, I want to call attention to you, the priests of the Diocese of Harrisburg.  We are truly blessed with great priests.  Daily, you selflessly lay down your lives in service of the people of God in ways that often go unrecognized and, perhaps, unappreciated, and known only to God.  You exercise your ministry in a cultural context that seems often to oppose who we are as Catholic priests, or at least dismisses or discounts the inestimable value of what we do.  We still encounter the continuing impact of sexual abuse scandals, most especially in our listening to the stories of survivors of abuse and are seeking to be instruments of healing and renewal in our Church. Brothers, thank you for all that you do and for all that you are in the service of the Church.

We priests are giving our lives to service, united to Jesus Christ, the High Priest.  I am reminded of how the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council spoke of the Life and Ministry of Priests in the Decree on the Priesthood: Priests “have been consecrated by God in a new manner at their ordination and made living instruments of Christ the Eternal Priest that they may be able to carry on in time his marvelous work whereby the entire family of man is again made whole by power from above.” Brothers, we know it is impossible to truly fulfill this mandate – to be living instruments of Christ the Eternal Priest, unless our lives are centered on our relationship with Jesus.  We cannot lead others to Christ if we are not daily grounded in Him.  We need to first receive the love and mercy of Jesus, in the context of our friendship with Him, if we are to be his “living instruments” for the good of our people.  We need the oil of gladness from Him so that we can then bring it to others in our ministry.

In his homily at the Chrism Mass in 2013 – his first after becoming Pope, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, spoke about the anointing we are called to bring to our people. In describing how rich and fruitful priestly ministry can be, and so often is in the lives of those we serve, the Holy Father said this:

“The precious oil which anoints the head of Aaron does more than simply lend fragrance to his person; it overflows down to “the edges”. The Lord will say this clearly: his anointing is meant for the poor, prisoners and the sick, for those who are sorrowing and alone. My dear brothers, the ointment is not intended just to make us fragrant, much less to be kept in a jar, for then it would become rancid and the heart bitter. A good priest can be recognized by the way his people are anointed: this is a clear proof. When our people are anointed with the oil of gladness, it is obvious: for example, when they leave Mass looking as if they have heard good news. Our people like to hear the Gospel preached with “unction”, they like it when the Gospel we preach touches their daily lives, when it runs down like the oil of Aaron to the edges of reality, when it brings light to moments of extreme darkness, to the “outskirts” where people of faith are most exposed to the onslaught of those who want to tear down their faith. People thank us because they feel that we have prayed over the realities of their everyday lives, their troubles, their joys, their burdens and their hopes. And when they feel that the fragrance of the Anointed One, of Christ, has come to them through us, they feel encouraged to entrust to us everything they want to bring before the Lord: “Pray for me, Father, because I have this problem”, “Bless me Father”, “Pray for me” – these words are the sign that the anointing has flowed down to the edges of the robe, for it has turned into a prayer of supplication, the supplication of the People of God. When we have this relationship with God and with his people, and grace passes through us, then we are priests, mediators between God and men.”

In a few moments, I will invite you to renew your commitment to Priestly service.  It is a moment of solidarity and unity among all the members of our Presbyterate and with me as your bishop.  Together with you, as we reaffirm our identity as priests – living instruments of Christ the Eternal Priest. Especially in these days of Holy Week, and in the days of the Sacred Triduum,  let’s strengthen our resolve to do all that we need to do to deepen our friendship with Jesus – to be centered in Him – to renew our immersion into His death and resurrection, so that in all that we do, we may be aware of His presence always with us – the gaze of his love that has led us to our own anointing and consecration to Him and His service;  invoking as well the intercession and loving protection of our Blessing Mother, Mary, the Mother of Priests, asking her to keep us faithful in her providential care to Jesus Christ who is the “faithful witness – to him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his Blood, who has made us into a Kingdom, priests for his God and Father, to him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen.”

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