My brothers and sisters,
Before I launch into my preaching, I want to be sure to offer a word of welcome. I know it’s the custom for many parishes to have the Elect present. And for those who are among us as the Elect, it’s so good that you can be here through this ceremony to move into a celebration of the sacred Triduum that is so important in your lives. Sometimes I know that confirmation classes come. If anyone is a candidate for confirmation in the coming year, I’m very glad you’re here. Sometimes it’s catechists who are particularly central to being here. So, I’d like to ask of any of you who are catechists please to stand. This gives me an opportunity on behalf of not only myself but my brother priests to thank all of you for your indispensable mission in the Church.
I’m very grateful to God that so many priests and deacons are able to be here today, and I’m particularly glad that Bishop Murray, the Emeritus Bishop of Kalamazoo, who is here in our midst to preach the Triduum retreat at the Seminary. Thank you for being here. And I know that I speak on behalf of all of us to say what a great blessing it is that Cardinal Szoka and Cardinal Maida are here for this Mass today. God bless you.
I was calculating how many Chrism Masses I have been to. The first time I was here in the Cathedral for this ceremony I was in the 12th grade at the Seminary. I’ve missed a few a years but not many. This is Chrism 2013. This is the Year of Faith, the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. And so, I would like to base my reflections today on what has been really for almost all of my priesthood, a guiding insight from the teaching of the Council. These words appear in the Constitution on Divine Revelation; here the Council Fathers articulate what I would call the ecology, the very essential structure of the Christian life and the Christian revelation. The Fathers put it this way— the plan of revelation, the disclosure, the self-gift of God, this is how it works. The plan of revelation is realized by words and deeds that have an inner unity. The deeds wrought by God in the history of salvation manifest and confirm the teaching and realities signified by the words, while the words proclaim the deeds and clarify the mystery contained in the deeds. Revelation is not just about what God does and it isn’t just about what God says. The self-disclosure of God is self-gift to us, above all in Jesus of Nazareth, is always about words and deeds together.
So that today I want to emphasize that in this liturgy, as in all liturgies, this ecology continues to unfold. It’s the two things together, it’s words and signs we say in scholastic theology – form and matter – the two things together that reveal, that make present Jesus, his Father, and their Holy Spirit, who ask here in the Cathedral today as he does in every liturgy, to save his people. I emphasize this because I do not want us to miss, I want us to take to ourselves this revelation to recognize God’s self-disclosure to us in word and in sign, in word and in deed, so that we can both accept it and respond.
And so, I would like now to identify a key in the text of the liturgy in the Sacred Scripture, which for me illustrate and illuminate the consecration of the Chrism, which Christ will accomplish in the Sacred Liturgy. In the consecration prayer, the action of Jesus consecrating the Chrism is set within a context, it’s presented and spoken about as part of what we might call a set. To emphasize that what Jesus does in the Cathedral this morning is a continuation of many great acts of salvation in the past. And I would signal for your attention to, in particular, what God did in and for Noah after the flood and what God the Father did for Jesus after the Baptism. What God does in making the Chrism today is foreshadow prophesied by what happened to Noah and what happened to Jesus after his Baptism. In this, that in each case after the waters did their cleansing work, the Holy Spirit was present in the form of a dove. And so, we see that the Sacred Chrism that Christ consecrates today is about making present in our time, in this year of salvation at the Easter Vigil and at all the other confirmations thereafter, the descent of the Holy Spirit that heals and confirms what God does after he cleanses by water.
For the case of Noah, the dove with the olive branch, reminiscent of Chrism already, what God did for Noah was after the cleansing water he made him the rebuilder of civilization and the human race. And after Jesus emerged from the waters of the Jordan, the Holy Spirit came down upon him and the Father proclaimed him as the Son for the sake of his mission of redeeming the world, fulfilling his task of saving us from sin and death. And so in confirmation, those who have been purified by the waters of baptism receive a seal, the anointing of the Holy Spirit, so that they can be sent out in that kind of consummation which belongs to the disciples of Jesus.
Confirmation is today as the descent of the Holy Spirit was for Christ, the missioning so that discipleship reaches its fulfillment in doing the work of Christ. What the liturgy says in this prayer of consecration is presented most powerfully in the Sacred Scripture. It was foretold by Isaiah the Prophet as we heard, that to be the Messiah, to be anointed, is to be sent. The text: ‘The Lord has anointed me. He has sent me.’ And of course St. Luke records that our Lord himself applied this prophecy to himself in the synagogue of Nazareth. He read and said about himself the Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to let the oppressed go free to proclaim a year acceptable.
We acknowledge this two-fold, this union of anointing and mission, in the collect of this Mass when we prayed that we who are made sharers in Christ’s consecration will bear witness to him in the world. So this is the payoff. If there’s an essay test at the end, this is what you have to put on the test if you’re going to get a C. What God is doing today, by what God is doing today in consecrating the Chrism, what we have heard about in the Sacred Scripture will continue to be fulfilled in our hearing. Not only Christ the Head, but we, the members of Christ, continue to be sent on the mission of Christ because we are anointed with the Spirit of Christ. That’s what the Chrism is about. In a word, it belongs to the whole people of God to be on mission to bring the world back to God. The Holy Spirit hovered over the waters when there was just chaos. And by God’s word through that hovering the world was made, but the world was marred by sin and so the world has to be remade. And so, the Spirit continues to be sent out over the world to reshape the world, to stamp upon the world again the face of Jesus Christ. This is the mission given to all of those who are confirmed by the anointing of the Holy Spirit after baptism—to reshape this nation according to God’s plan for creation. That sounds real big, let’s break it down a little bit. To reshape my community, my school, my neighborhood, where I work, the people I’m part of, to make it all renewed in the image of Christ according to the will of the Father, to reshape my family.
Perhaps the most important way the lay faithful fulfill their mission in the world, husbands and wives helping one another to be a new creation. Helping homes and families be outposts of the new creation. And not only to recreate society and relationships but to be personally recreated in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ. The mission to reshape the way I think, the way I judge, what I evaluate and consider success and failure, how I look at suffering. The mission is to have the mind and the heart of Jesus about such things. In my very flesh, to make it part of the kingdom of God, this is the mission, this is the point of the anointing, this is the work of the Holy Spirit after we have been cleansed by the water, to be made missionaries, to be made witnesses of the new creation.
And now let me, as the liturgy directs me, let me address a particular word to my brother priests. To relate this liturgy to our own priesthood and, in particular, to that action by which our hands were anointed with the sacred Chrism. Recall the words of the bishop – the Lord Jesus Christ whom the Father anointed with the Holy Spirit in power, may he guard and preserve you that you may sanctify the Christian people and offer sacrifice to God. The ancients tell us that the hand is the universal tool. You can do a lot with your hand – you can haul dirt, you can paint a masterpiece. And that the hand is anointed seems to me to signify that our lives, all the work we do, is meant to serve the faithful in their mission, in their work under the authority and power of the Holy Spirit. This is the point of our consecration. This is why hands were imposed upon us and the Holy Spirit was called down upon us so that we could strengthen and sustain the people of God for their mission of remaking the world.
And so we understand that we too are on mission. We are not ecclesiastical civil servants bound to this operation so that it won’t grind to a halt. We’re missionaries. All of the aims of everything we do is to prepare our fellow disciples for mission. It isn’t simply about giving people an experience of Christ Jesus, though they should have that. And it’s not simply about helping them learn the faith, though they must have that, and giving them an experience of community, though that’s important. But all of that mission and work is consummated and finds its ultimate fulfillment when everything else leads to their going out on the mission, continuing to fulfill in 2013 what Christ did when he came out of the water of the baptism and received the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
And if I might, I would like to be very, very specific for a moment, repeat something that I have said on other occasions: It is absolutely essential for us brothers to recruit other men to join us in this great mission. The mission is pressing. The world needs to be reshaped by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, and so we must do everything we can so that those who are called by the Holy Spirit to join us in this work of evangelization will be able to answer that call. Please we need that from one another and I need that from all of you.
In speaking about the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, what comes to mind is the prophecy of Ezekiel about the dry bones and perhaps there’s no other part of the country that has a more vivid sense about dry bones and blighted bones in need for new life. And I think, I know in my own life it’s true, I think for all of us there can be a great spirit of weariness, of discouragement. Can these dry bones live? Can it really all be back and filled with life again? And the answer is yes because Christ is Risen. The Spirit who raised the body of Jesus out of the sepulchre can give new life, will give new life. This is our service. This is what gives me new hope and makes me continue to have enthusiasm for the mission, and I hope it gives you that same renewed enthusiasm and confidence. There are no bones so dry, so dead, that they cannot be filled with life if we call the Holy Spirit down upon them and entrust the Holy Spirit, entrust to the Holy Spirit what once seemed dead but what which God wants to live again. And this powerful Spirit is communicated by the Sacred Chrism. So, the liturgy asks all of us today to plead and to praise. I will invite you to pray with all your heart that the Chrism will be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. Don’t hold back, please make that your most ardent prayer, and it will happen. The Chrism will be consecrated because Christ works in the liturgy. And then, don’t be shy, don’t hold back, give praise and thanks to God that he has poured out in the Body of Christ the same anointing that he pours out upon Christ our Head.
And finally, we will offer the holy sacrifice. We remember that the missionary charge, the charge of reshaping the world into the image of Christ by the stamp that comes from the Holy Spirit is a priestly work. That’s what we heard in the Book of Revelation. Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the first born of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth and has freed us from our sins by his blood, he has made us into a kingdom. Priests for his God and Father. This is the ultimate aim of bringing the world back to the Father, to make it an offering, an oblation offered to the Father in love. And so today let us in this Holy Eucharist, as priests of the world, offer what has been one, what has been reshaped in the image of Jesus by the power of the Spirit, let us offer it to the Father. And as Venerable Solanus would say, let us offer ahead of time what God will reshape, what the Holy Spirit will do in the months ahead to reshape the world into the image of Jesus, and make that a gift in advance.
Thank you all for coming today so that together we can share with Christ in the saving work of the consecration of Chrism and the other oils.