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The following is the homily preached by Archbishop Allen Vigneron at the annual Chrism Mass in the Archdiocese of Detroit, celebrated March 24, 2016, at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit. More than 100 priests, and representatives from parishes throughout the archdiocese, were present for the liturgy.
Praise be Jesus Christ, now and forever.
I’ve been at this preaching task for over four decades, and I find that I have slipped into some might call it a routine. I think of it as a structured kerygma. And this is where I give the shout-‐out. I want particularly to offer good wishes to those of you among the elect, candidates for confirmation who have particularly come today to be part of this liturgy in which the chrism, with which you will be anointed, is consecrated. And also of course I want to offer my best wishes to His Eminence, the Cardinal, to my brother bishops and priests on Holy Thursday morning, this day so important to us in our vocation, so that we can do what Jesus commanded in memory of him. And of course my word of appreciation to our brother deacons and to all catechists who are here, who have been so important in leading the elect and the candidates to the Easter sacraments. And as I entered the Cathedral, I thought of another thing I might well point out to us in this prefatory remark. I see present some of the sisters from the Missionaries of Charity, which makes me think of course of their sisters who have so recently glorified God by their martyrdom, and also reminds me — and I hope all of you — that we must especially in these days pray for those Christians who endanger their lives by professing Jesus Christ, and who very well may be called in this clear way to imitate Christ who died for them.
Sometimes in the culture of the seminary, people make jokes — even about sacred things. I hope that doesn’t scandalize anyone. And some of that kidding, being a wag, doesn’t end with Holy Orders. We keep some of those habits with us. And so one of my brother wags said to me, “Perhaps instead of reading the Gospel today as ‘The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor,’ we should use the dynamic equivalency and say, ‘The spirit of the Lord has anointed me to unleash the Gospel.’” And so, it does seem right that here in the heart of these months we have dedicated to our New Evangelization initiative that I offer today a reflection on Jesus as the evangelist. Perhaps some might say the uber evangelist. For as He said to the congregation in the synagogue in Nazareth, He was anointed with the Holy Spirit, he was chrismated, as it were, made the Christ, precisely in order to evangelize — to bring glad tidings to the poor and the lowly. And so particularly today I’d like to reflect with you a little bit about the role of the Holy Spirit in the mission of evangelization… the role, the work, the task of the Holy Spirit in unleashing the Gospel, as we say here in the Archdiocese of Detroit. It is not the task of the Holy Spirit to do the evangelizing — He’s not the speaker. That belongs to the Son of God, in the flesh, to the Messiah. He does this great work in the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the inner energy that moves Jesus and empowers Jesus to perform the mission for which He was sent to this world. This possession of the Spirit is called in the Sacred Scripture “anointing.” Even though there is no evidence that Jesus himself was physically anointed. But because He has the spirit to the fullest, He is called the anointed one, the Messiah.
We can, I think, profitably meditate for a moment about the natural symbolism of anointing in order to more deeply understand the role of the Spirit in the work of evangelization. About this point, the Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes St. Gregory of Nyssa, who says, “the notion of anointing suggests that there’s no distance between the son and the Holy Spirit. Just as between the surface of the body and the anointing with oil, neither reason nor sensation recognizes any intermediary.” I’ll offer you my own metaphor for that. In our little grade school in Anchorville, Bobby Becker used to bring leftover popcorn to lunch. And the bag in which Bobby carried the popcorn always had oil spots, of course. Why? Because the butter or the oil in the popcorn suffused the brown paper. To put it the way St. Gregory would phrase it, neither reason nor sensation recognized any intermediary between the brown paper and the oil. That’s what happens when you anoint. The anointed one is suffused, becomes totally one with the anointing. There is a total and irrevocable fusion. And so in Jesus there is this total and irrevocable fusion between himself as the incarnate Son of God, and the inner dynamic of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the font for the drive and the commitment of Jesus to evangelize. It is out of the self-‐gift of the Son to the Father, in the Spirit, that Jesus gives himself over to the service of the world by preaching the Good News. The Holy Spirit totally suffused into Christ, is the source for the vision and the message of Jesus. It is out of the Spirit, who is the Son’s bond with the Father, that Jesus speaks, has nothing other to say than what He knows of the Father — that is that the Father loves us and wants us to come home, and has sent Jesus so that we could be in Jesus transformed from enemies and orphans into God’s adopted sons and daughters, in Christ. And so the Love of God, the Holy Spirit, is the wellspring for Jesus’ work of unleashing the Gospel. It is in the Spirit that He speaks the Gospel, that He serves the Gospel and that He is the Good News, the Gospel.
We disciples of Jesus know that it is not only our Lord himself who received the Holy Spirit for the sake of mission. But He has shared his spirit with his disciples, with us. Because He has given us a share in his mission. He told us, go forth and make disciples of all nations. Get out of Jerusalem. Go beyond Palestine. Go everywhere, and tell everyone about my Father. This is touched on in both of the first and second readings today. It’s foretold by Isaiah, that like the Messiah evangelist who’s coming, as Isaiah prophesied, all God’s people will be named priests, would be anointed and made ministers of God. Or as the book of Revelation foretells, at the end of the age Jesus, the first born, would establish in his likeness all of us as a kingdom of priests, anointed ones for his Father. And this truth is affirmed by the sacraments for which we will use the chrism consecrated today. We, too, people and pastors, are anointed, made Christ, in the power of the Spirit. In the sacraments of confirmation and priestly ordination, what is signified by anointing with chrism happens. It always happens. It never fails to happen. That through these sacraments we receive the Holy Spirit for the sake of mission. The Lord’s Spirit becomes our spirit. And this has worked in a total and irrevocable fusion, just like the oil stains on Bobby Becker’s popcorn bag.
You can put it this way, if you find the Bobby Becker metaphor a little too cute. The Holy Spirit becomes a kind of second soul to all of us. Now I don’t mean we’re made into zombies, of course. But the Holy Spirit becomes a new source of energy, the real source of energy and vision for us, to spread the Good News, to unleash the Gospel. This is what it means to be consecrated — that everything we have, every talent that belongs to us, every aspiration, every part of ourselves is consecrated to this great work, to the work of Jesus, of sharing the Good News. That God wants his world back, and He’s given us the power to bring it to Him. We are filled with the Holy Spirit in this local Church so that we can unleash the Gospel in southeast Michigan. And so we can’t be sleepy anymore. We can’t simply carry on in a mere routine. No one of us can — God can’t afford to let any one of us be sleepy about the Gospel. It’s not normal. It is God’s power that is being unleashed in our midst.
And the Chrism that God consecrates today is a sign of this truth that I’ve proclaimed. And we, I invite all of us, please, to embrace the mission anew. Those of you who will be confirmed or are confirmed — each of you is entrusted with a part of the world, a piece of God’s world. Your home. Your work. Your business. Your school. Your neighborhood. God wants it back! It belongs to God! It belongs in the Kingdom of Christ! And by evangelizing, by unleashing the Gospel at home, at work, at school, you are calling a part of that world back into God’s kingdom, where it belongs.
And we priests, by our work of evangelizing, our service in the sanctuary has a firm foundation, is sustained and is led to its consummation. I ask you, please, let us work devoutly together, devotedly together on this. All the other stuff is important. I need you to come to this, and do that, and sign these papers, and fill out these forms. That’s part of my job. I do it. But this is the most important thing. This is what God asks of us. It was for this that we were born, that we trained, that we sacrificed, that we’ve given up wife and home and children. To unleash the Gospel. And let us today embrace that anew.
This is the great work of mercy, of all the works we could perform in the Year of Mercy there is nothing more merciful to do than to tell the world that Jesus Christ is its savior, that He’s died for the world, that there’s no more need to fear death, and we can live in peace in this world and with joy in the next. This is our mission, all of us, priests and people together. And as I move to conclude, let me offer one metaphor for this. It’s about teaching the world to sing. We sang that in the psalm, “Cantaré eternamente las misericordias del Señor.” That’s what God wants. He wants everybody to sing that song. Jesus is the choirmaster. He’s the maestro de coro. And God made every one of us, gave us life, breathed existence into us so that we could do our part in the chorus and sing this new song. In the Eucharist today, and every day, but perhaps especially today, is a pledge about how it will be at the end of time. It’ll be a lot like this. Some people you know very well, some people you’ve never met before — but lots of great people together, singing glory and praise to the Father, with Jesus in the power of the Spirit. And today, let us hear afresh the call of Jesus Christ, the invitation of Jesus Christ, to do everything we can, to go out to every byway and highway, and announce that God wants the whole world to come into the Eucharist, so that after this age we can beyond sacrament and sign praise him forever.
We adore we O Christ and we praise thee, because by thy holy cross thou hast redeemed the world.