Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Homily for the Chrism Mass
April 3, 2012
Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes
by Bishop Blase J. Cupich
My heartfelt welcome to all of you, especially our visitors, students home with family and other travelers.
There were years in our recent past when the largest community of priests in the world, over 2500, was Priestsblock 25487, the priests’ section of the concentration camp at Dachau. One of the inmates, Fr. Jean Bernard, kept a diary documenting the torture of the prisoners, even to the point of recounting how the Nazis crowned priests with barbed wire and crucified them. In 2004, a German film director got a hold of the diary and produced a movie called The Ninth Day. In the film the author-priest is given the fictionalized name Abbe Kremer. At one point he is promised his freedom by the Gestapo chief, officer Gebhardt, if he will cooperate with the Nazis. To gain the priest’s trust, Gebhardt, who had long since renounced the Catholic faith, confides that he was once a seminarian, but left the seminary two days before ordination to take up a career in the Nazi administration. “It was my mother’s fondest wish,” the SS officer revealed, “that I become a priest, so as to have a dignitary in the family.”
Abbe Kremer said in response: “But, sir, priests are servants, not dignitaries and my mother knew that.”
Abbe Kremer and his mother Madame Kremer knew the Jesus whom we hear about today in Luke’s Gospel, the one who walked into his home town synagogue and proclaimed himself a servant. Our priests also know this same Jesus. Since the day of ordination, when they said “present” or for some “adsum”, they have served with generosity and dedication. We will recall that first moment of their priesthood with the renewal of their ordination promises at this Eucharist. They had no way of knowing where the promise to serve would take them or what it would mean, in this era, which has become one of the most challenging in the Church’s history. But we are thankful they have said “present” and “adsum” each and every day since.
While the Chrism Mass has a special meaning for our priests, it is first of all a feast for the whole Church. This Gospel passage is nothing less than Jesus’ inaugural address, and it provides the entire Church with a point of reference for how we continue the service of Christ in the world.
Luke tells us that Jesus began his service by teaching. The Gospels are replete with stories of Jesus the teacher, known especially for his confidence and patience. These two qualities are needed as he has the long term aim of bringing people to a full share in the life of God, which begins with learning how to live together here on this earth. His message is clear, when we make a place at the table of life for the poor, the sick, the small, the oppressed, the easily forgotten and marginalized, we in fact are learning what it means to participate in God’s life, because it is a life of equal sharing as a community of persons.
There is, as the catechism so nicely puts it, a resemblance between the union of the divine persons, the life of the Trinity to which we are called, and the solidarity that human beings establish among themselves in truth and love. For Jesus, a just society is essential to the fulfillment of the human calling to share in the life of God. Cf., CCC 1878 and 1886.
Teaching how our live with God and a just society are connected is the service Jesus takes up his first day on the job and which he invites us to share in our day.
Pope Benedict, an obvious skilled teacher in his own right, seems to have all of this in mind when he described the Church’s involvement in public debate. “We have no intention of exercising power over others, or imposing our way of thinking on others,” he wrote in his encyclical, God is Love. “Our aim,” he continues, “is simply to help purify reason and to contribute, here and now, to the acknowledgment and attainment of what is just.” Our teaching is about offering the bigger picture, the connection between this life and the life God offers and to do it like Jesus did, with confidence and patience.
And so in the face of the tendency in an election year to consistently reduce a political agenda to the facile question: “are you better off than you were four years ago,” the Church says wait, there are other questions that can be of service, such as: how will we protect the weakest and vulnerable in our midst? How do we heal the wounds of racism in our country? How should a state be helping and supporting parents committed in a permanent and faithful relationship and who take the risk and responsibility for bringing children into the world and raising them with sound values, a sense of hope and an ethic of responsibility? How can we provide wider access to health care to better protect and respect human dignity? How are we as a nation called to protect the right to life by always seeking first to resolve international disputes by peaceful means?
And when there is a tendency to let the market place define and manage our choices of entertainment and goods on the basis of what sells, or worse, what brings immediate gratification, the Church raises her voice and says wait a minute, we are more than mere consumers and pleasure seekers. This kind of life style may on the surface look and feel like happiness and freedom. It may even feel and look like community to a group sharing short term mutual interests, but in the end it is an approach to life that robs human dignity of any lasting meaning.
And when an agenda of radical individualism characterizes certain groups of people “disposable” because at this point in their life due to illness, youth or old age and weakness they are dependent on us, the Church reminds us of what we already know from experience - that full human development takes place in relationship with others and that we should instead pursue a more comprehensive vision of human solidarity that values what it means to be member of the human family.
In all of this “Our aim is simply to help purify reason and to contribute, here and now, to the acknowledgment and attainment of what is just.” It is to teach with confidence and patience that a just society is essential to the fulfillment of the human calling to share in the life of God.
Yes, there are members in our own Church who would prefer the approach often taken by other faith groups. “Why can’t Catholics get their act together like these people?,” I am asked. They envy how such communities are able to form a tightly cohesive group, rallying their members into a political bloc, able to deliver a solid vote. But that is not how Jesus served. Instead, he taught, and confidence and patience were the marks of his teaching.
In just a moment we will bless the oils to be used for our ministry, our service to the People of God in the coming year. It seems to me that the symbol of oil has a lot to offer as we take up in a fresh way the service of teaching in this year. Three of its qualities come to mind.
First, oil glistens. It reflects light, which the Pope reminded us is our aim in teaching, to bring the light of reason to public debate, ever confident of the depth and richness of our Catholic social tradition - ever confident that the truth will win out.
Oil also eases resistance. Approaches that depend on strident and harsh language, condemnations and division only end up creating greater resistance to the truth.
Our teaching has to give people room to consider what we are saying, trusting all the while that God’s grace is at work in them.
Finally oil heals, it enters areas of past hurts. Our service of teaching must be patient, especially when it is clear that other personal issues are involved in an individual’s decision. The movement from the neuralgic to the rational takes time, time that requires our patience.
The community of faith standing behind the reading from Revelations offers another source of encouragement, especially when the pace of progress seems so slow and our teaching does not seem very effective. This ancient church writes in an era when the Roman empire is hunting them down and exterminating them. Yet they are unhesitatingly hopeful. “There will be a day”, they proclaim “when all will see Christ, even those who persecuted him.” Some scholars believe that these second century Christians may have indeed seen that day, for many of the earliest converts to Christianity were Roman soldiers. The evangelist Mark alludes to this same thing. At the foot of the cross, the first one to profess belief in Jesus is a centurion. Seeing how Jesus died, this Roman soldier was left speechless except to say “truly this was the son of God.”
One day all will come to see Christ, even those who persecuted him. This ancient community speaks these words of hope to us, as we take up our service once again, encouraging us to be attentive to the ways God’s word is being fulfilled in our hearing, even if it is gradual, step by step. All we need to do is to serve, as Abbe Kremer and his mother knew, by teaching with confidence and patience as did Jesus on the first day of his ministry. And as a further sign that even in our day God’s word can be fulfilled in our hearing, I like Jesus, am now going to roll up the scroll of this longer than usual homily and sit down.
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