CHRISM MASS HOMILY 2016
Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle
Tuesday, March 22, 2016
Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Bishop of St. Petersburg
Twenty years ago January 26, 1996 at the end of a long ordination liturgy I spoke my first words to you as a bishop. I began my inaugural address, as it were, by calling to mind an old hymn entitled, “what a friend we have in Jesus.” Today, as at every Chrism Mass in the intervening years, we listen again to the inaugural homily, speech, or sermon of Jesus when at the very beginning of his ministry he reminds his fellow synagogue members in Nazareth of Isaiah’s depiction of the Messiah. From that moment forward Jesus fulfilled his ministry of mercy perfectly, just as the Father had commanded it and as the Son had embraced it.
At that precise moment, Jesus announced that a new era had begun, a time of God’s favor, God’s mercy. Jesus proclaimed a gracious God and a merciful God and both would be the hallmarks of his remaining life and ministry. He speaks of his “anointing” and the oils which today we bless and consecrate are reminders of God’s love and generosity. They will be used to remind parents of their children’s election by God in baptism and confirmation – they are anointed. They will be used to remind the sick and the scared that God often heals – they are anointed. And, thank God, they will be used in seven weeks to anoint the hands of five who will feed His people with the bread of life and the cup of salvation. That era begun in the Nazareth Synagogue that Sabbath has not ended, nor has its substantially changed in its essence. Each and every one of us has been anointed to bring the good news of God’s mercy.
Can it be that in 2016 the Church of Jesus Christ is the last hope for the poor? Who are the poor? They are indeed the needy, the homeless and the hungry, the vulnerable lonely and the parentless child, the wounded returning veteran home from armed conflict, the breathless masse yearning to be free and here in our midst, our brothers and sisters in the shadows fearing deportation, separation from loved ones and even exile. In his inaugural homily or sermon or discourse or teaching, Jesus makes it abundantly clear that these “poor” have first claim on his time and on his ministry and on his gifts. Francis, our Pope, says precisely the same thing and establishes precisely the same order for Christ’s church – the poor come first, whether it is the poverty of sins in need of forgiveness or the poverty of a paucity of love or the poverty of living in constant fear.
Jesus would go on to put flesh on every priority first enumerated by Isaiah in just the three years of his public ministry while we have struggled to do our part in twenty. Jesus taught us to build bridges and not walls. Jesus taught us to proclaim through our ministry what he carried out in the rest of this marvelous Gospel of Luke which graces us this year:
Blessed are the poor, the Kingdom of God is yours. (6:20)
The poor have the good news preached to them. (7:22)
When you hold a banquet invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind (14:13)
And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus and covered with sores. (16:20)
“I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than the rest. (21:3)
Together for the past two decades we have tried in many ways to proclaim, spread and incarnate the good news in the life and ministry of the Church. One can become sadly disillusioned if and when one solely concentrates on the enormity of the challenge. Yet every new child baptized and confirmed, reconciled and fed with the bread of life, every couple married in Church because they wish God to be the center of their promise of fidelity, every infirm person prepared for the journey from death to eternal life, all testify to the presence of the Lord in our life and ministry.
Our mother Church gives us moments not just to reflect on the enormity of the challenge of evangelization, but also the success of many of our efforts and the communal act of gratitude for our ministry which this liturgy uniquely evokes. There is room for humble pride as we have born the heat of so many challenges in the last twenty years. But the people of this Church have never lost confidence in you, their pastors and priests. They still love you and are grateful for your priestly presence in their lives and let me say, perhaps for the final time, so am I and forever will be.
Sitting in this sanctuary this morning and watching livestream in Rome are five men, Deacons Felipe Gonzalez, Alex Padilla, Bradley Reed, Jonathan Stephans, and Kevin Yarnell whom I now call to ordination to the priesthood of Jesus Christ, eight weeks from now on May 21st. You are signs of hope and examples to all of us to God’s goodness. Additionally serving in the Sanctuary and sitting in the congregation are twenty-three others discerning God’s call at various levels of formation for whom we pray daily and are grateful always. You also are a significant part of our hope for the future.
The married deacons and their wives, here always in great number in support of our priests, are a treasure I failed to recognize when I arrived twety years ago but which I have grown to treasure more with each passing year. You are and will be a gift and legacy which I will leave to my successor with love and admiration and heartfelt appreciation.
Religious women and men, what a gift you are to our community. Substantially fewer in number than when I came, nevertheless the powerful witness of your consecrated presence reminds us all that sacrifice is still possible for the good of the kingdom of God.
And finally, people of God of the diocese of St. Petersburg. Pray for your Church often. Pray that we may reclaim those who have left us as we bring glad tidings to the lowly, heal the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to captives and release to prisoners. Pray that we may continue to offer hope to our sisters and brothers who think they are at risk of deportation, to the pregnant mother who fears she cannot cope with giving birth to a child but finds us even more ready to help if she chooses life and pardon and forgiveness to the woman who was not able to make that choice, a sense of security to the school child who fears their parents are going to divorce, to the elderly who fear they will not be able to access medical care or prescriptions when they need it, the gay or lesbian who may have previously felt impoverished by neglect and scorn, those living in second or third non-sacramental marriage who long for the Eucharistic connection, women who seek to share their unique gifts with the Church they love. This is the modern poverty of which Jesus speaks and these are those whom we are called to serve with mercy. Pope Francis has changed the prescription of the lens through which we are to examine our ministry and mercy now enters our purview with even greater clarity.
However poverty is defined and it has many shapes and images, may we keep it before our face as Jesus did and Pope Francis demands, ready always to respond with mercy, love and compassion. My brother priests, deacons, religious and lay, let our past acts of mercy be the legacy of the last twenty years and the foundation of hope for the future.