As I begin to pen these words, it is “spy” Wednesday of Holy Week, the day when the Gospel reading at Mass prepares us for the Sacred Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil) by reminding us of the treachery of Judas who sold his friend Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. I always have varied thoughts entering these most sacred of days which range from some discomfort with “bumping” the Rector and priests of the Cathedral parish from celebrating and preaching these days to the exhilaration and excitement of the Chrism Mass and the Easter Vigil.
Yesterday we had the annual Chrism Mass with an unexpectedly high attendance of 186 priests (we ran out of seats I am told), about 100 deacons, most of our seminarians (some are studying outside of the state or abroad and four who will be ordained to the transitional diaconate a week from Saturday were on their canonical (read that “required”) retreat, and a standing room only crowd in the Cathedral.
The magnificence of that new space for large ceremonies like yesterday’s was obvious to all in attendance.
Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.
The Oil of the Sick, designated by the letters OI, is presented by a representative of those who minister to the sick or by someone who works in the healing profession. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.
The Oil of Catechumens, designated by the letters OC or OS, is presented by a representative of those who minister in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults from each parish. Photo kindness of Jeanne Smith.
Consecrating the Sacred Chrism. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.
The Liturgy of the Eucharist. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.
Invitation to Communion. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.
My homily for the occasion is shown below (note that there is more blogging after the homily and you can read the homily as a PDF here) but I pulled a “popey” which is something like a “selfie” by departing from the text near the end to ask questions of segments of the congregation. For that you will need to watch the video replay which you can do by clicking here. As of this writing, about 1,300 people have watched the Chrism Mass online with about 700 watching live during the ceremony. The ability to share these moments with anyone who has the time, inclination and a computer or mobile device is wonderful. You can see more photos of the Chrism Mass here.
CHRISM MASS 2014
Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle
Tuesday, April 14, 2014
Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Bishop
Once again we have heard the words of Isaiah, now so familiar to us. Twice in this Liturgy of the Word alone, every year at this Mass, quite often at our ordinations as priests and/or deacons, these familiar and haunting words of Isaiah are heard: “the Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord, and a day of vindication by our God, to comfort all who mourn. . .”
In the Gospel passage this morning Jesus uses this passage from the great prophet when he returns very early in his public ministry to his home town, to his friends and family, to his Jewish co-religionists with whom for some thirty years he joined in the local synagogue to learn the law, approach its application to daily life, to challenge, to encourage, to fortify their faith. However, one cannot fully embrace this passage from Luke’s Gospel without spending some time analyzing its context. The verses we have heard are easy enough. The total package of the passage is a “horse of another color.” It is worth, I believe, a moment or two of our time this morning.
Situated early in Luke’s Gospel account, Jesus comes back home from his baptism in the Jordan, having survived his temptations in the desert and on the way back to Nazareth, beginning to preach and teach, to heal and to challenge – four important pillars of his public ministry. He does some of this in Galilee and word of his power, of his preaching, of his proclamations and of his presence elsewhere has already come to Nazareth. The town is waiting for him. His return home is a moment of great expectations. The locals want him to do the same things in Nazareth that he has done from Jerusalem to Jericho, to Capernaum. I can imagine the sentinels dispatched by the locals to announce his imminent arrival in Nazareth as he climbed from below sea level to his mountainside home village.
When he preaches God’s word, challenges the locals to action, he disappoints. They want him to do for them what it has been said he has done for many others – give us a miracle or two Jesus, not just words. If you take time to read the very next verses of this famous passage and listen to the response of his own townsfolk as they turn from anxious anticipation to dangerous anger. It is produce, Jesus, or perish. They become so angry with him that they attempt to kill him but he slips away, likely never to return to family or friends in Nazareth. What could have been a moment of unity and reunion becomes instead a moment of threats and rejection, of jealousy and resentment, of criticism, carping and complaining. And that was the Lord’s early experience of ministry.
Today the message and mission of those prophetic words from Isaiah remain the same, but the reception as well as the atmosphere is no less problematic. We are the bearers of the message, dear brothers. We are the deliverers of the mission. And if, at times, our audience seems out-of-touch with the Gospel of Joy which we try to live out, preach and deliver, the temptation can more easily turn to run, to anger and frustration at the worst and disappointment at best. Making Jesus Christ present, real, embraceable, believable, acceptable, even within our own faith community can be as difficult today as it was for Him on that return to his hometown. That is setting the Scriptural stage for the second and third part of this reflection I wish to share with you today.
There is no day in the yearly calendar of the Church to rival this one for providing us a sense of unity in mission, commitment and fraternity. It is the day when the greatest number of us gather during the year to concelebrate the Eucharist, recommit ourselves to our priestly ministry together, and to experience a sense of unity in the work of service. Nineteen times I have had the privilege of doing what I am doing right now, truly and always supported by your presence, your witness, our communal prayer of Thanksgiving. There is no other time when I feel more like being a servant leader, a bishop, than this day. For a little more than ninety minutes we set aside our individual identities, our ecclesial offices, our disagreements and disappointments and recall the intensity of our desire for service. We lose our identity and assume that of Jesus, healer, teacher, catechist, anointer, blesser, and source of hope, messenger of justice. And we are joined by a good segment of God’s people who love us, support us, assist us, lift us up when we fail or disappoint and sometimes even challenge us in ways once thought unimaginable.
If I feel this unity annually on this occasion, I hope and pray that you do as well. We are in communion with Christ and with one another. There are moments in each year when we can sometimes share the feelings of the townsfolk of Nazareth. It is the dark side of the humanity of most of us all. But there is something about this Eucharist, which enlightens our ministry. Pope Francis on February 27, 2014 said this: brothers who love each other despite their differences in character, origin or age. . . this testimony gives birth to the desire to be part of the great parable of communion that is the Church. When a person feels that mutual love among the disciples of Christ is possible and is capable of transforming the quality of interpersonal relations, he/she feels called to discover or rediscover Christ, and opens to an encounter with the Living and Working One.[Pope Francis to Bishops and Friends of Focolare].
Dear brothers, unity, patience, forbearance and, yes, even love are contagious. If we are to ultimately be successful in encountering and encouraging and accompanying others, it surely begins with us, here, now and when we leave this place for another year. We need to resolve to care for each other better. I will try in the time remaining to me.
Finally, preaching the “Gospel of Joy” sometimes comes at a high price – not unlike the Nazareth experience of Jesus in the whole of Luke 4. Many of you have more years in the priesthood under your belt than I but in my thirty-six years of priestly ministry I have never felt the challenge, which I feel today, and it is coming from a man we hardly knew at this Mass a year ago.
There is no part of my ministry that is untouched in the last thirteen months, from where and how I live, to whom I give central focus upon in my ministry, to what I assign pastoral priority, to how best to deliver. The world and in a special way our Church has quickly fallen in love with Francis because of how he lives out his life and ministry – simply, humbly, with Jesuitical clarity, with firm resolve, and living comfortably on planet earth as first among sinners ever needing and feeling the warmth of God’s mercy and kindness. He has set the bar high for we bishops. Nothing, which might once have been a treasured “perk”, is any longer to be treated as “sacred.” He is redefining episcopal ministry, which will quite quickly redefine priestly ministry.
And just like in Nazareth, there is a certain “grumbling” to be heard in a few quarters. In a short time, he has given new strength and vitality to the three-fold challenge of this morning’s readings: you/we are fulfilling your ministry best when you leave the comfort of your safety zone to preach the Gospel to the poor; you/we are best when you/we devote more time to proclaiming release to those captive to sin, addiction, serious physical and psychological illness; when we help those who are spiritually blind see that God, the Church, we ministers love them more than we judge them; and we welcome back those who felt oppressed by anything which might be more of our creation than that of the Creator.
I close by appropriating the words written by Peggy Noonan for a former president of my generation, changing them only slightly: there is a new dawn breaking over the Church. Some of us will not live to see the high noon which this new day heralds, but I, and I hope you do as well, thank God that my ministry, your ministry has survived whatever darkness we may have felt enveloped our hopes and dreams and have lived to witness this dawn. For with Francis, and through Francis, and, yes, even under Francis , we can affirm this morning that ours is a great Church, capable of stirring the imaginations of many and embracing all. That, or so it seems to me, is today’s “spirit of the Lord which is among us.” What a great Church to which we have devoted our lives.
Following the Chrism Mass, my Clergy Personnel Board met for the rest of the afternoon. It is that time of the year.
For the last couple of years, I finally adopted some advice given to me long ago by one of my “hero-bishops”, Bishop Anthony Pilla, (retired bishop of Cleveland) and allow the Board to meet by themselves to discuss the changes. The discussion is led by my wonderful Vicar General, Monsignor Robert F. Morris. When they have “shuffled the deck” and are ready to show the “cards” they call for me to recommend the changes they have been able to determine.
I then approve or raise questions and concerns and when there is unanimous consensus among us, I begin to call the pastors who will be affected. Sometimes the call is easy and that is the case when someone has put in writing their interest in being assigned to an opening. We “bulletin” our parish vacancies most of the time as they become open so priests can, if they wish, show interest. However, sometimes we must ask someone who is comfortably positioned and serving their parish well and ask them for the good of the whole church to accept a change of assignment. To the credit of our good priests who find themselves in this unexpected predicament, I normally do not have to play the “obedience” card. Often sadly, somewhat reluctantly, they accept the new assignment. Those are tough phone calls.
Some lay people in the parishes are consulted in the process and they usually are the staff, the parish finance and pastoral councils, the school administrators, etc. Unlike some of our Protestant sisters and brothers, the Catholic Church does not engage congregations per se in choosing their ordained leadership. At the end of the afternoon yesterday, I was weary. Pumped by the Chrism Mass and sad about the work which followed. Show me any bishop who loves moving priests around and I will find a psychiatric ward that might help him. Too many lives are at stake.
Today (Wednesday) is quiet and tomorrow evening starts the Triduum with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. The priests who will concelebrate with me tomorrow night and I will first go to a neighborhood Italian restaurant and then move to the Lord’s table. By 8:30pm we should be finished at the Cathedral and then I make a round of the parishes for private prayer in the places of reservation which follow the Holy Thursday liturgy until around midnight. I will try to continue these thoughts on Good Friday when I have the morning free.
Try to join your faith community at all or as many of the ceremonies of the Triduum you can make. You won’t regret it.