April 2, 2015
Here is the homily presented by Bishop Patrick J. Zurek at the annual Chrism Mass, which took place this year on March 31 at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Amarillo:
In the Mediterranean Basin there are three plants that are considered sacred and are most cherished. They are the Date Palm, the Grape Vine and the Olive Tree. The Date Palm gives a delicious, creamy and sweet fruit. The Grape Vine produces a deliciously sweet fruit that can also be fermented to make wine, which Scripture says, “will gladden the hearts of mankind.” (Ps. 104:15) The Olive Tree provides Oil that is used in cooking, lamps for light and for anointing Kings, Prophets and Priests.
The Sacred Scriptures are full of narratives that speak of Anointing with the Oil of the Olive Tree. The Book of Hebrews, in describing the Messianic Enthronement of Jesus says:
“Your throne, O God, stands for ever and ever; and a righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom. You loved justice and hated wickedness; therefore, God, your God, anointed you with the oil of gladness above your companions.” (Heb. 1:8-9)
This anointing with the Oil of Gladness is symbolic of the actual anointing of Jesus with the Holy Spirit. The Preface of today’s Mass reminds us, “For by the anointing of the Holy Spirit you made your Only Begotten Son High Priest of the new and eternal covenant.” (Preface, Chrism Mass) The oil used is that of the Olive Tree.
It continues: “…and by your wondrous design (You) were pleased to decree that this one Priesthood should continue in the Church. For Christ not only adorns with a royal priesthood the people he had made his own, but with a brother’s kindness he also chooses men to become sharers in his sacred ministry through the laying-on-of-hands.” (Ibid)
This Oil of Gladness is the sign of the gift of the Holy Spirit. It brings joy and implies mission. It acknowledges the Royal Priesthood of the Faithful as they are called to the further the mission of Jesus as priest, prophet and king.
However, it also points to the Ministerial Priesthood that you, my brother priests, share with me. It is we who are charged with continuing the mission of our Lord and Savior and Jesus Christ; to proclaim the Gospel, to preach the Word and to celebrate the Sacraments (Mysteries) of our Salvation and to Accompany the weak, the sorrowful, the joy-filled, those who thirst for God and hunger for justice and are on the periphery of society.
At the Last Supper, Jesus said over the bread, “Take and Eat, this is my Body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (1Cor. 11:24) Then he said over the cup of wine, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this in remembrance of me.” (1 Cor. 11:25) This, the early Christian Community understood as the institution of the New Testament Priesthood. Jesus gave us a remembrance of his Passion, Death and Resurrection…a sacrificial offering; Hence, the need for a priesthood.
My brother priests, it is you and I who faithfully offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the Mass, each day for our sanctification and that of the people we serve. It is you who faithfully get up in the middle of the night to anoint the sick and dying in hospitals or in their homes. It is you who give so much time to hear Confessions and reconcile the People of God to the Father and to each other. It is you give your time for Spiritual Direction and counseling. It is you who keep the parish life alive and vibrant.
In this you fulfill what St. Gregory Nazianzen said in one of his homilies.
“We (as priests) must Sacrifice ourselves to God, each day and in everything we do, accepting all that happens to us for the sake of the Word, imitating his Passion by our sufferings, and honoring his blood by shedding our own. We must be ready to be crucified.” (Gregory Nazianzen, Homily, PG 36, 654-655)
I only hope that you, the people that we serve, realize just how much your priests do for you in helping you to grow spiritually and deepen your relationship with Jesus and His Church.
As Jesus was about to ascend into heaven, he said to his disciples:
“Full authority has been given to me, both in heaven and on earth; go, therefore and make disciples of all the nations…teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you.” (Matt. 28:19a, 20a)
Brothers, you and I are sent to Proclaim the Gospel and to explain its truths so that the people may understand what it says and that “The words of the Gospel may bear fruit in human hearts.” (Ordination Rite of Priests, Ordination Prayer for Priests) This is another of the many wonderful things that we are privileged to do as priests. Yet, we all know that this is not always easy. With all the competing philosophies, agendas and fads of our time, so easily proliferated by the Social Media, we often run into those who question the Church’s teachings. Some want to go more to the left…others, to the right, or return to a by-gone era. Yet you continue to teach what the Church teaches, nothing more…nothing less.
Brothers, at the heart of our ministry we are Shepherds. We all know the now famous saying of Pope Francis. “The shepherd should smell like the sheep!” (Pope Francis, Homily, 2013) He means that we are to accompany them in all things. We are to serve our people. We are called to be Shepherds of the people we are sent to serve, and not mere friends. We are to be with them.
“We are to be Shepherds like the Lord. We must meditate on the Gospel, and as we see in this mirror the example of zeal and loving kindness (of Christ), we should become thoroughly schooled in these virtues.
They teach us that we should not look on the men as lost or beyond hope; we should not abandon them when they are in danger or be slow to come to their help. When they turn away from the right path and wander, we must lead them back, and rejoice at their return, welcoming them back into the company of those who lead good and holy lives.” (St. Asterius of Amasea, Bishop, Homily, PG 40, 355-359, 362)
These are all acts of virtue that we are called to witness in our ministry. This is truly costly Grace…Grace, because it is a gift of God; costly…because it cost Christ his life! I would like to remind myself and you, by brother priests, of something that St. John Chrysostom said in one of his homilies.
“No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by Advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor, and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.” (St. John Chrysostom)
Our entire life as priests is actually one of constant Charity. But by Charity I mean, not the giving of alms to a needy person, but I mean what it truly means. Charity is the love that God has for us. In his Great Commandment, Christ tells us that we should “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. And you should love your neighbor as you love yourself.” (Mk. 12:30)
This takes Courage! It takes fortitude! But it comes from the zeal that we have for serving Christ and his Church. It may even hurt…and it does at times. But that is when we truly know that we are doing what the Lord wills. On Ash Wednesday of this year Pope Francis spoke of this in his homily. “Lent is a good time for penance and self-denial.” But he again reminded us that these activities must truly enrich others. He continued. “I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt.” (Pope Francis, Homily, Ash Wednesday, Santa Sabina Church, Rome, February 18, 2015)
My brother Priests, what I say to you now, I say from my heart. I am proud of you! You are good priests. You have been faithful, even in difficult situations. You are good preachers of the Gospel. You are shepherds who truly care for your sheep. You are good examples of Christian Virtues and Christian values. I love each of you dearly!
My brothers and sisters in Christ, join me in thanking our priests for their sacrificial and faithful service to Christ and his Church.