Sunday, April 1, 2012

Priest, for you!

Homily for Chrism Mass

in Mukachevo 2012

“As they give up their lives for you and for the salvation of their brothers and sisters, they strive to be conformed to the image of Christ himself and offer you a constant witness of faith and love.”
These words are taken from the preface which is proper to this Mass. The Mass of Holy Chrism draws our attention in a very special way to the priesthood, to the presbyterate, to those in our midst who really make the Church and thereby Christ Himself present to His people, Sunday for Sunday, day to day, in all the sacraments, and interestingly enough, especially in and through those sacraments which do not use one of the Holy Oils. I am thinking specifically of the Sacrament of Penance and of the Holy Eucharist. Today, we meditate upon, we celebrate, the calling of those men given the power to forgive our sins in Confession. Today, we reflect upon the great gift of Christ present among us, the Bread of Life and the Chalice of Eternal Salvation, Christ among us through the ministration and in the person of His priests.
It is the preface for this Mass which speaks the most and the most eloquently of the priest. I would like to share with you today a brief meditation on its central thoughts.
"For by the anointing of the Holy Spirit you made your Only Begotten Son High Priest of the new and eternal covenant, and by your wondrous design were pleased to decree that this one priesthood should continue in the Church.”
We, as ordained priests, share in none other than the priesthood of the Only Begotten Son of God; we continue His priestly service in that new and eternal covenant sealed in His Blood. Not only do we have special duties and responsibilities, but by our sharing in His anointing with the Holy Spirit, we identify with Jesus and are transformed to the very core of our being by the saving grace of the sacrament of Holy Orders.
If I had a message for the faithful gathered here today in support of your priests, it would be this: all together we need to strive for a clearer understanding of our election as Church, of our very special place in God’s plan for the salvation of the world. Too often we fail to recognize ourselves, the baptized/very regular Catholics, as different or distinguished from the world around us. We fail to see ourselves as different from those who have not been graced by the life of sanctifying grace in Baptism. The best indication of this is the leveling tendency within Church society itself, which allows our priests to be less than what our faith teaches us they are to be. When St. Paul says that as an apostle he is all things to all men, this does not mean that he hasn’t drawn the consequences for his behavior and self-understanding of that special call which is his through Jesus Christ. So it is with us as priests; our call is to conform our lives to that of Christ. St. Augustine said that with his people he was one of the baptized like them, but by God’s grace and the laying on of hands, for them he was a bishop. We can say the same for priests: baptized, yes, like any other Catholic, but through the laying on of hands and prayer, something more, a priest, for the sake of our brothers and sisters. And so I would say to the faithful, my message to you today would be: love your priests as Christ’s gift to you; love them enough to demand holiness of them, a thorough-going identification with the person of Jesus Christ Himself! Don’t tempt them to be anything less than other Christs!
“For Christ not only adorns with a royal priesthood the people he has 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.”
What is His sacred ministry in which priests share through the laying on of hands? How is it different from the royal priesthood with which we are all adorned through Baptism? The words of the preface come to our aid and offer an answer.
"They are to renew in his name the sacrifice of human redemption, to set before your children the paschal banquet, to lead your holy people in charity, to nourish them with the word and strengthen them with the Sacraments.”
          One of the teachings coming to us from the Council has been that on the role of the laity within the Church, of the essential part which ordinary people have to play in the work of salvation, simply by reason of our Baptism. Maybe the Council should have come sooner than it did, because that important message somehow got garbled or distorted and today we are continually confronted with a confusion of roles in the Church. As it happens, lay people often withdraw from their responsibilities out in society, in the world of work and in the building up of family, and find themselves up front in church, speaking and doing in a time and place which by rights is reserved for the worship of the Living God. The trend over the last decades has been that, instead of becoming more present in society, lay Catholics keep more to themselves and fewer non-Catholics have contact with us; fewer adults are converting to Catholicism, and for neglect of the children’s faith at home more adolescents and young adults abandon the faith of their Baptism. Priests, on the other hand, seem to have little time for prayer, for hearing confessions and traditional priestly duties, and that seemingly as their social lives tend to expand.
“As they give up their lives for you and for the salvation of their brothers and sisters, they strive to be conformed to the image of Christ himself and offer you a constant witness of faith and love.”
We may wish all sorts of things from and for our priests, but given the way things are today I think we would think ourselves to be in the best of all possible worlds if our priests really were striving hard to be as Christ for us, offering to us and to God “a constant witness of faith and love.”

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