Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,1
This Chrism Mass is always a beautiful moment in this season of mercy, as we journey toward the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday.
These holy oils and chrism that we bless this evening are a sign of our “anointing” with his Spirit in Baptism. We are reminded that his Resurrection makes it possible for us to be Christians — to be “anointed ones,” which is what the name Christian means.
Each of us shares in Jesus Christ’s own anointing. That’s why we recall his anointing in both our first reading and in our Gospel this evening. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me.”
And as we heard in our second reading, this anointing makes us a “kingdom of priests.”
All of us in his Church share in Christ’s priestly mission.
But always on this night we have to reflect in a special way on the ordained priesthood, which Jesus instituted at his Last Supper, when he set apart his twelve apostles to share in his own consecration and ministry.
We also want to remember tonight our deacons, and their vocation of service. They share in the ordained ministry, through the laying on of hands instituted by the apostles.
Always on this night, I like to speak a few personal words to my brother priests. Because in a short while in this holy Mass, they will publicly renew their priestly promises.
This evening, my brothers, we know there are some “empty chairs” around this altar. We lost some of our brothers this year. And we feel their absence.
We entrust these brothers of ours to the throne of God’s grace, that they may receive mercy in their time of need.2 So often they have stood at the altar to offer the Eucharist for others. Now we must promise to offer our Eucharist for them.
By your ordination, you have been given sacred powers to do what no man can do apart from God’s anointing. The power to speak his own words with his own authority. The power to change bread and wine into his Body and Blood. The power to forgive men and women their sins.
In this world where it’s getting harder to find God, and where people have forgotten how to forgive, you have a challenging mission.
My brothers, you are called to show our world the merciful heart of God! You are called to show our neighbors that they have a Father whose forgiveness knows no limits. We need to remind them — that the measure of God’s mercy is the measure of the mercy that we show to others.
My prayer for each one of you every day is that you always remember — who you are and what God has called you to do. I pray that you always live with joy and gratitude for the beautiful privilege that we have to be his priests.
I know it’s not easy. An Archbishop, you remember, is still a priest. A priest forever, just like you. So I know the daily pressures you feel, your anxiety for your churches and for your people.3
That’s why prayer is so important, my brothers.
“Prayer is a battle!”4 That’s a line from the Catechism that I like a lot. It’s true, isn’t it? We have to do battle with our weakness. We have to struggle against all those things in our lives that would distract us and turn us away from our union with Jesus Christ.
As priests, all the pressures we face are basically a temptation to forget who we are. We have to remember that being a priest isn’t our job. It’s our deepest sacred identity. It’s who we are — “other Christs.”
So we need to pray hard, we need to keep up the battle.
My brothers, we also need to work on our sense of our priestly fraternity.
But our unity is not certain or a matter of fact. We should never take it for granted. Christian Fraternity means friendship in Jesus Christ. And friendship takes an act of the will. Friendship takes dedication, time and hard work.
So we need to try to be better friends to one another. We need to dedicate ourselves to being true brothers.
We can do this, my brothers. We can work to overcome the barriers of our loneliness and our shyness. We have so much to share with one another! We can make more effort to pray together, to relax together. We need to care for one another as brothers, and bear one another’s burdens. We also must help one another to be accountable to God and to the Church, the people of God.
I was reading the other day the memoir of Father Walter Ciszek. As you know, he was a Jesuit missionary from Pennsylvania who spent 20 years in Soviet prison camps. And his cause for sainthood is being considered in Rome. I wrote about him a few years ago in my little book on the priesthood, Men of Brave Heart.7
Father Ciszek said that in those prisons he had to rely on the only two things the communists could not take away — prayer and his friendships with his brother priests.
He wrote: “Such friendship was a joy.” But right after he said that, he added something very interesting. He wrote: “Not that all of them were perfect.”
In fact, he said, a few of the priests got weak. Some of them in the camp gave in to the constant pressure and became spies for the Soviets.
But Father Ciszek and his brother priests never shunned them or excluded them. He wrote: “We all had our failings; each of us knew only too well how much we depend upon God and on his grace.”8
My brothers, what beautiful words and what a beautiful example for us! This is the quality of mercy that we find in God. And this is the quality of mercy that God wants to find in us.
You need to trust even more in his mercy, my brothers. You need to trust in the grace that he gives you in this sacred calling. Jesus is the one who calls. He is the one who began this beautiful work of his priesthood in you. And he will see you through to its beautiful completion.9
So my brothers and sisters, let’s all pray and support our priests and seminarians. And let’s also make a new commitment tonight to pray and actively participate in the promotion of vocations — inviting young men to this beautiful ministry of mercy, to this great adventure of being his priests.
And let’s ask the patroness of this great Archdiocese, Our Lady of the Angels, the Mother of Mercy, to help us in our own priesthood, to be missionaries of his mercy and to really live as his anointed ones, as Christians.
1. Readings (Chrism Mass, Year B): Isa. 61:1-3, 6, 8-9; Ps. 89; Rev. 1:5-8; Luke 4:16-21.
2. Heb. 4:16.
3. 2 Cor. 11:28.
4. Catechism, 2725, 2612.
5. Presbyterorum ordinis, 8.
6. John 17:21.
7. Gomez, Men of Brave Heart (Our Sunday Visitor, 2009), chap. 2.
8. Ciszek, He Leadeth Me (Ignatius, 1995 ), 109-110.
9. Phil. 1:6.