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Priests: Anointed to serve, and save, others

Archbishop Wenski's homily at annual chrism Mass

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Archdiocesan priests renew their priestly promises at the chrism Mass.


Archdiocesan priests renew their priestly promises at the chrism Mass.

Homily preached by Archbishop Thomas Wenski at the annual chrism Mass, celebrated the Tuesday of Holy Week, April 14, at St. Mary Cathedral.

All Masses in which a bishop presides surrounded by a number of his priests witness to the unity that binds us together as a presbyterate. The Mass of ordination in which priests join the bishop in laying hands upon the ordinandi also shows this bond of our sacramental brotherhood. And at the end of next month, God willing, we will gather again as a presbyterate for the priestly ordination of deacons Matthias Hualpa, Ivan Rodriguez and Fenly St. Jean.

But the chrism Mass witnesses to the unity of our priesthood in a singular way. Together we will bless and consecrate the holy oils used in sacraments requiring an anointing. Oil is a symbol of strength used since antiquity to prepare athletes for competition. I supposed it made them slippery and thus harder to be pinned down by an opponent .But also oil is a symbol of health and of healing, and combined with perfumes, it is a symbol of the easing of pain and also of growth and maturation. Thus, oil is used in various sacraments – for what we might call “medicinal purposes.” The oil of catechumens and the oil of the sick is used to heal and strengthen us; but also oil, especially the sacred chrism, is used to protect us – to make us “slippery” in a sense so that we will not be pinned down by that adversary “who prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (cf. 1 Peter 5: 8)

Archbishop Thomas Wenski greets archdiocesan priests as they process into St. Mary Cathedral.


Archbishop Thomas Wenski greets archdiocesan priests as they process into St. Mary Cathedral.

And so, it is particularly fitting that, in the presence of God’s people, we priests together renew the commitment we freely embraced on the day of our ordinations, when for the offering of sacrifice, our own hands were anointed with chrism. Again, this year’s celebration is made more joyful by a goodly number of golden and silver jubilarians. Eight of our number celebrate their silver jubilees. Congratulations Msgr. Tomas Marin and Fathers Michael Lynch, Jorge Puerta, Carlos Vega. They were ordained in this very cathedral 25 years ago; also joining them in celebrating 25 years of priestly service are Fathers Joseph Bai, Juan Pedro Hernandez-Alonso, Juan Jesus Lopez-Cuadrado and Carlos Massieu-Avila. Another seven priests are celebrating golden jubilees of ordination: Mgrs. Edmond Whyte, John Delaney and Pedro Garcia; and Fathers Sean O’Sullivan, Rafael Pedroso, David Russell and Franciscan Father Phillip Fabiano.

Blessed John Paul wrote, “If (the priest) is able to offer himself as a gift placing himself at the disposal of the community and at the service of anyone in need his life takes on its true meaning.” We congratulate these men for their years of faithful – and truly meaningful -- service to the Church. Their ministry has, and please God, will continue to bear much fruit in the Lord’s vineyard.

As Pope Francis says, “The people of God receive through our words and deeds the oil of gladness which Jesus, the anointed one, came to bring us.” The sacred anointing we receive is never just “about us.” Jesus in establishing the priesthood of the New Testament did not intend to establish a “caste” with special privileges and perks to be lorded over the “lesser” Christians. We are ordained to be men for others.

In less than two weeks, at the conclusion of the octave of Easter, Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II will be canonized. To say that these two popes who led the Church in the second half of the 20th century influenced the shape of our priesthood would be an understatement. John XXIII called for the Second Vatican Council and John Paul II brought about its authentic implementation. Both men, like our present Holy Father, came from humble roots – and as priests, then as bishops and later as popes, were close to the people of God. They understood – as we should – that their anointing was not for themselves but as a way of being for others.

Indeed, closely related to the institution of the priesthood is the Eucharist itself and the commandment of love exemplified by Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. In calling us to the priesthood, Jesus needs us to be servant leaders, leaders who readily kneel in humble adoration before our Lord hidden in the Blessed Sacrament, but also leaders who just as readily can kneel in humble service washing the feet of the Lord in his many, and oftentimes, distressing disguises.

Yesterday, in meeting with some seminarians, Pope Francis urged them to meditate on the Gospel every day, to experience frequently the mercy of God in the sacrament of penance, and to eat the Eucharist with faith and with love. Good advice for them – and for us. He also told them not to expect that the priesthood would put them on “easy street.” If that’s what they’re looking for, he advised them to look elsewhere. We have long hours – and short pay: because we are called to be shepherds and not functionaries; we are called to be missionaries and not mercenaries.

Sometimes we come across a pious sort who says he wants to be a priest to save his soul. That’s sort of like a crazy guy saying he wants to become a psychologist to get his….issues together. We become priests to save other people’s souls – and we work at it with “fear and trembling.” Like St. Paul says, “…I chastise my body and bring it into subjection lest perhaps I have preached to others I myself shall become a castaway”. (1 Cor. 9: 27)

John Paul II for most of his pontificate would write a letter addressed to priests that would be published during Holy Week– and the Holy Week that preceded his death in 2005 was no different – even though he wrote the letter from a hospital bed. In this last letter to the priests of the world he reminded us: “Particularly in the context of the new evangelization, the people have a right to turn to priests in the hope of ‘seeing’ Christ in them (cf. Jn 12:21). The young feel the need for this especially; Christ continues to call them, to make them his friends and to challenge some to give themselves completely for the sake of the Kingdom. Vocations will certainly not be lacking if our manner of life is truly priestly, if we become more holy, more joyful, more impassioned in the exercise of our ministry. A priest ‘won' by Christ (cf. Phil 3:12) more easily ‘wins’ others, so that they too decide to set out on the same adventure.”

Yes, and what an adventure it is! For the Spirit of God is upon us and he has anointed us.
Archbishop Thomas Wenski pours balsam into the oil of chrism.


Archbishop Thomas Wenski pours balsam into the oil of chrism.

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